Some like it hot: yeast spend the winter and mate in the wasp gut

A hidden room for yeast mating in the wild

Go to the profile of Nonia Pariente
Feb 17, 2016
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I love it when we learn outrageous new things about model organisms, so well trodden, that have become even "boring". The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae must be one of the best known and analyzed eukaryotes out there, and yet -as it turns out- we know surprisingly little about how they live outside the four walls of the lab... well, except maybe about how they help us make nice food and drink.

A recent study by Stefanini and colleagues in PNAS, and accompanying commentary by Blackwell & Kurtzman, tell us about the life and times of Saccharomyces species in the wild, where they... uh, normally live. As it turns out, these guys love to get cozy in the gut of Polistes dominula social wasps, which provide the right environment to live through the winter, induce sporulation, germination and mating. Gut passage provides conditions conducive to outcrossing, explaining high rates of strain diversity in S. cerevisiae. Remarkably, S. paradoxus, which survives in the wild and rarely mates with S. cerevisiae, can be found in the wasp gut, but does not survive there unless it undergoes interspecific hybridization with S. cerevisiae. Thus, as the authors put it, the wasp gut provides an " environmental alcove in which yeast cells can meet and mate". I prefer fresh linens and a fireplace but, hey, that's just me!

Isn't it remarkable what we can still discover about good old baker's yeast? I love science!

For the record, Nature Microbiology is very interested in the study of yeast populations in the wild and their interactions with their natural hosts, as exemplified by the study of S. paradoxus speciation by Landry and colleagues in our first issue (and as I alluded to in an earlier post).

Go to the profile of Nonia Pariente

Nonia Pariente

Senior Editor, Nature Microbiology

I come from a mid-sized city on the northwestern coast of Spain. My interest in science initially took me to Madrid, where I finished university and received a PhD in molecular biology. In Madrid, I studied RNA virus evolution and new antiviral strategies with Esteban Domingo. I then moved to UCLA, where I focused on developing lentiviral vectors for gene therapy in Irvin Chen’s laboratory. In 2007, I made the plunge from bench to desk and joined the EMBO Reports editorial team as Reviews Editor, becoming Scientific Editor two years later and Senior Editor in 2012. At EMBO Reports, I was responsible for microbiology and immunology, among other areas, and spent many years expanding my understanding and love for all things microbial. At Nature Microbiology, I handle all things related to virology and mycology and look forward to interacting with the community and providing a venue to publish the most important advances in the field.

3 Comments

Go to the profile of Michael Chao
Michael Chao almost 2 years ago

Super cool, but world-tilting. It's like finding out your parents were once hippies or something. 'You mean, you were once wild and interesting?!'

Incidentally, I think this could be the start of a new food craze--bread and beer made from wasp-passaged yeast. Similar to, but much less cruel than a specialty coffee they have in Southeast Asia where coffee beans have been partially digested by passing through a jungle civet's GI tract (yes, nose to tail) before roasting.

Go to the profile of Nonia Pariente
Nonia Pariente almost 2 years ago

Shall we start a new New York eatery? "In the wasp's gut" , should get Arielle Johnson to try some of this stuff out!

Go to the profile of Ben Libberton
Ben Libberton almost 2 years ago

I'm in. Let me know when it opens.