Microbial diversity and complexity pose challenges in understanding the voluminous genetic information produced from whole-genome sequences, bioinformatics and high-throughput ‘-omics’ research. These challenges can be overcome by a core blueprint of a genome drawn with a minimal gene set, which is essential for life. Systems biology and large-scale gene inactivation studies have estimated the number of essential genes to be ∼300–500 in many microbial genomes. On the basis of the essential gene set information, minimal-genome strains have been generated using sophisticated genome engineering techniques, such as genome reduction and chemical genome synthesis. Current size-reduced genomes are not perfect minimal genomes, but chemically synthesized genomes have just been constructed. Some minimal genomes provide various desirable functions for bioindustry, such as improved genome stability, increased transformation efficacy and improved production of biomaterials. The minimal genome as a chassis genome for synthetic biology can be used to construct custom-designed genomes for various practical and industrial applications.

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