The Wickerhamiella/Starmerella clade—A treasure trove for the study of the evolution of yeast metabolism

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18 Citations (Scopus)


The Wickerhamiella and Starmerella genera form a clade (W/S clade) that branches close to Yarrowia lipolytica in the Saccharomycotina species tree. It comprises approximately 90 recognized species and 50 putative new species not formally described yet. The large majority of the members of the W/S clade are ecologically associated with flowers and floricolous insects. Many species exhibit unusual metabolic traits, like fructophily and the production of sophorolipids, which are glycolipids that can be used as environmentally friendly biosurfactants. Genomic data have not only firmly established the W/S clade but have also revealed a tumultuous evolution of metabolism marked by losses and gains of important metabolic pathways, among which alcoholic fermentation. Possibly the most surprising finding brought to light by comparative genomics concerned the large number of genes acquired by some species of the W/S clade from bacteria through horizontal gene transfer, many of which were shown to be functional in their new setting. This was facilitated by the genetic tractability of one species in the clade, Starmerella bombicola, which is used for the industrial production of sophorolipids. We suggest that high-density coverage of genome sequencing in this clade, combined with the possibility to conduct molecular genetics experiments in at least one species, has the potential to set the stage for yet more exciting discoveries concerning the evolution of yeast metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-320
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


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