The Yeast ORFan Gene Project is a consortium of undergraduate researchers and faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) to coordinate resources and design strategies to assign molecular functions to genes of unknown function in the model organism S. cerevisiae (Baker’s yeast).

When the genomic sequence of the model eukaryote Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Baker’s or Brewer’s yeast) was completed in 1996, the expectation was that an understanding of the integrated functioning of the collection of genes in this single-celled eukaryote would shortly follow.  Despite more than 20 years of intense collaborative effort among yeast researchers, nearly 10% of open reading frames (ORFs) are considered uncharacterized.  Determining the function of these orphan genes (ORFans) will require mining the current yeast genomic data, compiled in the Saccharomyces genome database (SGD), to most effectively design ORF-specific experiments in cell and molecular biology, and comparative genomics. The “Yeast ORFan Gene Project” is a network of yeast researchers and educators with a focus on teaching experimental design to students and to overcome the challenges and absorb the risks of researching individual ORFans.

The network outcomes and lab protocols are published:

CURE on yeast genes of unknown function increases students’ bioinformatics proficiency and research confidence. Mary MillerTammy TobinDavid P. Aiello, Pamela Hanson, Erin Strome, Stephen D. JohnstonLaurie Issel-TarverDavid B. Kushner Jill B. Keeney. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education. 1/31/2024

Network modules and protocols are accessed through the “lab modules” tab at the top of the page. These were developed by network participants at summer workshops.

The project is expanding through the “adopt-a-protogene” project, which is offering virtual workshops 2022-2026, usually in June. Information on the workshops and modules are accessed through the “lab modules” tab at the top of the page. The next workshop is June 20-21, 2024.

To be included on the network listserv (2-4 emails/year), fill out this form

To learn more about network activities, check out the News and Updates tab and join the TEACHING YEAST SLACK Channel


(If you or your students have publications on genes of unknown function or proto-genes, please send to keeney@juniata.edu)

Sturgeon CM, Zanghi N, Smith HM, Davis EK, Robinson MR, Cabrera E, Holbrook MC, Segarra VA. YML018C protein localizes to the vacuolar membrane independently of Atg27p. MicroPubl Biol. 2021 May

Kowaleski SJ, Hurmis CS, Coleman CN, Philips KD, Najor NA (2023) SHE9 deletion mutants display fitness defects during diauxic shift in Saccharomyces cerevisiae . MicroPubl Biol 2023

Chang S, Joyson M, Kelly A, Tang L, Iannotta J, Rich A, Castilho Coelho N, Carvunis AR (2023) Unannotated Open Reading Frame in Saccharomyces cerevisiae Encodes Protein Localizing to the Endoplasmic Reticulum. MicroPubl Biol 2023

Director Jill Keeney, Juniata College,

Funded by the National Science Foundation