Rising expectations from new yeast study

Although studying the mating response of brewer's yeast may not stimulate most people, it's exciting stuff to University of Illinois at Chicago biologists David Stone and Metodi Metodiev. In the May 24 issue of the journal Science, they report an important finding about the way cells communicate in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The finding may have implications for developing a range of pharmaceuticals, including new cancer treatments.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been widely studied and was the first eukaryote to have its genome fully sequenced. What makes this microbe a great research tool is that, although it is simpler than higher eukaryotes, its basic mechanisms of cellular function are the same as those of plant and animal cells, despite a billion years of divergent evolution.

Stone, an associate professor of biological sciences, and Metodiev, a research assistant professor, specialize in signal transduction the processes whereby cells consider the many thousands of stimuli they encounter and turn this information into the responses necessary for life. Stone began his study of yeast signal transduction in 1988.

The yeast exists as two mating types, like opposite sexes. Each mating type proliferates rapidly when grown in separate cultures, but when mixed, the opposite types communicate by secreting a chemical love potion called a pheromone. Exposure to pheromone causes the cells to stop dividing, then fuse, or mate.

"To us, the two most important aspects of the mating response are that first, pheromone triggers cells to stop dividing. Second, the cells are able to orient their growth toward the source of pheromone, a process called chemotropism," said Stone. "Growth control is of obvious importance because of its relationship to cancer. Chemotropism is of fundamental importance because we find many chemotropic phenomena in development in adult organisms. For example, our immune systems respond to chemical signals. When

Contact: Paul Francuch
University of Illinois at Chicago

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