Yeast cells decide whether to have sex with each other within two minutes of meeting, according to new research published today in Nature. One of the authors of the study, from Imperial College London, says the new insights into how yeast cells decide to mate could be helpful for researchers looking at how cancer cells and stem cells develop.
Yeasts are single-celled microbes that scientists often use as model organisms, to help them understand how cells work. They usually reproduce asexually, by a process called budding, where a part of the cell is pinched off and becomes a new cell, identical to the original.
Sometimes, yeast cells reproduce sexually, by mating. The mating process involves one cell of each sex joining together, then mixing their DNA and splitting apart again. To do this, the cells each have to produce a nodule that they can join together, called a shmoo. The process of shmooing takes around two hours.
In today's new study, researchers from Imperial College London, Universit de Montral, McGill University and the University of Edinburgh determined that a yeast cell's decision to mate is controlled by a chemical change on a single protein. This change occurs two minutes after the cell detects a pheromone produced by the opposite sex, meaning that the decision to mate occurs much more quickly than scientists previously thought.
The researchers also found that in order for the mating process to be switched on, the pheromone must reach a critical concentration in the environment around the yeast cell. Below this concentration, the yeast cell continues to reproduce asexually.
"Shmooing is a very energy-intensive process for yeast cells. We think this switching process at a certain pheromone concentration may have evolved to make sure the cells only get prepared for sexual reproduction if a mate is sufficiently close enough and able to mate," said Dr Vahid Shahrezaei, one of the authors of the s
|Contact: Lucy Goodchild|
Imperial College London