Australian scientists play key role to create artificial life, synthetic yeasts, world first

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 27th May 2014
Australian scientists to lead project to create synthetic yeast for possible use in yeasted foods and drinks

Australian scientists at Macquarie University in Sydney, New South Wales are pioneering a project to create the world’s first-ever synthetic complex yeast organism. The project involves the creation of an artificial DNA.

“A wholly synthetic yeast organism will be an amazing accomplishment, but it is just the beginning,” said Professor Sakkie Pretorius, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research at Macquarie University. “This is history in the making as all previous ground-rules for research in biology are being rewritten,” he said.

“Once we can synthesise an organism like yeast we can then apply the same techniques to increasingly more complex organisms,” Professor Pretorius said. “The possibilities in medicine, or the environment, for example, are truly mind-blowing,” he said.

The creation of an artificial life form in the project known as the Yeast 2.0 project at Macquarie University is being partnered by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), based in Adelaide. The project will be backed by $1million in funding from the New South Wales Government. The NSW Department of Primary Industries and the NSW Office for Science and Research, through its Research Attraction and Acceleration Program (RAAP), will each contribute $500,000 in funding to the Yeast 2.0 project.

“Yeast 2.0 will bring enormous gains in understanding how yeast work, with benefits for a wide range of industries, including wine production,” said Dr Dan Johnson, Managing Director of AWRI.

Global research leader of the project, Professor Jef Boeke of New York University published the synthesis of Chromosome III of a lab strain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae in prestigious international journal Science in April 2014. It was the first ever synthetic chromosome of any living organism more complex than simple bacteria.

The worldwide team involved with Yeast 2.0 will have to synthesise the other 15 chromosomes to generate the first fully synthetic yeast by 2017. Macquarie University, in partnership with the Australian Wine Research Institute, will be responsible for synthesising Chromosome XIV.

Based in the State of New South Wales Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, said having the project based in NSW was a real coup.

“It is a real credit to Australia’s research expertise but particularly our excellent scientists located right here in NSW that we can play such a pivotal role in a ground-breaking international scientific project like Yeast 2.0,” Professor O’Kane said.