WORCESTER, Mass. In their ongoing studies of how yeast (fungi) can infect a host and cause disease, a research team at the Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has made an unexpected discovery. They found that yeast produce a hormone previously known to be made by plants, and that the presence of that hormone in sufficient quantity within the yeast's immediate environment triggers the fungal cells to become more infectious.
The WPI research team led by Reeta Prusty Rao, PhD, assistant professor of biology and biotechnology, working in collaboration with Jennifer Normanly, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, reported their findings in the paper "Aberrant synthesis of indole-3-acetic acid in Saccharomyces cerevisiae triggers morphogenic transition, a virulence trait of dimorphic pathogenic fungi" published in the May 2010 issue of the journal Genetics. The paper was featured in the "highlights" section of the journal, where the editors called it a "surprising finding."
"This is a well-known plant hormone. In fact, it was first described in plants by Charles Darwin in 1880," Prusty Rao said. "So we were surprised to see it made in yeast, and to see its impact on virulence traits of fungi that cause disease in people."
Commonly called baker's yeast or brewer's yeast, the fungus Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae) does not cause human disease. It is, however, a model system for studying other fungi like Candida albicans (C. albicans) that do cause diseases like thrush and vaginal yeast infections, which affect millions of people each year and are not easily cleared by the handful of anti-fungal drugs currently available. While most fungal infections do not cause serious harm, if one spreads to the bloodstream it can be deadly. Hospitalized patients with catheters or central intra
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Worcester Polytechnic Institute