Engineering life? The case of synthetic yeast

Date/Time
Thursday
10 Nov 2016
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Location
470 Stephens Hall

Event Type
Colloquium

Jane Calvert
Reader in Science, Technology, and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Yeast is perhaps one of our oldest companion species, and because of its essential contribution to the production of wine, bread and beer it has been our domesticated servant for millennia. It is also crucial to much industrial biotechnology, and is an important model organism for genetics. In this presentation I examine an on-going attempt to re-imagine and re-design the genome of the yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, drawing on interviews and lab ethnography.

This large-scale, internationally-distributed ‘Saccharomyces cerevisiae 2.0 project aims to produce a novel ‘designer genome’. It involves constructing a neochromosome, and building in the ability to evolve the yeast on demand. The research promises applications like biofuels and better beer, but a central aim is to make a genome that can further biological understanding.

Questions arise about whether this re-design will result in the production of a new species. While the researchers on the project feel that the changes they are making to the genome are ‘aggressive’, they have been surprised at the tolerance of the yeast. Its ‘yeastiness’ is maintained.

This idea of ‘yeastiness’ is my starting point to explore questions about what it means to create a synthetic, instrumentalized version of this familiar organism, and to ask what, if anything, it can tell us about the engineering of ‘life’.

Photograph by Sarah Richardson/Johns Hopkins University

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  CSTMS

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