Abstract: Social phenotypes in S. cerevisiae

Microbes were once thought to just float around at random not interacting with each other in a meaningful way, however we now know that they exhibit complex social interactions, such as cooperation, communalism, competition, and even chemical warfare. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is an extremely powerful model organism for studies of eukaryotic biology. It has been studied intensely, in great detail, for many years and has been used to unravel many of the basic processes underlying genetics and cell biology. Until the past 5 years, however, the study of its social interactions with other yeast has not been looked at in detail. My proposal aims to characterize an understudied social phenotype expressed by many wild S. cerevisiae strains in order to understand the functioning of cooperative yeast communities.

Microbes can form biofilms, complex extracellular matrices (ECM) that allow yeast cells to adhere to surfaces and cooperate to get resources. Biofilms are one of the earliest known forms of cooperation but many unanswered questions still exist about their evolution and stability. Under stressful conditions, Saccharomyces cerevisiae can form complex biofilms allowing the yeast to better use the limited resources around them. In my research I will be looking into a special form of biofilm formed by wild S. cerevisiae strains: mats. Mats are a form of a biofilm that allow yeast to spread out over surfaces, and are a good model for a natural substrate such as a rotting fruit. There has been very limited research conducted about these mats, and understanding them on the biochemical, individual, and community level could be the key to learning how cooperative communities in these yeast cells form and function.  This would give us insight into how complex groups of organisms began to form early in eukaryotic evolution. This research also has medical implications. Yeast can become pathogenic in humans, and most virulent strains form biofilms; understanding mats and biofilms help improve the treatment of yeast-related infections. The outcome of this research will be a scientific paper.

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