Tuning cells

Two million Euros of support for synthetic biology at TU Darmstadt

2017/12/08 by

The European Research Council awards an ERC Consolidator Grant to Heinz Koeppl, professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, and supports him for a period of five years with a total of two Million Euros. This will further strengthen the activities of TU Darmstadt in the domain of synthetic biology.

Prof. Dr. Heinz Koeppl. Photo: Sandra Junker

The prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant for Heinz Koeppl is linked to the project “CONSYN – Contextualizing biomolecular circuits models for synthetic biology“. Its goal is to make the design of synthetic genetic circuits more reliable and more efficient through the use of computational modelling.

Synthetic biology is concerned with the integration of new molecular functionality inside biological cells. For instance, a genetic logic circuit can be integrated that can “decide” on the basis of a few intracellular markers whether a cell turns into a cancer cell or not. Even in the simplest model organisms, such as E. coli the integration of those circuits is experimentally very challenging. The circuit behaviour is hard to predict, because the intracellular environment affects the behaviour significantly. CONSYN aims to capture this context-dependency of circuits in computational models. Model building will rely on methods from stochastic analysis, statistical physics and machine learning.

In CONSYN such contextualised models then provide the starting point for a computer-aided circuit synthesis, similarly to microelectronics where such a synthesis is established for long already. Different circuit variants can be compared and optimised on the computer before an experimental realisation within a cell is started. CONSYN provides one more contribution to the focus area “synthetic biology” at TU Darmstadt that is currently pushed forward by the two LOEWE collaborative research efforts CompuGene and iNAPO. The professorship Bioinspired Communication Systems is a unique collaborative professorship between the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology and the Department of Biology and got installed in 2013.


Heinz Koeppl studied physics at Graz Karl-Franzens-University, Austria. In cooperation with Infineon Technologies he obtained his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Graz University of Technology in 2004. After postdoc stays at UC Berkeley and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) he was appointed as an assistant professor at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. In 2013 he additionally founded and led the systems biology group at IBM Research Zurich. Since 2014, he leads the Bioinspired Communication Systems Lab at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology of TU Darmstadt. He is co-affiliated with the Department of Biology.