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Lindquist researches new role for yeast

Susan Lindquist
Susan Lindquist
Photo / Justin Knight

Yeast has gone from being a workhorse of the brewing and baking industries to a discovery platform for neurobiology, professor of biology Susan Lindquist told an MIT audience in an Oct. 24 lecture sponsored by the Molecular Frontiers Foundation.

Lindquist, a former Whitehead Institute director, said that her lab has turned to yeast in its search for ways to prevent Parkinson's disease in humans.

"Yeast is by far the best understood organism on the planet, and they just do things in a lot of the ways that [humans] do," Lindquist said.

Specifically, she showed that yeast cells are vulnerable to the aggregation of alphasynuclein, a process that causes Parkinson's disease in humans. Using yeast as a model organism, Lindquist's lab found 60 genes that influence the lethal, neurodegenerative disease.

Furthermore, assays on yeast allowed her and her researchers to screen 150,000 chemicals for their ability to prevent the aggregation of alpha-synuclein. Seven compounds proved promising and might some day help to fight Parkinson's disease, she said.

The Molecular Frontiers Foundation promotes the understanding and appreciation of molecular science in society. Launched in 2006, the foundation's scientific advisory board consists of 26 leading scientists, including eight Nobel laureates.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 14, 2007 (download PDF).

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