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The emergence and scaling of division of labor in insect societies

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Division of labor, whereby different group members perform different functions, is a fundamental attribute of sociality. It appears across social systems, from simple cooperative groups to complex eusocial colonies. A core challenge in sociobiology is to explain how patterns of

Division of labor, whereby different group members perform different functions, is a fundamental attribute of sociality. It appears across social systems, from simple cooperative groups to complex eusocial colonies. A core challenge in sociobiology is to explain how patterns of collective organization are generated. Theoretical models propose that division of labor self-organizes, or emerges, from interactions among group members and the environment; division of labor is also predicted to scale positively with group size. I empirically investigated the emergence and scaling of division of labor in evolutionarily incipient groups of sweat bees and in eusocial colonies of harvester ants. To test whether division of labor is an emergent property of group living during early social evolution, I created de novo communal groups of the normally solitary sweat bee Lasioglossum (Ctenonomia) NDA-1. A division of labor repeatedly arose between nest excavation and guarding tasks; results were consistent with hypothesized effects of spatial organization and intrinsic behavioral variability. Moreover, an experimental increase in group size spontaneously promoted higher task specialization and division of labor. Next, I examined the influence of colony size on division of labor in larger, more integrated colonies of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus. Division of labor scaled positively with colony size in two contexts: during early colony ontogeny, as colonies grew from tens to hundreds of workers, and among same-aged colonies that varied naturally in size. However, manipulation of colony size did not elicit a short-term response, suggesting that the scaling of division of labor in P. californicus colonies is a product of functional integration and underlying developmental processes, rather than a purely emergent epiphenomenon. This research provides novel insights into the organization of work in insect societies, and raises broader questions about the role of size in sociobiology.

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2011

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Mapping the RNA-protein interface in telomerase RNP

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In the 1970s James Watson recognized the inability of conventional DNA replication machinery to replicate the extreme termini of chromosomes known as telomeres. This inability is due to the requirement of a building block primer and was termed the

In the 1970s James Watson recognized the inability of conventional DNA replication machinery to replicate the extreme termini of chromosomes known as telomeres. This inability is due to the requirement of a building block primer and was termed the end replication problem. Telomerase is nature's answer to the end replication problem. Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein which extends telomeres through reverse transcriptase activity by reiteratively copying a short intrinsic RNA sequence to generate 3' telomeric extensions. Telomeres protect chromosomes from erosion of coding genes during replication, as well as differentiate native chromosome ends from double stranded breaks. However, controlled erosion of telomeres functions as a naturally occurring molecular clock limiting the replicative capacity of cells. Telomerase is over activated in many cancers, while inactivation leads to multiple lifespan limiting human diseases. In order to further study the interaction between telomerase RNA (TR) and telomerase reverse transcriptase protein (TERT), vertebrate TERT fragments were screened for solubility and purity following bacterial expression. Soluble fragments of medaka TERT including the RNA binding domain (TRBD) were identified. Recombinant medaka TRBD binds specifically to telomerase RNA CR4/CR5 region. Ribonucleotide and amino acid pairs in close proximity within the medaka telomerase RNA-protein complex were identified using photo-activated cross-linking in conjunction with mass spectrometry. The identified cross-linking amino acids were mapped on known crystal structures of TERTs to reveal the RNA interaction interface of TRBD. The identification of this RNA TERT interaction interface furthers the understanding of the telomerase complex at a molecular level and could be used for the targeted interruption of the telomerase complex as a potential cancer treatment.

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2011

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Novel strategies for producing proteins with non-proteinogenic amino acids

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The biological and chemical diversity of protein structure and function can be greatly expanded by position-specific incorporation of non-natural amino acids bearing a variety of functional groups. Non-cognate amino acids can be incorporated into proteins at specific sites by using

The biological and chemical diversity of protein structure and function can be greatly expanded by position-specific incorporation of non-natural amino acids bearing a variety of functional groups. Non-cognate amino acids can be incorporated into proteins at specific sites by using orthogonal aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase/tRNA pairs in conjunction with nonsense, rare, or 4-bp codons. There has been considerable progress in developing new types of amino acids, in identifying novel methods of tRNA aminoacylation, and in expanding the genetic code to direct their position. Chemical aminoacylation of tRNAs is accomplished by acylation and ligation of a dinucleotide (pdCpA) to the 3'-terminus of truncated tRNA. This strategy allows the incorporation of a wide range of natural and unnatural amino acids into pre-determined sites, thereby facilitating the study of structure-function relationships in proteins and allowing the investigation of their biological, biochemical and biophysical properties. Described in Chapter 1 is the current methodology for synthesizing aminoacylated suppressor tRNAs. Aminoacylated suppressor tRNACUAs are typically prepared by linking pre-aminoacylated dinucleotides (aminoacyl-pdCpAs) to 74 nucleotide (nt) truncated tRNAs (tRNA-COH) via a T4 RNA ligase mediated reaction. Alternatively, there is another route outlined in Chapter 1 that utilizes a different pre-aminoacylated dinucleotide, AppA. This dinucleotide has been shown to be a suitable substrate for T4 RNA ligase mediated coupling with abbreviated tRNA-COHs for production of 76 nt aminoacyl-tRNACUAs. The synthesized suppressor tRNAs have been shown to participate in protein synthesis in vitro, in an S30 (E. coli) coupled transcription-translation system in which there is a UAG codon in the mRNA at the position corresponding to Val10. Chapter 2 describes the synthesis of two non-proteinogenic amino acids, L-thiothreonine and L-allo-thiothreonine, and their incorporation into predetermined positions of a catalytically competent dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) analogue lacking cysteine. Here, the elaborated proteins were site-specifically derivitized with a fluorophore at the thiothreonine residue. The synthesis and incorporation of phosphorotyrosine derivatives into DHFR is illustrated in Chapter 3. Three different phosphorylated tyrosine derivatives were prepared: bis-nitrobenzylphosphoro-L-tyrosine, nitrobenzylphosphoro-L-tyrosine, and phosphoro-L-tyrosine. Their ability to participate in a protein synthesis system was also evaluated.

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2013

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Studies on the three-dimensional structures of proteins using X-ray crystallography

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X-ray diffraction is the technique of choice to determine the three-dimensional structures of proteins. In this study it has been applied to solve the structure of the survival motor neuron (SMN) proteins, the Fenna-Mathews-Olson (FMO) from Pelodictyon phaeum (Pld. phaeum)

X-ray diffraction is the technique of choice to determine the three-dimensional structures of proteins. In this study it has been applied to solve the structure of the survival motor neuron (SMN) proteins, the Fenna-Mathews-Olson (FMO) from Pelodictyon phaeum (Pld. phaeum) protein, and the synthetic ATP binding protein DX. Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive genetic disease resulting in muscle atrophy and paralysis via degeneration of motor neurons in the spinal cord. In this work, we used X-ray diffraction technique to solve the structures of the three variant of the of SMN protein, namely SMN 1-4, SMN-WT, and SMN-Δ7. The SMN 1-4, SMN-WT, and SMN-Δ7 crystals were diffracted to 2.7 Å, 5.5 Å and 3.0 Å, respectively. The three-dimensional structures of the three SMN proteins have been solved. The FMO protein from Pld. phaeum is a water soluble protein that is embedded in the cytoplasmic membrane and serves as an energy transfer funnel between the chlorosome and the reaction center. The FMO crystal diffracted to 1.99Å resolution and the three-dimensional structure has been solved. In previous studies, double mutant, DX, protein was purified and crystallized in the presence of ATP (Simmons et al., 2010; Smith et al. 2007). DX is a synthetic ATP binding protein which resulting from a random selection of DNA library. In this study, DX protein was purified and crystallized without the presence of ATP to investigate the conformational change in DX structure. The crystals of DX were diffracted to 2.5 Å and the three-dimensional structure of DX has been solved.

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2013

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Directed evolution of gp120 binding mutants of the lectin Cyanovirin-N

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Cyanovirin-N (CV-N) is a naturally occurring lectin originally isolated from the cyanobacteria Nostoc ellipsosporum. This 11 kDa lectin is 101 amino acids long with two binding sites, one at each end of the protein. CV-N specifically binds to terminal Manα1-2Manα

Cyanovirin-N (CV-N) is a naturally occurring lectin originally isolated from the cyanobacteria Nostoc ellipsosporum. This 11 kDa lectin is 101 amino acids long with two binding sites, one at each end of the protein. CV-N specifically binds to terminal Manα1-2Manα motifs on the branched, high mannose Man9 and Man8 glycosylations found on enveloped viruses including Ebola, Influenza, and HIV. wt-CVN has micromolar binding to soluble Manα1-2Manα and also inhibits HIV entry at low nanomolar concentrations. CV-N's high affinity and specificity for Manα1-2Manα makes it an excellent lectin to study for its glycan-specific properties. The long-term aim of this project is to make a variety of mutant CV-Ns to specifically bind other glycan targets. Such a set of lectins may be used as screening reagents to identify biomarkers and other glycan motifs of interest. As proof of concept, a T7 phage display library was constructed using P51G-m4-CVN genes mutated at positions 41, 44, 52, 53, 56, 74, and 76 in binding Domain B. Five CV-N mutants were selected from the library and expressed in BL21(DE3) E. coli. Two of the mutants, SSDGLQQ-P51Gm4-CVN and AAGRLSK-P51Gm4-CVN, were sufficiently stable for characterization and were examined by CD, Tm, ELISA, and glycan array. Both proteins have CD minima at approximately 213 nm, indicating largely β-sheet structure, and have Tm values greater than 40°C. ELISA against gp120 and RNase B demonstrate both proteins' ability to bind high mannose glycans. To more specifically determine the binding specificity of each protein, AAGRLSK-P51Gm4-CVN, SSDGLQQ-P51Gm4-CVN, wt-CVN, and P51G-m4-CVN were sent to the Consortium for Functional Glycomics (CFG) for glycan array analysis. AAGRLSK-P51Gm4-CVN, wt-CVN, and P51G-m4-CVN, have identical specificities for high mannose glycans containing terminal Manα1-2Manα. SSDGLQQ-P51Gm4-CVN binds to terminal GlcNAcα1-4Gal motifs and a subgroup of high mannose glycans bound by P51G-m4-CVN. SSDGLQQ-wt-CVN was produced to restore anti-HIV activity and has a high nanomolar EC50 value compared to wt-CVN's low nanomolar activity. Overall, these experiments show that CV-N Domain B can be mutated and retain specificity identical to wt-CVN or acquire new glycan specificities. This first generation information can be used to produce glycan-specific lectins for a variety of applications.

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2013

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Conveying controversial science: Sam Harris's "The Moral Landscape" and popular science communication

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The academic literature on science communication widely acknowledges a problem: science communication between experts and lay audiences is important, but it is not done well. General audience popular science books, however, carry a reputation for clear science communication and are

The academic literature on science communication widely acknowledges a problem: science communication between experts and lay audiences is important, but it is not done well. General audience popular science books, however, carry a reputation for clear science communication and are understudied in the academic literature. For this doctoral dissertation, I utilize Sam Harris's The Moral Landscape, a general audience science book on the particularly thorny topic of neuroscientific approaches to morality, as a case-study to explore the possibility of using general audience science books as models for science communication more broadly. I conduct a literary analysis of the text that delimits the scope of its project, its intended audience, and the domains of science to be communicated. I also identify seven literary aspects of the text: three positive aspects that facilitate clarity and four negative aspects that interfere with lay public engagement. I conclude that The Moral Landscape relies on an assumed knowledge base and intuitions of its audience that cannot reasonably be expected of lay audiences; therefore, it cannot properly be construed as popular science communication. It nevertheless contains normative lessons for the broader science project, both in literary aspects to be salvaged and literary aspects and concepts to consciously be avoided and combated. I note that The Moral Landscape's failings can also be taken as an indication that typical descriptions of science communication offer under-detailed taxonomies of both audiences for science communication and the varieties of science communication aimed at those audiences. Future directions of study include rethinking appropriate target audiences for science literacy projects and developing a more discriminating taxonomy of both science communication and lay publics.

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2013

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Modification of electron transfer proteins in the Chlamydomonas reinhardtii chloroplast for alternative fuel development

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There is a critical need for the development of clean and efficient energy sources. Hydrogen is being explored as a viable alternative to fuels in current use, many of which have limited availability and detrimental byproducts. Biological photo-production of H2

There is a critical need for the development of clean and efficient energy sources. Hydrogen is being explored as a viable alternative to fuels in current use, many of which have limited availability and detrimental byproducts. Biological photo-production of H2 could provide a potential energy source directly manufactured from water and sunlight. As a part of the photosynthetic electron transport chain (PETC) of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, water is split via Photosystem II (PSII) and the electrons flow through a series of electron transfer cofactors in cytochrome b6f, plastocyanin and Photosystem I (PSI). The terminal electron acceptor of PSI is ferredoxin, from which electrons may be used to reduce NADP+ for metabolic purposes. Concomitant production of a H+ gradient allows production of energy for the cell. Under certain conditions and using the endogenous hydrogenase, excess protons and electrons from ferredoxin may be converted to molecular hydrogen. In this work it is demonstrated both that certain mutations near the quinone electron transfer cofactor in PSI can speed up electron transfer through the PETC, and also that a native [FeFe]-hydrogenase can be expressed in the C. reinhardtii chloroplast. Taken together, these research findings form the foundation for the design of a PSI-hydrogenase fusion for the direct and continuous photo-production of hydrogen in vivo.

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2013

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Study of ribosomes having modifications in the peptidyltransferase center using non-alpha-L-amino acids and synthesis and biological evaluation of topopyrones

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The ribosome is a ribozyme and central to the biosynthesis of proteins in all organisms. It has a strong bias against non-alpha-L-amino acids, such as alpha-D-amino acids and beta-amino acids. Additionally, the ribosome is only able to incorporate one amino

The ribosome is a ribozyme and central to the biosynthesis of proteins in all organisms. It has a strong bias against non-alpha-L-amino acids, such as alpha-D-amino acids and beta-amino acids. Additionally, the ribosome is only able to incorporate one amino acid in response to one codon. It has been demonstrated that reengineering of the peptidyltransferase center (PTC) of the ribosome enabled the incorporation of both alpha-D-amino acids and beta-amino acids into full length protein. Described in Chapter 2 are five modified ribosomes having modifications in the peptidyltrasnferase center in the 23S rRNA. These modified ribosomes successfully incorporated five different beta-amino acids (2.1 - 2.5) into E. coli dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). The second project (Chapter 3) focused on the study of the modified ribosomes facilitating the incorporation of the dipeptide glycylphenylalanine (3.25) and fluorescent dipeptidomimetic 3.26 into DHFR. These ribosomes also had modifications in the peptidyltransferase center in the 23S rRNA of the 50S ribosomal subunit. The modified DHFRs having beta-amino acids 2.3 and 2.5, dipeptide glycylphenylalanine (3.25) and dipeptidomimetic 3.26 were successfully characterized by the MALDI-MS analysis of the peptide fragments produced by "in-gel" trypsin digestion of the modified proteins. The fluorescent spectra of the dipeptidomimetic 3.26 and modified DHFR having fluorescent dipeptidomimetic 3.26 were also measured. The type I and II DNA topoisomerases have been firmly established as effective molecular targets for many antitumor drugs. A "classical" topoisomerase I or II poison acts by misaligning the free hydroxyl group of the sugar moiety of DNA and preventing the reverse transesterfication reaction to religate DNA. There have been only two classes of compounds, saintopin and topopyrones, reported as dual topoisomerase I and II poisons. Chapter 4 describes the synthesis and biological evaluation of topopyrones. Compound 4.10, employed at 20 µM, was as efficient as 0.5 uM camptothecin, a potent topoisomerase I poison, in stabilizing the covalent binary complex (~30%). When compared with a known topoisomerase II poison, etoposide (at 0.5 uM), topopyorone 4.10 produced similar levels of stabilized DNA-enzyme binary complex (~34%) at 5 uM concentration.

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2013

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Examination of the state-dependency and consequences of foraging in a low-energy system, the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum

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Foraging has complex effects on whole-organism homeostasis, and there is considerable evidence that foraging behavior is influenced by both environmental factors (e.g., food availability, predation risk) and the physiological condition of an organism. The optimization of foraging behavior to balance

Foraging has complex effects on whole-organism homeostasis, and there is considerable evidence that foraging behavior is influenced by both environmental factors (e.g., food availability, predation risk) and the physiological condition of an organism. The optimization of foraging behavior to balance costs and benefits is termed state-dependent foraging (SDF) while behavior that seeks to protect assets of fitness is termed the asset protection principle (APP). A majority of studies examining SDF have focused on the role that energy balance has on the foraging of organisms with high metabolism and high energy demands ("high-energy systems" such as endotherms). In contrast, limited work has examined whether species with low energy use ("low-energy systems" such as vertebrate ectotherms) use an SDF strategy. Additionally, there is a paucity of evidence demonstrating how physiological and environmental factors other than energy balance influence foraging behavior (e.g. hydration state and free-standing water availability). Given these gaps in our understanding of SDF behavior and the APP, I examined the state-dependency and consequences of foraging in a low-energy system occupying a resource-limited environment - the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum, Cope 1869). In contrast to what has been observed in a wide variety of taxa, I found that Gila monsters do not use a SDF strategy to manage their energy reserves and that Gila monsters do not defend their energetic assets. However, hydration state and free-standing water availability do affect foraging behavior of Gila monsters. Additionally, as Gila monsters become increasingly dehydrated, they reduce activity to defend hydration state. The SDF behavior of Gila monsters appears to be largely driven by the fact that Gila monsters must separately satisfy energy and water demands with food and free-standing water, respectively, in conjunction with the timescale within which Gila monsters balance their energy and water budgets (supra-annually versus annually, respectively). Given these findings, the impact of anticipated changes in temperature and rainfall patterns in the Sonoran Desert are most likely going to pose their greatest risks to Gila monsters through the direct and indirect effects on water balance.

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2014

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Hybridization and speciation in common and black-tufted marmosets (Callithrix jacchus and C. penicillata)

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As an evolutionary force, hybridization outcomes include introgression, admixture, speciation, and reproductive isolation. While hybridization has been studied in several primates, the marmoset genus Callithrix is an important, but little studied example of Neotropical hybridization. Varying degrees of reproductive isolation

As an evolutionary force, hybridization outcomes include introgression, admixture, speciation, and reproductive isolation. While hybridization has been studied in several primates, the marmoset genus Callithrix is an important, but little studied example of Neotropical hybridization. Varying degrees of reproductive isolation exist between Callithrix species, and hybridization occurs at species borders or regions containing introduced and native species. Interbreeding between Callithrix species carries important implications for biodiversity and genetic integrity within the genus. However, species origins and levels of genetic admixture in marmoset hybrid zones are generally unknown, and few population genetic studies of individual Callithrix species exist. Using the mitochondrial control region and 44 microsatellite markers, this work explored the genetic diversity and species origins of two C. penicillata and C. jacchus hybrid zones, as well as genetic diversity and divergence in the parental species. Both marker types showed that C. penicillata is more genetically diverse than C. jacchus. Based on mtDNA, C. jacchus seems to have experienced a past population expansion and C. penicillata evolved under constant population size. The data revealed the existence of a previously undocumented natural hybrid zone along the São Francisco River in NE Brazil and confirmed species origins of an anthropogenic zone in Rio de Janeiro state. The data also showed much lower levels of admixture and genetic diversity within the natural hybrid zone than in the anthropogenic zone. Further, the data suggested that the São Francisco River is an important geographic barrier to gene flow in the natural hybrid zone. On the other hand, admixture patterns within the anthropogenic hybrid zone suggested collapse of reproductive barriers, and the formation of a hybrid marmoset swarm. Thus, this work suggested different evolutionary dynamics in anthropogenic vs. natural animal hybrid zones. Restriction Associated DNA sequencing (RADseq) identified a large number of single nucleotide polymorphisms within C. jacchus and C. penicillata genomes. These preliminary data were used to measure intraspecific genomic diversity and interspecific divergence. In the future, RADseq will be used to study genus-wide diversity of Callithrix species, examine past and present marmoset demographic history, and applied to the evolutionary study of marmoset hybridization.

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2013