Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Tour de Force for Synthetic Biology

A recent report in SCIENCE describes the synthesis and function of an artificial yeast chromosome. Starting with oligonucleotide building blocks the investigators assembled a 272,871 base synthetic version of the 316,667 base natural chromosome III. The artificial chromosome contained a number of modifications including loxP sites to facilitate gene deletions and alterations as as well as changes in stop codons and various sequence tags. The synthetic chromosome seems to work well and to support all essential functions in living yeast.

This molecular biology tour de force has major implications for both basic science and technology. For example, on the basic science side it will allow simultaneous manipulation of multiple genes thus facilitating the investigation of patterns of gene-gene interaction. On the technology side it could allow manipulation of whole suites of genes to produce drugs or other useful molecules that are difficult to synthesize by conventional means. Overall this should be a major step forward for synthetic biology. 

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