How can we create a fully synthetic organism? One promising way to begin would be to take an existing organism and engineer a new set of chromosomes from that organism’s genome. Scientists at NYU have created a fully synthetic chromosome for Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, the yeast that’s used in bread and beer. By stripping out ‘junk DNA’ and adding in new genes that make future genome engineering easier, the team at NYU have advanced the field towards creating a synthetic organism.

The question, though, is how novel is their work? While the creation of an entirely new chromosome may seem revolutionary on its face, the techniques used in its creation have been around for some time. In fact, less sophisticated artificial chromosomes have been around since the 1980’s. Creating a new yeast chromosome provides the opportunity for future engineering projects, but doesn’t represent a leap forward on its own.

Special thanks to Florian Lienert, Qingqing Wang, and Tyler Ford from the Harvard Biological and Biomedical Sciences Department for their perspective and knowledge on the topic!

For discussions in the media:

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/28/tech/innovation/genetic-breakthrough/index.html

http://communications.med.nyu.edu/media-relations/news/scientists-synthesize-first-functional-%E2%80%9Cdesigner%E2%80%9D-chromosome-yeast

For further reading, the technical article can be found here:

http://www.sciencemag.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/content/344/6179/55.long

Image: DIC Microscopy image of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, wikimedia commons.

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