Background: Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been associated with human life for millennia in the brewery and bakery. Recently it has been recognized as an emerging opportunistic pathogen. To study the evolutionary history of S. cerevisiae, the origin of clinical isolates and the importance of a virulence-associated trait, population genetics and phenotypic assays have been applied to an ecologically diverse set of 103 strains isolated from clinics, breweries, vineyards, fruits, soil, commercial supplements and insect guts.
Methodology/principal findings: DNA sequence data from five nuclear DNA loci were analyzed for population structure and haplotype distribution. Additionally, all strains were tested for survival of oxidative stress, a trait associated with microbial pathogenicity. DNA sequence analyses identified three genetic subgroups within the recombining S. cerevisiae strains that are associated with ecology, geography and virulence. Shared alleles suggest that the clinical isolates contain genetic contribution from the fruit isolates. Clinical and fruit isolates exhibit high levels of recombination, unlike the genetically homogenous soil isolates in which no recombination was detected. However, clinical and soil isolates were more resistant to oxidative stress than any other population, suggesting a correlation between survival in oxidative stress and yeast pathogenicity.
Conclusions/significance: Population genetic analyses of S. cerevisiae delineated three distinct groups, comprising primarily the (i) human-associated brewery and vineyard strains, (ii) clinical and fruit isolates (iii) and wild soil isolates from eastern U.S. The interactions between S. cerevisiae and humans potentiate yeast evolution and the development of genetically, ecologically and geographically divergent groups.