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Synthetic Biology Technology

Scientists use synthetic biology to decode genetic causes of diabetes.

“We believe that such technologies will be instrumental in improving our understanding of the genetic links to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.”

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) are using synthetic biology to find out more about the genetic causes of diabetes.

According to the scientists, the development of synthetic biology has made it easy to develop human artificial chromosomes. These chromosomes, assembled in yeast or bacterial cells, combine various elements from human DNA into a single ‘library’.

Once assembled, they are transferred into lab-grown mammalian cells, which allow researchers to assess how various elements and mutations interact and alter a cell’s behaviour or response.

In a statement, the NUS (@NUSingapore) said that efforts were now ongoing in the lab of Associate Professor Matthew Chang, Director of NUS Synthetic Biology for Clinical and Technological Innovation, to create a yeast artificial chromosome. According to the NUS, this technology could one day be transferred to create human artificial chromosomes that could unlock the secrets of various genetic-based diseases.

“We believe that such technologies will be instrumental in improving our understanding of the genetic links to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes,” said Chang.

Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the body being unable to metabolise glucose. Around 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, there were more than 600,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes in Singapore in 2017 and this number is expected to surpass 1 million by 2050. Therefore, the Singapore government has declared a crackdown on diabetes.

According to the NUS, there are more than 100 variations involving individual building blocks of DNA that are associated with Type 2 diabetes.

Chang said that artificial chromosomes that contain all of the known single nucleotide variations in genes linked to glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, and that are present in local populations may soon be developed. These artificial chromosomes can then be introduced into cells grown in the lab, thereby providing researchers with a platform that reveals the functional relationship between specific genetic variations and diseases such as T2D, Chang added.

The NUS believe that innovative methods grounded in synthetic biology are necessary to tackle complex diseases such as T2D.

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