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Engineering Biology in Cambridge


The EngBio Forums feature prominent external speakers and excellent networking opportunities - a great opportunity to learn more about cutting edge synthetic and engineering biology.

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The Engineering Biology Forums are a series of talks exploring key tools for the future of engineering biology and biotechnology. Hosted by the Engineering Biology Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, the forums will take place termly at the Old Divinity School, St Johns College, Cambridge. Keynote lectures and discussion session will be followed by food, drinks and a mini fair including demonstrations, exhibitions and information showcasing scientific excellence from around the Cambridge engineering biology community

 If you would like to suggest a speaker or theme for a future EngBio Forum please contact

Save the Date!  Monday 27 November, 5pm-8.30pm. St Catharine's College.

Registration opens in September.


Monday 27 November 2023: Engineering Living Systems for Human Health and Wellbeing

Registration will open in September EVENTBRITE LINK

Keynote Speakers:


Prof. Martin Fussenegger, ETH Zurich & University of Basel

Title: Toward A World of ElectroGenetics


With the advent of the internet of things, interconnected electronic devices are starting to dominate our daily lives and are reaching the control complexity of living systems, and yet work radically different: While human metabolism uses ion gradients across insulated membranes to simultaneously process slow analog chemical reactions and communicate information in multicellular systems via soluble or volatile molecular signals, electronic devices use multicore central processing units to control the flow of electrons through insulated metal wires with gigahertz frequency and communicate information across networks via wired or wireless connections. While analog biological systems and digital electronic devices efficiently work in their respective worlds there are no efficient interfaces between electronics and genetics. We will report our first attempts to design direct electro-genetic interfaces and our progress toward a world of ElectroGenetics and the internet of the body.

Bio: Martin Fussenegger is Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) of the ETH Zurich in Basel as well as at the University of Basel. His research focuses on mammalian cell engineering, in particular on the assembly of synthetic gene circuits that process complex control and closed-loop expression logic as well as on the production of theranostic designer cell implants that interface with host metabolism to correct prominent metabolic disorders. Martin Fussenegger graduated with Werner Arber at the Biocenter of the University of Basel (1992), obtained his Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology (1994) at the Max Planck Institute of Biology (Tübingen, Germany) and continued his postdoctoral studies on host-pathogen interactions at the Max Planck Institute of Infection Biology (Berlin, 1995). He then joined the ETH Institute of Biotechnology (1996), where he received his habilitation in 2000, and became Swiss National Science Foundation Professor of Molecular Biotechnology in 2002, prior to being awarded a Chair in Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the ETH Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering in 2004. On a presidential mission, he moved to Basel in 2008 to build up the D-BSSE, the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering of the ETH Zurich. Martin Fussenegger received the Gaden Award, the Merck Cell Culture Engineering Award, the Medal of the European Society for Animal Cell Technology (ESACT), the Gutenberg Chair Excellence Award, the James E. Bailey Award and two consecutive Advanced Grant Awards of the European Research Council. He is an expert panel member of the Swiss Innovation Agency (Innosuisse) and the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products (Swissmedic). Martin Fussenegger is a member of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences (SATW), the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), the Academia Europaea and an international member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) of the United States of America.


Prof. Julius B. Lucks, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Center for Synthetic Biology, Northwestern University

Title: What is in our water? A journey from basic research to societal scale synthetic biology.


Over two billion people lack access to sufficient clean water for their basic needs. A central challenge in this global water crisis is a lack of information on water quality. While we cannot often see or taste water contaminants, microbes can, creating a profound opportunity to partner with nature to create scalable technologies that could democratize access to water quality information. In this talk I will present an ongoing journey that that started with a basic biology research question – how do cells sense and ‘process’ information – and is leading to the development of synthetic biology water quality monitoring technologies that are as simple to use as an at-home COVID test.

Bio: Julius B. Lucks is Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Synthetic Biology at Northwestern University. Lucks received his PhD in chemical physics from Harvard University as a Hertz Fellow, and transitioned to synthetic biology as a Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley. He is a leader in RNA research and synthetic biology, focusing on developing technologies that tackle global challenges, most recently in the area of global water insecurity. Professor Lucks has been recognized with a number of awards including a DARPA Young Faculty Award, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, an ONR Young Investigator Award, an NIH New Innovator Award, an NSF CAREER award, the ACS Synthetic Biology Young Investigator Award, a Camille-Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award, a finalist for the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, named to the college of fellows in the American Institute of Medical and Biomedical Engineers, and most recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in biology. He also leads the first NSF graduate training program in synthetic biology, is a founding member of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium, and co-founded the Cold Spring Harbor Synthetic Biology Summer Course. He is also a co-founder of Stemloop, Inc. which aims to use cell free biosensing technology to empower people with information about the health of themselves and their environment.


Registration will open in September EVENTBRITE LINK

Keynote talks will be in person. A copy of the presentations may be available after the event (tbc).

Thursday 4 May 2023: Designing the Next Generation of Bioengineered Tools for Health & Wellbeing

Keynote Speakers


Prof. Randall Platt (Live Speaker)






Talk Title: Harnessing the CRISPR toolbox to engineer biology

Description: Molecular technologies enabling the high throughput interrogation of genetic elements fuels our capacity to understand and control complex biological systems. With current methodologies used in the field of biomedicine the rate at which genes are being associated with biological and disease processes has drastically outstripped the pace at which their causality can be tested and understood. There is also a treasure trove of biological information that is lost or hidden from us when using conventional snapshot experiments. In this lecture you will hear about how we are harnessing the CRISPR toolbox to engineer biology and overcome these challenges, specifically through developing tools and methods for in vivo CRISPR screens and engineered cells that record their own gene expression.

Bio: Randall J. Platt is an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering at the ETH Zurich; Associate Professor at the University of Basel; Botnar Research Center for Child Health Investigator; and NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering Investigator. His aim is to develop genetic perturbation and cellular programming technologies for diagnostics and therapeutics primarily in the areas of brain science and gut microbiome.

Randy’s major research interests include biological engineering, synthetic biology, functional genomics, and molecular medicine. His core research themes include engineering microbial cells to record and manipulate intestinal physiology and the gut microbiota (Schmidt, Nature, 2018; Schmidt, Science, 2022); the development of new gene editing methods with a particular focus on in vivo and multiplexing applications (Platt, Cell, 2014; Platt, Cell Reports, 2017; Campa, Nature Methods, 2019); and high throughput forward genetic screening in vivo in animal models to identify disease drivers, diagnostic biomarkers, drug targets, and delivery vectors (Chow, Nature Neuroscience, 2017; Wang, Science Advances, 2018).

Randy’s research accomplishments have earned numerous distinctions, including the MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35, Eppendorf Award for Young European Investigators, Stanisław Lem European Research Prize, EMBO Young Investigator, ETH Zurich Latsis Prize, Nature Research Award for Driving Global Impact, National Science Foundation Fellowship, Whitaker International Fellowship, and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research Scholar in Residence. He is an inventor on 100+ patents and patents pending and a co-​founder of a biotechnology company in the area of engineered microbes and gastrointestinal therapeutics.



Dr Kiran Raosaheb Patil (Live Speaker)

Director of Research, MRC Toxicology Unit



Talk title: Engineering Biology without Genetic Engineering

Short description: Synthetic biology is opening new avenues to tackle emerging biotechnological and environmental challenges. While genetic engineering tools have enabled novel phenotypes, complexity of biological systems often limits applications to a few organisms and poses challenges such as collateral damage and stability. In this talk, I will discuss a complementary approach – precision evolution – towards engineering complex biological systems without explicit knowledge on genotype-phenotype relations.

Short Bio: Kiran studied Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai, India). Following his PhD in Systems Biology at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Kiran was appointed as Assistant Professor at DTU where he worked on transcriptional regulation and metabolic engineering. In 2010, Kiran was appointed Group Leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg, Germany). He joined the MRC Toxicology Unit (University of Cambridge) as Director of Research in 2019. His lab develops tools and model systems to decipher and modulate complex microbial interactions.




Tuesday 31st January 2023: Super-Resolution Microscopy

Thursday 31st January 2023, 5pm-8.30pm

Venue: Old Divinity School, St John’s College

Super-Resolution Microscopy:

Impact of machine learning and artificial intelligence on data analysis and predictive modelling in biology


Keynote Speakers

Prof. Stefan Hell (Zoom Speaker)

Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2014

Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany

Title: MINFLUX nanoscopy and related matters

I will show how an in-depth description of the basic principles of diffraction-unlimited fluorescence microscopy (nanoscopy) [1-3] has spawned a new powerful superresolution concept, namely MINFLUX nanoscopy [4]. MINFLUX utilizes a local excitation intensity minimum (of a doughnut or a standing wave) that is targeted like a probe in order to localize the fluorescent molecule to be registered. In combination with single-molecule switching for sequential registration, MINFLUX [4-7] has obtained the ultimate (super)resolution: the size of a molecule. MINFLUX nanoscopy, providing 1–3 nanometer resolution in fixed and living cells, is presently being established for routine fluorescence imaging at the highest, molecular-size resolution levels. Relying on fewer detected photons than popular camera-based localization, MINFLUX and related MINSTED [8,9] nanoscopies are poised to open a new chapter in the imaging of protein complexes and distributions in fixed and living cells. MINFLUX is also set to transform the single-molecule analysis of dynamic processes, as already demonstrated by tracking in detail the unhindered stepping of the motor protein kinesin-1 on microtubules at up to physiological ATP concentrations [10], and providing answers to longstanding questions with respect to the kinesin-1 mechanochemical cycle.


Prof. Ricardo Henriques (Live Speaker)

Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Oeiras, Portugal

Title: Open-technology for Super-Resolution and Machine-Learning enabled Live-Cell BioImaging

Computational analysis has become an essential part of microscopy, enabling and enhancing quantitative imaging approaches. Several cutting-edge microscopy methods now depend on an analytical step to process large volumes of recorded data, extract analytical information, and produce a final rendered image. Single-molecule localization-based super-resolution microscopy is a notorious example. In recent years, our team and collaborators have built an open-source ecosystem of combined computational and optical approaches particularly dedicated to improving live-cell microscopy, super-resolution imaging, and helping researchers retrieve high-fidelity quantitative data from their images. This talk will present some of the recent technologies we have recently developed. First, I will introduce ZeroCostDL4Mic, an entry-level platform simplifying the application of Deep-Learning (DL) analysis to biological microscopy images, by exploiting free openly-accessible cloud-based computational resources. ZeroCostDL4Mic allows researchers with no coding expertise to train and apply key DL tasks to perform segmentation, object detection, denoising, super-resolution microscopy, and microscopy modality image-to-image translation. We'll demonstrate the application of the platform to study multiple biological processes, including in eucaryotic and procaryotic cells, and to analyze SMLM data. Next, I will cover recent development we have created for super-resolution microscopy through the NanoJ platform, highlighting the new "enhanced Super-Resolution Radial Fluctuations" (eSRRF) approach and its combination with real-time controlled microfluidics live-to-fix cell imaging, dubbed NanoJ-Fluidics, as well as real-time quality control on the predicted superresolution images via the SQUIRREL.  


Exhibitors & Demonstrators







Thursday 10th November 2022: Reprogramming Biology

DNA-based recoding of metabolism or growth to systematically reprogram natural systems

Prof. Jim Collins

Synthetic Biology: Making Biology Programmable

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Prof. Jennifer Brophy

Synthetic genetic circuits to modify plant growth

Stanford Bioengineering, USA

Register Here

Thursday 3rd November 2022: Computing for Biology

Impact of machine learning and artificial intelligence on data analysis and predictive modelling in biology

Prof. David Baker

Protein design using deep learning

University of Washington, USA

Dr. Bianca Dumitrascu

Explainable machine learning for single cell biology

Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Cambridge, UK

Register Here

Thursday 27th October 2022: Microscopy at the Cutting Edge

Novel techniques for optical microscopy and image processing with insights into biological systems

Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz

Emerging imaging technologies to study cell architecture, dynamics, and function

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Farm, USA

Dr. Buzz Baum

Imaging hell: archaeal cell division

MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK

Register Here

Past Events

  • 30 Nov 2015: Taking Modularity to the Genomic Level featuring Tom Ellis (Imperial College) and Mark Isalan (Imperial College)
  • 18 Oct 2016: Sculpting Evolution - Engineering Biology to Adress Global Disease Challenges featuring Dr. Kevin Esvelt (MIT Media Lab) and Prof Luke Alphey (Pirbright Institute, founder of Oxitec Ltd)
  • 19 Oct 2016: Programmable Biology in the Test Tube featuring Dr Vincent Noireaux (University of Minnesota), Dr Nick Rollins (Cambridge Consultants) and Dr Fernan Federici (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and University of Cambridge)
  • 6 Nov 2016: Synthetic Biology for Regenerative Medicine featuring Professor Ron Weiss (MIT)
  • 16 Mar 2017: Programmable Cell Extracts - A New Biomanufacturing Paradigm featuring Dr. Keith Pardee (University of Toronto) and Dr. Richard Kelwick (Imperial College) 
  • 24 Apr 2018: Harnessing Genetic Regulation to Redesign Organisms featuring Prof Chris Voigt (MIT) and Dr Somenath Bakshi (Harvard University)
  • 29 Oct 2018: Engineering Complex Systems in Biology featuring representatives from Mathworks, Microsoft Research, and Nvidia and Sabine Hauert (University of Bristol) and Ricard Sole (University of Pompeu Fabra and head of Complex Systems Lab)
  • 12 Feb 2019: Genetics, Vision & Machine Learning in Biological Systems featuring Dr Ricardo Henriques (UCL) and Dr Brenda Andrews (University of Toronto)
  • 14 May 2019: Engineering Biology featuring Prof Andrew Ellington (University of Texas at Austin) and Prof Michael Jewett (Northwestern University) 
  • 6 Nov 2019: Open Technologies Festival and Biomaker Fayre, Murray Edwards College.
  • 24 Feb 2020: New Sensors for Living Systems featuring Prof. George Malliaras (University of Cambridge) and Dr Karen Polizzi (Imperial College London)

Photos of past forums can be found on our Flickr.

Upcoming Events

There are no upcoming events.