37 years ago, Paul Nurse performed a screen in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe for mutants which divided at an abnormally small size. He identified a gene, wee1, which was the first gene found to control the cell cycle and cell division. As a result of this work, Nurse won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001, together with Lee Hartwell and Genome Biology editorial board member Tim Hunt. This work has been built on over time, such that we now have a good picture of the events that coordinate cell division with cell growth, but there are still gaps in our knowledge. For instance, it is clear that there must be pathways other than the wee1 pathway regulating cell division. In order to address these points, Nurse has now revisited his original screen, and the study has just been published in Genome Biology.
Nurse and his colleague, Francisco Navarro, made use of the S. pombe deletion collection, which consists of approximately 3000 mutants, each one lacking a single non-essential gene. They looked for mutants dividing at abnormal cell sizes. They identify 18 genes regulating the entry in to cell division, of which 7 have not previously been described as cell cycle regulators, and 4 regulate cell division by hitherto unknown pathways.
Fission yeast is perhaps going out of fashion as a model system, with people preferring to work with what are seen to be more relevant human cell lines, but it is clear that the simplicity of S. pombe means that it still can contribute to our knowledge of cellular processes as it has been for over 30 years.