An international consortium of scientists have found a way to produce a semi-synthetic strain of baker´s yeast with more than a third of its chromosomes artificially synthesized.

The field of synthetic biology has been on a steep rise in recent years, due to its high promise for delivering novel drugs, new sources of sustainable energy, and GM food products among many other applications. While many remain skeptical of engineering artificial or semi-artificial life, a discussion no doubt worthy of its own article, the numerous benefits the technology brings are frankly undeniable.

When it comes to engineering synthetic microbes, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Reports about the first artificial chromosomes being synthesized came in few years back, and now an international team of researchers took it even further. They managed to produce a semi-synthetic strain of  Saccharomyces cerevisiae (or baker´s yeast), with 6 of its 16 chromosomes artificially synthesized. They published their breakthrough in the journal Science.

“This is really going to allow us to understand how to design cells from the bottom up that can be reprogrammed for many applications.” said Daniel Gibson, vice president of of DNA technologies at Synthetic Genomics.

Designing this “Frankenyeast” is merely a stepping stone for the team, whose ultimate goal is to produce the world´s first fully synthetic eukaryotic organism by the end of the year, a project dubbed Synthetic Yeast 2.0.

“We are absolutely thrilled” said geneticist and lead researcher Jef Boeke, adding “This is a significant step toward our goal”.

The team has chosen S. cerevisiae because “the genomic and related resources that are available are, quite simply, better than for any other organism on the planet”, as transcribed on their website. As with all genetically modified organisms, there are concerns of accidental release into the wild, however the team says they put “safety as well as ethics“ above everything else.

Learn more about the project from its creator Jef Boeke in the video bellow (at the time of the video the team were at 1 synthetic chromosome stage):

By Luka Zupančič, MSc, University of Applied Sciences Technikum Vienna