UK joins project to create synthetic organism from scratch

International team will synthesise genome of brewer’s yeast with a view to creating strains that make biofuel, vaccines and drugs

Britain’s latest bid to embrace the futuristic science of synthetic biology will be revealed by the government on Thursday when it announces plans to make new strains of brewer’s yeast.

Researchers will receive nearly £1m to create a synthetic chromosome for the single-celled organism that since Neolithic times has been exploited for its ability to turn sugar into alcohol.

The scientists are joining an international effort to build the world’s first synthetic yeast genome from scratch, using groundbreaking techniques that are set to transform the field of biology.

Experts from Britain, the US, China and India aim to make synthetic versions of all of the organism’s 16 chromosomes by 2017, and incorporate them into living cells a year later.

Once they have made all of the genetic parts of the yeast they hope to press ahead with designing new strains that churn out useful substances such as industrial chemicals, vaccines and biofuels.

Though practical applications are some way off, the painstaking work to recreate the organism’s genetic machinery will give scientists vital insights into the molecular biology of life. …

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