New & Noteworthy

A Nobel Prize for Work in Yeast. Again!

October 3, 2016

Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his groundbreaking work on autophagy in yeast. Image from

Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his groundbreaking work on autophagy in yeast. This is the process whereby cells recycle their worn out parts or where a cell, like Mobius, the snake eating its own tail, eats less essential bits of itself to stay alive during times of starvation. Think Scarlett O’Hara using her drapes as a dress in Gone With the Wind (or Carol Burnett’s hilarious parody).

Like many, many Nobel Prizes in the past, Ohsumi’s work uncovered basic biological properties using a model organism. In this case he used our favorite lab workhorse, the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to piece together the steps involved in the recycling of a cell’s own internal structures.

And like many other basic biological studies, this one has important medical applications. In this case the two most obvious are chemotherapy resistance and amyloid-β aggregation in Alzheimer’s disease, but it isn’t restricted to just these two. For example, a specialized form of autophagy that targets damaged mitochondria, mitophagy, may not be working well in people with Parkinson’s disease.

The key to Ohsumi’s work was finding a way to disrupt this process in yeast so that he could find the important genes underlying autophagy using the awesome power of yeast genetics (#APOYG!). It turns out that this is trickier than it might seem because yeast and their autophagosomes, the little vesicles that surround and encase the bits to be degraded, are very small and so hard to see. In fact, they are so small that there was some question about whether yeast even had this process!

If yeast did, then it would take place in the vacuole, the recycling center in yeast. The equivalent organelle in people is the lysosome.

To see if autophagy happens in yeast, Ohsumi starved yeast that had vacuoles but couldn’t digest anything. The idea was that there would be a buildup of autophagosomes in the vacuole because the yeast would be desperately trying to eat itself but had no way to digest what it ate. He indeed saw that these poor yeast developed huge vacuoles bloated with autophagosomes.

Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi now had the makings of a yeast screen! “All” he had to do was to look for mutants that didn’t form giant vacuoles under these conditions with the logic being that if you knocked out autophagy, you wouldn’t get a buildup of autophagosomes.

The rest, as they say, is history. Ohsumi and his lab managed to tease out the subtleties of this vital cellular process using good old baker’s yeast. What other nuggets of knowledge about ourselves will we pry out of this most useful of eukaryotes? I can’t wait to see what it reveals about us next!

Other Nobel Prizes have been awarded in recent years for work in yeast:

by Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Outreach Activities, Stanford Genetics

Support Model Organism Databases!

June 22, 2016

Image from

Model Organisms such as yeast, worm, fly, fish, and mouse are key drivers of biological research, providing experimental systems that yield insights into human biology and health. Model Organism Databases (MODs) enable researchers all over the world to uncover basic, conserved biological mechanisms relevant to new medical therapies. These discoveries have been recognized by many Nobel Prizes over the last decades.

NHGRI/NIH has recently advanced a plan in which the MODs will be integrated into a single combined database, along with a 30% reduction in funding for each MOD (see also these Nature and Science news stories). While integration presents advantages, the funding cut will cripple core functions such as high quality literature curation and genome annotation, degrading the utility of the MODs.

Leaders of several Model Organism communities, working with the Genetics Society of America (GSA), have come together to write a Statement of Support for the MODs, and to urge the NIH to revise its proposal. We ask all scientists who value the community-specific nature of the MODs to sign this ‘open letter’. The letter, along with all signatures, will be presented to NIH Director Francis Collins at a GSA-organized meeting on July 14, 2016 during The Allied Genetics Conference in Orlando. We urge you to add your name, and to spread the word to all researchers who value the MODs.

In other words, sign this letter!

Help SGD by Taking a Brief Survey

October 21, 2014

If you could wave a magic wand and change something about SGD, what would it be? We want to know!

We need your feedback to make SGD even more useful to the biomedical research community. Which features are most important to you and how could they be improved? Which new data, tools, or resources will you need from SGD over the next few years as your research evolves?

We would greatly appreciate your thoughts on how we can serve you better. It will take just a few minutes to take our survey. Click the button below, or access the survey from the button in our website header. Thank you in advance for your time.

Look for SGD at the Yeast Genetics Meeting in Seattle!

July 23, 2014

SGD staff will be attending the GSA Yeast Genetics Meeting in Seattle, July 29 – August 2, 2014 en force! We will be hosting a Workshop, Posters, and an Exhibit Table. The Workshop, “Computational Tools at SGD,” is on Thursday, July 31 at 1:30 PM in Kane Hall, Room 220. We will be discussing our powerful search tool, YeastMine, what’s new in the realm of Strains and Sequences, and new displays in SGD. Bring your questions and comments – we love feedback!

Follow @yeastgenome and #YEAST14 on Twitter for the latest research being presented at YGM.

Find these SGD staff members, as well as those presenting posters, at the Workshop and the Exhibit table:

Maria Costanzo
Workshop Speaker
Rob Nash
Rob Nash
Workshop Speaker
Ben Hitz
Ben Hitz

Workshop: “Computational Tools at SGD”

Thursday, July 31, 1:30 – 3:00 PM
Kane Hall, Room 220
Featured topics: YeastMine (our powerful search tool), Sequences and Strains update, New data displays at SGD


In addition to the Workshop, SGD curators will present 4 posters – please stop by and chat with us.

Date & Time
Poster Title
318C Friday, August 1
7:30 – 8:30 PM
HUB Grand Ballroom
Defining the transcriptome of Saccharomyces cerevisiae Edith Wong
Edith Wong
387C Friday, August 1
8:30 – 9:30 PM
HUB Grand Ballroom
Yeast – it simply has a lot to say about human disease Selina Dwight
Selina Dwight
411C Friday, August 1
8:30 – 9:30 PM
HUB Grand Ballroom
Transcriptional regulation and protein complexes in budding yeast Stacia Engel
Stacia Engel
459C Friday, August 1
8:30 – 9:30 PM
HUB Grand Ballroom
Staying current and modern: Overhauling an actively-used model organism database website Kelley Paskov
Kelley Paskov

Exhibit Table

SGD will also have an exhibit table at the YGM. Come by to take a spin on our site, receive a prize for taking a survey, learn about various features of the database, and provide us with feedback as to what we can do to improve SGD. Look for us wearing our SuperBud fleece jackets, and feel free to flag any of us down!

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