British scientists who have cracked the genetic code of fission yeast say that the developments could lead to new treatments for cancer and other diseases.
Fission yeast, scientifically known as schizosaccharomyces pombe, is used in brewing in Africa and is found on the skins of African-grown bananas. Researchers have now discovered that 50 of the yeast's genes had "significant" similarity with genes that exist in human diseases. The research was published in the latest issue of Nature magazine.
The close similarity of yeast and human cells means that the discovery will provide scientists with a better understanding of how genes are involved in cancer and other diseases.
Sir Paul Nurse, joint director of Cancer Research UK, and winner of the Nobel prize for Medicine for his work in yeast cell study, said: "This small organism could prove vital in helping to better understand and treat cancer and other diseases."
The breakthrough in fission yeast research is only the sixth decoding of a higher life-form, those which have cells but are placed higher than bacteria.
Professor Gordon McVie, joint director general of Cancer Research UK, said: "Cells are the basic blocks upon which life is built, and by understanding how they grow and develop, we will be able to develop new treatments to fight cancer - this research will help towards that goal."
The study involved following the sequence of two-thirds of the fission yeast genome - the genetic blueprint of the yeast - enabling them to plot the whole genetic sequence. The process allowed them to identify highly conserved genes important for the cell organisation of the yeast.
Analysis of the genome was conducted by Cancer Research UK and the Sanger Centre and second phase of sequencing was carried out by a European Consortium, led by the Sanger Institute.