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Year in review: Life's complexity recoded

Scientists create variants of natural DNA

By
7:00am, December 15, 2014
yeast cells

RISE UP  Baker’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, seen under a microscope, ferment fruit and grain into alcohol and make bread rise. Now researchers have taken the first step toward making a synthetic version of the organism that may perform feats regular yeast never could.

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Scientists made serious headway this year in tackling why life is both so darn complicated and so darn simple. Researchers upped life’s genetic complexity by coaxing a strain of the bacterium E. coli into using two synthetic genetic letters in addition to the standard four to build strands of DNA. Another team took a minimalist approach, creating a pared-down version of a yeast chromosome.

“These are big achievements,” says Ross Thyer of the University of Texas at Austin. Future work may produce unforeseen engineering marvels, he says.

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