Today I was able to meet with two of the researchers who are studying the yeasts that I will be working with. It was great to finally meet them, although they said a lot of long scary words, but were very reassuring!
Their research has been looking at three species of yeast, Candida Tropicalis, Candida Boidinii, and Candida Shehatae. Candida Tropicalis is very good at metabolising Arabinose & Xylose, however the two conflict and the end product isn't that useful. Candida Boidinii doesn't process Arabinose, for some unknown reason, but does metabolise Xylose just at a much slower rate.
If they can figure out what genetics cause Candida Boidinii to not react with Arabinose, and then modify Candida Tropicalis to have the same characteristics, then they would be able to produce Xylitol, an anti-bacterial sugar, cheaper and easier than before. One other exciting possibility is using it to create an artificial sweetener that can be used by diabetics.
How do we find this out?
The data I have been provided is sequenced and assembled contigs, which are essentially random strings of DNA taken from the samples, for each of the three species.
My task will be to run analytical tools to compare these contigs against the known genes found in the NCBI non-redundant database. From there we can compare what genes are present in each of the species, and hopefully highlight any differences found.
I'm still a little concerned about this stage of the process as there is a lot of knowledge that I need to extract from my tutors head, but I'm feeling positive that I'm on the right track to understanding the bits I need to.
The part of the project that I will feel the most comfortable in and be able to harness my skill set in, will be once we have the data in a database and ready to present in a meaningful way.