News / Science & Technology

Scientists Build a Custom Chromosome

Scientists Build a Custom Chromosomei
X
April 25, 2014 2:21 AM
Scientists have built a custom chromosome -- a package of genetic material assembled entirely from synthetic DNA. This engineered chromosome belongs to yeast, but experts say it can help them understand how genes work in humans as well. And it could help make these tiny living factories better at producing everything from medicines to biofuels. VOA’s Steve Baragona tells us students were key to the project.
Scientists have built a custom chromosome -- a package of genetic material assembled entirely from synthetic DNA.

This engineered chromosome belongs to yeast, but experts say it can help them understand how genes work in humans as well. And it could help make these tiny living factories better at producing everything from medicines to biofuels. Students were key to the project
 
In a lab at Johns Hopkins University, students stitched together machine-made strands of DNA, the chemical that carries the genetic blueprints of life.
 
Their goal: to assemble all 6,000 genes in the genome of yeast.
 
Johns Hopkins geneticist Jef Boeke leads the class. He said yeast does familiar jobs, like turning grapes into wine, but they also do more than that.
 
“We have yeast that are used not just to make alcohol and bread, but also all kinds of chemicals, medicines, vaccines and fuels. And I think we’re going to see more and more of this in the future,” said Boeke.
 
And with genetic engineering, Boeke said, scientists could help yeast do those jobs better.
 
Plus, these one-celled creatures share about a third of their genes with us. Studying their genes can teach us a lot about ourselves.
 
Like us, yeast cells keep their genetic material in bundles of DNA known as chromosomes. Think of each chromosome as a book of genetic instructions, Boeke said.
 
“The book would be made up of chapters, the chapters would be made up of paragraphs and words and, ultimately letters,” explained Boeke.
 
And each gene is a word made up of letters of DNA, the chemical chain that forms the iconic twisted ladder shape.
 
Boeke’s class has strung together all the words in one genetic book so far -- one chromosome out of yeast’s 16.
 
They engineered the new chromosome to let researchers shuffle genes around like a deck of cards.
 
“Some will have winning decks at making biofuels and some at making some other useful product,” he said.
 
Researchers say they are careful to consider the ethical implications of re-writing the code of life, but Boeke adds that his students are learning the basic tools of modern biology and getting excited about the possibilities.
 
“We could teach them how to do something at once very practical but at the same time amazing and unique,” said Boeke.
 
Macintosh Cornwell, a student at Johns Hopkins, said it’s helped him prepare for a career in science.
 
“The range of skills you learn and the amount of experience you get in such a small time period, it’s invaluable, really,” said Cornwell.
 
He and his class are on the cutting edge of this new world of biology.

You May Like

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More