Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Cytokinins in nematodes
To investigate cytokinins (CKs) in nematodes, CK profiles of a free-living Caenorhabditis elegans and a plant parasitic Heterodera glycines (soybean cyst nematode, SCN) were determined at the egg and larval stages. SCN had higher total CK level than C. elegans; however, CKs in SCN were mostly inactive precursors, whereas C. elegans had more bioactive forms. This is the first study to show that methylthiols are present in nematodes and may affect plant infection. In infectious SCN larvae, methylthiol levels were much higher than in eggs or C. elegans larvae. Furthermore, The CK profiles of SCN-susceptible and resistant Glycine max cultivars at three developmental stages revealed that, regardless of the resistance level, SCN infection caused an increase in root CKs. One resistant cultivar, Pion 93Y05, showed significantly high levels of bioactive N6-isopentenyladenine (iP) in the non-infected roots which indicated a potential role of CKs in soybean resistance to SCN. Author Keywords: Cytokinins, HPLC-MS/MS, Nematode, SCN resistance, Soybean
Cytokinin biosynthesis, signaling and translocation during the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem
Cytokinins (CKs) are hormones that promote cell division. During the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem, the levels of CKs are elevated. Although CK levels are increased, the origins of these CKs have not been determined and it is unclear as to whether they promote the formation of tumors. To determine this, we measured the CK levels, identified CK biosynthetic genes as well as CK signaling genes and measured the transcript levels during pathogenesis. By correlating the transcript levels to the CK levels, our results suggest that increased biosynthesis and signaling of CKs occur in both organisms. The increase in CK biosynthesis by the pathosystem could lead to an increase in CK signaling via CK translocation and promote tumor formation. Taken together, these suggest that CK biosynthesis, signaling and translocation play a significant role during the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem. Author Keywords: Biosynthesis, Cytokinins, Signaling, Translocation, Ustilago maydis, Zea mays
Functional Investigation of A Ustilago maydis Xylose Metabolism Gene and its Antisense Transcripts
Ustilago maydis is a biotrophic fungal plant pathogen that causes ‘common smut of corn’ disease. During infection, U. maydis develops a metabolic dependency on its host, relying on uptake of the carbon molecules provided within Zea mays tissues. The research presented indicated a requirement for metabolism of the pentose sugar D-xylose through functional investigation of a U. maydis xylitol dehydrogenase (uxm1), an enzyme involved in the bioconversion of D-xylose. This work is the first to outline the importance of pentose metabolism during biotrophic plant pathogenesis, as U. maydis haploid cells lacking this gene were impaired in their ability to cause disease and grow on medium containing only D-xylose. This thesis also explored the possibility that expression of this carbon-related gene is controlled by antisense RNAs (asRNAs), endogenous molecules with complementarity to mRNAs. Previous investigation of U. maydis asRNAs identified some that are exclusively expressed in the dormant teliospore, suggesting they have a functional role within this cell-type. A subset of these asRNAs at the uxm1 locus were investigated, with the purpose of identifying the mechanism(s) by which they influence U. maydis pathogenesis. This investigation involved the creation and functional analysis of a series of U. maydis deletion and expression strains. Together, these findings provided additional knowledge regarding the possible functions of U. maydis asRNAs, and their involvement in controlling important cellular processes, such as carbon metabolism and pathogenesis. Author Keywords: antisense transcripts, fungal carbon metabolism, non-coding RNAs, pathogenesis, Ustilago maydis, xylitol dehydrogenase
Studies of the Giardia intestinalis trophozoite cell cycle
To study the Giardia intestinalis cell cycle, counterflow centrifugal elutriation (CCE) was used to separate an asynchronous trophozoite culture into fractions enriched for cells at the different stages of the cell cycle. For my first objective, I characterized the appearance of a third peak (Peak iii) in our flow cytometry analysis of the CCE fractions that initially suggested the presence of 16N cells that are either cysts or the result of endoreplication of Giardia trophozoites. I determined that this third peak consists of doublets of the 8N trophozoites at the G2 stage of the cell cycle that were not removed effectively by gating parameters used in the analysis of the flow cytometry data. In the second objective, I tested the use of a spike with RNA from the GS isolate of Giardia as an external normalizer in RT-qPCR on RNA from CCE fractions and encystation cultures of Giardia from the WB isolate. My results showed that the GS RNA spike is as effective as the use of previously characterized internal normalizer genes for these studies. For the third objective, I prepared two sets of elutriation samples for RNA seq analysis to determine the transcriptome of the Giardia trophozoite cell cycle. I confirmed the results of the cell cycle specific expression of several genes we had previously tested by RT-qPCR. Furthermore, our RNA-seq identified many genes in common with those identified from a microarray analysis of the Giardia cell cycle conducted by a collaborator. Finally, I observed an overall <4 fold change in differentially expressed genes during the G1/S and G2/M phase of the cell cycle. This is a modest change in gene expression compared to 10 - 30 fold changes for orthologous genes in mammalian cell cycles. Author Keywords: Cell cycle, Counterflow Centrifugal Elutriation, Flow Cytometry, RNA-sequencing, RT-qPCR
Investigating wheat rust virulence evolution through transcriptome analysis of a recently emerged race of Puccinia triticina
Puccinia triticina, wheat leaf rust (WLR), is the most economically damaging fungal rust of wheat on a global scale. This study identified transcriptome changes in a recently emerged race of WLR in Ontario with a new virulence type relative to a possible ancestor race. Also, this study focused on detecting variation in candidate virulence genes and uncovering novel insight into WLR virulence evolution. Various race-by-variety interactions were evaluated using RNA-seq experiments. A list of genes with statistically significant expression changes in each comparison was prepared and predicted effectors were retained for further analysis. Proteins with nonsynonymous substitutions were run through BLASTx to identify potential orthologs. Over 100 candidate effectors with a 2-fold or higher change in transcript level were identified. Seven of these candidate effector genes were recognized to contain single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) which altered the amino acid sequence of the resulting protein. The information gained may aid in targeted breeding programs to combat new WLR races as well as provide the basis for functional analysis of WLR using potential orthologs in a model basidiomycete. Author Keywords: effectors, RNA-seq, rust fungi, SNPs, transcriptome, wheat leaf rust
Exonic Trinucleotide Microsatellites
Trinucleotide repeats (TNRs) are a class of highly polymorphic microsatellites which occur in neutral and non-neutral loci and may provide utility for individual- and population-identification. Exonic trinucleotide motifs, in particular, offer additional advantages for non-human species that typically utilize dinucleotide microsatellite loci. Specifically, the reduction of technical artifacts, greater separation of alleles and greater specificity of amplification products leading to more efficient multiplexing and cross-taxa utilization. This study aims to identify and characterize polymorphic trinucleotide repeats and conserved primer sequences which are conserved across Cervidae (deer) species and their potential for individual identification in forensic wildlife investigations. Chapter one provides a broad introduction to trinucleotide microsatellites, chapter two deals with data-mining TNRs and chapter three applies the identified TNRs as genetic markers for individual identification. Results demonstrate proof-of-concept that exonic TNRs are capable of giving random match probabilities low enough to be employed in individual identification of evidentiary samples. Author Keywords: DNA typing, Exons, Genetic Markers, Individual Identification, Trinucleotide, Wildlife Forensics
Regulation of Cytokinins During Kernel Development in High and Low Yielding Oat and Barley Lines
Cytokinins (CKs) are a family of plant phytohormones responsible for many areas of plant growth and development. There are four free base types of CKs found in higher plants, trans-zeatin (tZ), N6-(∆2-isopentenyl)adenine (iP), cis-Zeatin (cZ) and dihydrozeatin (DZ). CK biosynthesis is regulated by adenosine phosphate-isopentenyltransferase (IPT), which is encoded by a multi-gene family in many plant species. There are two types of IPT pathways responsible for CK production, the tRNA pathway and the AMP (ATP/ADP) pathway. The tRNA pathway putatively produces cZ and the latter predominantly produces iP type nucleotides. CKs have long been studied for their role in stress tolerance, signal transduction, and involvement in many areas of plant growth and development. This study focuses on the role of CKs and CK biosynthesis by IPT during kernel development and comparisons of its regulation in high and low yielding barley and oat lines. The sequence of a putative IPT encoding gene in barley and oat was identified by a blast search of other known IPT gene fragments in closely related species. Quantitative Real time PCR results based on primers designed for the putative barley and oat IPT gene revealed changes in expression of IPT during different stages of kernel development, but no significance difference was associated with yield. Correlation of IPT gene expression in barley with cZ CK profiles measured by HPLC-MS/MS, confirms a putative IPT gene is a tRNA- IPT. HPLC-MS/MS results reveal some CK types, such as benzyladenine, are more predominant in higher yielding lines. This suggests different types of CKs play a role in yield production. Future studies on more IPT genes in the barley and oat IPT gene family will outline a more clear representation of the role of IPT in barley kernel development. Author Keywords: Benzyladenine, Cereal grain, Cytokinin, Isopentenyl Transferase, Mass Spectrometry, Real Time PCR
Mutation of the B10 Tyrosine and E11 Leucine in Giardia intestinalis Flavohemoglobin
The flavohemoglobin in Giardia intestinalis (gFlHb) is the only known protozoan member of a protein class typically associated with detoxifying nitric oxide (by oxidation to nitrate) in bacteria and yeast. Mutants of the B10 tyrosine (Y30F) and E11 leucine (L58A), conserved residues thought to influence ligand binding, were expressed and studied using Resonance Raman (RR) spectroscopy. In the wild type protein, RR conducted using a carbon monoxide probe detects two distinct Fe-CO stretches associated with two different active site configurations. In the open configuration, CO does not interact with any polar side chains, while in the closed configuration, CO strongly interacts with one or more distal residues. Analysis of the Y30F mutant provided direct evidence of this tyrosine’s role in ligand stabilization, as it had only a single Fe-CO stretching mode. This stretching mode was higher in energy than the open conformer of the wild type, indicating a residual hydrogen bonding interaction, likely provided by the E7 glutamine (Q54). In contrast the L58A mutant had no effect on the configurational nature of the enzyme. This was unexpected, as the side chain of L58 sits atop the heme and is thought to regulate the access of distal residues to the heme-bound ligand. The similar spectroscopic properties of wild type and L58A suggest that any such regulation would involve rapid conformational dynamics within the heme pocket. Author Keywords: B10 Tyrosine, Catalytic Globin, E11 Leucine, Flavohemoglobin, gFlHb, Giardia intestinalis
Electrochemical Characterization of Giardia Intestinalis Cytochromes b5
Giardia intestinalis is a protozoan parasite that causes waterborne diarrheal disease in animals and humans. It is an unusual eukaryote as it lacks the capacity for heme biosynthesis; nonetheless it encodes heme proteins, including three cytochrome b5 isotypes (gCYTB5s) of similar size. Homology modelling of their structures predicts increased heme pocket polarity compared to mammalian isotypes, which would favour the oxidized state and lower their reduction potentials (E°’). This was confirmed by spectroelectrochemical experiments, which measured E°’ of -171 mV, -140 mV and -157 mV for gCYTB5-I, II, III respectively, compared to +7 mV for bovine microsomal cytochrome b5. To explore the influence of heme pocket polarity in more detail, five gCYTB5-I mutants in which polar residues were replaced by nonpolar residues at one of three positions were investigated. While these substitutions all increased the reduction potential, replacement of a conserved tyrosine residue at position-61 with phenylalanine had the most significant effect, raising E°’ by 106 mV. This tyrosine residue occurs in all gCYTB5s and is likely the greatest contributor to their low reduction potentials. Finally, complementary substitutions were made into a bovine microsomal cytochrome b5 triple mutant to lower its reduction potential. These not only lowered the E°’ by more than 140 mV but also weakened the interaction of heme with the protein. The lower reduction potentials of the gCYTB5s may indicate that these proteins have different roles from their more well-known mammalian counterparts. Author Keywords:
Legume species, nitrogen rate and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi inoculation effects on crop biomass and nitrogen requirement in a corn-legume system
Interseeding legume cover crops in grain corn may improve the environmental sustainability of corn production system in Southern Ontario. This study aimed to assess the effects of legume species, nitrogen (N) fertilizer rate and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) inoculation on biomass and N requirement in a corn-legume system. Corn was grown with red clover (RCl), microclover (MCl), hairy vetch (HV), or beans at 10 and 80 kg N ha-1 rates with and without AMF inoculation in a greenhouse for 7 weeks. Corn dry matter (DM) and N uptake were reduced by beans and HV (average 35%) compared with control; however, the DM for beans and HV was 7 and 3 times higher than RCl and MCl, respectively. The N2 fixation ability was similar among legume species and no significant N transfer from legume was detected. Overall, species collection was critical to the success of incorporating legumes into grain corn production. Author Keywords: Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, corn, legume cover crop, nitrogen
Natural antisense transcripts to nucleus-encoded mitochondrial genes are linked to Ustilago maydis teliospore dormancy
Ustilago maydis is a basidiomycete smut fungus and the causal agent of common smut of corn. Disease progression and fungal development in this pathogen occur in planta, terminating in the production of dormant teliospores. Dormant spores of many fungi are characterized by reduced metabolic activity, which is restored during spore germination. The transition out of dormancy requires the rapid translation of stored mRNAs, which may be stabilized through natural antisense transcript (NAT)-mediated mechanisms. Transcript analysis revealed that as-ssm1, a NAT to the mitochondrial seryl-tRNA synthetase (ssm1), is detected in the dormant teliospore and absent in haploid cells. Disruption of ssm1 leads to cell lysis, indicating it is essential for cellular viability. Presented data supports the hypothesis that as-ssm1 has a role in facilitating teliospore dormancy through stabilizing ssm1 transcripts, which reduces mitochondrial function. as-ssm1 expression during in planta development begins 10 days post-infection, coinciding with the first appearance of dormant teliospores. To assess the impact of as-ssm1 expression on cell division, virulence and mitochondrial function, as-ssm1 was ectopically expressed in haploid cells, leading to increased ssm1 transcript levels and the formation of double-stranded RNA. These expression mutants are characterized by attenuated growth rate, virulence, mitochondrial membrane potential and oxygen consumption. Together, these findings support a role for NATs in moderating mitochondrial function during the onset of teliospore dormancy. Author Keywords: Dormant teliospore, Mitochondria, mRNA stability, Natural antisense transcripts, Non-coding RNA, Ustilago maydis
Characterisation of the Giardia Tata-Binding Protein - Preparation for an in vivo approach
The aim of this work was to identify the DNA sequences recognized by the Giardia TBP (gTBP) in vivo by using a chromatin immunoprecipitation assay (ChIP). Since a specific antibody for the protein of interest is required for this assay, a company was contracted to produce and purify a custom polyclonal antibody from the immunization of rabbits. Recombinant GST-gTBP was produced at a suitable yield and purity and used as the immunogen. The antibody was then tested for reactivity to the native protein in our laboratory. By Western blot analysis, it was possible to observe the enrichment of the gTBP within the nuclear fraction compared to a cytoplasmic fraction extracted from Giardia cells. However, the antibody could not be successfully used in an immunoprecipitation assay - suggesting that the antibody is unable to bind to the native structure of gTBP. Therefore, the focus of this work was changed to analyse gTBP via multiple sequence alignments, homology modelling and BLAST to identify any unique regions that may contribute to its unusual binding characteristics. These techniques were also used to identify specific regions of gTBP that may be used to generate synthetic peptides as immunogens for future antibody production. Author Keywords: ChIP, Giardia intestinalis, Homology modelling, Immunoprecipitation, TATA-binding protein, Western Blotting

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