| Brussels, 20 February 2002
Key words: genome, sequence, yeast
Embargo until 20:00
CET Wednesday 20 February
In the edition of Nature dated Thursday 21
February 2002, an international team of scientists report their
analysis of the genome of fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces
pombe). The project, largely funded through a €6.9 million from
the European Commission, is likely to have major implications for
the future of cancer and other bio-medical research. Fifty of the
yeast genes were found to have significant similarity with genes
involved in human diseases, including cystic fibrosis, hereditary
deafness and non insulin dependent diabetes, and half were found
to be cancer related. Because yeast cells are similar to human cells
but easier to study, this work is leading to a better understanding
of what each gene controls, and how they may be involved in cancer
and other diseases in humans.
Commissioner Philippe Busquin commented this scientific breakthrough
saying: "This type of research is yet another example for the
strong link between scientic advancement and practical use for the
citizen. Unlike other genomics projects, Europe has taken the leading
role in this research through networking of the best. That is precisely
what I have been advocating since the Lisbon summit in spring 2000,
where I proposed to create a European Research Area."
Schizosaccharomyces pombe is known as fission
yeast because it reproduces by splitting rather than by budding
like Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast), and is occasionally
used for brewing beer. Like man, it is an eukaryote, i.e. an organism
that, unlike bacteria, contains its genome in a nucleus inside the
cell and is generally thought to be more complex.
The completion of the sequence and analysis of
this genome is the result of the joint effort of 13 European laboratories
led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute which sequenced two-thirds
of the genome and did the gene predictions and annotation for all
of the sequence. The global analysis of the genome was performed
jointly by Cancer Research UK and the Sanger Institute. The second
phase of the sequencing was carried out by a European Consortium
led by the Sanger Institute. The consortium consisted of major European
laboratories that also contributed to the S. cerevisiae genome
project. The majority of funding for the project was from the European
Commission (€6.9 million out of a total budget of €9.4 million).
The 133 authors of the Nature paper include Dr
Paul Nurse of Cancer Research UK, whose work on fission yeast and
cell division recently led to the award for the Nobel prize for
Medicine, and Dr Bart Barrell and Val Wood from the Wellcome Trust
Sanger Institute near Cambridge.
Dr Nurse stated: 'Biomedicine depends on our study
of model organisms, which can provide key insights into the way
in which the more complex human genome works. The genome fission
yeast is only the sixth higher (eukaryotic) life form to be decoded.
Significantly, many decisions the humble yeast cell makes in cell
division use genes that are closely related to genes implicated
in many human cancers: this small organism could prove vital in
helping to better understand and treat cancer and other diseases.'
Val Wood, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute,
commented: 'Each step in our study of genomes brings new and surprising
understanding of the common basis that underlies the way cells work.
In this international collaboration we have provided high-quality
sequence and precise analysis of the genes buried in the fission
yeast genetic code, demonstrating the value of sharing genomic information.
Through this shared effort, the genome of S. pombe is one of the
best annotated of any non-bacterial cell. As well as finding cancer-related
genes, we have begun to illustrate how other functions in this,
perhaps the simplest complex cell, can bring new tools to understanding
ourselves and our place in evolution.'
The joint effort to sequence and analyse the sequence
of a micro-organism to better understand and improve human health
is a typical an example of the continuing European effort in the
area of Genomics and Biotechnology for Health. Building on such
major achievements, the European Commission proposes to allocate
€2.2 billion to this priority in the forthcoming Sixth Framework
Project web site: http://www.sanger.ac.uk/Projects/S_pombe/
For further information concerning the report and the projects,
Don Powell, Press Officer, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
Tel.: +44.1223.494.956, Fax: +44.1223.494.714
For further information to the press, please contact:
Stephane Hogan, Press and Information Officer,
DG research, european commission
E-mail: Research Contact
Notes to editors:
The European research consortium for the Schizosaccharomyces
Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge (UK)
Institüt für Molekulare Genetik, Berlin (DE)
Universiteit Leuven (BE)
Catholique de Louvain (BE)
und Molekular Biologische Forschung, Willemsfeld (DE)
de Malaga (ES)
de Salamanca (ES)
of Exeter (UK)
Contact details available on project web site:
Schizosaccharomyces pombe is the sixth eukaryotic
genome to be sequenced following Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's
yeast), Caenorhabditis elegans (worm), Drosophilia melanogaster
(fruit fly), Arabidopsis thaliana (small flowering plant),
and homo sapiens (man). Among these, the genomes of Saccharomyces
cerevisiae and Arabidopsis thaliana were sequenced and
analysed largely through the European Commission research funding
In evolutionary terms, yeast split from lineage to humans (and plants) over 1000 million years ago. Therefore, it is not surprising that homologues of many genes 'typical' of eukaryotes were identified.
The results are regarded as very reliable with a sequence error rate better than 1/180,000. The sequence was also used to correct some ambiguities in map data.
The genome of fission yeast (S. pombe) is made up of three
chromosomes (5.7 Mb, 4.6 Mb, 3.5 Mb) totalling 13.8 Mb. The genome
contains the smallest number of protein coding genes yet recorded
for an eukaryote, totalling 4824 which is less than some bacteria
(such as Streptomyces coelicolor - usually regarded as the
simplest forms of life) and only 33 pseudogenes ('dead' genes) whereas
man has many thousands). About 1200 of these genes were known previously.
At least 50 genes related to human disease genes - of these, half
are cancer related.
Researchers identified highly conserved genes important for eukaryotic cell organisation, including those required for the cell structure and movement, cell division, turnover of proteins in the cell and protein activation.
The genome is compact: about 60% codes for proteins (compare to about 2% in man). That is one gene for every 2500 base pairs (bp) of DNA (on average, every 100,000 bp in man). Genes are typically 1400 bp long (about 30,000 in man) with gaps between genes of usually 400-1000 bp.
Duplications of genes tend to occur near the ends of the
chromosomes and usually involves proteins that are predicted to
decorate the cell surface: similar variation occurs in malaria organism
(Plasmodium falciparum). There is also a small number of