Schizosaccharomyces pombe, also called "fission yeast", is a species of yeast used in traditional brewing and as a model organism in molecular and cell biology. It is a unicellular eukaryote, whose cells are rod-shaped. Cells typically measure 3 to 4 micrometres in diameter and 7 to 14 micrometres in length. Its genome, which is approximately 14.1 million base pairs, is estimated to contain 4,970 protein-coding genes and at least 450 non-coding RNAs.
These cells maintain their shape by growing exclusively through the cell tips and divide by medial fission to produce two daughter cells of equal size, which makes them a powerful tool in cell cycle research.
Fission yeast was isolated in 1893 by Paul Lindner from East African millet beer. The species name pombe is the Swahili word for beer. It was first developed as an experimental model in the 1950s: by Urs Leupold for studying genetics, and by Murdoch Mitchison for studying the cell cycle.
Paul Nurse, a fission yeast researcher, successfully merged the independent schools of fission yeast genetics and cell cycle research. Together with Lee Hartwell and Tim Hunt, Nurse won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on cell cycle regulation.
The sequence of the S. pombe genome was published in 2002, by a consortium led by the Sanger Institute, becoming the sixth model eukaryotic organism whose genome has been fully sequenced. S. pombe researchers are supported by the PomBase MOD (Model Organism Database). This has fully unlocked the power of this organism, with many genes orthologous to human genes identified - 70% to date, including many genes involved in human disease. In 2006, sub-cellular localization of almost all the proteins in S. pombe was published using green fluorescent protein as a molecular tag.
Schizosaccharomyces pombe has also become an important organism in studying the cellular responses to DNA damage and the process of DNA replication.
Approximately 160 natural strains of S. pombe have been isolated. These have been collected from a variety of locations including Europe, North and South America, and Asia. The majority of these strains have been collected from cultivated fruits such as apples and grapes, or from the various alcoholic beverages, such as Brazilian Cachaça. S. pombe is also known to be present in fermented tea, kombucha. It is not clear at present whether S. pombe is the major fermenter or a contaminant in such brews. The natural ecology of Schizosaccharomyces yeasts is not well-studied.