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The type of yeast used in the experiments, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Photo: Conor Lawless/creative commons

Scientists from two teams reported Wednesday in Nature they were able to use CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology to dramatically restructure a yeast cell's complex genome that continued to live but was sometimes unable to reproduce in future generations.

Why it matters: Scientists seek a better understanding of how chromosomes are copied and divided in humans in order to figure out what causes faulty chromosome packages that can trigger miscarriages and some genetic disorders like Down's syndrome. Plus, they want to examine more closely the role played by the number of chromosomes, which differs greatly by species.

"We are learning how one species becomes two."
— Jef Boeke, study author, director, Institute for Systems Genetics at NYU Langone Health, via a press release

Background: Researchers often experiment on yeast because it's structured similarly to human cells, yet reproduces at a faster pace.

What they did: Both teams used CRISPR-Cas9 to take the full 16 chromosomes and stitch them into one or two mega-chromosomes. The study led by Boeke melded the chromosomes into two, while the study led by Zhongjun Qin, a molecular biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology, created one mega-chromosome.

What they found: After initial failures, they were able to use CRISPR-Cas9 to successfully edit the genome and generate living strains of yeast with either one or two chromosomes holding all the genes. The altered strain was able to divide and grew via mitosis at the same rate as the normal strain. However, the offspring of these altered strains were mostly unable to reproduce.

"Remarkably, the resulting yeast were viable and healthy; there were few phenotypic changes relative the the ancestral strain with 16 chromosomes. Whereas reducing the number of chromosomes to two or fewer caused some cell sickness, overall cellular processes remained remarkably stable."
— Ilya Finkelstein, assistant professor of molecular biosciences, UT-Austin

What this means: Ilya Finkelstein, assistant professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not part of this study, says this suggests "one origin of new species may be a chance chromosome fusion/fission event." And, Boeke said in the press release: "This begins the process of their becoming different species."

Meanwhile, these studies also advance research into the development of yeast that cannot reproduce, which would be beneficial in alternative uses like recycling agriculture waste for fuel production and supplementing livestock feed, the authors say.

Go deeper: Read STAT's piece on the studies.

Go deeper

Broncos and 49ers the latest NFL teams impacted by coronavirus crisis

From left, Denver Broncos quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel during an August training session at UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colorado. Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the NFL season into chaos, with the Denver Broncos' quarterbacks sidelined, the San Francisco 49ers left without a home or practice ground and much of the Baltimore Ravens team unavailable, per AP.

Driving the news: The Broncos confirmed in a statement Saturday night that quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were identified as "high-risk COVID-19 close contacts" and will follow the NFL's mandatory five-day quarantine, making them ineligible for Sunday's game against New Orleans.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: McConnell temporarily halts in-person lunches for GOP caucus.
  3. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in DecemberAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  4. Education: U.S. public school enrollment drops as pandemic persists.
  5. Cities: Surge in cases forces San Francisco to impose curfew — Los Angeles County issues stay-at-home order, limits gatherings.
  6. Sports: NFL bans in-person team activities Monday, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge — NBA announces new coronavirus protocols.
  7. World: London police arrest more than 150 during anti-lockdown protests — Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.

Tony Hsieh, longtime Zappos CEO, dies at 46

Tony Hsieh. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Tony Hsieh, the longtime ex-chief executive of Zappos, died on Friday after being injured in a house fire, his lawyer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was 46.

The big picture: Hsieh was known for his unique approach to management, and following the 2008 recession his ongoing investment and efforts to revitalize the downtown Las Vegas area.