Saturday, 3 May 2014

Sequencing yeasts

A problem in evolutionary biology has been turned into a new tool to better understand phylogeny in closely related species. Re-sequencing ribosomal DNA in closely related yeast species has given them new information about the origins of modern yeast strains and a useful tool for evolutionary biologists.

Over the past few years, through studies carried out on yeast DNA, biologists have begun to learn that something that looks like a simple cog in all living things is actually performing an intricately choreographed dance. In the same way that the Charleston differs from the Waltz, the dance displayed by this cog is faster and uses different steps from other parts of the yeast machinery. What's more, the dancers leave footprints behind in their DNA.

The team at National Collection of Yeast Cultures at the Institute of Food Research have made a computer app to spot these footprints, and to decode the footprints in order to learn more about the rhythm of the dance and how the dance partners have come together and moved apart. The 'dancers' in question are the ribosomal RNA genes which give shape to the ribosome, a tiny protein-making machine found in all living cells.

If the ribosome goes wrong the cell dies, so its blueprint is highly protected. Not so protected though that small changes in the DNA, our footprints, don't occur. Biologists often use these changes to map various bits of the tree of life, so it is important to be able to track even the smallest alterations.

With funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the NCYC team have now achieved this, using huge DNA datasets to uncover the footprints left behind in yeasts.

For further details, see: Norwich BioScience Institutes

Posted by Tim Sandle