It is important … that the [yeast research] community maintains breadth and does not become narrow in its focus, nor compartmentalised in its activities. Compartmentalisation could be geographical or conceptual, by which I mean that there is the potential for a gap to emerge between fundamental research on the one part and technology-driven applications on the other. This should be resisted as the strength of the [yeast reserach] field has always been the connection between the everyday uses of yeast(s) for society, and research right at the cutting edge of new knowledge generation.’
He graduated in 1990 from University College Cork with a BSc in Microbiology. He subsequently moved to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany to carry out research for his PhD in the area of yeast cell biology and was awarded a PhD for this research in 1994.
John’s post-doctoral research career brought him first to the University of California, Berkeley, USA (1995-1997) and then to the John Innes Research Centre, Norwich, UK (1998-2000). In 2000, he took up research and teaching positions at UCC and since 2003 has led his own research group of postgraduate and post-doctoral scientists working in the broad areas of microbial ecology and yeast biotechnology.
What encouraged you to pursue a career in the field of microbiology?
”Although I was not aware of this, at the time I think that science was always going to my career because the generation of new knowledge and new discoveries fascinated me from a young age. And I liked hearing about how knowledge was important and useful. I was drawn to microbiology even before starting university studies by hearing some inspiring talks by university professors at a science open day. I found the combination of molecular biology, about which I knew nothing at the time, and the practical relevance of microbiology very alluring.
My introduction to yeast came with my PhD, and research on yeasts has been a constant in my career. I find the relationship between yeast and humans fascinating – we can trace the connection back thousands of years and we are still using yeast for that original purpose – fermentation of sugars for food and beverages!”
What inspired you to get involved with FEMS Yeast Research, and what have been the highlights so far?
”I am a very strong believer in the value of learned societies and have been involved with the Microbiology Society, a FEMS Society, for many years. Scientific societies play a vital part in developing and sustaining the ecosystem of research, education, knowledge generation, and societal engagement. FEMS and its societies are crucial for supporting the network of researchers at all stages of their careers by providing platforms, grants, publicity and scientific advocacy.
Yeast is a social organism and all through my own career, I have been part of several different yeast communities. I am enthused by the opportunity to support the further development of FEMS Yeast Research as a journal for the yeast community. That initially brought me on board as a member of the editorial board, though the recent elevation to Editor-in-Chief was somewhat unexpected, and a daunting responsibility.
The highlight for me to date was the opportunity as a member of the EB to guest edit a thematic issue associated with the ISSY33 conference in Cork in 2017. That conference marked the end of a Marie Sklodowska-Curie yeast biotechnology training network that we were co-ordinating and the thematic issue gave me the chance to commission some reviews as well as to bring together papers published by PhD students in the network. It illustrated very well to me a successful model for how the journal can interact with a conference with mutual benefits.”
What do you think are the challenges being faced in the field today?
”For yeast researchers, I see the future being more about opportunities than challenges. There have been different “glory periods” in the history of yeast research – one can think of the work of Pasteur and others proving that fermentation was a biological activity, or Lindner and Hansen on the studies of brewing yeasts, or the more recent molecular era with the development of yeast genetics and the collection of Nobel prizes for fundamental research on yeast.
Now, with the development of technologies like systems biology and synthetic biology, there is the opportunity to propel yeast to the front of the wave of new biotechnological processes – from disease models to platforms for production of bio-based molecules.
It is important, however, that the community maintains breadth and does not become narrow in its focus, nor compartmentalised in its activities. Compartmentalisation could be geographical or conceptual, by which I mean that there is the potential for a gap to emerge between fundamental research on the one part and technology-driven applications on the other. This should be resisted as the strength of the field has always been the connection between the everyday uses of yeast(s) for society, and research right at the cutting edge of new knowledge generation.
So in terms of challenge, I would say that researchers in the field should endeavour to remain knowledgeable enough to be able to describe themselves as “yeast researchers”, whether their specialised aspect be fundamental processes or synthetic biology.”
How do you see this field/the journal developing in the future?
”Yeast researchers are a collection of communities, working, for example, on topics such as brewing and distilling, gene regulation, metabolic engineering, or pathogenic yeasts. In many cases, there are formal or informal societies that co-ordinate and oversee research and networking of these groups. We are all members of at least one of these networks and FEMS as a society provides important support, through its grant programmes for individual researchers, and networking through conferences.
FEMS Yeast Research plays a central role as being the only society journal that is exclusively devoted to publishing papers on yeast research. It is both a vehicle and a repository for dissemination of research from all domains – fundamental and applied, and thus occupies a key position for the community as a whole. I think that the journal can play an increased role for the yeast community, by serving as a hub for many different cohorts of researchers.
I would like to see FEMS Yeast Research build stronger connections, formal or informal, with yeast communities and conferences. This could be through special thematic or virtual issues, supported prizes and mutual promotion. The journal will help link global researchers by continuing to expand its editorial board to reflect the wide geographical spread of yeast research and the diversity of the global yeast community.”
How would you describe FEMS Yeast Research in three words?
Do you think there are misconceptions regarding FEMS Yeast Research – if so, what?
”FEMS Yeast Research has positioned itself well as a high quality journal of broad scope. Historically, it may not have been the first journal considered by yeast researchers in certain areas but a cursory reading of the list of papers published in the past years shows a strong portfolio right across the spectrum. Nonetheless, there is scope for increasing the number of papers that we publish from certain areas like pathogenic yeasts and fundamental genetics.
One of the messages we will be giving the community is to consider FEMS Yeast Research for their high quality manuscripts in these areas, as well as in biotechnology, where we have a very strong standing.”
What advice would you give to today’s early career researchers?
”Collaborate and network because both are centrally important to building an enjoyable and productive scientific career. Be engaged – with your research community and with wider society. And do not forget that research is funded to have impact.
Create impact by using your scientific curiosity and intellectual capacity to benefit society by generating new knowledge, passing on that knowledge for society, and explaining and communicating what we do.
Support scientific societies because the networks that they help create will be the framework by which you will be able to build a sustained career – whether you remain inside or outside of academia.”
What is your favourite microbe, and why?
“For a yeast researcher, it is hard to look beyond Saccharomyces cerevisiae – as a beneficial partner, it precedes even the development of agriculture.
But there are also less high profile candidates that also make good claims. So I will choose Kluyveromyces marxianus, the yeast that is one research focus in my own group. From a researcher’s point of view, it has everything – a diverse wild population that is little explored, a long history of safe use as a food biotechnology yeast, interesting physiological traits and thermotolerance, current exploitation in industrial biotechnology, and recent and new tools for strain engineering.
And so while research with S. cerevisiae will rightly continue unabated, K. marxianus and other emerging yeasts will provide new exciting directions for the community and will help ensure that, regardless of species, yeasts will remain the most important microbe for humankind.”
Keep updated on all new cutting-edge developments in yeast microbiology in FEMS Yeast Research
For Dr John Morrissey’s twitter account follow: @jmorrisseycork
Check out our #52Microorganisms video on Saccharomyces cerevisiae:
Happy #MicrobeMonday everyone 🙂
This one of the #52Microorganisms has certainly had one of the largest impacts on humankind over its history…
— FEMS (@FEMSTweets) February 18, 2019