Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Characterization of a Zn(II)2Cys6 transcription factor in Ustilago maydis and its role in pathogenesis
Ustilago maydis (D.C.) Corda is a biotrophic pathogen that secretes effectors to establish and maintain a relationship with its host, Zea mays. In this pathosystem, the molecular function of effectors is well-studied, but the regulation of effector gene expression remains largely unknown. This study characterized Zfp1, a putative U. maydis Zn(II)2Cys6 transcription factor, as a modulator of effector gene expression. The amino acid sequence of Zfp1 indicated the presence of a GAL4-like zinc binuclear cluster as well as a fungal specific transcription factor domain. Nuclear localization was confirmed by tagging Zfp1 with enhanced green fluorescent protein. Deletion of zfp1 resulted in attenuated hyphal growth, reduced infection frequency, an arrest in pathogenic development, and decreased anthocyanin production. This phenotype can be attributed to the altered transcript levels of genes encoding predicted and confirmed U. maydis effectors in the zfp1 deletion strain during pathogenic growth. Complementation of zfp1 deletion strain with tin2, an effector involved in anthocyanin induction, suggested this effector is downstream of Zfp1 and its expression is influenced by this transcription factor during in planta growth. When wild-type zfp1 was ectopically inserted in the zfp1 deletion strain, pathogenesis and virulence were partially restored. This, coupled with zfp1 over-expression strains having a similar phenotype as the deletion strains, suggested Zfp1 may interact with other proteins for full function. These findings show that Zfp1, in conjunction with one or more binding partners, contributes to U. maydis pathogenesis, virulence, and anthocyanin production through the regulation of effector gene expression. Author Keywords: effector, pathogenesis, transcription factor, Ustilago maydis, Zea mays, zinc finger
Involvement of Endogenous Plant Hormones in The Regulatory Network of Fatty Acid Biosynthesis in Soybean Seed
The activities of phytohormones during the reproductive phase have been partially clarified in seed physiology while the biological role of plant hormones in oil accumulation during seed development has been investigated in part only. In this research, fatty acid (FA) contents and hormone profiles, including abscisic acid (ABA) and cytokinins (CKs) of seed samples in four different stages and comparing six soybean varieties have been investigated in order to examine the hypothesis that the endogenous plant hormones play important roles in FA production in soybean seeds. The FA contents increased significantly during this period while the hormone concentrations gradually declined towards the seed physical maturation. However, the interactions between FA contents and hormone profiles were complex and went beyond linear correlations. Hormone metabolism in the earlier stages of seed maturation period demonstrated numerous robust relationships with FA accumulations, as derived from several simple and multiple regression models in the determination of different FA contents. Evaluation of the effects of exogenous ABA and trans-Zeatin (tZ) on FA biosynthesis has revealed that ABA appears to be involved in the accumulations of unsaturated FAs while tZ participated in the synthesis of saturated and unsaturated FAs. Notably, the alterations of FA synthesis differ according to what exogenous hormone concentrations could be used. Author Keywords: Abscisic acid, Cytokinin, Fatty acid, Seed development, Soybean
Carbon Exchange along a Natural Gradient of Deciduous Shrub Coverage in the Low-Arctic
Arctic terrestrial ecosystems have experienced substantial structural and compositional changes in response to warming climate in recent decades, especially the expansion of shrub species in Arctic tundra. Climatic and vegetation changes could feedback to the global climate by changing the carbon balance of Arctic tundra. The objective of this thesis was to investigate the influence of increased shrub coverage on carbon exchange processes between atmosphere and the Arctic tundra ecosystem. In this study a space-for-time substitution was used, referred to as a shrub expansion “chronosequence”, with three sites along a natural gradient of deciduous shrub coverage in the Canadian low Arctic. Leaf-level photosynthetic capacity (Amax) of dominating birch shrub Betula glandulosa (Michx.) was significantly higher (P<0.05) at the site where shrubs were more abundant and taller than at the other sites. For all sites, mean Amax in 2014 was significantly lower than in 2013, in part potentially due to differences in precipitation distribution. Bulk soil respiration (RS) rate was significantly higher (P<0.05) at the site with more shrubs compared with the other sites. The differences in RS across sites appeared to be driven by differences in soil physiochemical properties, such as soil nitrogen and soil bulk density rather than soil microclimate factors (e.g. soil temperature, moisture). The three sites were either annual CO2 sources (NEP<0) to the atmosphere or CO2 neutral, with strongest annual CO2 sources (-44.1±7.0 g C m-2) at the site with most shrubs. Overall this study suggests that shrubs tundra carbon balance will change with shrub expansion and that shrub ecosystems in the Arctic currently act as annual carbon sources or neutral to the atmospheric CO2 and further shrub expansion might strengthen the CO2 emissions, causing a positive feedback to the warming climate. Author Keywords: arctic tundra, carbon exchange, climate change, photosynthetic capacity, shrub expansion, soil respiration
Fungi and Cytokinins
Cytokinin biosynthesis in organisms aside from plant species has often been viewed as a byproduct of tRNA degradation. Recent evidence suggests that these tRNA degradation products may actually have a role in the development of these organisms, particularly fungi. This thesis examines the importance of cytokinins, a group of phytohormones involved in plant cell division and differentiation as well as the phytohormone abscisic acid, involved in plant response to environmental factors, and their presence and role in fungi. An initial survey was conducted on 20 temperate forest fungi of differing nutritional modes. Using HPLC-ESI MS/MS, cytokinin and abscisic acid were detected in all fungi regardless of their mode of nutrition or phylogeny. The detection of the same seven CKs across all fungi suggested the existence of a common CK biosynthetic pathway and dominance of the tRNA pathway in fungi. Further, the corn smut fungus Ustilago maydis is capable of producing CKs separate from its host and different U. maydis strains induce disease symptoms of differing severity. To determine if CK production during infection alters disease development a disease time course was conducted on cob tissue infected with U. maydis dikaryotic and solopathogenic strains. Dramatic changes in phytohormones including an increase in ABA followed by increases in cisZCKs were detected in tumour tissue particularity in the more virulent dikaryon infection, suggesting a role for CKs in strain virulence. Mining of the U. maydis genome identified a sole tRNA-isopentenyltransferase, a key enzyme in CK biosynthesis. Targeted gene deletion mutants were created in U. maydis which halted U. maydis CK production and decreased pathogenesis and virulence in seedling and cob infections. CK and ABA profiling carried out during disease development found that key changes in these hormones were not found in deletion mutant infections and cob tumour development was severely impaired. These findings suggested that U. maydis CK production is necessary for tumour development in this pathosystem. The research presented in this thesis highlights the importance of fungal CKs, outlines the dominant CK pathway in fungi, identifies a key enzyme in U. maydis CK biosynthesis and reveals the necessity of CK production by U. maydis in the development of cob tumours. Author Keywords: abscisic acid, cytokinins, high performance liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry, tRNA degradation pathway, Ustilago maydis, Zea mays

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