Yeast Genome

The systematic mapping and sequencing of the yeast genome ( began in the late 1980s and was completed in 1996 by an international consortium coordinated by the XII Directorate-General of the European Commission. In its implementation the project benefitted from the communitarian ethos of the yeast geneticists, their considerable number and their worldwide distribution.

Yeast was chosen for the sequencing project because it is an important microorganism in the food industry (it is used to make bread, beer and wine) and more generally in the biotechnology industry. Yeast is also a crucial model organism in biological and biomedical research and thousands of biologists are familiar with it. Sequencing the yeast genome was also moving a step closer to the goal explicitly discussed at the time, the sequencing of the human genome, because yeast was the first eukaryote considered for sequencing.

633 researchers, working in over one hundred laboratories in Europe, US, Canada and Japan, took part in the project that was managed by the Belgian microbiologist Andre Goffeau. Mapping and sequencing proceeded chromosome by chromosome and, once completed, each chromosome sequence was deposited in the EMBL database.

Over 70% of the project funding came from Europe. The bigger share (55%) was the one of the European Commission, and another 17% was provided by the Wellcome Trust. In the US the sequencing of the yeast genome was supported by the National Institutes of Health, in Canada by McGill University and in Japan by RIKEN, an institution devoted to genomics (

In the yeast genome project there was a strong industrial component. Several biotechnology companies (Genotype GmbH, GATC GmbH, Agon GmbH, Microsynth GmbH etc) and two brewers, the Danish Carlsberg and the Spanish La Cruz del Campo, took part in the sequencing effort. The European Commission promoted also the creation of an industrial consortium, the Yeast Genome Platform, which was formed by companies that used yeast in their business and were interested in the sequencing data.

The mapping and sequencing of the yeast genome, therefore, took place at the intersection of science, industry, and politics, if we consider the leading role of a political entity, the European Commission, in shaping the project as a collaborative enterprise involving a network of laboratories distributed worldwide.

Yeast Genome

The project will investigate:

  • How the international network that contributed to sequencing the yeast genome took shape and what kind of moral, material and political economies underpinned its constitution.
  • The intellectual property issues posed by this highly collaborative and international project. 
  • The emphasis on the involvement of industrial partners.
  • How the systematic sequencing promoted by the European Commission integrated (or not) the knowledge of the yeast genome already available in 1989.
  • Who used and why the yeast genome data, especially in the biomedical context.

A full version of the image 'Yeast colonies on agar plate' by Rainis Venta is available on Wikipedia.

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