Since then, like the Sumerians for the first time wanted to drink beer, and that was thousands of years ago, Homo sapiens had close relationships with Sacharomyces cerevisae, unicellular fungi known as yeast. Due to the fermentation that people can use this microscopic view for their own purposes. In our days, the yeast cells produce ethanol and insulin, they do experiments in laboratories.
This does not mean that S. cerevisiae can no longer be improved – in any case, according to Jeff Smartly. Director of the Institute of genetic systems at new York University, the Striker led the international team of hundreds of people whose job it is to synthesize 12.5 million genetic letters that make up the genome of yeast cells.
In practice, this means the gradual replacement of each chromosome of yeast – and those of 16 chemically synthesized DNA. The striker and his colleagues nearly ten institutions dismantled the yeast genome and allow scientists to mix his genes in its sole discretion. Ultimately, synthetic yeast Sc2.0 – configures entirely.
“Over the next 10 years, synthetic biology will produce all kinds of compounds and materials with microorganisms,” says the Striker. “We hope that our yeast will play a big role in this”.
Think of this project as something like the first car of Henry Ford, assembled by hand and one of a kind. One day, however, we will be quite normal to design genomes on a computer screen. Rather than develop or even edit the DNA of an organism, it would be easier just print a fresh copy. Imagine a designer algae that produce fuel; trouble free; resurrected extinct species.
“I think it may be larger than the space or the computer revolution,” says George Church, studying the genome at the Harvard school of medicine.
Previously, scientists have synthesized genetic instructions that control viruses and bacteria. But yeast cells eukaryote, that is, keep their genomes in the nucleus and bind their chromosomes as humans. Their genomes are also much more.
And that’s a problem, because to synthesize DNA is not so cheap as to describe. Today the human genome can be sequenced for $ 1,000, and the price is constantly falling. But to replace every letter of DNA in yeast, the Striker will need 1.25 million dollars. Add the cost of labor and calculation to the total cost of the project.
Together with the Church and other the Striker headed GP-write, organization serving for international studies, which should reduce the cost of design, development and testing of the genomes of a thousand times in the next ten years. “We face all sorts of problems as a species, and biology can greatly help us on this planet,” he says. “But only if we can reduce the cost”.
A scientist named Ronald Davis from Stanford, first suggested the possibility of the synthesis of the genome of yeast at the conference in 2004. However, at the time the Striker didn’t see the point. “Why anyone would need it to do?” he thought then.
But the Striker came to the conclusion that the production of a yeast genome can be the best way to understand the body. Replacing every part, you will be able to know what genes are required, and no organism can live. Some team members call the idea “build to understand”.
“It’s another way to understand how living beings,” says Leslie Mitchell, the honored worker of the laboratory of NYU and one of the main developers of synthetic yeast. “We know what gaps in our knowledge exist, applying the bottom-up approach in genetics”.
Joel Bader, computer science from Johns Hopkins University, is developing software that allows scientists to see the chromosomes of yeast on the screen and track versions as they change, like a biological Google Docs. In 2008, to make DNA, the Striker started the undergraduate course at the University called “Build a genome” (Build a Genome). The students had to learn basic molecular biology, collecting a continuous ribbon of 10,000 letters of DNA that was supposed to go in a project to create synthetic yeast. Later, several institutions from China joined the project, and this was followed by the British, the Australians and the Japanese.
“We distribute chromosomes separate teams, like the chapters of a book, and they are free to decide what to do with them, but so that it is 100% in line with our objectives,” said Patrick Kay, a synthetic biologist from the University of Manchester, international project coordinator with yeast.
The following steps
The striker and his team took eight years, that they could finally present their first completely artificial chromosome yeast. Since then, the project has accelerated. In March last year, five synthetic yeast chromosomes have been described in the papers in Science, and the Striker has stated that all 16 chromosomes is currently set to 80 percent. These efforts have helped to collect the greatest amount of genetic material ever synthesized, and then combined.
Helped by the fact that the yeast genome has proved to be extremely resistant to the visions and developments of the team. “Probably the biggest breakthrough is that you can torture the genome as anything, and the yeast will just laugh,” says the Striker.
The striker and his colleagues have not just replaced the natural genome of synthetic yeast. “Just to make a copy it would be foolish,” says Church. In the DNA of this organism, they also put molecular spaces, like invisible holes in the steel rings of a magician. This allowed them to mix the chromosomes of yeast “like a deck of cards,” says Kai. This system is now known as SCRaMbLE (synthetic chromosome recombination and modification by LoxP-mediated evolution).
The result is high-speed evolution undertaken by human forces: millions of new yeast strains with different properties can be tested in a laboratory to find a use for them in medicine and industry. Mitchell predicts that Sc2.0 will eventually replace all the other yeast in scientific laboratories.
The ultimate legacy of the project the Striker can be deciding which gene to synthesize next. Group GP-write was originally assumed that the creation of a synthetic human genome could become a “Grand challenge.” But some of bioethics questioned and thoroughly criticized the plan. The striker stressed that the group “will not do the project aimed at the creation of human with a synthetic genome.” That is, no design people.
But if we ignore ethical considerations, synthesis of the complete human genome, which is 250 times larger than the genome of yeast, impractical using modern methods. Also, such efforts do not receive funding. Work Smartly with yeast was funded by the National science Foundation and academic institutions, but the Grand initiative GP-write failed to attract significant support beyond the initial donation of $ 250,000 from the software company Autodesk. Compare this with the Human Genome Project, which has received over 3 billion US dollars in funding.
“This revolution, which we don’t want to sleep,” says Church. “If the Federal government and all 50 States will not want to do this, we will reap what we sow. We’ll stay behind.”
Meanwhile, the work continues, base for base. Among the magazine covers and group photos Smartly keeps the quote on the door of his office, which was attributed to the genetics of Theodosius Dobzhansky: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” No matter how Grand, was the project Sc2.0 – even if it would lead to the synthesis of the genome of the mouse or the creation of pigs for organ transplants to people – it is people who will guide this evolution in the right direction. Sc2.0 may be the second most important achievement, which led to yeast. After a beer.