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The Ecological Role Of Killer Yeasts In Natural Communities Of Yeasts

William T. Starmer, Philip F. Ganter, Virginia Aberdeen, Marc-Andre Lachance, Herman J. Phaff

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The killer phenomenon of yeasts was investigated in naturally occurring yeast communities. Yeast species from communities associated with the decaying stems and fruits of cactus and the slime fluxes of trees were studied for production of killer toxins and sensitivity to killer toxins produced by other yeasts. Yeasts found in decaying fruits showed the highest incidence of killing activity (30/112), while yeasts isolated from cactus necroses and tree fluxes showed lower activity (70/699 and 11/140, respectively). Cross-reaction studies indicated that few killer-sensitive interactions occur within the same habitat at a particular time and locality, but that killer-sensitive reactions occur more frequently among yeasts from different localities and habitats. The conditions that should be optimal for killer activity were found in fruits and young rots of Opuntia cladodes where the pH is low. The fruit habitat appears to favor the establishment of killer species. Killer toxin may affect the natural distribution of the killer yeast Pichia kluyveri and the sensitive yeast Cryptococcus cereanus. Their distributions indicate that the toxin produced by P. kluyveri limits the occurrence of Cr. cereanus in fruit and Opuntia pads. In general most communities have only one killer species. Sensitive strains are more widespread than killer strains and few species appear to be immune to all toxins. Genetic study of the killer yeast P. kluyveri indicates that the mode of inheritance of killer toxin production is nuclear and not cytoplasmic as is found in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Kluyveromyces lactis.