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International team makes significant progress in engineering synthetic yeast

A global research team has built five new synthetic yeast chromosomes, meaning that 30 percent of a key organism’s genetic material has now been swapped out for engineered replacements. This is one of several findings of a package of seven papers published in March in a special synthetic yeast genome issue of the journal Science.

Led by NYU Langone geneticist Jef Boeke, PhD, and a team of more than 200 authors, the publications are the latest from the Synthetic Yeast Project (Sc2.0). By the end of this year, this international consortium hopes to have designed and built synthetic versions of all 16 chromosomes for the one-celled microorganism Baker’s yeast, known as S. cerevisiae.

Like computer programmers, scientists add swaths of synthetic DNA to—or remove stretches from—human, plant, bacterial, or yeast chromosomes in hopes of averting disease, manufacturing medicines, or making food more nutritious. Baker’s yeast have long served as an important research model because their cells share many features with human cells, but are simpler and easier to study.

This work sets the stage for completion of designer, synthetic genomes to address unmet needs in medicine and industry. Beyond any one application, the papers confirm that newly created systems and software can answer basic questions about the nature of genetic machinery by reprogramming chromosomes in living cells.

—Dr. Boeke

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