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Where does an engineer/programmer start to come up to speed on synthetic biology? Are there any essential books in the field like "Learn Bio-hacking in 21 Days", "Bio-chemistry for Dummies", or "The Structure and Interpretation of DNA"? Or do those still need to be written?

One of the guys at SplatSpace[1] who is something of an expert on genetics / biology / biohacking stuff is always recommending people read this book:

Molecular Biology of the Cell


It's not on synthetic biology, mind you, but presumably some understanding of the natural biology is a prerequisite to doing the synthetic stuff. Anyway, he works for GSK doing some pretty interesting stuff and is an all around smart guy, so I tend to assume his recommendation is a good one. YMMV.

[1]: http://www.splatspace.org

The publisher has a copy of the table of contents and the first chapter as a pdf on the "downloads" tab of:


+1 for MBOC, it is the best molecular biology textbook there is. Read this book before trying to understand anything else about biological systems.

Just as in programming, there are no short cuts here. http://norvig.com/21-days.html

I too think this is something to be on the curve of. You're gonna have to at least learn the basics of [organic] chemistry, genetics, molecular genetics and cellular biology. A blackbox approach will give you a very low ceiling.

Some books to start with:

Genes, Proteins and Computers

A Practical Introduction to the Simulation of Molecular Systems

Understanding Bioinformatics

I'd try to find a local iGEM team to join. http://igem.org/Main_Page That's the best way to build experience quickly if you are new to the field.

A bit hard to replicate, but I found that marrying a systems biologists works rather well.

The book seems to be out-of-stock/back-ordered everywhere, but I was able to find a sample chapter, and it looks interesting:


This is a great read. Brand new with current research.

Ron Weiss at MIT and Adam Arkin from Berkeley are working on a textbook which will ship sometime this year. But yes, there is still a first textbook still to appear for this field

Nice! This is good to know.

One of my favorite molecular biology books of all time is "36 Lectures in Biology" by S.E. Luria [1]. Luria was a great biologist and he wrote this book in a colloquial style based on Lecture materials from his MIT course in the 70's. It's accessible but deep and includes hand-drawn line illustrations and several appendixes on thermodynamics & chemistry to get newcomers up to speed.

It provides an unpretentious, solid introduction to core molecular biology theory, written in a personal manner by one of the 20th century's greatest biologists. And it's only $5 w/ shipping on amazon.

Read it, then go watch some of the short videos [3] by iGEM teams on their projects to get a sense of what's made possible by the synthetic biology approach.

[1] http://books.google.com/books?id=QUZRAAAAMAAJ [2] http://www.amazon.com/36-Lectures-Biology-S-Luria/dp/0262620... [3] http://igem.org/Videos/Community_Videos

The best textbooks for this (this is something of a consensus in the field also) are Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts et al. and Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry by Nelson and Cox.


The above doc aims to cover the basics of molecular biology projects in non-institutional environments. I suggest finding your local DIY group and hanging out with them for a while:


(Usually that just means "your local hackerspace".)

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