As shown by a colorized scanning electron micrograph of a yeast cell magnified 3,025 times, this single-celled eukaryotic fungus multiplies by budding.
introns untranslated portions of genes that interrupt coding regions
of the functional gene complements for the defect caused by the nonfunctional gene in the haploid strain. Diploid strains can be induced to undergo meiosis, a process in which the cell divides and passes one-half of its chromosomes to each of the resulting cells. After two such divisions, reproductive structures called asci are produced that contain four haploid offspring, called ascospores. The asci can be dissected and each of the ascospores isolated. In this way, scientists can easily mate different yeast strains and obtain new haploid genotypes through sexual reproduction and meiosis.
Third, the genome of yeast is small, about 3.5 times larger than that of bacteria and 200 times smaller than that of mammals. The yeast genome is arranged in 16 linear chromosomes that range from 200 to 2,200 kilobases in length. Unlike mammals, the yeast genome is very compact, with only 12 million base pairs, very few introns, and very little spacer DNA between functional genes. As a result, in 1996 baker's yeast was the first eukaryotic organism to have its entire genome sequenced.
Finally, one of the most useful properties of yeast for genetic studies is the ease with which DNA can be introduced into them, in a process called transformation. The introduced DNA can be maintained on self-replicating, circular strands of DNA called plasmids, or it can integrate into the yeast genome. Most importantly, integration usually occurs by a process called homologous recombination, whereby the introduced DNA replaces chromosomal DNA that contains the same sequence. This process permits scientists to readily mutate any yeast gene and replace the native gene in the cells with the mutated version. Since yeast can be grown as haploids, the phenotypic changes caused by the introduced gene can be readily identified.
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