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Edinburgh scientists ‘help build chromosome’

Edinburgh scientists have helped to recreate a fully functioning chromosome. Picture: Reuters

Edinburgh scientists have helped to recreate a fully functioning chromosome. Picture: Reuters

EDINBURGH University scientists have helped build a fully functioning chromosome from scratch.

Biologists have successfully constructed one of the complex thread-like structures that carry genes in yeast.

An international team of scientists redesigned a chromosome found in brewer’s yeast using computer software, and rebuilt it by piecing together a series of short segments they made in the lab.

Dr Patrick Yizhi Cai, from the university’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Our Synthetic and Systems Biology Institute is really at the forefront of synthetic genomics, and we are glad to be part of this landmark paper.”

The synthetic structure was shown to function like an ordinary chromosome when it was transplanted into living yeast cells, which survived and grew as normal.

The study marks the first time that scientists have rebuilt a chromosome from a class of complex organisms - known as eukaryotes - which includes animals, plants and humans.

Researchers have previously recreated chromosomes found in bacteria and viruses.

Experts say the achievement is an important step forward in the emerging field of synthetic biology.

It is believed microorganisms like yeast could be modified in similar ways to produce biofuels, food and medicines.

The re-design and re-synthesis of the yeast genome could also lead to new ways of probing fundamental biological questions.

The seven year study, published in the journal Science, was carried out in collaboration with universities in the US, China, Australia, and Singapore.

Edinburgh was the only UK institution involved in the research.

The study forms part of a larger project coordinated by the university - known as Sc2.0 - which aims to design and build a new yeast strain which is entirely synthetic.

Dr Patrick Yizhi Cai is the international coordinator of the Sc2.0 consortium.

The Cai lab is currently working on construction of the largest synthetic chromosome as well as generating completely novel mini chromosomes using a combination of software design and robotics.

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