Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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
Immunogenetic Responses of Raccoons and Skunks to the Raccoon Rabies Virus
Interactions between hosts and pathogens play a crucial role in their adaptation, evolution and persistence. These interactions have been extensively studied in model organisms, yet it is unclear how well they represent mechanisms of disease response in primary vectors in natural settings. The objective of my thesis was to investigate host-pathogen interactions in natural host populations exposed to raccoon rabies virus (RRV). RRV is endemic to North America, that causes acute encephalopathies in mammals and is commonly regarded as 100% lethal if untreated; however variable immune responses have been noted in natural reservoirs. In order to further understand variable immune responses to RRV, my thesis examined (i) potential immunogenetic associations to RRV using genes intimately associated with an immune response, (ii) the nature of immune responses triggered in the host after infection, and (iii) viral expression and genetic variation, to provide insight into factors that may influence RRV virulence. Immunogenetic variation of RRV vectors was assessed using major histocompatibility complex (MHC) DRB alleles. Associations were found between specific MHC alleles, RRV status, and viral lineages. Further, similarities at functionally relevant polymorphic sites in divergent RRV vector species, raccoons and skunks, suggested that both species recognize and bind a similar suite of peptides, highlighting the adaptive significance of MHC and contemporary selective pressures. To understand mechanisms of disease spread and pathogenesis, I screened for variation and expression of genes indicative of innate immune response and patterns of viral gene expression. RRV activated components of the innate immune system, with transcript levels correlated with the presence of RRV. These data indicate that timing of the immune response is crucial in pathogenesis. Expression patterns of viral genes suggest they are tightly controlled until reaching the central nervous system (CNS), where replication increases significantly. These results suggest previous molecular mechanisms for rabies host response derived from mouse models do not strictly apply to natural vector populations. Overall my research provides a better understanding of the immunological factors that contribute to the pathogenesis of RRV in a natural system. Author Keywords: immune response, major histocompatibility complex, rabies, raccoons, skunks, virus
Cytokinin Oxidase/Dehydrogenase (CKX) Gene Family in Soybeans (Glycine max)
Glycine max (soybean) is an economically important plant species that registers a relatively low yield/seed weight compared to other food and oil seed crops due to higher rates of flower and pod abortion. Alleviation of this abortion rate can be achieved by altering the sink strength of the reproductive organs of soybeans. Cytokinin (CK) plays a fundamental role in promoting growth of sink organ (flowers and seeds) by increasing the assimilate demand. Cytokinin oxidase/dehydrogenase (CKX) is an enzyme that catalyses the irreversible breakdown of active CKs and hence reduce the cytokinin content. The current thesis uncovers the members of CKX gene family in soybeans and the natural variations among CKX genes within soybean varieties with different yield characteristics. The identification of null variants of OsCKX2 that resulted in large yield increases by Ashikari et al. (2005) provided a rationale for current thesis. The soybean CKX genes along with the ones from Arabidopsis, Rice and Maize were used to construct a phylogenetic tree. Using comparative phylogeny, protein properties and bioinformatic programs, the potential effect of the identified natural variations on soybean yield was predicted. Five genes among the seventeen soybean CKXs identified, showed polymorphisms. One of the natural variations, A159G, in the gene GmCKX16 occurred close to the active site of the protein and was predicted to affect the activity of enzyme leading to higher accumulation of CKs and hence increased seed weight. Use of such natural variations in marker assisted breeding could lead to the development of higher yielding soybean varieties. Author Keywords: CKX, Cytokinins, Seed weight, Seed Yield, SNPs, Soybeans

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