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International Symposium: Yeast as models and tools

Life and Earth Sciences | Madrid, May 10-11, 2011



Yeasts are the microorganisms for which the most ancient written record exists. Evidence of processes in which yeasts participate appears also in archaeological findings pertaining for old civilizations. These testimonies demonstrate the long companionship between yeasts and humans. The population concentration in cities brought about by the industrial revolution in the XIX century forced a change in the ways of production of many commodities so that some processes carried out by yeasts and done previously in artisanal ways needed to be adapted to mass production. For example, the amount of yeast for bread production could no longer be satisfied by the breweries supply and this led to development of processes devoted to produce yeast as such. Simultaneously, spoilage problems in fermentations that had only been nuisances in small household activities became financially important in factories and a matter of concern for industrialists some of which had the vision to interest scientists in these problems. In this way yeasts, mainly Saccharomyces cerevisiae, became respected microorganisms. Let us not forget the contributions of those pioneers who, sometimes suffering vicious attacks by established scientists, paved the roads that have led to the current situation. A situation that allows us to examine the advances reached and the perspectives opened by the use of yeasts as models and tools. Models and tools are different concepts; as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary a Model is: "A simplified or idealized description or construction of a particular system, situation or process that is put forward as a basis for calculations, predictions or further investigation" and a Tool is defined as: "A thing with which some operation is performed; a mean of effecting something". In the use of yeasts for purposes different from their natural activities both concepts merge in a rational operational unit; the utilization of yeasts to simulate a situation found in other organisms is a use of them as model, this is often followed by their use to perform some operation with them, a use as a tool.

The deep understanding of biochemical pathways of different yeasts species, the knowledge of their molecular biology, and the advanced methodology available for their genetic manipulation have made yeasts ideal companions to study complex biological phenomena and to use them in previously unimagined ways in industrial processes. Currently the complete sequences of genomes of many yeasts are publicly available and next-generation sequencing will open new perspectives in the use of other species.

From cell division, to neurological diseases or to cancer, yeasts have contributed to the understanding of basic biological principles in different fields; the production of flavours, antimalarial drugs and a variety of other compounds are but some of the important contributions to industrial processes besides the traditional fermentation uses.

Thanks to the generosity of the Fundación Ramón Areces, and to the enthusiastic response of many scientists, this symposium brings together researchers using yeasts in their work as models and /or tools to tackle different problems. Awareness of important differences between yeast species within a basic general frame has given way to a broader use of other, "non-conventional", species in addition to the predominant S. cerevisiae and this is shown in several contributions to the symposium.

Looking at the program the important and fruitful interplay between basic and applied research in this field appears evident. In a moment in which great emphasis is put on immediate application of results and in which funding cuts afflict basic research it will be worth to stress that without investment in research on topics apparently without practical importance, our current capabilities on applied issues would have been severely diminished. This is an important message to convey to the broad public and to funding agencies.

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