Humans are already capable of splicing specific genes from one organism into another to create glowing plants to shelf-stable tomatoes. Now, a group of researchers led by Jef Boeke from New York University have taken the field of genetics to an entirely new level by building an entire chromosome from scratch. The team used a computer to construct a purely synthetic structure based off a chromosome found in the brewer’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
For the past seven years, scientists and a host of undergraduate students painstakingly stitched together short strands of DNA to complete the chromosome. The project is part of a global initiative called Sc2.0 that aims to eventually fabricate all of the yeast’s chromosomes. This first endeavor focuses on the smallest chromosome in the genome, which is the one responsible for reproduction. It is the first time a chromosome has been developed for a “eukaryote”, or a cell containing a membrane-bound nucleus and other organelles.
The artificial chromosome, dubbed “synIII” behaved exactly like a normal chromosome when introduced into wild yeast. Team member Patrick Yizhi Cai believes that this breakthrough will pave the way for complete genome fabrication within the next decade: “With this technology, we can re-engineer and customize organisms. We could make much sleeker genomes for organisms that would be useful for making biofuels and other industrial applications.”
Of course, there is concern over these man-made organisms taking a field trip to the outside world. Since designer organisms could potentially pass their genetic material down to future generations, there is a real risk of replication getting out of hand. However, scientists assure the public that these organisms can be engineered to self-terminate under specific conditions. In the meantime, you can bet that there are more than few craft beer geeks out there eager to take their recipes to the next level.
Via the Guardian
Images via Lucy Reading-Ikkanda and Wikicommons user Kvansky