Dormancy is colloquially considered as extending lifespan by being still. Starved yeasts form dormant spores that wake-up (germinate) when nutrients reappear but cannot germinate (die) after some time. What sets their lifespans and how they age are open questions because what processes occur-and by how much-within each dormant spore remains unclear. With single-cell-level measurements, we discovered how dormant yeast spores age and die: spores have a quantifiable gene-expressing ability during dormancy that decreases over days to months until it vanishes, causing death. Specifically, each spore has a different probability of germinating that decreases because its ability to-without nutrients-express genes decreases, as revealed by a synthetic circuit that forces GFP expression during dormancy. Decreasing amounts of molecules required for gene expression-including RNA polymerases-decreases gene-expressing ability which then decreases chances of germinating. Spores gradually lose these molecules because they are produced too slowly compared with their degradations, causing gene-expressing ability to eventually vanish and, thus, death. Our work provides a systems-level view of dormancy-to-death transition.
- gene expression
- yeast spores