"I Fought the Law," the 1977 song popularized by the English punk-rock band The Clash, features catchy lyrics about the dire consequences of life as an outlaw. In human affairs, the set of rules codified in our laws helps protect individuals and maintain order in our societies. Without rules, order is lost and chaos reigns. Life's organisms have evolved their own set of checks and balances that help fight off chaos and ensure their survival and success.
We are evolutionary biologists who study the evolution of budding yeasts, a group of organisms that includes the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae that is essential for wine-making, brewing, baking, biotech, and biofuel industries, and several Candida species that cause human infections.
During our studies of budding yeast genome evolution, we serendipitously discovered that an ancient lineage of budding yeasts named Hanseniaspora appear to have lost genetic law and order. Specifically, Hanseniaspora yeasts have done away with parts of their systems of checks and balances, in much the same way as cancerous cells do, challenging the existing paradigm that these processes are essential for cellular life.