Named after the English biochemist Herbert Grace Crabtree, the Crabtree effect describes the phenomenon whereby the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, produces ethanol (alcohol) in aerobic conditions and high external glucose concentrations rather than producing biomass via the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the usual process occurring aerobically in most yeasts e.g. Kluyveromyces spp.. This phenomenon is observed in most species of the Saccharomyces, Schizosaccharomyces, Debaryomyces, Brettanomyces, Torulopsis, Nematospora, and Nadsonia genera. Increasing concentrations of glucose accelerates glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose) which results in the production of appreciable amounts of ATP through substrate-level phosphorylation. This reduces the need of oxidative phosphorylation done by the TCA cycle via the electron transport chain and therefore decreases oxygen consumption. The phenomenon is believed to have evolved as a competition mechanism (due to the antiseptic nature of ethanol) around the time when the first fruits on Earth fell from the trees. The crabtree effect works by repressing respiration by the fermentation pathway, dependent on the substrate. The occurrence of alcoholic fermentation is not primarily due to a limited respiratory capacity, but could be caused by a limit in the cellular Gibbs energy dissipation rate.
It was the study of tumor cells that lead to the discovery of the Crabtree effect. Tumor cells have a similar metabolism, the Warburg effect, in which they favor glycolysis over the oxidative phosphorylation pathway.
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