About two months ago we published a short report on a new study that pioneered creating an entire chromosome of yeast; an organism with similar cellular organization as humans. Just a week ago, a discussion flared up on Reddit about the consequences for everything from creating human brain-less organ farms to custom babies. The study will really only benefit basic sciences and advanced biotechnology, where people use yeast or bacteria to produce things like pharmaceutical drugs and biofuels. Three reasons this finding does not propel us into a Sci Fi horror story:
DNA organization in a eukaryote cell. Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Radio68 (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eukaryote_DNA.svg)
1) Yeast is not man. The finding does not mean we can make chromosomes as large as the 26 human ones; even the smallest human chromosome (#21) is at 47 million basepairs 172 times bigger than the artificial yeast chromosome created here. Nor do we know that human cells will tolerate an artificial chromosome.
2) The small chromosome created took an entire class of undergrads plus the expertise and equipment of the research group. It is not fit for a custom genetics- or criminal enterprise.
3) Not comforting, but using existing genomes instead of building new ones, for good or bad purposes, is much more accessible outside of a handful academic labs.
More on synthetic biology, its virtues and pitfalls:
Commentary by Wendell Lim
Original Wave on story
More on synthetic yeast 2.0 project
Managing Editor: Marti Borkent. Many thanks to Adrian Slusarczyk (Jasanoff lab, MIT) for insight and commentary.
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