Scientists in the US have created the first synthetic chromosome for baker’s yeast, the BBC has reported. While synthetic chromosomes have been created before, this is the first success with an eukaryote (an organism whose cells have nuclei housing its chromosomes). A team of researchers, led by Dr Jef Boeke of Langone Medical Centre at New York University, replaced the genes in the original chromosome with synthetic ones before inserting the chromosome—named Syn III—into the yeast nucleus. The new cell underwent division, thus passing a crucial viability test.
Such synthetic biology assumes significance for two reasons. One, it can be used in industrial production of certain chemicals—Mosquito One, a drug developer, successfully demonstrated production and extraction of artemisinin, a key component in anti-malarial drugs, using a synthetic gene in yeast. There is research under way to harvest key human hormones using non-human cells and synthetic genes. So, if a chromosome laden with genes coding for many proteins can be synthesised, a single cell can be used to produce many biochemical products. More impressively, the research team junked some of the base pairs in the original gene—Syn III has 2,73,871 base pairs while the original had 3,16,667 pairs. So, not only is it possible to produce many bio-chemicals simultaneously, but also to choose each specific one. The larger ramification, however, is for genetic research itself. Being an eukaryote, yeast is related to all plants and animals—humans share as many as 2,000 genes with it. So, the successful synthesis of a yeast chromosome opens up doors for synthesising, some day, a human chromosome.