Metabolic Engineering and Synthetic Biology - EECE 551
This course is a project-based introduction to Synthetic
Biology with an emphasis on Metabolic Engineering. Synthetic
Biology is a transformative view of biology from the
"observation approach" to the "synthesis approach." It is a
new "engineering" discipline and aims to make the
engineering of new biological functions predictable, safe
and quick. It will pave a wide range of applications to
transform our views on production of sustainable energy and
renewable chemicals, environmental problems, and human
disease treatments. The field intersects with Metabolic
Engineering in areas such as the design of novel pathways
and genetic circuits for product generation and toxic
chemical degradation. In this course, the field and its
basis are introduced. First, relevant topics in biology,
chemistry, physics, and engineering are covered. Second,
students will participate in brain-storming and discussion
on new biology-based systems. Last, they will design and
present new synthetic biology systems to solve real-world
Process and Product Design - EECE 402 (Spring)
The main goal of this course is to apply design principles
and engineering fundamentals, which Chemical Engineering
students have learned for 3.5 years, to real-world systems
in order to address various issues of producing and
recovering chemicals. Considering process and cost
optimization, students will design, analyze, and present
their own chemical and biological processes to produce
chemicals, including 1-butanol.
Hands-On Research Experiences
We aim to foster learning through hands-on research
experiences. We have trained and will train undergraduate
students through various research programs:
1) NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)
Program on "Energy Research with Global Reach"
This program provides undergraduate students from different universities with research experience at Washington University as well as international visit. They spend two and half weeks in one of the global MAGEEP (McDonnell Academy Global Energy and Environment Partnership) institutions and perform research at Washington University for seven and half weeks.
Luke Kirchner (Simpson College) successfully finished the program with us in 2013!
2) iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) Competition
Dr. Moon and his graduate student Cheryl Immethun are serving as iGEM supervisors.
3) Independent Research Program
Many motivated undergraduate students are conducting research in our lab. We are currently working with students from the Schools of Engineering and Arts and Sciences, but all self-motivated students are welcome to join us, regardless of their majors.
Allison, Cheryl, and Ray in the Moon lab received project
funding from Women's Society of Washington University for
the outreach activities which include teaching kit
development for Teach For America Teachers! Please contact
for more information.
Our mission is to broaden K-12 student participation in
science and engineering. To this end, we are collaborating
with Teach For America, Young Scientist Program,
Institute for School Partnership, and Girl
On October 5th, 2013, Allie Hoynes-O'Connor and Cheryl
Immenthun took part in Teach For America's Teacher-Leader
Development Day at UMSL. They presented new lab resources to
science teachers from the St. Louis area, and engaged in a
discussion regarding how to further develop a partnership
between university researchers and local schools. The
presentation and resources can be found here. If you are interested
in learning more about the educational resources provided by
the Moon Lab, please contact Allie at email@example.com.
Below: Cheryl Immethun with students from the Young
Students at Riverview Gardens High School participated in
the bacterial transformation lab in Mr. McDonnell's class on
January 29th-31st. About 75 students successfully
transformed green fluorescent protein into E. coli and were
able to observe the resulting glowing green cells under UV
light! This project was funded in part by a grant from the
Women's Society of Washington University.
Above: Allie helps explain an important concept to one
of the students in the class.
Students from the class gave us good feedback on the
bacterial transformation lab! All of the results can be
On February 22nd, Allison, Cheryl, and Ray attended the 3rd
Annual St. Louis Education Summit at UMSL. They discussed
lab kits and supplies available from the Moon Research
Group, the Young Scientists Program, and other resources
available through Washington University for science
teachers. They also demonstrated some of the teaching kits
available for students!
Above: Allie, Cheryl, and Ray demonstrate different teaching kits for science teachers working in the St. Louis area.
Other Outreach (4/30/14)
The science club at the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, a magnet high school in the St. Louis Public School District, did some bacterial transformations with our genetic circuit kit this past spring.
Genetic Circuits Workshop (6/30/14)
Fifteen local high school teachers came to WashU for the Genetic Circuits Workshop sponsored by the WUSTL Institute for School Partnership. Graduate students Allie Hoynes-O'Connor and Cheryl Immethun introduced teachers to the main principles behind genetic circuits and synthetic biology as well as training to use the genetic circuits teaching kit developed in our lab. These eleven schools were represented: Elsberry High School, Kirkwood High School, Visitation Academy, Fox High School, Lindbergh High School, McCluer North High School, Parkway South High School, Frances Howell High School, Pattonville HIgh School, McCluer South Berkeley High School, and Fort Zumwalt East High School.
Top: A group of teachers learns about the genetic circuit teaching kit. Bottom: Allison Hoynes-O'Connor answers questions about performing the experiment.
Overall, the workshop was a success and the teachers gave us positive feedback about the teaching kit:
"Very enjoyable and easily integrated into high school science classrooms"
"I thought I'd feel like a fish out of water, but I did follow quite nicely with the instruction. Also, [the teaching kit] hit the target on what a circuit actually does and really piqued my interest further."
"I am going to do this with my regular Bio kids"
Below are some of the results from the workshop!
For more information about our genetic circuit teaching kit, please contact Allison Hoynes-O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teacher Workshop (8/7/14)
Three teachers from Metro Academic and Classical High School visited WashU on August 7th to hear more about synthetic biology and discuss how to incorporate concepts from synthetic biology into their classroom.
Public Lecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India (11/9/14-11/12/14)
Professor Moon gave a public lecture at the Indo-US Workshop on Synthetic & Systems Biology to discuss the potential and risks of synthetic biology. More information: https://sites.google.com/site/synbioworkshop/synbioglobal
Other Outreach (2/18/15)
Vicki Schaeffer from Pattonville High School visited WashU to learn more about using our teaching kit for her science class. Below are the results from a student survey about the teaching kit:
Here are some of the comments from students about their experience:
What did you like most about this lab?
- "I liked that the experiment worked, and that we got to see the effect plasmids have on cells"
- "Seeing it glow was cool"
- "Working with actual DNA and bacteria"
- "It was unique, with actual implications. I thoroughly enjoyed this lab"
What will you remember most about this lab?
- "The smell"
- "The glowing E. coli"
- "The glow after the experiment was done"
Other comments? "Thank you! <3"
Outreach Update (3/1/2016)
Vicki Schaeffer from Pattonville High School led her 63 AP Biology students through the bacterial transformation lab provided by the Moon Lab. The students were very successful in creating some glowing green bacteria! When asked about the experience, here is what the students had to say:
What did you like most about this lab?
- "It was a new experience, I've never had the opportunity to do something like this before."
- "I liked that the lab actually worked and the bacteria glowed"
- "I enjoyed having it be hands on"
- "We got to make plasmid glow in the dark"
- "What I liked most about the lab is that we actively changed the DNA of the bacteria (which is pretty cool)"
What will you remember most about this lab?
- "The bacteria glowing"
- "The GFP, and that I've never done something like this"
- "Seeing the colonies glow for the first time"
- "Seeing how fast bacteria grows"
- "How cool it was to see the lab being a success and how it glowed at the end"
And Vicki's feedback was simply...
- "I love this lab!"
Student Feedback Results:
BioBuilder Professional Development Workshop (June 28-30, 2016) held at Monsanto, Chesterfield, MO
Eight educators from across the country attended the three day workshop to learn about the field of synthetic biology and develop plans for incorporating this emerging engineering field into their classrooms, as well as their after-school and summer programs. The educators learned about how living cells can be reprogrammed to tackle challenges in society through engaging and relevant labs they can do with their students. After completing the BioBuilder labs (biobuilder.org), teacher teams designed their own synthetic microbial systems that addressed breast cancer detection, biodegradation of plastics, and mosquito repellants. The educators were excited about bringing the problem-solving embedded in cutting edge science and engineering to their students.
Participants at the BioBuilder Professional Development Workshop, held at Monsanto in Chesterfield, MO, included educators from across the country, led by high school biology teacher Tom Martinez (first row, second from the left) and Moon Research Group graduate student Cheryl Immethun (first row, right side).
Cheryl explains the protocol for the Eau that Smell lab.
Cheryl explains how to use the spectrophotometer to measure absorbance.
Tom photobombs while Cheryl explains the calculations for the iTune Device Lab.
Pre-Engineering Institute (7/5/2016 & 7/27/2016)
Washington University in St. Louis’ 2016 iGEM team, Zach Glick, Gillian Myers, Drew Ells, and Harley Greene, and their mentors, Dr. Janie Brennan and Moon Research Group graduate student Cheryl Immethun, led rising high school juniors and seniors attending the Pre-Engineering Institute in a lab that taught the fundamentals of synthetic biology. The students learned that engineers use a design, build, test cycle to rationally design devices in a bacterial gene expression system. They first predicted the strength of protein expression from the system for different combinations of promoters and ribosome binding sites. Afterwards, they tested their predictions by measuring the intensity of yellow color produced from the β-galactosidase assay. The students were so excited about the activity that several stayed to talk to the iGEM team after the lab concluded.
Zach (on the left) assists a team using a spectrophotometer to measure cell density.
Gillian (on the left) assists a team adding cells to their reactions.
Drew (on the right) explains the enzymatic reaction to a team conducting the β-galactosidase assay.
Harley (in the middle) and Dr. Brennan (in the center back) answer questions about the assay.
Cheryl (on the right) helps set up a spectrophotometer for a team measuring the yellow color produced during the reaction.