Despite looking nothing like us, yeast is actually a distant relative—a really distant relative. But a relative is a relative, and scientist wanted to see what would happen if they swapped a few of our genes into yeasts.
Four hundred and fifty genes were reportedly swapped out from baker’s yeast with their human gene counterparts. Each of the hundreds of yeast strains that were made had their own corresponding swapped gene, but only half those swaps survived as a hybrid of human and yeast. The details of this study can be read at Thursday in Science.
Despite yeast and humans seeming worlds apart, evolution has left thousands of genes serving similar purposes. To test just how similarly they function, scientists only swapped out ones that were crucial to survival for the yeast.
This showed that, despite years of evolution, nearly all living things on earth are, at their core, very similar.
“Cells use a common set of parts and those parts, even after a billion years of independent evolution, are swappable,” In a statement by Edward Marcotte of University of Texas Austin. “It’s a beautiful demonstration of the common heritage of all living things — to be able to take DNA from a human and replace the matching DNA in a yeast cell and have it successfully support the life of the cell.”
Another interesting discovery that Marcotte and his colleagues made was that similarity of genes wasn’t a good way to tell if the yeast would survive after having their gene swapped. However, a gene that was swappable would mean that the rest of the genes in the same module would, likely, be swappable.
The group hopes that this discovery can help pave the way for yeast strains being used to study how defective genes in humans react to different therapies.