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
Interactome Study of Giardia Intestinalis Cytochromes B5
Giardia intestinalis is an anaerobic protozoan that lacks common eukaryotic heme-dependent respiratory complexes and does not encode any proteins involved in heme biosynthesis. Nevertheless, the parasite encodes several hemeproteins, including three members of the Type II cytochrome b5 sub-group of electron transport proteins found in anaerobic protist and amitochondriate organisms. Unlike the more well-characterized cytochrome b5s of animals, no function has been ascribed to any of the Type II proteins. To explore the functions of these Giardia cytochromes (gCYTB5s), I used bioinformatics, immunofluorescence microscopy (IFM) and co-immunoprecipitation assays. The protein-protein interaction in silico prediction tool, STRING, failed to identify relevant interacting partners for any of the Type II cytochromes b5 from Giardia or other organisms. Differential cellular localization of the gCYTB5s was detected by IFM: gCYTB5-I in the perinuclear space; gCYTB5-II in the cytoplasm with a staining pattern similar to peripheral vacuole-associated protein; and gCYTB5-III in the nucleus. Co-immunoprecipitation with the gCYTB5s as bait identified potential interacting proteins for each isotype. The most promising candidate is the uncharacterized protein GL50803_9861, which was identified in the immunoprecipitate of both gCYTB5-I and II, and which co-localizes with both. Structural analysis of GL50803_9861 using Swiss Model, Phyre2, I-TASSER and RaptorX predicts the presence of a nucleotide-binding domain, which is consistent with a potential redox role involving nicotinamide or flavin-containing cofactors. Finally, the protein GL50803_7204 which contains a RNA/DNA binding domain was identified a potential partner of gCYTB5-III. These findings represent the first steps in the discovery of the roles played by these proteins in Giardia. Author Keywords: Cytochrome b5, Giardia intestinalis, Heme, Interactome, Protein structure prediction
Characterization of frog virus 3 and its binding partner LITAF
Iridoviruses are large (120-200nm) double stranded DNA viruses that contain an icosahedral capsid. The iridoviridae family is composed of five genera that infect a wide range of poikilothermic vertebrates (Lymphocystivirus, Ranavirus and Megalocyivirus) and invertebrate hosts (Iridovirus, Chloriridovirus). Frog virus 3 (FV3) is a member of the Ranavirus genus, and is commonly used as a model system to study iridoviruses. I was interested in understanding virus-host interaction in FV3. I studied two viral genes, FV3 97R and FV3 75L. Here I demonstrate that 97R localizes to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) at 24 hours post-transfection. However, at 35 hours post-transfection 97R localizes to the ER but also begins to form concentrated pockets, continuous with the nuclear membrane This study found that 97R possess a unique phenotype and that its localization to the ER is mediated through its C-terminus transmembrane domain. FV3 75L encodes an 84 amino acids protein. I showed that FV3 75L localizes to the early endosomes, while its cellular binding partner, LITAF, localizes to late endosome/lysosome. Interestingly, when FV3 75L and LITAF are co-transfected into cells, LITAF can alter the subcellular localization of FV3 75L to late endosome/lysosomes. A physical interaction between LITAF and FV3 75L was demonstrated through a pull-down assay and that a highly conserved domain found in both proteins may mediate the interaction. LITAF has been proposed to function in protein degradation, but there is still uncertainty on LITAF's specific role. I was interested in further characterizing LITAF and its implications in protein degradation and a neurodegenerative disorder. At least 9 mutations of LITAF are associated with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1C (CMT1C), which belongs to the group of most common heritable neuromuscular disorders, affecting approximately one in 2500 people. We show that LITAF mutants G112S and W116G mislocalize from the late endosome/lysosome to the mitochondria while the T49M and P135T mutants show partial mislocalization with a portion of the protein present in the late endosome/lysosome and a portion of the protein localized to the mitochondria. Since LITAF is believed to play a role in protein degradation, it is possible that the specific characteristics of CMT1C may occur though impaired degradation of Schwann cell membrane proteins, such as PMP22. I was able to show that when WT LITAF is present, there is a decrease in the PMP22 intracellular levels, which suggest that LITAF plays an important role in protein degradation, and also in other types of CMT. Insight into how mutations in LITAF cause CMT1C may not only help better understand cellular pathways, but also further elucidate the role LITAF's viral homolog FV3 75L during viral infection. Author Keywords: 75L, Charcot-Marie-Tooth, CMTC1, ER, FV3, LITAF
Phylogeography and Genetic Structuring of Moose (Alces alces) Populations in Ontario, Canada
Moose are an iconic species, known for their large size and impressive antlers. Eight subspecies are classified in circumpolar regions of the planet - four in North America. Two subspecies are similar in shape and size, the north-western moose (Alces alces andersoni) and the eastern moose (Alces alces americana). It was previously believed that these two subspecies meet in northern Ontario. Earlier genetic population studies used a small number of samples from Ontario, primarily in broad studies covering all of North America. A comprehensive genetic study of moose populations in Ontario has not previously been conducted. We examined the genetic diversity and population structure at 10 polymorphic loci using 776 samples from Ontario, as well as outgroups from representative populations – Manitoba/Cape Breton, representing A. a. andersoni, and New Brunswick/Nova Scotia, representing A. a. americana. Results indicated three genetic populations in the province, in north-western Ontario, north-eastern Ontario and south-central Ontario. RST values, compared against both FST and Jost’s D values for phylogenetic analyses, indicated no phylogenetic pattern which suggests no subspeciation present in the province. Population movement patterns in Ontario were studied. Gene flow was estimated using genetic and spatial data. Isolation by distance was only seen within the first distance class of 100 kilometres and then not seen again at further distances, indicating that moose display philopatry. There were very few migrants travelling across the province, with a greater number moving gradually north and west, towards better habitat and food sources. A forensic database in the form of an allele frequency table was created. Three loci showed very low levels of heterozygosity across all three populations. Probability of identity was calculated for the three populations and quantified. Samples with known geographic origins were run against the database to test for sensitivity, with identification of origin occurring at an accuracy level between 87 and 100%. Within Ontario, there are not two different subspecies, as previously believed, but two different populations of the same subspecies meeting in northern Ontario. The genetic data does not support previous research performed in Ontario. The sample sizes in our research also provide a more comprehensive view of the entire province not seen in any previous studies. The comprehensive research enabled the building of a reliable forensic database that can be used for both management and forensic purposes for the entire province. Author Keywords: Alces alces, Genetic Diversity, Moose, Ontario, Phylogeography, Subspecies
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
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
Genome annotation, gene characterization, and the functional analysis of natural antisense transcripts in the fungal plant pathogen Ustilago maydis
Ustilago maydis (DC) Corda is the causal agent of 'common smut of corn'. Completion of the U. maydis lifecycle is dependent on development inside its host, Zea mays. Symptoms of U. maydis infection include chlorosis and the formation of tumours on all aerial corn tissues. Within the tumours, thick-walled diploid teliospores form; these are the reproductive and dispersal agent for the fungus. U. maydis is the model to study basidiomycete biotrophic plant-pathogen interactions. It holds this status in part because of the completely sequenced 20.5 Mb genome; however, thorough genome annotation is required to fully realize the value of this resource. The research presented here improved U. maydis genome annotation through the analysis of cDNA library sequences and comparative genomics. These analyses identified and characterized pathogenesis-related genes, and identified putative meiosis genes. This enabled the use of U. maydis as a model for investigating 'host-induced' meiosis. Further, the cDNA library analyses identified non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) and natural antisense transcripts (NATs). NATs are endogenous RNA molecules with regions complementary to a protein-coding transcript. Although NATs have been identified in a wide variety of mammals, plants, and fungi, very few have been functionally characterized. Over 200 U. maydis NATs were annotated by analyzing full-length cDNA sequences. NAT structural features were characterized. Strand-specific RT-PCR was used to detect NATs in U. maydis and in a related smut fungus, U. hordei. The data supported a common role for NATs in smut teliospore development, independent of the RNA interference pathway. Analysis of the expression of one U. maydis NAT, as-um02151, in haploid cells, led to a model for NAT function in U. maydis during teliospore dormancy. This model proposed NATs facilitate the maintenance of stored mRNAs through the formation of double-stranded RNA. In testing this model, it was determined that the deletion of two separate upstream regulatory regions, one of which contained a ncRNA (ncRNA1), altered NAT levels and decreased pathogenesis. These studies strengthened U. maydis as a model organism, and began the functional investigation of NATs in U. maydis, which identified a new class of fungal pathogenesis genes. Author Keywords: cDNA library analysis, genome annotation, mRNA stability, natural antisense transcripts, pathogenesis, Ustilago maydis

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