Effect of Domestication on the Spread of the [PIN+] Prion in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Amy C. Kelly, Ben Busby, Reed B. Wickner


Prions (infectious proteins) cause fatal neurodegenerative diseases in mammals. In the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, many toxic and lethal variants of the [PSI+] and [URE3] prions have been identified in laboratory strains, although some commonly studied variants do not seem to impair cell growth. Phylogenetic analysis has revealed four major clades of S. cerevisiae that share histories of two prion proteins and largely correspond to different ecological niches of yeast. The [PIN+] prion was most prevalent in commercialized niches, infrequent among wine/vineyard strains, and not observed in ancestral isolates. As previously reported, the [PSI+] and [URE3] prions are not found in any of these strains. Patterns of heterozygosity revealed genetic mosaicism and indicated extensive outcrossing among divergent strains in commercialized environments. In contrast, ancestral isolates were all homozygous and wine/vineyard strains were closely related to each other and largely homozygous. Cellular growth patterns were highly variable within and among clades, although ancestral isolates were the most efficient sporulators and domesticated strains showed greater tendencies for flocculation. [PIN+]-infected strains had a significantly higher likelihood of polyploidy, showed a higher propensity for flocculation compared to uninfected strains, and had higher sporulation efficiencies compared to domesticated, uninfected strains. Extensive phenotypic variability among strains from different environments suggests that S. cerevisiae is a niche generalist and that most wild strains are able to switch from asexual to sexual and from unicellular to multicellular growth in response to environmental conditions. Our data suggest that outbreeding and multicellular growth patterns adapted for domesticated environments are ecological risk factors for the [PIN+] prion in wild yeast.

  • Received January 21, 2014.
  • Accepted May 6, 2014.
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