Automating the Search for SynBio News

If you’re reading this, you’re probably quite interested in synthetic biology. The synbio community is diverse and widely distributed, and I have yet to find a single site which efficiently aggregates all the content that a synthetic biologist might want to read. We started GeneMods in part to pool our collective eyeballs and better keep abreast of developments in synbio research, policy and industry. In that spirit, here is the first post in a series about where to find synthetic biology content on the web.

Automated Search is Your Friend

If you’re lazy like me, the quickest and most powerful way to find articles on synthetic biology is to let your computer do the searching for you. Automated searches save you a bunch of googling, and bring news sources you might never have otherwise discovered right into your email inbox. I recommend using an automated PubMed search to find research articles, and a weekly Google Alert to find both synbio news and the sites that publish it.

Automated PubMed Search

This is a really easy and flexible way to get a ton of primary literature. It takes literally five steps:

  1. Register for a PubMed/NCBI account. All it takes is an email address, username and password.
  2. Go to PubMed, and search “synthetic biology” (include the quotes) while signed in on your account.
  3. Click the “Create alert” button right under the search bar.
  4. Adjust the number/frequency/date settings to your liking. I set mine to email me the abstracts and links to 10 synbio articles every Saturday morning. Yay weekend reading!
  5. Save your settings, and adjust them later by clicking the “My NCBI” button at top right and editing your Saved Searches.

If all goes well, you should start receiving emails from “My NCBI” which summarize recently published synthetic biology research.

Google Alerts

Google is pretty good at finding stuff, and Google Alerts are a simple way to have Google bring that stuff to your inbox. I particularly like Google Alerts because they show me articles from sites I wouldn’t have otherwise found, some of which have since become my favorite sources of synbio news and essays. Setting up a Google Alert also takes only five steps:

  1. Sign into your Google/Gmail account.
  2. Go to
  3. Type “synthetic biology” into the search bar.
  4. Click “Show options” and adjust the number/frequency/language settings to your liking. I set mine to receive the best results in English from any region once a week.
  5. Save your Alert, and adjust them later by going back to

You should start receiving emails from Google Alerts containing titles, links and the first few lines of synbio news articles from around the web.

There’s a Whole World Out There!

I’ve outlined two simple and useful automated searches, but these are by no means the only or the best ways to find synbio content online. I like to think of them as starting points: with these searches, you can start to figure out which journals and labs publish the papers you like, and which sites publish articles you enjoy reading. From there, you can subscribe to weekly newsletters or RSS feeds for the sites you really like, set up further PubMed searches to flag articles from your favorite lab or sub-field, and google your favorite authors to find their blogs. In future posts I’ll outline some of the best sources of synbio content I’ve found through these further searches. In the meantime, I hope I’ve made it a little easier to explore the world of synthetic biology.

Special thanks to Drew Endy for first showing me how to set these searches up.


2 thoughts on “Automating the Search for SynBio News

  1. I would also recommend setting up specific search terms, and following authors on Google Scholar. This is a really efficient ways to get articles as soon as they hit the web. Pubmed can be delayed by months

    Liked by 1 person

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