Killer yeasts: expanding frontiers in the age of synthetic biology

Sonja Billerbeck, Roy S.K. Walker, Isak S. Pretorius*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Killer yeasts secrete protein toxins that are selectively lethal to other yeast and filamentous fungi. These exhibit exceptional genetic and functional diversity, and have several biotechnological applications. However, despite decades of research, several limitations hinder their widespread adoption. In this perspective we contend that technical advances in synthetic biology present an unprecedented opportunity to unlock the full potential of yeast killer systems across a spectrum of applications. By leveraging these new technologies, engineered killer toxins may emerge as a pivotal new tool to address antifungal resistance and food security. Finally, we speculate on the biotechnological potential of re-engineering host double-stranded (ds) RNA mycoviruses, from which many toxins derive, as a safe and noninfectious system to produce designer RNA.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTrends in Biotechnology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Apr 2024


  • bioprospecting
  • killer yeast
  • protein engineering
  • RNA
  • synthetic biology
  • yeast


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