Killer (Zymocidal) Yeasts

  • Graham G. Stewart
Part of the The Yeast Handbook book series (YEASTHDB)


Killer yeast strains secrete toxins that are lethal to sensitive strains of the same or related species. All the known killer toxins produced by killer yeasts are proteins that kill sensitive cells. Toxin-producing strains are termed “killers” and susceptible strains are termed “sensitives”. There are strains that do not kill and are not themselves killed and these are called “resistant”. Killer yeasts and their toxins have several applications: combat contaminating wild yeasts in food, control pathogenic fungi in plants, development of novel antimycotics used in the treatment of human and animal fungal infections and control contaminating wild yeasts in winemaking, brewing and other fermentation industries. An alternative to employing a killer strain would be to produce a yeast strain that does not kill but is killer resistant. It has to receive the genetic complement that renders a brewing strain immune to zymocidal activity. Little is known about the relationship between the structure of killer toxins, their killer activity and binding to targets on sensitive cells.


  1. Antunes J, Aguiar C (2012) Search for killer phenotypes with potential for biological control. Short Communications. Ann Microbiol 62:427–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bajaj BK, Sharma S (2010) Construction of killer industrial yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae hau-1 and its fermentation performance. Braz J Microbiol 4:477–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bajaj B, Raina S, Singh S (2013) Killer toxin from a novel killer yeast Pichia kudriavzevii RY55 with idiosyncratic antibacterial activity. J Basic Microbiol 53:645–656CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bevan EA, Makower M (1963) The physiological basis of the killer character in yeast. In: Geerts SJ (ed) Genetics today. Proceedings of eleventh international congress on genetics (Haig 1963). Pergamon Press, Oxford, pp 202–203Google Scholar
  5. Bussey H (1991) K1 killer toxin, a pore-forming protein from yeast. Mol Microbiol 5:2339–2343CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Buzdar MA, Chi Z, Wang Q, Hua MX, Chi ZM (2011) Production, purification, and characterization of a novel killer toxin from Kluyveromyces siamensis against a pathogenic yeast in crab. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 91:1571–1579CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Chen WB, Han YF, Jong SC, Chang SC (2000) Isolation, purification, and characterization of a killer protein from Schwanniomyces occidentalis. Appl Environ Microbiol 66:5348–5352CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Ciani M, Fatichenti F (2001) Killer toxin of Kluyveromyces phaffii DBVPG 6076 as a biopreservative agent to control apiculate wine yeasts. Appl Environ Microbiol 67:3058–3063CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Comitini F, Ciani M (2011) Kluyveromyces wickerhamii killer toxin: purification and activity towards Brettanomyces/Dekkera yeasts in grape must. FEMS Microbiol Lett 316:77–82CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Comitini F, De Ingeniis J, Pepe L, Mannazzu I, Ciani M (2004a) Pichia anomala and Kluyveromyces wickerhamii killer toxins as new tools against Dekkera/Brettanomyces spoilage yeasts. FEMS Microbiol Lett 238:235–240CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Comitini F, Di Pietro N, Zacchi L, Mannazzu I, Ciani M (2004b) Kluyveromyces phaffii killer toxin active against wine spoilage yeasts: purification and characterization. Microbiology 150:2535–2541CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Comitini F, Mannazzu I, Ciani M (2009) Tetrapisispora phaffii killer toxin is a highly specific β-glucanase that disrupts the integrity of the yeast cell wall. Microbial Cell Fact 8:55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Conde J, Fink GR (1976) A mutant of Saccharomyces cerevisiae defective for nuclear fusion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 73:3651–3655CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Fink GR, Styles C (1972) Curing of a killer factor in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 69:2846–2849CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. Goto K, Iwatuki Y, Kitano K, Obata T, Hara S (1990a) Cloning and nucleotide sequence of the KHR killer gene of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Agric Biol Chem 54:979–984PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Goto K, Iwase T, Kichise K, Kitano K, Totuka A, Obata T, Hara S (1990b) Isolation and properties of a chromosome-dependent KHR killer toxin in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Agric Biol Chem 54:505–509PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Goto K, Fukuda H, Kichise K, Kitano K, Hara S (1991) Cloning and nucleotide sequence of the KHS killer gene of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Agric Biol Chem 55:1953–1958PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Guyard C, Séguy N, Cailliez JC, Drobecq H, Polonelli L, Dei-Cas E, Mercenier A, Menozzi FD (2002) Characterization of a Williopsis saturnus var. mrakii high molecular weight secreted killer toxin with broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity. J Antimicrob Chemother 49:961–971CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hammond JRM, Eckersley KW (1984) Fermentation properties of brewing yeast with killer character. J Inst Brew 90:167–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hua MX, Chi Z, Liu GL, Buzdar MA, Chi ZM (2010) Production of a novel and cold-active killer toxin by Mrakia frigida 2E00797 isolated from sea sediment in Antarctica. Extremophiles 14:515–521CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Kimura T, Kitamoto N, Kito Y, Iimura Y, Shirai T, Komiyama T, Furuichi Y, Sakka K, Ohmiya K (1997) A novel yeast gene, RHK1, is involved in the synthesis of the cell wall receptor for the HM-1 killer toxin that inhibits beta-1,3-glucan synthesis. Mol Gen Genet 254:139–147CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Klassen R, Teichert S, Meinhardt F (2004) Novel yeast killer toxins provoke S-phase arrest and DNA damage checkpoint activation. Mol Microbiol 53:263–273CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Liu G-L, Chi Z, Wang G-Y, Wang Z-P, Li Y, Chi Z-M (2015) Yeast killer toxins, molecular mechanisms of their action and their applications. Crit Rev Biotechnol 35:222–234CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Magliani W, Conti S, Travssos LR, Polonelli L (2008) From killer yeast toxins to antibodies and beyond. FEMS Microbiol 288:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Marquina D, Barroso V, Santos A, Peinado JM (2001) Production and characteristics of Debaryomyces hansenii killer toxin. Microbiol Res 156:387–391CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Marquina D, Santos A, Peinado JM (2002) Biology of killer yeasts. Int Microbiol 5:65–71CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Maule AP, Thomas PD (1973) Strains of yeast lethal to brewery yeasts. J Inst Brew 79:137–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Naumov GI, Kondratieva VI, Naumova ES, Chen G-Y, Li CF (2011) Polymorphism and species specificity of killer activity formation in the yeast Zygowilliopsis californica. Biotekhnologiya 3:29–33Google Scholar
  29. Pasteur L, Joubert JF (1877) Charbon et septicémie. C R Hebd Seances Acad Sci 85:101–115Google Scholar
  30. Peng Y, Chi ZM, Wang XH, Li J (2010) β-1,3-Glucanase inhibits activity of the killer toxin produced by the marine-derived yeast Williopsis saturnus WC91-2. Mar Biotechnol 12:479–485CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Polonelli L, Magliani W, Ciociola T, Giovati L, Conti S (2011) From Pichia anomala killer toxin through killer antibodies to killer peptides for a comprehensive anti-infective strategy. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek 99:35–41CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Rodriguez-Cousino N, Maqueda M, Ambrona J, Zamora E, Esteban R, Ramírez M (2011) A new wine Saccharomyces cerevisiae killer toxin (Klus), encoded by a double-stranded RNA virus, with broad antifungal activity is evolutionarily related to a chromosomal host gene. Appl Environ Microbiol 77:1822–1832CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. Russell I, Stewart GG (1985) Valuable techniques in the genetic manipulation of industrial yeast strains. J Am Soc Brew Chem 43:84–90Google Scholar
  34. Santos A, Marquina D (2004) Ion channel activity by Pichia membranifaciens killer toxin. Yeast 21:151–162CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Santos A, Marquina D, Leal JA, Peinado JM (2000) (1→6)-β-d-glucan as cell wall receptor for Pichia membranifaciens killer toxin. Appl Environ Microbiol 66:1809–1813CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  36. Santos A, San Mauro M, Bravo E, Marquina D (2009) PMKT2, a new killer toxin from, and its promising biotechnological properties for control of the spoilage yeast Brettanomyces bruxellensis. Microbiol 155:624–634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schaffrath R, Meinhardt F (2005) Kluyveromyces lactis zymocin and other plasmid-encoded yeast killer toxins. Topics in Current Genetics, 11:133–155, Microbial Protein Toxins (Schmitt MJ & Schaffrath R, eds). Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  38. Schmitt MJ, Breinig F (2002) The viral killer system in yeast: from molecular biology to application. FEMS Microbiol Rev 26:257–276CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Schmitt MJ, Breinig F (2006) Yeast viral killer toxins: lethality and self-protection. Nat Rev Microbiol 4:212–221CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Stewart GG, Russell I (1986) One hundred years of yeast research and development in the brewing industry. J Inst Brew 92:537–558CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wang L, Yue L, Chi Z, Wang X (2008) Marine killer yeasts active against a yeast strain pathogenic to crab Portunus trituberculatus. Dis Aquat Org 80:211–218CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Wang Y, Zhang X, Zhang H, Lu Y, Huang H, Dong X, Chen J, Dong J, Yang X, Hang H, Jiang T (2012) Coiled-coil networking shapes cell molecular machinery. Mol Biol Cell 23:3911–3922CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. Weiler F, Schmitt MJ (2003) Zygocin, a secreted antifungal toxin of the yeast Zygosaccharomyces bailii, and its effect on sensitive fungal cells. FEMS Yeast Res 3:69–76PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Woods DR, Bevan EA (1968) Studies on the nature of the killer factor produced by Saccharomyces cerevisiae. J Gen Microbiol 51:115–126CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Young TW, Yagiu M (1978) A comparison of the killer character in different yeasts and its classification. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek 44:59–77CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham G. Stewart
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.International Centre for Brewing and DistillingHeriot Watt UniversityEdinburghUK
  2. 2.GGStewart AssociatesCardiff, WalesUK

Personalised recommendations