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Research on small genomes: implications for synthetic biology



Synthetic genomics is a new field of research in which small DNA pieces are assembled in a series of steps into whole genomes. The highly reduced genomes of host-associated bacteria are now being used as models for de novo synthesis of small genomes in the laboratory. Bacteria with the smallest genomes identified in nature provide nutrients to their hosts, such as amino acids, co-factors and vitamins. Comparative genomics of these bacteria enables predictions to be made about the gene sets required for core cellular functions and the associated metabolic network for the biosynthesis of host-selected compounds. Synthetic biology may ultimately enable researchers to make customized cell-specific organelles for the production and delivery of drugs to humans and domestic animals. Synthetic genomics may also become the method of choice for functional analyses of genes and genomes from bacteria that cannot be cultivated in the laboratory.