PARIS : Scientists have created the first man-made chromosome for a complex-celled organism - a feat hailed Friday as a big step towards acquiring the controversial ability to redesign plants or animals.
A synthetic chromosome was inserted into a brewer’s yeast cell, which functioned as normal - the key test of success, the international team reported in the journal Science. “Our research moves the needle in synthetic biology from theory to reality,” said Jef Boeke, director of the New York University’s Institute for Systems Genetics, who was a member of the research team. Yeast is a closely-studied representative of the group of eukaryotes, organisms with complex cells that contain a nucleus and other structures enclosed within membranes. All plants and animals, including humans, have eukaryotic cells.
Chromosomes have previously been synthesised for bacteria, which are simpler, prokaryotic organisms. Yeast is used to make beer, biofuel and medicines, and researchers believe it can be made to work more efficiently with genetic modifications.
Boeke and his team unravelled the coding of one of yeast’s 16 chromosomes, then used software to make changes to it - removing repetitive and less-used regions.
They then built a synthetic version of this altered chromosome from scratch, stringing together individual nucleotides - the chemical building blocks of the genes that make up chromosomes, which in turn comprise the genome.