Graduate student discovers yeast, identifies misclassification

By Haley Olson | July 05, 2017

Former University of Wisconsin-Madison student Max Haase discovered a new strain of yeast and a 30 year-old mistake in the identification of a common strain.

The new strain was found on a piece of bark in Green Bay’s Baird Creek Nature Preserve and is named Y. laniorum to reflect its origin: The Latin word, “laniorum” translates as “butchers” or “packers.” Y. lanorium had similar genes to Candida tenuis (C. tenuis), a yeast that was originally thought to ferment xylose into ethanol.

“Yamadazyma laniorum is a close relative to Candida tenuis and we were excited about Max’s discovery,” says Chris Hittinger, professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But after further research and testing on C. Tenuis, Hittinger and Haase discovered it does not ferment xylose. It had been misidentified in 1984.

“Xylose is rare.” Hittinger says. “Cellulosic ethanol is one of the major challenges we need to overcome in order to sustain biofuels and one of the most major challenges with producing cellulosic ethanol is that it is the second most abundant sugar in the cell walls of plants.

“The discovery of Y. laniorum and the misidentification of C. tenuis prove how little we understand about yeast and how much there still is to discover,” Hittinger says. With this discovery, Hittinger and his lab have conducted 2,000 experiments and have discovered a couple dozen new species, with the potential to find even more. “We have eager students (in) our Wild YEAST Program.” he says.

Haase was a part of the Wild YEAST (Yeast Exploration and Analysis Science Team) Program and has helped contribute to many classifications of newly discovered yeast. Haase will attend New York University this upcoming fall for his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.