Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Flocculation Shines Light on Origins of Life

Hugh sends in a Popular Science article on flocculation, a topic familiar to homebrewers. Apparently, yeast flocculation may provide a window into the origins of multicellular life:

A team of scientists at Harvard University reported last week that they isolated the single gene that allows yeast to stick together. That gene allows the normally solitary yeast cells to shield themselves from toxins in their environment by banding together in protective balls. Since one of those toxins is the ethanol that the yeast themselves produce, grouping together allows the yeast to survive in the alcohol-rich environment that results from brewing.

What's more, the gene has a built in social value system that prevents yeast cells without the gene from taking advantage of the yeast flock's protective sphere. That social control mechanism is an example of how single cells can regulate function in larger units.

"It does show that when these clump together, they do things they can't do as single cells," said Kevin Verstrepen, the lead scientist on the study. "You can look at it as a model of how single-cellular organisms can cooperate, taking a small step toward multicellular life."

Pretty interesting stuff. Also, flocculation is a pretty fun word.

No comments: