What Does Yeast Have to Do with Synthetic Biology?
by Adam McDaniel - 12/08/10
Did you know that yeast is actually a workhorse for synthetic biology engineering, including applications like biofuels development? One reason S. cerevisiae yeast is widely used in synthetic biology is that scientists have fully sequenced its genome, so they understand which genes are present in the native organism. Yeast also responds well to genetic manipulation and reproduces quickly, making it an ideal “factory” for propagating or expressing synthetic genes and pathways introduced to the cell by biologists.
The latest advances in this area of researcher were some of the topics of discussion when yeast biology experts gathered in San Francisco on Oct. 16 for the Yeast Synthetic biology Workshop, a Life Technologies-hosted event in collaboration with Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center and Joint BioEnergy Institute. Participants also worked together to list key elements required to better meet the needs of scale and complexity demanded by synthetic biology.
Optimizing hosts such as yeast so that they will quickly and accurately reproduce synthetic genes is one part of Life Technologies’ synthetic biology strategy. In addition to working on yeast, the synthetic biology team is optimizing a species of microalgae to serve as a model host organism. The microalgae may one day also serve as a source for renewable energy, producing substances that biofuels companies can then harvest and refine to be used as fuel. This is in addition to our collaboration with SG Biofuels to develop the Jatropha plant as a biofuel feedstock.
Another part of Life Technologies’ strategy is to create the media that help these optimized organisms thrive. In addition to creating media that are tailor-made to provide optimal nutrition to a host organism, media also provide an opportunity to address potential concerns with synthetic biology. Some have raised the idea that organisms containing synthetic genomes may somehow become part of the wider environment, with unintended consequences. It is possible to address this concern by engineering organisms that depend on particular elements in the media, such as amino acids that are not available in nature. In this case, an organism would simply die if it were to be released into the wild.