Life, Synthetically

Piecing together DNA - Sarah Richardson, JHU
The Synthetic Yeast Project is piecing together yeast DNA to create the organism from the bottom up. Credit: Sarah Richardson/Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins biomedical engineer Joel Bader has a lofty goal – keeping a yeast organism alive while painstakingly replacing its DNA piece by piece to construct it synthetically.

Synthetic biology is a relatively new field that aims to make it easier to design and build useful organisms by addressing complex biological questions.

We are working to synthesize yeast chromosomes, and eventually the genome, using a ‘bottom up’ approach,“ says Bader, who is affiliated with the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins.

“We plan to introduce conservative changes to the genome sequence, deleting or relocating DNA that is unlikely to reduce the yeast’s vitality. At the same time, we will be introducing recombination sites that permit the yeast to test the importance of each gene.“

Bader says creating synthetic yeast could address fundamental questions about the properties of chromosomes, the function of RNA splicing, and the structure, organization, and evolution of genomes. In addition to increasing biological understanding, he says synthetic yeast would be useful for a variety of practical biotechnology uses, possibly including ethanol production.

The multi-disciplinary team working on this project is led by Jef Boeke, director of the High Throughput Biology Center and professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics. Also included in the research at Johns Hopkins are members of Michael Beer’s lab (Biomedical Engineering) and Srinivasan Chandrasegaran’s lab (Environmental Health Sciences).

Bader and collaborators are soliciting advice on design principles, proposed alterations, phenotype monitoring, and relevant software development.

For more information, visit the Synthetic Yeast Project at http://www.syntheticyeast.org

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