Synthetic Genomes

Annu Rev Biochem. 2020 Jun 20:89:77-101. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biochem-013118-110704.


DNA synthesis technology has progressed to the point that it is now practical to synthesize entire genomes. Quite a variety of methods have been developed, first to synthesize single genes but ultimately to massively edit or write from scratch entire genomes. Synthetic genomes can essentially be clones of native sequences, but this approach does not teach us much new biology. The ability to endow genomes with novel properties offers special promise for addressing questions not easily approachable with conventional gene-at-a-time methods. These include questions about evolution and about how genomes are fundamentally wired informationally, metabolically, and genetically. The techniques and technologies relating to how to design, build, and deliver big DNA at the genome scale are reviewed here. A fuller understanding of these principles may someday lead to the ability to truly design genomes from scratch.

Keywords: DNA synthesis; Sc2.0; ethics; genome design; genome editing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • CRISPR-Cas Systems
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Gene Editing / methods*
  • Gene Transfer Techniques*
  • Genes, Synthetic*
  • Genetic Engineering / methods*
  • Genome*
  • Humans
  • Oligonucleotides / chemical synthesis
  • Oligonucleotides / metabolism
  • Plasmids / chemistry
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Poliovirus / genetics
  • Poliovirus / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism
  • Spheroplasts / genetics
  • Spheroplasts / metabolism


  • Oligonucleotides
  • DNA