The Team

Current Members

Uriel E. Barboza Pérez

Synthetic Biology, Biophysics, Cellular Agriculture.

 Uriel is a PhD student (Pilizota Lab) at the University of Edinburgh's Center for Engineering Biology. His current research focuses on studying bacterial electrophysiology using single-cell microscopy techniques and designing biosensors with synthetic biology tools.

His interest in synthetic biology began when he joined his first iGEM team and has since been involved in various activities aimed at promoting synthetic biology as a tool for developing sustainable biotechnologies. Before moving to Edinburgh, he conducted research at the Endy Lab at Stanford, where he worked on CRISPR-based technologies for the Build-A-Cell Project, and at the Cibrian Lab at the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Mexico..

In addition to his primary research interests, he is also passionate about developing tools that promote the global bioeconomy, democratizing biotechnology, and using biotechnology to address environmental and food production challenges.

"I have a deep passion for the outdoors, and I firmly believe that utilizing the tools of synthetic biology is a crucial step towards safeguarding our environment and transitioning from our current economic systems to a global sustainable bioeconomy."


Past Members

Tessa Moses

Yeast Synthetic Biology and Metabolomics

Tessa Moses manages the EdinOmics core facility that is part of the Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology (SynthSys) at the University of Edinburgh. She obtained her PhD in Biotechnology from the lab of Prof. Alain Goossens, University of Ghent, Belgium in 2012 on the metabolic engineering of plants and yeast for the production of triterpenoid saponin building blocks. She was a postdoctoral scientist in the group of Prof. Anne Osbourn, John Innes Centre until 2015 where she worked on exploiting the syntegron technology platform for the assembly and optimisation of complex genetic ensembles, in particular the development of a triterpenoid biosensor in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. She obtained a Special Research Fund (BOF) from the University of Ghent, Belgium in 2015 to work as a doctoral assistant with research activities on the engineering of yeast for the screening and sustainable production of high-value pharmaceutical and pesticidal triterpenoids. She moved to Edinburgh in 2017, as a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Prof. Susan Rosser to develop a yeast platform for saponin production with applications in home and personal care products. 

“I have been fascinated by yeasts for over a decade and am intrigued by their immense power to adopt biochemical pathways. They are by far my favourite workhorses for synthetic biology, but I am also convinced that the advances in the field open up opportunities for other microbes in the future. I am excited to be at the peak of my research career in these exciting times of synthetic biology."


Vivek Senthivel

Mammalian synthetic biology

Vivek is a postdoctoral research associate at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. His current research involves developing receptor based biosensors for theranostics and drug testing in mammalian cell lines.  He has a microbiology background and his past works involved developing synthetic biology tools for bacterial and mammalian systems. 

His interests involve pattern formation in biology, emergence, complex systems, network science, meta analysis of scientific methods. 

"I got interested in the field of synthetic biology after reading an article by the "Biofab" group in Scientific American ( and got hooked to the field ever since."


Dorothy Zhang

Science Communication and Public Engagement

Dorothy is currently studying the postgraduate program of Science Communication and Public Engagement, and acting as the 2019 iGEM Ambassador. She's also a member of iGEM Human Practices Committee.

Previously she worked for Cold Spring Harbor Asia and BGI, and has assisted and led the establishment and operation of several NGOs that focus on the exchanging and popularization of life sciences. 


Stephen Mahon


Stephen is a scientist turned engineer. He is a postdoctoral research associate in the University of Edinburgh at the School of Engineering and the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics. Stephen works on robotics for extreme environments, developing industrial-scale self-building modular robotic solutions to provide access to work-sites in hazardous environments.

Stephen has a range of research interests including robotics, microfluidics, micro and nanofabrication, diagnostics, lab-on-a-chip, organ-on-a-chip, and synthetic biology.

“I got interested in Synthetic Biology after attending a workshop earlier in my PhD with my supervisor. I think that engineering biology is absolutely fascinating and I chatted to a few about the role of microfluidics in synthetic biology. Although I am not a biologist, nor have expertise in synthetic biology, I feel like I have a lot to contribute as an engineer and I want to learn a few things along the way.”


Varun Kothamachu


Varun is a Research Associate at the Menolascina Lab: Institute of BioEngineering, University of Edinburgh. He did his PhD at the University of Exeter and has previous postdoc experience at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge.

Varun has a multidisciplinary background with interests in undersanding internal and external control in the context of living cells, and developing methods that enable a reliable engineering and control in synthetic biology. 

" Synthetic biology brings together several fields and has the potential to impact many different areas of our lives. I  believe it is very important to discuss this emerging discipline with all parties: industry, academia and general public. With Cafe Synthetique - Edinburgh  I hope we can build a dialogue and create a community that throws up interesting questions, views and has stimulating discussions."


Christine Mordstein

RNA biologist

I am a postdoctoral research associate working jointly between the Greg Kuda lab (MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh) and Laurence Hurst group (University of Bath).

My work focuses on understanding the effects of codon usage on gene expression in human cells with the aim to improve transgene expression for biomedical research and gene therapy.


Sean Bankier

Systems Genetics

Sean is a PhD student on the MRC funded Precision Medicine Doctoral Training Programme, working at the Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Edinburgh.

Sean completed his Bachelors degree in Genetics at the University of Aberdeen followed by a Masters of Research at the University of Manchester in Translational Medicine.

"My research examines the impact that genetic variation has upon disease phenotype, with a focus upon the mechanistic underpinnings that mediate these differences. In my PhD, I utilise methodologies from computational biology, quantitative genetics and causal inference to examine how overarching gene networks influence complex disease phenotypes."


Divakaran Divakaran


Divakaran is a Research associate at the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh.  He did his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.  

Divakaran has a range of research interests including: metric geometry, Reimann surfaces, laminations, persistence homology and Monte-Carlo integration. 

"I am primarily interested in geometry and topology.  Applications of geometry and topology to other areas also appeal a lot to me.  Currently, I am working on geometric and topological ways to better understand Monte-Carlo integration."


Jessica Birt

Mammalian Biosensors

Jessica completed a BSc in Biochemistry at the University of Manchester, and an MSc in Synthetic Biology at Newcastle University. She has previously worked in medical research in both the UK and the Gambia. She has competed in the iGEM competition twice – first with the Manchester 2013 team, producing non-native fatty acids in E. coli, and later as team captain of the Newcastle 2017 team, creating a multicellular platform for biosensor development. 

Jessica is currently a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, using mammalian synthetic biology to design and implement in vivo sensors for diagnostics and drug testing.