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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid