Yeast Genetic Blueprint Publicly Unveiled

By Travis, John | Science News, May 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

Yeast Genetic Blueprint Publicly Unveiled


Travis, John, Science News


The entire genetic blueprint of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast commonly used by bakers and brewers, was made public at press conferences in the United States and Belgium last week. The unveiling marks the first time scientists have sequenced all the genes of an organism with cells similar to humans cells.

Investigators expect the achievement to provide significant insight into how human cells operate and why they go awry in some diseases. "When we understand how [yeast] works, it's remarkable how often that explains how we work," says Ronald W. Davis of Stanford University School of Medicine.

"All of yeast biology will be effectively divided between the pregenome era and the postgenome era, and today we cross that threshold," remarked Francis S. Collins, head of the National Center for Human Genome Research in Bethesda, Md., at the U.S. press conference announcing the achievement.

Investigators say the experience gained in sequencing yeast's DNA will facilitate the sequencing of the much larger human genome, a task they predict will be finished in 7 to 9 years.

To emphasize the relevance of yeast biology, Collins compares the human body to a skyscraper such as the World Trade Center. Someone with no experience in construction and without access to the blueprint could not hope to grasp how so complicated a structure was built, he says.

If that person first learned how to build a one-bedroom house, many principles behind the World Trade Center's construction would be clearer, notes Collins.

"Yeast is our one-bedroom house."

The yeast sequencing effort began in 1989 as a loose collaboration among a few dozen European laboratories. The European-led project quickly expanded to include nearly 100 research groups worldwide, among them DNA sequencing centers at Stanford and at Washington University in St. Louis. This division of labor enabled investigators to finish the sequencing years ahead of schedule.

Researchers found that the yeast genome contains more than 12 million nucleotide base pairs, the chemical subunits of DNA. Parceled into 16 chromosomes containing some 6,000 genes, these bases encode the information that yeast cells use to create the myriad proteins they need. …

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