When they asked me to collaborate with this blog I asked what they expected from me to write about. The answer was very simple: “write about your field of expertise”. So here I am, ready to tell you quite a few things about… YEAST!!! Yes, you have read it right: Yeast. But don’t worry; this is still a blog about Science, not a baking one. And I won’t talk just about yeast, but also about other research done in the field I work in now (cancer) and can be interesting for you.
I’m a yeast scientist and it has been like that for the last 9 years. We all know that the most common usage of yeast is to bake bread or brew beer. Or if the yeasts are more complex (fungi) are meant to be eaten (like mushrooms) or to annoy you on your feet (fungi infection). But, actually, there is much more behind one simple yeast. This organism has been used in biomedical research for decades already. Why? It’s simple: it’s a simple organism that is easier and cheaper to work with than other cells or organisms.
At the beginning of my career as researcher I was working with yeast to identify new therapeutic targets in fungal infections. These infections are not severe in general but they can turn into lethal ones when the patients who got them have an immune system that doesn’t work properly (i.e: lymphomas, AIDS…). Therefore, the immune system can’t fight the infection and it ends up causing additional problems to the patients. At this moment, the drugs against fungi and yeasts are not very efficient because of the similarity between yeast/fungal and human cells. Actually the existing antifungal drugs have two main problems: 1) they are not specific enough against fungal cells so they will kill not only the fungal cells but also the human ones causing severe side effects, and 2) to not cause side effects, these drugs are not potent enough to kill the fungi.
|Cell Wall of Fission Yeast|
On the other hand, nowadays I’m involved in research projects that use yeast for other aims. Yeasts are the simplest eukaryotic organisms. They are unicellular (they are just one cell and don’t form more complex organs) and have many of the proteins that can be found in human cells. These proteins are in charge of the functions that one cell needs to be alive. Therefore, yeasts can be used to study processes happening in human cells. This is due to the fact that the important proteins are the same in both kind of cells but they are “more accessible” to study in yeasts. For instance, yeasts are used in the study of some of the processes involved in the development of cancer. This is the kind of research that I’m currently doing and it’s fascinating.
Cancer is a group of diseases that have an uncontrolled cellular division. In the cancer cells the processes controlling that everything happens when and where it should happen for the cell to divide into two new cells don’t work as they should. Usually, the important proteins in these processes are in a higher amount than they should and this causes many problems to the cell. These key proteins are present in yeast and other lower organisms as well.
|Sir Paul Nurse|
I hope I’ve convinced you that doing research with yeasts is useful and important. I will keep telling you about some discoveries made in yeasts, among other organisms, that have been important steps to advance in the scientific knowledge in my next posts.
Lee MG, & Nurse P (1987). Complementation used to clone a human homologue of the fission yeast cell cycle control gene cdc2. Nature, 327 (6117), 31-5 PMID: 3553962