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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs