There are some in and around the scientific community who are announcing the retirement of biology oldest workman: evolution. As physicist Michael Brooks says writing for the New Statesman, it is a stepping down that was “3.6 billion years in the making.”
Its replacement, of course, is us. The modern human has studied the natural word to the point where now he can understand natural processes, and re-engineer them to perform in entirely new ways. For Brooks, and many others, the age of synthetic biology has come.
By Brooks estimation, the area which will open the field of synthetic biology to the world will be yeast (pictured right). Jef Boeke researches yeast genetics at New York University. Boeke wished to do a redesign of the yeast genome in order discover what functions the various parts performed. After significant time and money spent waiting for a private company to complete a portion of the project, Boeke decided that project need to be open-source.
Boeke taught an undergraduate course on genome building, and forged partnerships with institutions, all in the name of building a workforce for his synthetic yeast project. This worldwide network of Boeke’s succeeded in creating a synthetic chromosome for baker’s yeast. This breakthrough may be the first step towards an entirely synthetic yeast.
The chromosome works as well as the naturally occurring, but what is of greater interest for Brooks is how it does unusual things. The chromosome moves and even deletes some its genes. These unusual behaviors will allow scientists to understand how evolution engineered the yeast, and how new variations may open new and exciting applications.
To learn more about other high profile breakthroughs in synthetic biology over the past few years, read the original article over at New Statesman.