In DepthSynthetic Biology

Synthetic microbe has fewest genes, but many mysteries

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Science  25 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6280, pp. 1380-1381
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6280.1380

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When it comes to genome size, a rare Japanese flower, called Paris japonica, is the current heavyweight champ, with 50 times more DNA than humans. At the other end of the scale, there's now a new lightweight record-holder growing in petri dishes in southern California. This week in Science, researchers led by genome sequencing pioneer Craig Venter report engineering a bacterium to have the smallest genome—and the fewest genes—of any freely living organism, smaller than the flower's by a factor of 282,000. Known as Syn 3.0, the new organism has a genome whittled down to the bare essentials needed to survive and reproduce, just 473 genes. The microbe's streamlined genetic structure excites evolutionary biologists and biotechnologists, who anticipate adding genes back to it one by one to study their effects. "It's a tour de force," says George Church, a synthetic biologist at Harvard University.