Frisky yeast knows who to ‘shmoo’ after two minutes
27 April 2010
Yeast cells decide whether to have sex with each other within two minutes of meeting, according to new research published in Nature on 18 April. Dr Vahid Shahrezaei (Mathematics), pictured left, 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 the new study, researchers from Imperial and collaborators, 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.
“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 Shahrezaei.
—Lucy Goodchild, Communications