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Researchers have made significant progress in developing sophisticated synthetic life forms by substituting over half of the genetic material in a yeast cell with artificial DNA.
A group of researchers from the UK have successfully integrated over seven synthetic chromosomes, each containing DNA, into one cell. This cell was able to function and reproduce like regular yeast cells.
Over the past ten years, scientists have carefully constructed these chromosomes in a laboratory using chemical components as part of the Sc2.0 project, also referred to as the Synthetic Yeast Genome Project.
Yeast is a type of microorganism made up of only one cell. It is classified as a eukaryotic organism because it contains DNA in a nucleus.
This is the initial effort by scientists to construct the complete genetic makeup, or genome, of a eukaryotic organism.
In 2010, the first living cell to be entirely controlled by synthetic DNA was created. However, this cell did not have a nucleus and was found in a bacterial organism.
New strains of synthetic yeast are believed to have the potential to aid in the production of items like vaccines and biofuels upon completion.
“We recognized the significance of creating a highly altered version of nature’s design,” stated Professor Jef Boeke, a synthetic biologist at New York University’s Langone Health and head of Sc2.0.
Our main goal was to create a yeast that could provide us with new insights into biology.
Patrick Yizhi Cai, a professor at the University of Manchester specializing in synthetic genomics, announced that the team has successfully rewritten the operating system of budding yeast. This breakthrough marks a significant advancement in the field of engineering biology, as it allows for the creation of entire genomes rather than just modifying a few genes.
Professor Cai has spearheaded the group responsible for developing a tRNA Neochromosome, which is a novel addition to the natural genetic makeup.
The genome of the baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) consists of 16 chromosomes and shares approximately one-third of its 6,000 genes, which are sections of DNA that code for proteins, with those of humans.
Researchers from the University of Nottingham and Imperial College London have played a significant role in creating the last artificial chromosome for yeast, referred to as XI. This achievement marks the completion of synthesizing all 16 original chromosomes in the baker’s yeast.
The results have been released as a compilation of articles spanning Cell, Molecular Cell, and Cell Genomics.
According to Dr Ben Blount, an assistant professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences, the creation of synthetic chromosomes is a significant technical feat that will expand our capabilities in studying and utilizing biology.
“We have the potential to develop novel microbial strains for more environmentally-friendly bioproduction and to gain insights into and fight against illnesses.”
The researchers started by making multiple strains of yeast, each with one synthetic chromosome, in order to merge them into a single cell.
The team subsequently crossbred these partially synthesized strains of yeast and identified the offspring that contained both synthetic chromosomes.
The procedure was repeated over multiple generations of yeast varieties until a single cell contained six complete chromosomes and one chromosome arm.
Afterwards, the scientists utilized a distinct technique called chromosome substitution to transfer a man-made chromosome, referred to as IV, to produce a yeast cell containing over 50% synthetic material.
The researchers were able to resolve the “bugs” that arose during the process through the use of gene editing techniques.
According to Professor Boeke, our research has demonstrated that we are able to effectively combine about 50% of the genome with favorable results. This suggests that we will not encounter significant obstacles in this area.
The last task is to combine the separate synthetic chromosomes into a complete synthetic yeast genome, creating the first eukaryote controlled by synthetic DNA in the world.
Professor Boeke stated that they are very close to completing the goal of having all 16 chromosomes within one cell.
I prefer to refer to this as the start of a new phase, rather than the end of everything, as this is when we can truly begin to mix things up and create yeast with unprecedented abilities.