An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: In a significant advance toward creating the first "designer" complex cell, scientists say they are one-third of the way to synthesizing the complete genome of baker's yeast. In seven studies published Thursday in the journal Science, the researchers describe how they built six of the 16 chromosomes required for the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, altering the genetic material to edit out some genes and write in new characteristics. The chromosomes generated this time represent the largest amount of genetic material ever synthesized, and the new Sc2.0 cells are substantially different from their natural, or "wild type," relatives. Among the most significant of these new features is a program the scientists called "SCRaMbLE," or "Synthetic Chromosome Recombination and Modification by LoxP-mediated Evolution" (scientists are congenitally disposed toward convoluted acronyms). The program allows scientists to rearrange elements within the genome to generate new and potentially useful permutations. Whereas many of Boeke's peers labor for years in the lab trying to genetically modify organisms, the SCRaMbLE system "lets the yeast do the work and lets the yeast teach us new biology," Jef Boeke, director of New York University Langone's Institute for Systems Genetics and an organizer of the project, said. It's like a version of the lottery in which you can continuously and instantaneously roll new numbers until you get a result you want. Other innovations in the Sc2.0 genome include the removal of duplicate bits of genetic code and the addition of short genetic sequences that distinguish synthetic chromosomes from their natural counterparts. Unlike other synthetic organisms, the engineered yeast is a eukaryote -- a complex cell with diverse internal structures, just like the cells in the human body. It has more genetic material than the bacteria synthesized by the Venter Institute and Harvard projects.
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