Engineering biology to help people & the planet

What is synthetic biology?

Synthetic biology is an emerging discipline focused on engineering biological parts and pathways that enable living systems to perform new and useful functions. At the University of Washington (UW), synthetic biology research involves engineered gene regulatory mechanisms and networks, engineered signaling pathways, metabolic engineering, and engineered biological molecules such as proteins and nucleic acids. Applications include cell and tissue engineering, gene therapy, biologically derived drugs and materials, alternative fuels, biosensors, and much more. Established March 2013, the mission of the UW Center for Synthetic Biology is to provide a collaborative and interdisciplinary environment for research, education, innovation, safety and responsibility in synthetic biology at the UW and in the Seattle area.


Researchers at the University of Washington are engineering new tools to study existing biological systems, design novel diagnostics and therapeutics, and create novel strains for industrial processes.


Center faculty span many departments across campus including chemical engineering, biochemistry, bioengineering, electrical & computer engineering, and genome sciences.


Center faculty designed a series of courses – cross-listed among multiple departments – to introduce the theory and practice of building artificial biochemical reaction networks and devices.


Synbio spinouts

Consistently ranked the most innovative public university in the world, University of Washington researchers are pioneering new tools and technologies using synthetic biology.

A number of startups have emerged from UW, harnessing the power of biological engineering to tackle complex challenges.

Parse Biosciences, co-founded by Georg Seelig, is accelerating progress in human health and scientific research through their pioneering approach to single cell sequencing.
A recent spinout from James Carothers’ lab known as Wayfinder Biosciences is developing RNA sensors that can test engineered cells up to one million times faster than conventional methods.
A-Alpha Bio, spun out of the labs of David Baker and Eric Klavins, has developed a novel drug development platform, disrupting the way that pharmaceutical companies discover, optimize, and characterize drugs.

Retooling microbes to upcycle CO2

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a 5-year, $15 million grant to an interdisciplinary, UW-led team of synthetic biologists to engineer microbial genomes that transform CO2 into high-value chemicals. The project, led by chemical engineering professor James Carothers, brings together expertise in CRISPR gene-expression programs, single-cell RNA sequencing, data-driven design, and carbon-conserving pathway engineering. Its aim is to advance fundamental research into large-scale, bio-based chemical production that is not only greener, but also produces better alternatives to petrochemical-based products.

Unlocking biotechnology with RNA

Two recent molecular engineering graduates launched a new startup, Wayfinder Biosciences, to commercialize their revolutionary platform to design RNA molecules that can be used to advance everything from sustainable biomanufacturing to targeted CRISPR therapies.

UW BIOFAB: A force for reproducible science

The UW’s Biofabrication Center, a unique facility dedicated to enabling the rapid design, construction and testing of genetically reprogrammed organisms, is partnering with Agilent Technologies in pursuit of automated, reproducible research.