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A call to arms for synthetic biology
Date:9/15/2011

Scientists have replaced all of the DNA in the arm of a yeast chromosome with computer-designed, synthetically produced DNA that is structurally distinct from its original DNA to produce a healthy yeast cell. (Yeast chromosomes are often depicted as bow tie-shaped--with each chromosome bearing two "arms" that are positioned similarly to the two sides of a bow tie.)

These results confirm that large pieces of DNA can be synthesized and inserted into a chromosome, and validate the research team's principles for designing synthetic chromosomes. Further, the researchers report a method for changing the structure of the synthetic DNA, a process called "scrambling," which could be applied to other organisms in addition to yeast.

In addition, the successful synthesis and scrambling of the DNA in the chromosome arm represents a significant step towards the researchers' ultimate goal of synthesizing all of a yeast cell's DNA to confer desired traits on the yeast--an achievement that would likely yield many societal benefits and basic insights about which DNA structural arrangements are possible and compatible with life.

This research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is described in this week's issue of Nature.

The first step of this research was to produce so-called semi-synthetic DNA according to a computer-generated blueprint for the sequence of nucleotides, which are the building blocks of DNA. Then, the resulting semi-synthetic DNA was used to replace the desired chromosome arm of a yeast cell without impacting its health. "The yeast that underwent this process were indistinguishable in their growth properties from the native yeast," says Jef D. Boeke of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine--a member of the research team.

Next, the synthesized DNA in the arm was "scrambled;" this process involved adding a chemical to the yeast culture that caused major changes to gene-sized bloc
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Contact: Lily Whiteman
lwhitema@nsf.gov
703-292-8310
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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