Scientists have synthesized an entire yeast chromosome, the first artificial chromosome for the kingdom of life that includes humans, plants, and fungi. The methods developed to create the designer genomic structure could help synthetic biologists better use the single-celled fungi as biological factories for chemicals like biofuels and drugs.
Humans have been manipulating yeast for thousands of years, first turning wild strains of the fungus into the life-affirming fermenters that give us beer and bread. Yeast also has long been a lab organism for studying molecular biology and genetics; in fact, a lot of what we know about cancer genetics comes from research on our fungal friends. In recent years, scientists have figured out how to engineer new biochemical pathways into yeast, creating living factories for medicines, biofuels, and more (see “Microbes Can Mass-Produce Malaria Drug” and “Biofuel Plant Opens in Brazil”). The report of the first artificial, designer yeast chromosome suggests ways for researchers to produce new chemicals in the microbes or potentially make their biological production more efficient.