What is
Synthetic Biology?
School Outreach

Synthetic biology is a new and evolving branch of science drawing on expertise and approaches from engineering, computer science as well as biology. This branch of science is all about the design and construction of biological devices and systems where the end users of the technologies developed could be in academia, in industry, in agriculture or in medicine.

There are two approaches for synthetic biology:

  1. Designing organisms e.g. bacteria by putting together all the essential metabolic pathways to allow them to function as a cell
  2. Manipulating and introducing sets of genetic elements into existing organisms (bacteria or plants) and tailoring their metabolism and growth so that they synthesise and accumulate specific useful products.

Both approaches are based on a deep understanding of how living systems work. These approaches open a new horizon for the development of biological systems which can generate medicines, fine chemicals and biofuels in sustainable and controlled ways.

Synthetic Biology itself is a multidisciplinary scientific approach but it also must include Responsible Research and Innovation at its core so that as the science develops it influences and is influenced by publics, policy makers and stake-holders through ongoing dialogue.


The Synthetic Biology Research Centre at the University of Nottingham aims to pass on our expertise to a wider community through activities such as public talks, lab visits, school presentations, workshops, exhibitions and networking events.

By doing this we hope to:

  • Share and promote the development of our research
  • Raise awareness and interest in synthetic biology
  • Facilitate networking between businesses and stakeholders
  • Make science education more accessible and interactive, with resources for schools, teachers and the public
  • Encourage science in young people, as they make their career choices

Find out more about some of the activities we have been doing to spread the word of Synthetic Biology to the public and school/college pupils

Game of Fuels

Louise Dynes (SBRC Outreach and Communications Officer) applied for and was awarded funding from the University of Nottingham’s small grant fund and together with match funding from the BBSRC’s Network in Biotechnology and Bioenergy, C1net; Louise has developed a game with the C1net Network Manager, Jacque Minton.

The initiative was to produce an interactive game with the aim to help educate pupils about renewable energy particularly biofuels and the techniques and processes involved in developing them. The game is to be used as a permanent outreach tool to play in schools and at science fairs in order to help educate secondary school pupils and adults as part of a stimulating and fun activity.

How to Play the Game:

Each player chooses a game-piece consisting of a miniaturized pick-up truck containing a feedstock; they will also be given a fact card with information on about their particular feedstock. Each player rolls a die and moves their vehicle ahead from the feedstock origins through the preparation and production processes to the final product. There are challenges along the road; if a player lands on a PPP (Politics, Publicity & People) space they will be given a fact which can either hinder or enhance their movement along the board. If a player lands on a normal road space, they will be required to answer the question correctly in order to continue and if a player lands on a C space (Conference) this means they are at a scientific meeting and will need to say, out-loud, one sentence about their fuel from their fuel fact card and everyone playing gives them a round of applause. There are also STOP! spaces, if a player lands on this space they must read out their disaster and go back the number of spaces as instructed. The players proceed through the necessary steps and required technologies for a sustainable fuel production. The game concludes when one of the players has developed their entire bio-industrial line production and has made their final product.

If you are interested in playing the Game of Fuels or to find out more please contact: louise.dynes@nottingham.ac.uk