You already knew that yeast is responsible for turning a hoppy barley syrup into that wonderful concoction we call beer. You also know that yeast is responsible for other tasty treats like bread and other baked goods. But did you know that yeast is one of the most studied organisms ever, and has yielded insights into the functioning of the human nervous system?
…[H]umans and yeast have many genes in common: about 60 percent of yeast genes are known to have human equivalents, and almost a quarter of human disease-causing genes have equivalents in yeast. Studying yeast genes thus gives us a window into what some of our most essential genes are doing. Indeed, suppose you create a yeast “knock out” — you remove one of the yeast genes. Often, this will have a clear and detrimental impact on how the organism grows. Now, replace the knocked-out gene with the human version — and like as not, you will have restored the yeast to its former frothy self.
You can read more about it in this interesting article from the New York Times by an honest-to-goodness evolutionary biologist.
(via Wil Wheaton)