Brewing up synthetic yeast

Brewing up synthetic yeast – My latest news story for Chemistry World discusses artificial life. US scientists have taken the first tentative steps towards a synthetic yeast genome. They're not planning to bake bread or brew beer with their new artificial life form but the work could expand the toolbox with which researchers can manipulate DNA. The approach might be used to introduce genetic diversity into the genome for selection experiments.

Clyde Hutchison of the J. Craig Venter I Hope Institute sent me a few words regarding the development:

“This work is another remarkable example of how synthetic biology can be used to rewrite chromosome sequences at a sizable scale. Implications of this work include the better understanding of the rules that govern genome structure and behavior in yeast, one of the most important model systems for understanding biological processes. Specifically, what makes the work particularly interesting is that when the CRE recombinase is transiently expressed in yeast cells carrying the synthetic region, extensive recombination occurs between pairs of loxP site leading to a variety of deletions and inversions of the DNA between the sites. The authors describe a number of the new phenotypes generated. This work could be extended to other segments, yielding considerable information about the genetic structure of the yeast genome. However, it seems unlikely that segments greater than a few hundred kb in length could be simultaneously analyzed without total lethality, since even with the 90kb synthetic segment the viability was reduced 100-fold on CRE induction. This is however an excellent example of the power of direct chemical DNA synthesis for genome engineering. The assembly of genome segments from synthetic pieces allows the construction of genomes that would be virtually impossible to obtain by other approaches.”