Yeasts are predominantly unicellular fungi which exist throughout nature. They are most frequently found associated with plant leaves, flowers, soil, insects and the skin and intestinal tract of warm blooded animals. The baking and brewing yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the most well known species but over 800 yeast species have been described, including many closely related Saccharomyces species. The taxonomy and classification of these organisms was regarded until recently as a specialist discipline but much progress has been made in the past few years through the introduction of molecular approaches including ribosomal RNA phylogenetics. Saccharomyces cerevisiae, in addition to its enormous commercial significance, has also long provided a valuable model system for molecular genetic research and is currently a lead organism in eukaryotic genomics.
Taken together, these factors have led to a high level of interest in comparative phylogenetic analysis of yeasts closely related to S. cerevisiae. Improved understanding of speciation, genome evolution and gene function can all be achieved by comparing yeast genomes of known phylogenetic interrelationship. Many groups across the Norwich Research Park also use yeasts routinely as research tools in molecular science. At NCYC research is focused on building expertise in phylogenetic analysis of yeasts with application across a range of disciplines including biodiversity studies and biotechnological exploitation.