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Systems and Synthetic Biology

Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) are two newly emergent fields that combine experimental and theoretical approaches from engineering and other disciplines to solve both fundamental and applied problems in the biosciences and medicine.

Systems Biology attempts to understand how biological processes, within cells, a group of cells, or an entire tissue work at the ‘network level’, and generally seeks to determine how biological components (e.g., genes, proteins and biochemical reactions) interact to produce defined physiological responses and behaviors. Ultimately, this multi-scale understanding of biological systems is central to gaining a better understanding of the causes and progression of human diseases, and promises to lead to new therapeutic strategies that can be increasingly personalized.

Synthetic Biology is the purposeful design of biological systems possessing new functional properties, typically using molecular genetic parts. Approaches range from the engineering of novel proteins to the creation of artificial gene networks that can process information, sense and respond to complex set of environmental cues, and produce industrially important commodities for biological or biomedical applications.

The SSB research areas are tightly related through the use of quantitative experimental and theoretical approaches to characterize biological networks and to understand emergent functional relationships and behaviors. SSB researchers and project areas in the Rice Department of Bioengineering include: 

Caleb Bashor-xs Caleb J. Bashor, Ph.D.

  • Understanding how biological behavior arises from regulatory network structure
  • Engineering synthetic gene and signal transduction circuitry
  • Using mammalian synthetic biology to create cell-based therapeutics

Michael Deem

 Michael W. Deem, Ph.D.  

  • Newton's laws of biology
  • Physical theories of evolution
  • Theory of the immune system, including vaccine design

Deem Group 

Mike Diehl  

Michael Diehl, Ph.D.

  • Regulation of intracellular transport
  • In situ molecular pathway analyses

Synthetic Biology and Macromolecular System Bioengineering Group   

Isaac Hilton_web-small2 Isaac Hilton, Ph.D.

  • Decoding basic mechanisms governing human gene expression in health and disease
  • Engineering the human epigenome and transcriptome
  • Developing new synthetic biology tools to precisely control cellular functions


 Oleg A. Igoshin, Ph.D. 

  • Computational modeling of biochemical networks
  • Evolutionary design principles of cellular information processing
  • Multicellular signaling, self-organization and pattern formation

Cellular System Dynamics Group

Jianpeng Ma_Thumbnail

 Jianpeng Ma, Ph.D. 

  • Epigenetic regulation from individual elements to network
  • Stem cells and cancer cells
  • Anticancer drug development
  • Bioinformatics, biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology

Ma Laboratory  

Mikos_2015_websmall Antonios Mikos, Ph.D.

  • Biomaterials
  • Drug Delivery
  • Gene Therapy
  • Tissue Engineering
Mikos Research Group

Amina Qutub

Amina A. Qutub, Ph.D. 

  • Regulation of intracellular hypoxic response in ischemia and cancer
  • Neurogenesis and angiogenesis signaling
  • Algorithm development for cell-level modeling coupled to imaging

Microvascular Systems Biology Laboratory

Rob Raphael

Robert Raphael, Ph.D.

  • Auditory Systems Biology
  • Micromechanical Biosystems

Membrane and Auditory Bioengineering Group

Ka-Yiu San

  Ka-Yiu San, Ph.D. 

  • Metabolic and genetic engineering
  • Systems biotechnology
  • Genetic architecture and phenotype

Metabolic Engineering and Systems Biotechnology Laboratory

Junghae Suh

Junghae Suh, Ph.D.  

  • Reprogramming viruses as biomolecular information processing devices
  • Design of virus-based technologies to perturb and manipulate genetic networks
  • Laboratory directed evolution of viruses

Synthetic Virology Laboratory

Jeff Tabor

Jeffrey J. Tabor, Ph.D.  

  • Cellular sensing
  • Signaling circuits
  • Cell-cell communication
  • Pattern formation and social interactions

Tabor Laboratory


David Zhang, Ph.D.  

  • Nucleic acid circuits for in vitro diagnostics
  • Encoding higher order logic with nucleic acids circuits
  • Scaffolding of biomolecules using nucleic acids structures

Nucleic Acid Bioengineering Laboratory (NABLab)