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UK Injects $1.5M into Synthetic Yeast Genome Effort

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK government has approved £970,000 ($1.5 million) in funds to fuel the UK's contribution to the International Synthetic Yeast 2.0 consortium, an effort to create a synthetic yeast genome that will be used to test yeast strains for various applications, Imperial College London said today.

The investment from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will fund the Sc 2.0 UK Genome Engineering Resource, which aims to develop and build a chromosome that will be used in the artificial yeast.

The goal of the international consortium is to have a synthetic yeast genome ready by 2017. The genome will be based on Saccharomyces cerevisiae and will be used to create new yeast-based chemicals, antibiotics, vaccines, and biofuels. The S. cerevisiae genome was chosen because it has only 6,000 genes and is already used widely in science.

UK's Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts announced the news of the funding in a speech at the Biobricks Foundation's Sixth International Meeting on Synthetic Biology.

The UK team working on the project will be led by investigators at Imperial's Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation.

The international Sc 2.0 project is being coordinated by Jef Boeke, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Boeke said in a statement that when the effort to build the synthetic yeast genome is completed, it will offer "new and interesting" ways to ask questions about biology: "How much genome scrambling generates a new species? How many genes can we delete from the genome and still have a healthy yeast? And how can an organism adapt its gene networks to cope with the loss of an important gene? Moreover, genome scrambling may find many uses in biotechnology, for example, in the development of yeast that can tolerate higher ethanol levels," Boeke said.

Tom Ellis, who is leading Imperial's team, said that he hopes to be able to reprogram yeast to produce new antibiotics as resistance increases against existing ones.