Synthetic biology: where the lab meets the real world

Humankind is on the brink of something remarkable. For the first time we have the tools to radically edit and re-purpose biological organisms to serve our needs. By programming simple, easily-cultured cells, such as yeasts, synthetic biology opens the door to routine "home brew" manufacturing of medicines and materials.

Instead of relying on complex supply chains, future industries may simply build and brew up synthetic organisms capable of producing required materials on demand. Ubiquitous, distributive manufacturing promises to transform economies in resource poor settings and is an enabling technology for future space exploration. Yet it also challenges existing business models and raises potential questions of safety and governance.

I'm curious about whether..."in the future, most materials will be home brew: manufactured using synthetic organisms, created using synthetic biology"Tom Ellis


Dr Tom Ellis started his career in synthetic biology working under the supervision of Jim Collins in one of the founding groups in the field at Boston University. Before joining Imperial College London, Tom worked at the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge. He has a PhD in pharmacology from the University of Cambridge.


Tom's research focuses on gene and genome regulation design as a key control mechanism for future synthetic organisms. His lab leads the UK arm of an international consortium aiming to build the first eukaryotic cell genome entirely from scratch.

Tom's work asks:

  • How better understanding of genetic control can contribute to the development of synthetic organisms?
  • What practical applications are enabled by rewriting genomes with synthetic DNA?
  • What genetic control measures will be needed to ensure the safety of future synthetic organisms?

Tom is also an inaugural recipient of an award from the MIT-Imperial College Seed Fund for work that aims to build cellular factories that will produce new multifunctional materials.



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: Kit Huckvale, Alex Ayad, Chloe Stockford