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Johns Hopkins' Man-Made Yeast Go Global - 12/05/2011

Johns Hopkins' Man-Made Yeast Go Global

Release Date: December 5, 2011

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who recently reported the design and creation of a man-made yeast chromosome have now signed on some international collaborators at BGI, a genomics company headquartered in Beijing, China. The newly formed relationship brings together the Johns Hopkins project with some of the world’s experts in so-called next generation genome sequencing in an effort to speed the understanding of how genomes are built and organized and how they function.

“Next generation sequencing plays a key role in synthetic genomics, enabling large-scale processing with lower costs and higher efficiency,” says Jef Boeke, Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and genetics and director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Basic Biomedical Science’s High Throughput Biology Center. “With BGI’s expertise in genome sequencing and bioinformatics, we are confident we can make very rapid progress in the SC2.0 PROJECT to facilitate further studies of how synthetic genomes evolve.”

The goal of the SC2.0 PROJECT is to synthesize the whole yeast genome—about 6,000 genes—complete with a built-in diversity generator, that will enable researchers to discover how yeast as a model organism deals with genetic change and how genomes might be improved to generate more robust organisms. Thus far the project has completed two chromosome arms, 9R and 6L.

Launched by Boeke and colleagues at Johns Hopkins, SC2.0 in part is manned by Johns Hopkins undergraduates enrolled in the “Build-A-Genome” course, which Boeke teaches. The course affords students the opportunity to learn molecular biology while contributing to a project in synthetic biology, a field that combines science and engineering to better understand biological systems. This new agreement allows BGI researchers to attend this course and take part in building parts of the yeast genome.

“Synthetic biology is an emerging research field that provides a unique opportunity for researchers to study many profound life science questions. When biological researchers are transitioning from the DNA sequence of an organism to a synthetic genome, researchers will face more challenges and opportunities with synthetic biology,” says Huanming Yang, Ph.D., president of the BGI. “With the valuable skill at Johns Hopkins, their experience and ability in the research of synthetic biology, we believe we can achieve significant breakthroughs in the future study of synthetic biology.”

“Yeast is probably the best-studied organism with a nucleus on the planet and is already used for everything from medicine to biofuel,” says Boeke, making it a good candidate for his team’s focus.

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