A team of researchers at New York University are close to achieving a scientific first according to the group’s lead geneticist Jef Boeke announced. The Synthetic Yeast 2.0 Project has been able to almost fully synthesize the genome of baker’s yeast, continuing the work they’d begun in 2014 when they managed to create the first “designer chromosome” to replace part of the yeast’s genetic material. Three years on and the scientists are close to synthesizing the last of the sixteen chromosomes, a feat they expect to accomplish by the end of the year.
Being able to completely synthesize an organism’s genetic material would open the door on a world of possibilities in the genetic field, and could end up affecting everything from biofuels to medicine, its’ potential is almost limitless, as Boeke expresses:
“We’re all really excited about seeing the end in sight, but the end is really just the beginning. Once we combine everything into one cell, that’s when the real fun begins. That’s when the power of a fully synthetic genome will become apparent.”
This breakthrough was explained in a series of seven scientific papers with over two hundred authors, and outlined some of the intricacies of the procedures behind the synthesizing process. Along with the other upcoming advance thanks to the Crispr-Cas9 gene and attached projects like the Woolly Mammoth Revival Team, gene editing technology is currently on the verge of a major breakthrough.
With such excitement in the air, many have been asking if the Human Genome Project might benefit from such technology. Even though our genome almost three hundred times the size of yeast’s, there is indeed a possibility that it one day completely synthesized. However, the debate still rages within the scientific community as to whether or not science should be in a position to manipulate human genes. Head of the Synthetic Yeast Project, Boeke explains his views on the matter:
“I draw the line at humans. For the GP-write project, we’re just not going to go there. We’re going to ask participants to just not go in that direction.”