This is the first time scientists have attempted to create the genome of a eukaryotic organism from scratch, a huge achievement.
Humans have had a close relationship with yeast for thousands of years. It has been used for baking and brewing since time immemorial. More recently, yeast has also been used in chemical production and as a model organism to understand how our cells work. Thanks to this long history and extensive study, we know yeast genetics better than any other organism. Now researchers are making good use of this. They have now succeeded in producing semi-synthetic yeast in the laboratory. This is promising. Rewriting the entire yeast genome could create a new type of yeast that is stronger, grows faster, has higher productivity, and is better able to withstand challenging conditions.
essence (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) It consists of a total of 16 chromosomes. An artificial copy of each of these chromosomes has now been created, the scientists wrote in two separate studies here in here can be read). “Our goal is to understand the basic principles of genomics by building synthetic genomes,” explains researcher Patrick Yeji-Kaye. “We have now completely overhauled the operating system of baker’s yeast, heralding a new era in biotechnology. We are moving from modifying a few genes to fully designing and building entire genomes.
One yeast cell
Because the yeast genome is divided into sixteen chromosomes, scientists began building each chromosome individually. This resulted in sixteen partially artificial yeast strains, each containing 15 normal chromosomes and one artificial chromosome. The next challenge was to integrate these artificial chromosomes into a single yeast cell. To achieve this, the researchers hybridized several partially artificial yeast strains and then searched among their descendants for individuals who carried both artificial chromosomes. Eventually, the team was able to gradually integrate all of the previously made chromosomes – seven in total – into a single yeast cell. The yeast strain they eventually created consisted of more than 50 percent synthetic DNA. This strain is able to survive and reproduce in the same way as wild yeast strains.
Eukaryotic artificial genome
The study is a big step forward. Because although scientists have assembled bacterial and viral genomes before, this is the first attempt to create an artificial genome for a eukaryotic organism – an organism with a cell nucleus. “The global Yeast 2.0 project is trying to do something that has never been done before,” says researcher Tom Williams. “This is the first time we have attempted to create the genome of a eukaryotic organism, which could include humans as well.” Yeast was specifically chosen for this project because of its compact genome and ability to link DNA together, allowing scientists to build artificial chromosomes in yeast cells.
In short, with this study, researchers have taken a major step towards designing the genome of baker’s yeast. This genome differs significantly from the natural genome of yeast used in breweries and bakeries. “We chose to create something that deviates significantly from the natural form,” says researcher Jeff Buckey. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a strain of yeast that can provide us with new insights into biology.”
Therefore, the artificial genome is nothing but an exact copy of the natural genome. This is on purpose. For example, synthetic genomes have new properties that give cells unique properties that you don’t find in nature. One of these properties allows scientists to rearrange the genes of cells, allowing them to create millions of different versions of cells with different characteristics. They can then select the best cells for specific applications in medicine, bioenergy, and biotechnology.
So the researchers are very excited. “This is an exciting breakthrough in biotechnology,” Cai asserts. “Although we have been able to edit genes for some time, writing eukaryotic genomes was something completely new from the beginning. This work is crucial to our understanding of the basics of life and has the potential to change the world of synthetic biology. The creation of artificial chromosomes is a major technical achievement in In itself, but it will also enable new ways to study and use biology. This could range from creating new microbial strains for more environmentally friendly bioproduction, to helping to understand and control diseases.
The ultimate goal of this project is to integrate all individual artificial chromosomes into a fully artificial cell. The team aims for this artificial yeast to be as robust and healthy as wild yeast. This strain will not only be the first synthetic eukaryotic organism, but it will also be the first to be created jointly with scientists around the world. “We are now on the verge of merging all 16 chromosomes into a single cell,” Bucky says. “I consider this the completion of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. The real adventure only begins when we discover the wonderful things we can achieve with this yeast, things we cannot yet imagine.
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