Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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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
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
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
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
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
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
Neonatal Environment Influences Behavioural and Physiological Reactivity to Stressors, and Mammary Gland Development in BALB/c Mice
Using rodent models, it is possible to study the behavioural and physiological outcomes of early life stress and the influences on normal mammary gland development and carcinogenic risk. Results demonstrate that the experience of three weeks of prolonged maternal separation (LMS; 4 hrs/day) increased the susceptibility of adult, but not pubertal, female BALB/c mice to engage in higher levels of depressive-related immobility behaviour and lower levels of active floating (a suggested adaptive coping behaviour) in the acute forced swim test, than offspring that experienced three weeks of brief separation (BMS; 15 min/day) events. Despite the increased immobility behaviour, adult LMS female offspring demonstrated lower basal corticosterone levels relative to BMS females. However, the experience of chronic early-life stress, regardless of the length, results in greater changes between non-stressed and stressed corticosterone levels (i.e. stressor reactivity) in adult females compared to their male counterparts. These changes were associated with decreased glucocorticoid receptor and coactivator-associated arginine methyltransferase 1 protein expression in mammary gland of female LMS mice at young adulthood, highlighting potential mechanisms underlying their heightened risk of mammary tumourigenesis. These data suggest that early life environments can induce behavioural and physiological alterations observed in adulthood, which may have an influence on the likelihood of malignancies developing in the breast. Author Keywords: coping, early life stress, mammary gland development, mother-infant interactions, steroid receptors, stressor reactivity
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
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
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

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