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Synthetic Biology

Join cutting edge research at MIT and design a biological circuit that can sense and destroy cancer cells.

About This Simulation

Use the specific microRNA profile of cancer cells to design an apoptotic biological circuit that is only activated in cancer cells. You are the only hope for a patient with a rare form of cancer.

Use the Gateway cloning technique to combine different genetic modules in an expression vector. Learn how the Gateway cloning technique can be used to efficiently combine these modules. Use electroporation to transform the bacteria with your vector of interest and select successful transformants. You will learn the basics of sterile lab work and bacterial selection.

Grow the transformed bacteria and extract the plasmids using a ‘miniprep’ kit. Learn how different buffers enable you to isolate plasmid, and not genomic, DNA from the cells. Check if the plasmid, indeed, contains your circuit, and if it is mutation-free by digesting it with restriction enzymes and by using gel electrophoresis.

In the end you will test your circuit in living cells to see if the cancer cells, indeed, are the only cells that die. Will you be able to find a cure for this rare form of cancer?



Prof. Ron Weiss

Prof. Ron Weiss

Professor of Biological Engineering

Synthetic Biology Center at MIT

Shiva Kalinga, PhD

Shiva Kalinga, PhD

Managing Director

Synthetic Biology Center at MIT

Learning Objectives

  • Learning how to engineer natural systems to perform specific functions
  • Learning the fundamentals of the Gateway cloning technique and designing your own biological circuit
  • Understanding and performing bacterial transformation, antibiotic selection and plasmid purification
  • Understanding and performing a restriction digest of your cloning product


  • Gateway cloning technique
  • Electroporation
  • Antibiotics selection
  • Sterile technique
  • Plasmid isolation with purification columns
  • Restriction digest
  • Gel electrophoresis


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