Contrasting Strategies for Sucrose Utilization in a Floral Yeast Clade

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Yeast species in the Wickerhamiella and Starmerella genera (W/S clade) thrive in the sugar-rich floral niche. We have previously shown that species belonging to this clade harbor an unparalleled number of genes of bacterial origin, among which is the SUC2 gene, encoding a sucrose-hydrolyzing enzyme. In this study, we used complementary in silico and experimental approaches to examine sucrose utilization in a broader cohort of species representing extant diversity in the W/S clade. Distinct strategies and modes of sucrose assimilation were unveiled, involving either extracellular sucrose hydrolysis through secreted bacterial Suc2 or intracellular assimilation using broad-substrate-range α-glucoside/H+ symporters and α-glucosidases. The intracellular pathway is encoded in two types of gene clusters reminiscent of the MAL clusters in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, where they are involved in maltose utilization. The genes composing each of the two types of MAL clusters found in the W/S clade have disparate evolutionary histories, suggesting that they formed de novo. Both transporters and glucosidases were shown to be functional and additionally involved in the metabolization of other disaccharides, such as maltose and melezitose. In one Wickerhamiella species lacking the α-glucoside transporter, maltose assimilation is accomplished extracellularly, an attribute which has been rarely observed in fungi. Sucrose assimilation in Wickerhamiella generally escaped both glucose repression and the need for an activator and is thus essentially constitutive, which is consistent with the abundance of both glucose and sucrose in the floral niche. The notable plasticity associated with disaccharide utilization in the W/S clade is discussed in the context of ecological implications and energy metabolism. IMPORTANCE Microbes usually have flexible metabolic capabilities and are able to use different compounds to meet their needs. The yeasts belonging to the Wickerhamiella and Starmerella genera (forming the so-called W/S clade) are usually found in flowers or insects that visit flowers and are known for having acquired many genes from bacteria by a process called horizontal gene transfer. One such gene, dubbed SUC2, is used to assimilate sucrose, which is one of the most abundant sugars in floral nectar. Here, we show that different lineages within the W/S clade used different solutions for sucrose utilization that dispensed SUC2 and differed in their energy requirements, in their capacity to scavenge small amounts of sucrose from the environment, and in the potential for sharing this resource with other microbial species. We posit that this plasticity is possibly dictated by adaptation to the specific requirements of each species.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0003522
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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