Skip directly to content

Brewer's Yeast Helps Explain Cell Evolution

NSF Award:

Experimental investigation of multicellularity using the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae  (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

Evolution of persistence in the model bacterium, Sinorhizobium  (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

Congressional Districts:
Research Areas:

Brewer's yeast is a common microbe used by humans in baking and brewing alcohol. Because of its widespread use in everyday life, scientists have studied the single-celled organism intensely over many years. Recently, a team of scientists generated multicellular clusters from brewer's yeast over a very short time span. 

This finding suggests that certain single-celled organisms can evolve into multicellular life. Understanding how the cells within these clusters interact will contribute to human aging and cancer studies because cell evolution is central to these areas.

For 60 days, the researchers grew the yeast in a nutrient solution and each day transferred the heaviest portion of the growing cells to a fresh batch of solution. At the end of the period, the cells were growing in clusters that resembled snowflakes. Further tests showed that these clusters formed when single cells reproduced and the new cells attached to the old ones.

The researchers working on this project repeated their experiment multiple times, producing the same results each time. Future research will examine whether the same changes occurred during each experiment cycle or whether different mechanisms and genes produced each outcome.


  • snowflake yeast with dead cells stained red
Snowflake yeast with dead cells (red).
Will Ratcliff and Mike Travisano

Recent Award Highlights

wild lupine blooms

Not All Plants Absorb Carbon Dioxide Equally

Study determines how well grasslands sponge away carbon dioxide

Research Areas: Biology Locations: Minnesota
Aquapod transmits data on local conditions

Aquapod Relays Remote Environmental Data

Roving robot rolls over land and through water to monitor oil spills.

Research Areas: Biology, Earth & Environment Locations: Minnesota