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A Synthetic Chromosome Turns Yeast Cells into Biofactories

Today we use yeast to make bread rise. Tomorrow we’ll use it to produce everything from breakthrough pharmaceuticals to biofuels to food.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health has created the first yeast chromosome built entirely in the lab, a major step toward the ultimate goal of creating a completely synthetic yeast cell.

“We created a single, efficient chromosome.” 

Srinivasan Chandrasegaran, PhD, Professor in Environmental Health Sciences

“We created a single, efficient chromosome, taking out extraneous genetic information, destabilizing elements and redundancies,” said Srinivasan Chandrasegaran, PhD, a senior author of the research, published in the journal Science, and a professor in Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. The genetic “building blocks” used to construct the chromosome were created by Johns Hopkins undergraduates directed by co-author Jef D. Boeke, PhD, an NYU professor and former Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor.

Although this discovery is significant, Chandrasegaran urged the long view. This lone chromosome, but one of 16 in yeast, took five years to complete. The development of a completely synthetic yeast cell, that Chandrasegaran describes as “an almost ideal cell” for future biofactories, still may be several years away.

“It will take time to create a fully synthetic cell,” he says.