News / Science & Technology

Scientists Build Artificial Chromosome

FILE - The 46 human chromosomes, where DNA resides and does its work.FILE - The 46 human chromosomes, where DNA resides and does its work.
x
FILE - The 46 human chromosomes, where DNA resides and does its work.
FILE - The 46 human chromosomes, where DNA resides and does its work.
In what is being called a major step forward in genetic engineering, scientists have built a customized copy of an entire yeast chromosome.  Experts say it may lead to a better understanding of how the thousands of genes contained in these packages of genetic material work together in everything from yeast to humans.  And it may make it easier to make designer yeast, creating living factories that churn out everything from antibiotics to biofuels.  

Geneticist Jef Boeke says it started with a coffee shop conversation with a colleague.

“I mentioned casually to him that, of course we could make the yeast chromosome if we wanted to, but why on Earth would we want to do that? And he practically literally started jumping up and down with excitement when I told him that,” he said.

So Boeke, the colleague, Srinivasan Chandrasegaran and a third partner, Joel Bader, spent the next year discussing how they could engineer the chromosome to make it worth the enormous investment of time and money it would take.

Working at Johns Hopkins University, they decided to create an artificial version of chromosome III, one of the smallest of yeast’s 16 chromosomes. It carries about 100 genes.  Boeke says scientists have studied it for years, adding “It is the sentimental favorite of yeast geneticists.”

Block by block

Boeke and his colleagues recreated their favorite chromosome, gene by gene, with synthetic chemical building blocks.  They included molecular seams, so they could cut the chromosome apart, take some genes out, add others, rearrange them and stitch it back together in ways that would help them understand how different combinations of genes work together.

Since yeast genes are a lot like ours, Boeke says the research could lead to a better understanding of human genetics.

“And perhaps most interesting of all, we think it will be useful for actually improving the strain under certain conditions of growth or production of some useful product,” he said.

Different strains of yeast are already used to produce antibiotics, antimalarial drugs, vaccines, biofuels and much more. The ability to custom-tailor chromosomes could give the biotech industry a boost.

And Boeke says the same process his group used to build a new yeast chromosome could be used in plants and animals and even humans as well.

Ethical issues

Boeke, now at New York University, says they are all aware of the ethical issues that possibility raises.

“We have a card-carrying bioethicist who is part of our team,” he pointed out, adding, “And we think a lot about these things.  In fact, our whole field is infused with a passion for doing the right thing.”

He says every member working on the project has to sign an agreement not to do what he calls “bad things” with it.

Experts note that this is not the first time researchers have built a big chunk of genome from scratch.  A group at the J. Craig Venter Institute synthesized an entire bacterial genome in 2008.

Paying for research

Ventner’s group was funded entirely with private money.  Boeke’s group relied on a single, relatively small government grant.  Virginia Tech professor Jean Peccoud notes that undergraduate students did much of the actual work.

“There is a lot of significance in terms of engaging students and using a research project like this as a training opportunity," he said. "But in terms of the kind of infrastructure and the kind of intensity you need for a project like this, is it really something that is fundable through public sources, or is it something that is going to be in the hands of commercial interests?”

Peccoud notes that Craig Venter also used private money to sequence the human genome faster than the publically-funded project.

Meanwhile, researchers have 15 more chromosomes to build in order to reach their goal of constructing an entirely custom-made yeast genome.

The work appears in the journal Science.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

Alaskans experiencing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more frequent and extensive wildfires, deteriorating glaciers, and swift shoreline erosion More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs