For years, anthropologists have talked about the idea that the relationship between humans and yeasts could be talked about either as a case in which humans domesticated yeasts or, alternatively, in which yeasts domesticated humans. After all, the global populations of yeasts are far larger than global human populations and the products produced by yeasts affect many aspects of human behavior (via their products, such as beer, wine and bread). In this framing, the story of yeasts is not so unlike, for example, the story of the Ophiocordyceps fungi that produce compounds that alter the behavior of ants in ways that benefit the fungi (but not the ants). In this PhD, we propose to take the yeast perspective in the story of humans and yeasts more seriously. This project will include at least three elements. First, the student will work with Dunn and Andersen to develop models (drawing from approaches used in community ecology and evolutionary theory) of early interactions between humans and yeasts and those situations in which yeasts might be expected to benefit more than humans and vise versa. Second, the student will use hologenomics approaches and potentially ancient DNA approaches to consider how and when yeasts spread around the world, and the extent to which they spread with humans. Third, the student will consider the scenarios in which humans and yeasts, together (as a kind of ”extended hologenome”) were likely more to succeed relative to humans not engaging in interactions with yeasts.
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