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

ks of nucleotides in the synthesized DNA. By scrambling, some genes were lost and the order of other genes was shuffled.

This entire process was then repeated in various yeast cultures to produce a multitude of modified arms--just as shuffling and randomly removing cards from multiple decks would produce a multitude of different decks. Because of resulting differences in the scrambled genetic codes of the yeast cultures, these cultures displayed trait differences.

"We were able to track the changes we made relative to the native yeast and isolate scrambled derivatives from the semi-synthetic yeast," said Boeke. "We thereby generated a wide range of different derivatives from the semi-synthetic strain. Some scrambled strains grew as well as the native yeast and some did not." Such variation yielded insights into the relationships between DNA structure and trait expression in yeast.

Nevertheless, thus far only about one percent of the DNA in a yeast cell has been synthesized and scrambled through this research. The research team is currently working towards its long-term goal of synthesizing all 16 yeast chromosomes to order to give the organism desired traits.

One of the reasons why yeast was selected as the focus of this research is because yeast is used in so many industrial fermentation processes, including the production of vaccines and biofuels. Therefore, gaining the ability to more efficiently confer desired traits on this organism may lead to the production of new vaccines and more efficient biofuels.

Another reason to work with yeast is that, like plant, animal and human cells, it is a "eukaryote" because its cells contain complex internal structures, such as a nucleus enclosed by a membrane. Because of such similarities between yeast cells and human cells, insights into cellular processes in yeast may yield insights into basic processes in human cells.

"These researchers synthesized the largest eukaryote
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Contact: Lily Whiteman
lwhitema@nsf.gov
703-292-8310
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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