This is a fictional conversation between the yeast strains PE-2 and CEN.PK. Pun is intended.
: Howdy ! How’s life at your end ?
PE-2: Hiya. All work and no play is making me a dull person !
CEN.PK: Oh, poor you. I’m truly sorry. I had thought that you were of tough constitution. All that selective pressure that is imposed on you, at the distilleries, and that too quite brutally, makes me shiver. My heart goes for you.
PE-2 describes its life at the industry. It somehow remembered the opening passage of Mother by the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, the iron foundry by Mosolov and a song by Bjork in dancer in the dark singing ‘I’ve seen it all’, as it (PE-2) witnesses the workers juicing the cane, harvested using giant machines. It also learnt that Chico Buarque’s Construcao song is very much liked by CEN.PK
Every day the factory whistle bellowed forth its shrill, roaring, trembling noises into the smoke-begrimed and greasy atmosphere of the workingmen’s suburb; and obedient to the summons of the power of steam, people poured out of little gray houses into the street. With somber faces they hastened forward like frightened roaches, their muscles stiff from insufficient sleep. In the chill morning twilight they walked through the narrow, unpaved street to the tall stone cage that waited for them with cold assurance, illumining their muddy road with scores of greasy, yellow, square eyes. The mud plashed under their feet as if in mocking commiseration. Hoarse exclamations of sleepy voices were heard; irritated, peevish, abusive language rent the air with malice; and, to welcome the people, deafening sounds floated about–the heavy whir of machinery, the dissatisfied snort of steam. Stern and somber, the black chimneys stretched their huge, thick sticks high above the village;
(the tree outside my flat in Brockwood in the UK)
CEN.PK: You see my life is quite good. There is this person called PK in Hamburg who has created a knock out collection of every gene in my genome. It is been used widely across Europe (and elsewhere) to understand my behaviour. They still cannot make out why I have 6000 genes and 17 hexose transporters.
PE-2: Oh well. It will take a long time with innovative names such as ‘Omics’ and new initiatives such as: PNPD, BioRefine2G, EBI, to dissect our physiology. I really wonder if they can ever understand us, as Heisenberg says ‘it is impossible to find out the location and momentum of a particle at the same time’. Any deletion disrupts the ‘Systeome’ and We have a robust connectedness. They just published today in Nature that we have the potential to be multi-cellular, just like them.
CEN.PK Probably with enough computational facilities, they may eventually understand us. There are people like ‘G’ who are still intrigued by us and perhaps respectful of this conundrum. He has published papers with several Europeans who mainly work with me. There are scientists for whom a synthetic cell is the holy grail of all, while there are others who are in awe of our metabolism. The fact is we ourselves don’t know what makes us tick. We are dependent on a bunch of molecules and ‘we think we can but the truth is we are not what we think’.
PE-2: I know G. He is one of the supervisors of a PhD student who is bent on improving my metabolism. I already have a fantastic glucose metabolism and he talks about improvements using free energy. I just want to make alcohol and be happy. G also supervises another PhD student, who I hope will bring us some respite, by warding off the contaminants in vats. There is also this girl who is going to embark on her PhD and she hopes that I am genetically amenable, as she intends to grow me on a wider range of substrates. I must behave myself. There is another postdoc who is working on one of our sister yeasts and he intends to make them like us. Let us wish them all the best.
CEN.PK: Yesterday they did an experiment using me and they did not add ergosterol and tween for my growth under anaerobic conditions. But I grew happily despite one of the water bath temperature reaching a temperature of 37 deg C. I only needed a few millimoles of oxygen to manufacture the cholesterol and lipids. I was glad I was able to get some oxygen despite them using norprene tubing. Whenever they use total anaerobic conditions, I get a chill as I never witness total anaerobic conditions in nature. Grapes and wort always have some oxygen and I can always scourge for them without choking.
PE-2: Last week they discussed a paper published in FEMS yeast research for their journal club. They talked about evolution experiments and also why the author did not simulate the industrial medium. The truth is I am quite happy to work in air conditioned lab for a change with controlled pH and temperature and using a defined medium. I am anxious in the wild as I am constantly on my toes looking for my next meal.
CEN.PK: Could we change our topic now. We often talk about work. What else is happening.
PE-2: Oh there is this new postdoc. He and another postdoc are trying desperately to understand me better. Poor them. Their fermentation were fraught with problems. See, I am going off the track again. Any way the news is that he is inviting his colleagues for a drink. I got this message (it was actually a new system to communicate with us, called Saccuman):
It is hard to believe that I have been in Brazil for three months already. Wholly befitting this occasion, I would very much like to invite you all for a soiree at my place. I have much appreciated your kindness, generosity, care, and warmth over these months and I shall look forward to spending the rest of my stay here.
CEN. PK: I would love to go but probably I will be undergoing evolution experiment as they are devising newer selective pressure to make me perform better. The educationists say that the students should not be tested but they are testing me all the time !
PE-2: Oh, don’,t fret. Let us help them by doing our job that we are good at. We get to eat sugar any way. We produce enough alcohol to thwart our enemies. Let us hope many people go his place.