Co-flocculation of yeast species, a new mechanism to govern population dynamics in microbial ecosystems

Rossouw, Debra ; Bagheri, Bahareh ; Setati, Mathabatha Evodia ; Bauer, Florian Franz (2015)

CITATION: Rossouw, D., et al. 2015. Co-flocculation of yeast species, a new mechanism to govern population dynamics in microbial ecosystems. PLoS ONE, 10(8):1-17, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136249.

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Flocculation has primarily been studied as an important technological property of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast strains in fermentation processes such as brewing and winemaking. These studies have led to the identification of a group of closely related genes, referred to as the FLO gene family, which controls the flocculation phenotype. All naturally occurring S. cerevisiae strains assessed thus far possess at least four independent copies of structurally similar FLO genes, namely FLO1, FLO5, FLO9 and FLO10. The genes appear to differ primarily by the degree of flocculation induced by their expression. However, the reason for the existence of a large family of very similar genes, all involved in the same phenotype, has remained unclear. In natural ecosystems, and in wine production, S. cerevisiae growth together and competes with a large number of other Saccharomyces and many more non-Saccharomyces yeast species. Our data show that many strains of such wine-related non-Saccharomyces species, some of which have recently attracted significant biotechnological interest as they contribute positively to fermentation and wine character, were able to flocculate efficiently. The data also show that both flocculent and non-flocculent S. cerevisiae strains formed mixed species flocs (a process hereafter referred to as co-flocculation) with some of these non-Saccharomyces yeasts. This ability of yeast strains to impact flocculation behaviour of other species in mixed inocula has not been described previously. Further investigation into the genetic regulation of co-flocculation revealed that different FLO genes impact differently on such adhesion phenotypes, favouring adhesion with some species while excluding other species from such mixed flocs. The data therefore strongly suggest that FLO genes govern the selective association of S. cerevisiae with specific species of non-Saccharomyces yeasts, and may therefore be drivers of ecosystem organisational patterns. Our data provide, for the first time, insights into the role of the FLO gene family beyond intraspecies cellular association, and suggest a wider evolutionary role for the FLO genes. Such a role would explain the evolutionary persistence of a large multigene family of genes with apparently similar function.

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