Synthetic Biology Stands Out

Beth Crissy (High School Science Teacher) shares details about our Synthetic Biology course and what makes our science program stand out.

“We are looking for creative minds that have had the chance to work, fail and investigate at a more complex research based model.” This quote from William E, Bentley, PhD and head of the Department of Bioengineering from the University of Maryland, was preceded by a challenge to schools: identify or create something that sets your science programs apart. Professor Bentley emphasized that all incoming students to his college have had similar success in standard AP or IB programs. ASIJ’s Synthetic Biology course is one response to the challenge raised by Professor Bentley.


Our Synthetic Biology Course has offered students, for the first time, an advanced science pathway into research. As this new course concludes, it is revealing to see the diversity of projects that students have been able to pursue. From alternate methods for vaccine delivery to early detection of cancer cells, student have explored the feasibility of applying synthetic biology to real life, biotechnological techniques in the laboratory and the ethics of various scientific research. In addition to learning how to apply the principles of engineering (design, build and test) to the research practices of genetic engineering, student have explored ethical considerations that scientists must grapple with in research.

In the process of developing their projects, our students benefited from a Chofu PTA-sponsored visit from Riley Ennis, a young entrepreneur and founder of Immudicon. Riley met with every student about their project, provided insight, critical feedback and inspired them to think big. He encouraged students to “Surround yourself in interesting, challenging problems that make you hungry to learn.”

Next year the science research program will also benefit from the experience of Dan Tani. Dan worked for NASA from 1996 to 2012. He is a graduate of MIT and has spent 131 days in space, including seven space walks.  As an engineer and an astronaut, Dan has been both a user and a designer of human solutions. He currently works as a senior director of a company delivering cargo to the international space station and in the past has worked closely with JAXA, the Japanese Aeronautic Exploration Agency. Dan will use these real world networks and partnerships with the space, science and engineering industry to help develop and enrich the science and design focus in our programs.

Project descriptions

Grade 12 students looked at finding solutions to human problems through the following projects.

Combating Antibiotic Resistance: Re-engineering bacteria to remove genes that cause antibiotic resistance. (Maia Ohiro, Len Kamemoto, Kishen Gei and Diva Lahad)

An Alternate Method for Hepatitis B Vaccine Delivery: Delivery of Vaccine through the Buccal Membrane, inspired by the shortage of clean syringes in developing countries to deliver vaccines safely. (Sasha Mochida and Mona Clappier)

Early Detection of Breast Cancer Using Cheek Cells: Developing a quick, home screening test for early breast cancer detection. (Nina Ulbrich and  Anna Sheng)

Ethylene Suppression as a Means to Increase Shelf Life of Fruit: A look at increasing shelf life and delivery of fruit. (Maya Onuma, Henrik Olsson and Lilly Snell)

Expression of Neurotransmitters by E. coli: Re-engineering E. coli to produce and express Neurotransmitters. (Riku Yasutomi and Thomas Watts)

Blocking the Synthesis of LDL Cholesterol: Inhibiting the upstream enzyme responsible for LDL Cholesterol synthesis. (Erica Kiyose, Yume Kashimura and Karen Kaminaga)

Magnetic Properties of Tumors and Nanoparticles: Clumping Tumor Cells in order to facilitate treatment for cancerous cells. (Dominique Blackmun and Lahari Gorantla)

Shining a Light on Over Fertilizing: Using the GFP protein as a biosensor to detect  nitrogen levels in plants. (Amanda Shick)

Medical Applications of Pigments as Reporters; Transformation of Common Gut Bacteria, Lactobacillus Acidophilus: Harnessing pigment-tagged gut bacteria to work as an immune system promotors. (Rewa Raykar)