Research Articles

Bug mapping and fitness testing of chemically synthesized chromosome X

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Science  10 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6329, eaaf4706
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4706

Structured Abstract


Design and construction of an extensively modified yeast genome is a direct means to interrogate the integrity, comprehensiveness, and accuracy of the knowledge amassed by the yeast community to date. The international synthetic yeast genome project (Sc2.0) aims to build an entirely designer, synthetic Saccharomyces cerevisiae genome. The synthetic genome is designed to increase genome stability and genetic flexibility while maintaining cell fitness near that of the wild type. A major challenge for a genome synthesis lies in identifying and eliminating fitness-reducing sequence variants referred to as “bugs.”


Debugging is imperative for successfully building a fit strain encoding a synthetic genome. However, it is time-consuming and laborious to replace wild-type genes and measure strain fitness systematically. The Sc2.0 PCRTag system, which specifies recoded sequences within open reading frames (ORFs), is designed to distinguish synthetic from wild-type DNA in a simple polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. This system provides an opportunity to efficiently map bugs to the related genes by using a pooling strategy and subsequently correct them. Further, as we identify bugs in designer sequences, we will identify gaps in our knowledge and gain a deeper understanding of genome biology, allowing refinement of future design strategies.


We chemically synthesized yeast chromosome X, synX, designed to be 707,459 base pairs. A high-throughput mapping strategy called pooled PCRTag mapping (PoPM) was developed to identify unexpected bugs during chromosome assembly. With this method, the genotypes of pools of colonies with normal or defective fitness are assessed by PCRTag analysis. The PoPM method exploits the patchwork structure of synthetic and wild-type sequences observed in the majority of putative synthetic DNA integrants or meiotic progeny derived from synthetic/wild-type strain backcross. PCRTag analysis with both synthetic and wild-type specific primers, carried out with genomic DNA extracted from the two pools of clones (normal fitness versus a specific growth defect), can be used to identify regions of synthetic DNA missing from the normal fitness pool and, analogously, sections of wild-type DNA absent from the specific growth-defect pool. In this way, the defect can be efficiently mapped to a very small overlapping region, and subsequent systematic analysis of designed changes in that region can be used to identify the bug. Several bugs were identified and corrected, including a growth defect mapping to a specific synonymously recoded PCRTag sequence in the essential FIP1 ORF and the effect of introducing a loxPsym site that unexpectedly altered the the promoter function of a nearby gene, ATP2. In addition, meiotic crossover was employed to repair the massive duplications and rearrangements in the synthetic chromosome. The debugged synX strain exhibited high fitness under a variety of conditions tested and in competitive growth with the wild-type strain.


Synthetic yeast chromosome X was chemically synthesized from scratch, a rigorous, incremental step toward complete synthesis of the whole yeast genome. Thousands of designer modifications in synX revealed extensive flexibility of the yeast genome. We developed an efficient mapping method, PoPM, to identify bugs during genome synthesis, generalizable to any watermarked synthetic chromosome, and several details of yeast biology were uncovered by debugging. Considering the numerous gene-associated PCRTags available in the synthetic chromosomes, PoPM may represent a powerful tool to map interesting phenotypes of mutated synthetic strains or even mutated wild-type strains to the relevant genes. It may also be useful to study yeast genetic interactions when an unexpected phenotype is generated by alterations in two or more genes, substantially expanding understanding of yeast genomic and cellular functions. The PoPM method is also likely to be useful for mapping phenotype(s) resulting from the genome SCRaMbLE system.

Characterization of synX and debugging by pooled PCRTag mapping.

(Top) Design overview of synthetic chromosome X. (Bottom) Flow diagram of pooled PCRTag mapping (PoPM).


Debugging a genome sequence is imperative for successfully building a synthetic genome. As part of the effort to build a designer eukaryotic genome, yeast synthetic chromosome X (synX), designed as 707,459 base pairs, was synthesized chemically. SynX exhibited good fitness under a wide variety of conditions. A highly efficient mapping strategy called pooled PCRTag mapping (PoPM), which can be generalized to any watermarked synthetic chromosome, was developed to identify genetic alterations that affect cell fitness (“bugs”). A series of bugs were corrected that included a large region bearing complex amplifications, a growth defect mapping to a recoded sequence in FIP1, and a loxPsym site affecting promoter function of ATP2. PoPM is a powerful tool for synthetic yeast genome debugging and an efficient strategy for phenotype-genotype mapping.

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