Contact JohnDr John Heap Lecturer in Synthetic Biology

Hacking unconventional organisms

For decades, biotechnologists have been genetically modifying simple organisms such as yeast and E. coli – the lab rats of the microbial world. These organisms have taught us a great deal, but often prove too limited for industrial use. New research is branching out to explore less conventional species, such as bugs that can convert industrial waste into useful products, recovering both carbon and value.

The future of industrial biotech promises versatile, distributed manufacturing that can rapidly respond to market needs, using cheap and even toxic feed-stocks to produce a wide range of synthetic products on demand. However, progress will hinge on the successful development of new genetic and engineering techniques, including those based on novel microorganisms.

"It’s no use if $100 of sugar are needed to make $1 of petrol. Synthetic biologists will need to stretch further than model microorganisms"John Heap



Dr John Heap is a Lecturer in Synthetic Biology at Imperial College London. His research group is based in the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI). He is exploring ways to design and construct synthetic biological systems that can process molecules, energy and information. 


John's research aims to develop the tools needed to design and construct synthetic biological systems, and then apply these tools in manufacturing applications and to address unmet medical needs.

His work explores:

  • Foundational biological technologies and their use in chemical manufacture and health
  • How to put synthetic biological systems to work in industrially-relevant organisms
  • How non-natural metabolic constraints can be used to achieve high yields


Foresight and futures work

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015
The Revolution in Synthetic Biology with Imperial College London

Profile Credits
Profile: Alex Ayad, Chloe Stockford, Kit Huckvale