Genome-in-a-Box: Building a Chromosome from the Bottom up

Anthony Birnie, Cees Dekker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
225 Downloads (Pure)


Chromosome structure and dynamics are essential for life, as the way that our genomes are spatially organized within cells is crucial for gene expression, differentiation, and genome transfer to daughter cells. There is a wide variety of methods available to study chromosomes, ranging from live-cell studies to single-molecule biophysics, which we briefly review. While these technologies have yielded a wealth of data, such studies still leave a significant gap between top-down experiments on live cells and bottom-up in vitro single-molecule studies of DNA-protein interactions. Here, we introduce "genome-in-a-box"(GenBox) as an alternative in vitro approach to build and study chromosomes, which bridges this gap. The concept is to assemble a chromosome from the bottom up by taking deproteinated genome-sized DNA isolated from live cells and subsequently add purified DNA-organizing elements, followed by encapsulation in cell-sized containers using microfluidics. Grounded in the rationale of synthetic cell research, the approach would enable to experimentally study emergent effects at the global genome level that arise from the collective action of local DNA-structuring elements. We review the various DNA-structuring elements present in nature, from nucleoid-associated proteins and SMC complexes to phase separation and macromolecular crowders. Finally, we discuss how GenBox can contribute to several open questions on chromosome structure and dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-124
Number of pages14
JournalACS Nano
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • bottom-up biology
  • chromosome organization
  • DNA
  • DNA loop extrusion
  • DNA-binding proteins
  • emergent dynamics
  • minimal genome
  • phase separation
  • synthetic cells


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