Yeast cells decide to have sex within 2 minutes

Imperial College London scientists found that yeast cells know if they want to mate with each other within two minutes of meeting each other. Understanding what triggers yeast cells to mate could reveal what causes stem cells to turn into a heart and a normal cell to become a cancerous one.

Perhaps this is love at first sight — in its simplest form. Imperial College London scientists have discovered that yeast cells know if they want to mate with each other within just two minutes. Now, that is fast!

When a pheromone is produced by the opposite sex, it triggers a chemical change in one protein that determines if a yeast cell will sleep with it.

The single-celled microbes actually reproduces two different ways — asexually through budding and sexually by mating. For this study, the researchers looked specifically at the mating practices of yeast cells.

The yeast cells need just two hours to create a nodule called a shmoo, so they can properly hook up and mix their DNA.

In a statement, one of the researchers said:

"Shmooing is a very energy-intensive process for yeast cells. We think this switching process at a certain pheromone concentration may have evolved to make sure the cells only get prepared for sexual reproduction if a mate is sufficiently close enough and able to mate," said Dr Vahid Shahrezaei, one of the authors of the study from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College London.

The study was published in Nature. After putting experimental data into a complex mathematical model, the researchers could see what was switching the sex drive on and off in the cells.

In a separate statement, another researcher described the mating game:

"This mating decision is controlled by a simple chemical switch that converts an incoming pheromone signal into a cellular response," says senior author Stephen Michnick, a Université de Montréal biochemistry professor and Canada Research Chair in Integrative Genomics.

The scientists showed that the yeasts make their decisions to mate carefully and are not really influenced by "molecular noise" in the surrounding environment.

Understanding how cells behave could help the researchers understand what makes a cell become cancerous or turns a stem cell into a heart — and can reveal much more about embryonic development, tissue formation, and cancer development.

Charles Darwin observed how organisms found their mates, but now scientists are seeing the same behavior occur at the molecular level. As it turns out, animals and microbes are both frisky by nature.

In a separate study, researchers reported that fruit flies are wired for love, primed to sense if a mate is genetically suitable. We too play by our own rules — taking in clues from pheromones, facial features, and the body shape of potential mates.

Image: Copyright Imperial College London / Layton Thompson

Related Post:

Sperm Wars

This post was originally published on