Our Centre

Our history and organisation

Edinburgh’s Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology (known as SynthSys) embraces a vibrant community of > 50 research groups and >200 researchers. Our research is broad and deep, addressing a diversity of scientific questions with wide ranging impacts for society, industry, the economy and our planet

Synthetic and systems biology spans biology, chemistry, physics, informatics, social sciences, engineering, medicine and veterinary sciences. Our researchers explore fundamental biological questions about living cells and systems and apply these insights – often in collaboration with industry – to create innovations for many markets including industrial biotechnology (including bioremediation and biofuels), agriculture, the environment, and medicine and healthcare.

In October 2015, we opened the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology funded by the BBSRC/EPSRC/MRC as part of the UK Research Councils' Synthetic Biology for Growth programme. This Centre brings together our research in synthetic biology as applied to medicine and healthcare. 


C.H Waddington Building
C.H Waddington Building

Systems biology aims to understand how genes and proteins interact and endow cells with the characteristics associated with life, such as the ability to sense, move, grow and reproduce. 

The first centre for systems biology at Edinburgh was founded in 2007 through a BBSRC/EPSRC award to Professor Andrew Millar and others. As one of six Centres for Integrative Systems Biology funded by the UK Government, it established Edinburgh as a centre of excellence.  The creation of the Centre led to the construction of the Waddington Building, which became the Centre's headquarters. The building was named after Conrad H Waddington, an eminent geneticist at the University of Edinburgh and the 'father of epigenetics'. 

The University established a Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology (SynthSys) in 2012 to capture its growing research strengths in synthetic biology. To date, the University has invested over £30M in building capability and capacity in synthetic biology, which remains a key strategic research theme for the School of Biological Sciences.  

The School of Biological Sciences hosts SynthSys on behalf of the University. The Centre’s Directorship is held on a rolling basis to ensure a diversity of relevant disciplines are represented.

Prof Meriem el Karoui

Centre Director

Contact details

Julie Fyffe

Centre Administrator & Office Manager

Contact details

Contact Julie Fyffe if you want to be added to the Centre mailing list and receive our monthly newsletter

Previous Directors:

Professor Alistair Elfick (Engineering)

Professor Peter Swain (Biology)

Professor Vincent Danos (Informatics)