Fantastic Yeasts and How They Evolved to Be: Yeasts are unicellular fungi that do not form fruiting bodies. Although the yeast lifestyle has evolved multiple times during the evolution of fungi, most known species belong to the subphylum Saccharomycotina (hereafter yeasts). This diverse group includes the premier model organism, Saccharomyces cerevisiae; the common human commensal and opportunistic pathogen, Candida albicans; and over 1,000 other known species. Yeasts are found in every biome and continent and are more genetically diverse than either plants or animals. Ease of culture, simple life cycles, and small genomes have made yeasts exceptional models for the study of evolution.
As part of National Science Foundation’s Dimensions of Biodiversity program, together with Professor Chris Todd Hittinger’s lab and numerous collaborators around the world, we have undertaken a large project to uncover the genetic basis of yeast biodiversity. In my talk, I will present a high-level overview of our team’s latest evolutionary discoveries that not only retrace how budding yeast biodiversity evolved but also showcase how the study of yeasts is revising our understanding of the major drivers of eukaryotic evolution.