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Biology is emerging as a transformative platform for engineering that demands new approaches to measurement for practical applications. Recent advances in the ability to genetically modify biological systems have led to the emergence of a new engineering discipline, commonly referred to as synthetic biology. This field seeks to harness biology for a variety of manufacturing applications, such as advanced therapeutics, sustainable fuels, chemical feedstocks, and advanced materials. To date, progress in synthetic biology has typically relied on trial-and-error approaches, which are costly, laborious, and inefficient. The Engineering Biology Team seeks to enable predictive engineering in synthetic biology, by developing measurements of the effect of biological context and evolutionary dynamics.


The Engineering Biology Team pursues metrology for microbial systems to define and tune biological context and harness quantitative evolution for prediction, control, and design. Context dependence and evolution stand as unique challenges for synthetic biology, distinct from more traditional engineering disciplines. Effective measurements are needed to foster innovation and practical applications of engineered biological systems, by increasing reproducibility and collaboration. In this way, we aim to advance our fundamental understanding, improve predictability for design, ensure comparability of data between research laboratories, and enable scalability for practical applications of synthetic biology. The Engineering Biology Team takes a dynamic, multidisciplinary approach, partnering actively with other institutions and agencies in collaborative efforts.

Current Technical Scope

Absolute quantitation of mRNA molecules in bacterial cells
Credit: Jayan Rammohan and Bin Shao, MIT/NIST
Multi-color fluorescence microscopy for absolute quantitation of mRNA molecules in engineered bacterial cells.
  • Improve measurement comparability and predictability for transcription-based control of bacteria
  • Design and optimization of living measurement systems using directed evolution
  • Enable comparability and reproducibility using quantitative flow cytometry for engineered microbial systems
  • Deliver methods to determine the evolutionary stability of engineered function 
  • Quantify performance of cell-free systems for rapid design-build-test of genetic parts

Postdoctoral Research Opportunities

National Research Council Research Associateship Program at NIST:

  • Rolling application deadlines Feb. 1 and Aug. 1
  • US citizens only
  • $71,000 annual salary plus benefits
  • Please contact david.ross [at] (David Ross) directly and see the following link for further details:
Created May 10, 2016, Updated December 13, 2019