Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology

Five synthetic yeast chromosomes built


A significant new milestone in the Synthetic Yeast Chromosome project has been reached with five yeast chromosomes now fully constructed. The development could have widespread benefits for improved understanding of fundamental biology as well as food security, healthcare and biofuels.

A large team of researchers has been working for some years to painstakingly rebuild the 16 chromosomes of yeast, one of our most hardworking industrial microbes. In what is a truly global initiative, scientists from the UK, USA, China and France have been stitching together the fragments of code to create a synthetic yeast genome.

Dr Patrick Cai, a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University and a group leader in the Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology, has been collaborating with BGI-Shenzhen in China to construct the yeast chromosome known as SYNII – one of the largest in yeast. The Edinburgh team also contributed to building a further four chromosomes, in addition to taking part in two studies detailing their design and analysis. The research has shed light on various aspects of yeast’s behaviour, and shows how it can be completely functional with synthetic genetic codes. This is a significant step towards construction of the first eukaryotic genome and a technical tour de force.

The project has been supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the seven papers outlining the construction are published concurrently in the journal Science.