Scientists Are One Step Closer to Creating an Artificial Genome

eucaryote cell chromosomes explained

Baker’s yeast is a simple single-celled living organism.

A team of researchers managed to artificially replicate six out of the sixteen chromosomes found in baker’s yeast. The road to creating the first, functional artificial genome is slowly, but surely, advancing, paving the way towards creating a living cell from scratch. This breakthrough brings them a step closer to understanding rudimentary biological processes and developing cures for diseases that have plagued humankind for centuries.

“Understanding by Creating”

Baker’s yeast is a simple single-celled organism from the fungus family. The eukaryote has been around for hundreds of millions of years, being capable of surviving the harshest conditions.

In 2010, driven by the mantra of synthetic biology, “understanding by creating,” Krishna Kannan and Daniel Gibson decided to attempt the artificial recreation of its 16 chromosomes, the first effort of creating an artificial living organism.

Four years later, in 2014, the team managed to replicate the first, functional artificial chromosome. Now, according to the latest papers published in Science magazine, five more designer chromosomes were successfully replicated.

The Artificial Chromosomes Are Not Perfect Replicas of Their Natural Counterparts

The team used a combination of functional genomics techniques and phenotypic assays to assess the behavior of the artificial chromosomes. Not only are they acting like their natural counterparts, but they are also granting their hosts certain abilities that were never observed in yeast cells until now.

While some may argue that the mutations are a sign of the chromosomes altering the core genome, the researchers noted that the mutations are not drastic, the size, functional and structural organization of the cells remaining the same.

Why Is the Creation of an Artificial Genome Important?

By creating functional artificial chromosomes, and ultimately, an entire living artificial organism, scientists will be able to better understand the purpose of DNA and all its components. Moreover, according to Joel Bader, study co-author and professor of bioinformatics at John Hopkins, the artificial cells could prove useful in designing cancer antibodies.

The team hopes that the end of 2017 will see the creation of all sixteen artificial chromosomes, next year debuting with the creation of the first artificial genome. At the moment, several other artificial chromosomes are ready for testing, the experiments taking up the majority of the year.

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