New & Noteworthy

Pathway Between Copper and Disease Revealed in Yeast

July 08, 2022

Several lethal genetic disorders in humans are caused by mutations that cause symptoms of copper (Cu) deficiency, even in the presence of copper. These copper-deficiency disorders are fatal and include Menkes disease, Friedreich’s ataxia, and neurological and cardiac defects in infants due to lack of copper supply to cytochrome c oxidase in mitochondria. Given that no treatments are currently available for these terrible disorders, researchers have been interested in drugs that might improve copper bioavailability. The copper-binding oncological drug elesclomol (ES) has been identified as a candidate.

In a recent report by Garza et al. in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the authors use the facility of yeast genetics to ask detailed questions about how ES affects metal homeostasis in yeast cells. It was previously established that perturbation in the levels of one metal tends to cause perturbations in supply of other metals, and thus they asked directed questions about both copper and iron (Fe). Deficiency in copper can cause linked deficiencies in bioavailable iron, and both are critically important for metal-dependent enzymes in mitochondria.

The crux of the team’s findings was that supplementing copper-deficient yeast cells with Cu-bound ES (ES-Cu) not only increased Cu levels, but nearly doubled Fe levels in mitochondria. They were able to show that ES transports copper by an alternate route that bypasses the major yeast copper importer (Ctr1p). While this is an intriguing and perhaps encouraging result, perturbations in metals have so much potential to be toxic that it remains critically important to understand the relationships between the components.

From Garza et al., 2022

The authors found that application of preformed ES-Cu complex is more efficient than ES at transporting Cu, and that transport of Cu across the plasma membrane by the drug occurs by passive transfusion, not active transport. Further, they made the critical discovery that copper delivered by ES goes first to the Golgi lumen, not directly to mitochondria as the authors had expected based on studies in other models. At the Golgi, the Cu is made available to the copper-transporting ATPase Ccc2p, which in turn assists in metalating Fet3p, a multicopper oxidase that oxidizes ferrous (Fe2+) to ferric iron (Fe3+). Once activated with copper in the Golgi, Fet3p-Cu is transported to the plasma membrane, where it oxidizes iron to Fe3+, the form that can be taken up by the iron transporter Ftr1p. This increased transport of iron leads to increased bioavailability in mitochondria. Thus, the link between copper and iron by means of an alternative copper transporter becomes more clear.

Interestingly, copper and iron metabolism are linked in both humans and yeast. The yeast protein Fet3p has two homologs in humans (ceruloplasmin and hephaestin), both of which are multicopper oxidase proteins critical for normal iron metabolism. From these powerful studies in yeast, it appears that disorders of Cu metabolism cause defects in Fe metabolism due to disrupted metalation of these cuproenzymes within the Golgi. Indeed, this is an intriguing finding that opens avenues for possible therapies, and it would be hard to imagine making this connection without the use of the yeast model.

Categories: Research Spotlight

Tags: copper transport, iron, cytochrome c oxidase, mitochondria, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, copper, iron transport, yeast model for human disease

A Revelation in Loosening Chromatin to Allow Replication

May 20, 2022

The orderly replication of chromosomes is a daily miracle, driving growth of all higher organisms. Yet chromosomes are packaged into tight little nucleosome balls that must be systematically unpacked before replication can commence. Much is yet to be learned about this process, but a recent study by Chacin et al. in Nature Communications has provided a new piece of the puzzle.

Position of YTA7 in the global genetic interaction profile similarity network, from Chacin et al.

The ATPase Yta7p was originally identified as an element that marked boundaries within chromatin, thereby influencing gene transcription by delineating active versus repressed regions. The protein has domains characteristic of the type-II family of AAA+ATPases. It was previously noted that Yta7p becomes phosphorylated during S phase and that phosphorylation caused eviction of Yta7p from chromatin. However, the reason a barrier protein would need to be specifically modified during S phase remained elusive.

In this new study, Chacin et al. observed replication defects in yta7 mutants and hypothesized that Yta7p might play a heretofore-unknown role in DNA synthesis. To address this hypothesis, the authors purified the protein and demonstrated a hexameric structure similar to known segregases of the AAA+-ATPase family. Next, the authors established an in vitro assay to assess the activity of the purified protein on packaged nucleosomes. By means of impressive reconstitution experiments, they showed that Yta7p is recruited to acetylated chromatin but does not have activity on chromatin until Yta7p is specifically activated by phosphorylation.

This activating phosphorylation, they show, is performed by the S-CDK complex (CLB5-CDC28 kinase complex) specifically during S phase. Further, phosphorylation was then shown to stimulate the ATPase function of the Yta7p enzyme.

Using a similar set of reconstitution experiments, the authors then asked questions about the activity of activated Yta7p on naked DNA versus chromatin. They showed that Yta7p did not have an effect on either naked DNA or nonacetylated chromatin, but strongly stimulated active replication on acetylated nucleosomes. From this they propose a model whereby active Yta7p causes nucleosomes to disassemble so that origins of replication are accessible to the replication machinery.

From Chacin et al.

Intriguingly, the YTA7 gene is conserved among eukaryotes, with the human homolog ATAD2 identified as an oncogene overexpressed in assorted cancers. The use of yeast to tease out the role of Yta7p in unpackaging nucleosomes ahead of DNA replication sheds light on the possible role of human ATAD2 in tumorigenesis. The simplicity of yeast once again affords insight into complicated systems within cell biology.

Categories: Research Spotlight

Tags: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, DNA replication, chromsome replication, cancer, yeast model for human disease

New Yeast-Based Assay for Classifying BRCA1 Variants

May 13, 2022

Lifetime risk of developing ovarian or breast cancer is increased by germline mutations in the BRCA1 gene. While specific pathogenic variants have been well studied, new sequencing technologies continue to identify variants of uncertain significance (VUS). These variants are comparatively rare and cannot easily be studied in humans. Thus, a recent study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences by Bellè et al. demonstrates a means to assess pathogenicity of a given variant in a cell-based assay in yeast. The new technique complements previous techniques (one in yeast, others computational) to improve the accuracy and sensitivity of assessing pathogenicity for the numerous variants of BRCA1.

From Bellè et al., 2022; red pathogenic, turquoise benign, black uncertain

Belle et al. approached their study by noting that BRCA1 mainly affects DNA repair and genome stability, and that yeast has a full toolbox for studying these processes. The team previously demonstrated that pathogenic BRCA1 variants increase the rates of intra- and interchromosomal homologous recombination (HR) and also gene reversion (GR) in yeast.

For the current study, they developed a diploid strain that allows simultaneous assessment of intra- and interchromosomal HR by use of two mutated markers, one that repairs by intrachromosomal exchange and the other by interchromosomal exchange. When they induced BRCA1 variants from a plasmid, they were able to compare rates of HR (compared to the WT BRCA1 gene) by the simple use of plate assays.  

Similarly, a haploid strain with a different mutated marker that repairs by gene reversion was used to assess rates of GR upon induction of a BRCA1 variant versus wild type.  

From Bellè et al., 2022

After multiple replications of the experiments, the authors plotted Waterfall distributions of the results to arrive at breakpoint values at which a variant could be called benign versus pathogenic for each assay. These results were then analyzed for rates of false positives and false negatives with respect to previous data.

From Bellè et al., 2022; red pathogenic, turquoise benign, gray undermined

The combination of the two yeast-based assays (HR/GR and SCP, together called yBRCA1) was evaluated for performance and shown to be highly accurate and reliable.

From Bellè et al., 2022

As full concordance of results was obtained for three out of ten VUS between the yeast-based combined method and other non-yeast methods, the authors conclude that no one technique is suitable for making a clinical assessment but that multiple techniques will reduce numbers of VUS and resolving conflicting interpretations. Measurement of DNA repair in yeast is a particularly potent example of how yeast can provide a whole-cell, functional assay that sheds light on cell-division disorders.

Categories: Research Spotlight

Tags: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, cell-based assay, breast cancer, yeast model for human disease

Yeast Reveals an Alzheimer’s Clue

April 15, 2022

In a recent issue of EMBO Molecular Medicine, an intriguing study with potential implications for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by Ring et al. used yeast to look at why human amyloid beta 42 (Abeta42) kills cells. Upon overexpression in yeast, human Abeta42 protein oligomerizes into aggregates that translocate to mitochondria, where the aggregates cause oxidative stress and eventual necrotic-like cell death. Functional mitochondria are required for this Abeta42-mediated death, and a combined genetic and proteomic approach in yeast identified the HSP40-type chaperone Ydj1p as critical for stabilizing the oligomers and escorting them to mitochondria.

From Ring et al., 2022

The effect of ydj1Δ deletion was to lower toxicity, with the effect specific to Abeta42 and not to a different type of induced cell death in a yeast model for Parkinson’s disease. Further, Ydj1p protein directly interacted with Abeta42 in a co-immunoprecipitation experiment.

Yeast YDJ1 is homologous to human DnaJA1, which, when expressed in yeast, re-established the toxicity of Abeta42 to a ydj1Δ strain, indicating functional complementation. The human protein directly interacted with Abeta42 in a murine model for Alzheimer’s disease and also displayed dysregulation in post mortem brain samples of AD patients.

In a fly model for AD, deletion of Droj2 (the Drosophila melanogaster ortholog of YDJ1 and DnaJA1) not only reduced the toxicity of Abeta42 but significantly improved the short-term olfactory memory loss associated with Abeta42 expression. Together, the authors convincingly demonstrate the strong evolutionary conservation of this particular chaperone and its effects on exacerbating Abeta42-mediated toxicity, cell death, and memory loss in relevant model systems.  The use of yeast to identify this key factor indicates the power of a simplified and tractable system and will hopefully lead to progress in treating a terrible disease.

Categories: Research Spotlight

Tags: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Cell toxicity, alzheimer's, yeast model for human disease

Phosphosite Library Pinpoints Link from Stress to Chromatin

March 05, 2022

The “language” of histone methylation has been a subject of intensive study due to numerous diseases and disorders linked to faulty methylation patterns. Methylation patterns are “written” by enzymes in response to signals and then “read” by effector proteins recognizing methyl residues on highly specific lysine residues, leading to either large- or small-scale alterations in the transcriptional state of chromatin. In response to the cellular environment, signals are sent for the opposing processes of “writing” and “erasing” methylation. Conserved methyltransferase enzymes are the “writers” and demethylase enzymes are the “erasers,” with the activity of each regulated by cellular signals in ways that are poorly understood.

Whereas humans have 35 writers and 23 erasers, yeast has only four of each. Given orthology within each class of writers and erasers (as defined by the particular lysines methylated or demethylated), this makes yeast a perfect model system for digging into the links that connect cellular signals to specific methylation patterns on chromatin.

In a recent study in the Journal of Molecular Biology, Separovich et al. describe a systematic phosphosite mutant library that allowed the identification of key phosphorylated residues transducing cellular signals onto a writer/eraser pair. In response to environmental stress, Set2p methylates lysine 36 on histone H3 while Jhd1p opposes this action by demethylation. Using AlphaFold, they modeled the relationship between the specific phosphorylated residues and showed the key regulator of methylation activity (T127 on Set2p) is spatially proximal to the target lysine residue in the histone.

Upon analysis of differential expression for the sets of phosphonull and phosphomimetic mutants, they showed the proteins most affected by histone methylation clustered into GO categories consistent with cellular response to stress, e.g. ion membrane transport, lipid biosynthesis, ergosterol biosynthesis, and protein mannosylation.

While the kinase(s) responsible for phosphorylating the writer/eraser pair have yet to be identified, there are good candidates to test in yeast. The identification of the yeast players in signal transduction from environment to chromatin will undoubtedly be of use to those studying the much more complex system in humans.

Categories: Research Spotlight

Tags: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, histone methylation, chromatin methylation, chromatin remodeling, yeast model for human disease

Green Monster Evolution to Hulk

February 25, 2022

A clever new study has used a modified yeast strain “ABC16-Green Monster” with fewer export pumps (i.e. more susceptible to drugs) to exert powerful selection pressure on yeast cells. By exposing this strain to multiple libraries of chemical compounds with potential use as antifungal agents, Ottilie et al. in a recent issue of Communications Biology identified an evolved set of 25 genes with frequent mutations.

Resistance-conferring mutations in detail, from Ottilie et al.

In comparing the set of mutations to those frequently found upon extended growth without selection, they noted that intergenic mutations were comparatively rare, presumably due to the heavy selection pressure for functional resistance. For another confirmation of the screen’s effectiveness in isolating useful variants, i.e. not passenger mutations, they introduced 61 of the altered alleles back into the unevolved strain by CRISPR/Cas9 integration and verified that 45 variants across 37 genes restored resistance.

Looking more closely at the mechanisms of action for the observed resistances, they noted mutations clustered in the active sites of target molecules for which the target was previously known. For example, the antifungal drug tavaborole (a type of benzoxaborole) led to identification of four active-site mutations in Cdc60p (the yeast leucyl-tRNA synthetase) that are predicted to interfere with binding to the drug. In a related example, the chemotherapy drug camptothecin inhibits topoisomerase and they isolated two mutations in TOP1 that would be expected to fall in the binding pocket.

Their isolation of mutations in TOR2 and FPR1 (both associated with TOR signaling) in strains with evolved resistance to rapamycin reproduce the findings of a related study looking at rapamycin resistance in yeast. In fact, both studies identified mutations in the same S1975 residue of TOR2. In other interesting findings, they isolated mutations leading to yeast resistance to drugs used typically against soil-transmitted helminths (worms), trypanosomatid parasites, and malarial Plasmodium.  Each mutant variant in yeast affords insight into how these pathogens might likewise evolve resistance or could be alternately targeted.

The set of identified mutant genes was highly enriched for transcription factors and among these were two—YRR1 and its paralog YRM1—that together mediated resistance for nearly 25% of the compounds tested.  These two zinc transcription factors had previously been shown to activate genes involved in multidrug resistance. In this study, they were mutated 100 times in screens against 19 diverse chemical compounds. Interestingly, deletion of these genes does not confer resistance and the sum of the data suggests the screen identified gain-of-function alleles. In support of this idea, integration of the L611F allele of YRR1 into a susceptible strain by CRISPR/Cas9 reconstructed resistance to a suite of compounds. The researchers hypothesize that modified proteins lead to constitutive activation of genes aiding resistance.

In sum, this study demonstrates the awesome power of yeast genetics (#APOYG) for revealing insight into the molecular underpinnings of medical chemistry. Studies like this one provide not only data but intriguing clues about where to look next—most of which will be easy to test in yeast.

Categories: Research Spotlight

Tags: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Multidrug resistance, Drug resistance, yeast model for human disease

C-Circles, an ALT Plan for Telomere Restoration

February 18, 2022

The telomerase ribonucleoprotein complex is the primary means by which yeast cells maintain telomeres. However, it turns out that cells lacking functional telomerase have a backup plan to restore telomere length by “alternative lengthening of telomeres” (ALT). ALT employs recombination via extrachromosomal telomere elements called C-circles. In a process for which the reasons remain unclear, C-circles get paired with eroded telomeres at the nuclear pore complex on the nuclear membrane. This pairing requires the SAGA/TREX2 complex and, once paired, the recombination between C-circles and telomeres appears to be effected by Rad59p, the paralog of Rad52p.

Model of type II telomere recombination that relies on telomeric circles, from Aguilera et al.

This interesting model is described in a recent paper in The EMBO Journal, in which Aguilera et al. adapt a method developed in human cancer studies to detect ALT and C-circles in yeast. In humans, ~10% of cancers depend on ALT for unchecked growth. In yeast, cells with ALT were able to be detected as survivors among telomerase mutant (est2∆) cells.

As other types of extrachromosomal DNA circles were previously reported to associate with the nuclear pore complex, the authors addressed the possibility that C-circles bind the NPC and demonstrated it clearly. They also showed the circles interact with the SAGA/TREX2 complex, which favors telomere recombination.

The novel finding that ALT in yeast so closely mirrors that of some human cancer cells is a boon to study of these cancers. The ability to develop ALT inhibitors in yeast would provide a new set of potential anticancer therapies, making this an ideal model system.

Categories: Research Spotlight

Tags: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, telomeres, cell aging, senescence, cancer, yeast model for human disease

Yeast, the Spam Filter

November 11, 2015

If you don’t have a good spam filter for your email, you may be overwhelmed—just as the sheer number of variants of human genes can be overwhelming. Luckily, yeast can help us filter out the variants that matter. Image by Jean Pierre Gallot via Flickr

Imagine what our email inboxes would look like if we didn’t have spam filters! To find the meaningful emails, we’d have to wade through hundreds of messages about winning lottery tickets, discount medications, and other things that don’t interest us.

When it comes to sorting out meaningful mutations from meaningless variation in human genes, it turns out that our friend S. cerevisiae makes a pretty good spam filter. And as more and more human genomic sequence data are becoming available every day, this is becoming more and more important.

For example, when you look at the sequence of a gene from, say, a cancer cell, you may see many differences from the wild-type gene. How can you tell which changes are significant and which are not?

SuperBud to the rescue! Because many human proteins can work in yeast, simple phenotypes like viability or growth rate can be assayed to test whether variations in human genes affect the function of their gene products. This may be one answer to the increasingly thorny problem of variants of uncertain significance—those dreaded VUS’s.

In a new paper in GENETICS, Hamza and colleagues systematically screened for human genes that can replace their yeast equivalents, and went on to test the function of tumor-specific variants in several selected genes that maintain chromosome stability in S. cerevisiae. This work extends the growing catalog of human genes that can replace yeast genes.

More importantly, it also provides compelling evidence that yeast can help us tell which mutations in a cancer cell are driver mutations, the ones that are involved in tumorigenesis, and which are the passenger mutations, those that are just the consequence of a seriously messed up cell. Talk about a useful filter!

The researchers started by testing systematically for human genes that could complement yeast mutations. Other groups have done similar large-scale screens, but this study had a couple of different twists.

Previous work from the Hieter lab had identified genes in yeast that, when mutated, made chromosomes unstable: the CIN (Chromosome INstability) phenotype. Reduction-of-function alleles of a significant fraction (29%) of essential genes confer a CIN phenotype. The human orthologs of these genes could be important in cancer, since tumor cells often show chromosome rearrangements or loss. 

So in one experiment, Hamza and colleagues focused specifically on the set of CIN genes, starting with a set of 322 pairs of yeast CIN genes and their human homologs. They tested functional complementation by transforming plasmids expressing the human cDNAs into diploid yeast strains that were heterozygous null mutant for the corresponding CIN genes. Since all of the CIN genes were essential, sporulating those diploids would generate inviable spores—unless the human gene could step in and provide the missing function.

In addition to this one-to-one test, the researchers cast a wider net by doing a pool-to-pool transformation. They mixed cultures of diploid heterozygous null mutants in 621 essential yeast genes, and transformed the pooled strains with a mixture of 1010 human cDNAs. This unbiased strategy could identify unrecognized orthologs, or demonstrate complementation between non-orthologous genes.

In combination, these two screens found 65 human cDNAs that complemented null mutations in 58 essential yeast genes. Twenty of these yeast-human gene pairs were previously undiscovered.

The investigators looked at this group of “replaceable” yeast genes as a whole to see whether they shared any characteristics. Most of their gene products localized to the cytoplasm or cytoplasmic organelles rather than to the nucleus. They also tended to have enzymatic activity rather than, for example, regulatory roles. And they had relatively few physical interactions.

So yeast could “receive messages” from human genes, allowing us to see their function in yeast. But could it filter out the meaningful messages—variations that actually affect function—from the spam? 

The authors chose three CIN genes that were functionally complemented by their human orthologs and screened 35 missense mutations that are found in those orthologs in colorectal cancer cells. Four of the human missense variants failed to support the life of the corresponding yeast null mutant, pointing to these mutations as potentially the most significant of the set.

Despite the fact that these mutations block the function of the human proteins, a mutation in one of the yeast orthologs that is analogous to one of these mutations, changing the same conserved residue, doesn’t destroy the yeast protein’s function. This underscores that whenever possible, testing mutations in the context of the entire human protein is preferable to creating disease-analogous mutations in the yeast ortholog.

Another 19 of the missense mutations allowed the yeast mutants to grow, but at a different rate from the wild-type human gene. (Eighteen conferred slower growth, but one actually made the yeast grow faster!)

For those 19 human variants that did support life for the yeast mutants, Hamza and colleagues tested the sensitivity of the complemented strains to MMS and HU, two agents that cause DNA damage. Most of the alleles altered resistance to these chemicals, making the yeast either more or less resistant than did the wild-type human gene. This is consistent with the idea that the cancer-associated mutations in these human CIN gene orthologs affect chromosome dynamics.

As researchers are inundated by a tsunami of genomic data, they may be able to turn to yeast to help discover the mutations that matter for human disease. They can help us separate those emails touting the virtues of Viagra from those not-to-be-missed kitten videos. And when we know which mutations are likely to be important for disease, we’re one step closer to finding ways to alleviate their effects. 

by Maria Costanzo, Ph.D., Senior Biocuration Scientist, SGD

Categories: Research Spotlight, Yeast and Human Disease

Tags: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, functional complementation, yeast model for human disease, chromosome instability

New SGD Help Video: Yeast-Human Functional Complementation Data

June 30, 2015

Yeast and humans diverged about a billion years ago, but there’s still enough functional conservation between some pairs of yeast and human genes that they can be substituted for each other. How cool is that?! Which genes are they? What do they do?

This two-minute video explains how to find, search, and download the yeast-human functional complementation data in SGD. You can find help with many other aspects of SGD in the tutorial videos on our YouTube channel. And as always, please be sure to contact us with any questions or suggestions.

Categories: Tutorial, Homologs, New Data

Tags: video, yeast model for human disease

Yeast-Human Functional Complementation Data Now in SGD

June 10, 2015

Yeast and humans diverged about a billion years ago. So if there’s still enough functional conservation between a pair of similar yeast and human genes that they can be substituted for each other, we know they must be critically important for life. An added bonus is that if a human protein works in yeast, all of the awesome power of yeast genetics and molecular biology can be used to study it.

To make it easier for researchers to identify these “swappable” yeast and human genes, we’ve started collecting functional complementation data in SGD. The data are all curated from the published literature, via two sources. One set of papers was curated at SGD, including the recent systematic study of functional complementation by Kachroo and colleagues.  Another set was curated by Princeton Protein Orthology Database (P-POD) staff and is incorporated into SGD with their generous permission.

As a starting point, we’ve collected a relatively simple set of data: the yeast and human genes involved in a functional complementation relationship, with their respective identifiers; the direction of complementation (human gene complements yeast mutation, or vice versa); the source of curation (SGD or P-POD); the PubMed ID of the reference; and an optional free-text note adding more details. In the future we’ll incorporate more information, such as the disease involvement of the human protein and the sequence differences found in disease-associated alleles that fail to complement the yeast mutation.

You can access these data in two ways: using two new templates in YeastMine, our data warehouse; or via our Download page. Please take a look, let us know what you think, and point us to any published data that’s missing. We always appreciate your feedback!

Using YeastMine to Access Functional Complementation Data

YeastMine is a versatile tool that lets you customize searches and create and manipulate lists of search results. To help you get started with YeastMine we’ve created a series of short video tutorials explaining its features.

Gene –> Functional Complementation template

This template lets you query with a yeast gene or list of genes (either your own custom list, or a pre-made gene list) and retrieve the human gene(s) involved in cross-species complementation along with all of the data listed above.

Human Gene –> Functional Complementation template

This template takes either human gene names (HGNC-approved symbols) or Entrez Gene IDs for human genes and returns the yeast gene(s) involved in cross-species complementation, along with the data listed above. You can run the query using a single human gene as input, or create a custom list of human genes in YeastMine for the query. We’ve created two new pre-made lists of human genes that can also be used with this template. The list “Human genes complementing or complemented by yeast genes” includes only human genes that are currently included in the functional complementation data, while the list “Human genes with yeast homologs” includes all human genes that have a yeast homolog as predicted by any of several methods.

Downloading Functional Complementation Data

If you’d prefer to have all the data in one file, simply visit our Curated Data download page and download the file “”.

Categories: Yeast and Human Disease, New Data

Tags: yeast model for human disease