Tapping into yeast diversity


  • Justin C. Fay

    Corresponding author
    • Department of Genetics and Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, USA
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Correspondence: Justin C. Fay, Fax: 314-362-2156; E-mail: jfay@genetics.wustl.edu


Domesticated organisms demonstrate our capacity to influence wild species but also provide us with the opportunity to understand rapid evolution in the context of substantially altered environments and novel selective pressures. Recent advances in genetics and genomics have brought unprecedented insights into the domestication of many organisms and have opened new avenues for further improvements to be made. Yet, our ability to engineer biological systems is not without limits; genetic manipulation is often quite difficult. The budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is not only one of the most powerful model organisms, but is also the premier producer of fermented foods and beverages around the globe. As a model system, it entertains a hefty workforce dedicated to deciphering its genome and the function it encodes at a rich mechanistic level. As a producer, it is used to make leavened bread, and dozens of different alcoholic beverages, such as beer and wine. Yet, applying the awesome power of yeast genetics to understanding its origins and evolution requires some knowledge of its wild ancestors and the environments from which they were derived. A number of surprisingly diverse lineages of S. cerevisiae from both primeval and secondary forests in China have been discovered by Wang and his colleagues. These lineages substantially expand our knowledge of wild yeast diversity and will be a boon to elucidating the ecology, evolution and domestication of this academic and industrial workhorse.