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2014

Yeast cells could hold key to understanding cancer

29 April 2014

The ways in which yeasts can be used to make valuable medicines - and even understand how cancer cells develop - will be explored in Abertay University's next professorial lecture.

In 'Of Yeasts and Men…' Professor Graeme Walker will introduce the fascinating science of zymology - the study of yeasts - covering their use in everything from beer to baking and biofuels to biopharmaceuticals.

Zymology is an area of research in which Professor Walker has been involved for nearly 40 years.

His interest began back in 1970 when he left school and started work as a Research Technician in the pilot plant of a yeast factory.

This prompted him to go on and study Brewing and Biochemistry at Heriot Watt University and to pursue his PhD in Microbial Physiology.

He was awarded his Doctorate in 1978, and his career has since taken him around the world, from Denmark to New Zealand, Ireland to the USA.

Now with over 150 published articles and book chapters to his name, he is currently Director of the Yeast Research Group here at Abertay.

He was conferred DSc by Abertay in 2004, and is an Elected Fellow of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (FIBD), the Editor of a number of distinguished academic journals and is the UK representative on The International Commission of Yeasts.

Speaking about his interest in this subject, Professor Walker said:

"Yeasts are fascinating microbes and, although most people just think of them as being useful to make bread and beer, there's a lot more to them than that.

"Their cell structure is very similar to animal cells, so they can be used as a model organism to study diseases - like cancer - that affect humans.

"They can also be genetically transformed to create medicines: the insulin that diabetics use is created from genetically modified yeast for example, and yeast can be used to make vaccines against hepatitis and, potentially, HIV as well. So they play an important role in the pharmaceuticals industry.

"Here at Abertay, we research various aspects of the physiology and biotechnology of yeasts, and we work closely with industry, consulting with international companies interested in fermentation technology.

"In particular, we work with companies in the US, Brazil and Canada involved in the production of bioethanol (fuel alcohol) which is an important form of renewable energy, but we also work with local companies, advising breweries and distilleries.

"We’ve had several PhD, MSc and BSc students working on these yeast projects over the years, and it’s wonderful to know that many of them have gone on to find excellent jobs within industry, where the skills and experience they gained at Abertay are used every day."

'Of Yeasts and Men…' will take place in the Hannah Maclure Centre at Abertay University on Wednesday, May 14 at 6pm.

Several yeast products will be offered at the reception following Graeme's talk!

All are welcome, but spaces are limited, so please contact abertayevents@abertay.ac.uk to book your place.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

The DSc is a 'higher doctorate', awarded in recognition of a sustained contribution to scientific knowledge through the publication of high-quality research.

As Director of the Abertay Yeast Research Group, Professor Walker has seen a number of the group’s lab-based discoveries find application within industry, for example the discovery that yeasts can kill certain fungi that cause diseases in crops.

Professor Walker is the author of six books, one of which - Yeast Physiology and Biotechnology - has been the recommended reading on a variety of courses around the world since its publication in 1998.

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