Biologists from around the world have achieved a groundbreaking milestone in synthetic biology, creating a strain of yeast with over 50% synthetic DNA. This achievement marks the first time a eukaryote, a type of organism whose cells contain a nucleus, has had a fully synthetic genome.
The strain of yeast was developed by the Sc2.0 consortium, a collaboration of labs dedicated to pushing the boundaries of biological engineering. Over the course of 15 years, the researchers edited and synthesized 6.5 chromosomes in the lab, while also stitching together another chromosome from edited bits of the yeast’s genetic code.
The potential applications of this synthetic yeast strain are vast. In the future, it could be used to produce drugs and fuels, offering a sustainable and efficient alternative to current methods. Additionally, by manipulating the yeast’s genome without impacting its survival, scientists are gaining valuable insights into the biology of yeast and furthering our understanding of this common microorganism.
One of the primary goals of the project is to eliminate potential sources of instability in the yeast genome, such as repetitive DNA sequences. To achieve this, computer programs and genome editing techniques are employed. Crucial DNA segments are also relocated into an entirely synthetic “neochromosome” for enhanced stability.
Creating a yeast cell with all 7.5 synthetic chromosomes was no easy feat. The researchers had to breed strains of yeast with different edited chromosomes to successfully accomplish this task. However, introducing synthetic chromosomes into the yeast genome is not without its challenges. Debugging, or fixing any problems that arise from this process, can be a time-consuming and intricate procedure.
Despite the obstacles, the team is now focused on replacing the remaining natural chromosomes with entirely synthetic ones, gradually adding them one at a time and carefully debugging the system. This ongoing work is not only advancing biological engineering capabilities but also pushing the boundaries of what can be engineered in biology.
The successful development of a strain of yeast with a fully synthetic genome is a significant breakthrough in synthetic biology. Its potential applications in drug and fuel production, as well as its contribution to our understanding of yeast biology, make it a remarkable achievement. As the researchers continue their work, the possibilities for synthetic organisms and biological engineering will only expand further.