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Methane (CH4) is very important in the environment as it is a greenhouse gas and important for the degradation of organic matter. During the last 200 years the atmospheric concentration of CH4 has tripled. Methanogens are methane-producing microbes from the Archaea domain that complete the final step in breaking down organic matter to generate methane through a process called methanogenesis. They contribute to about 74% of the CH4 present on the Earth's atmosphere, producing 1 billion tons of methane annually. The purpose of this work is to generate a preliminary metabolic reconstruction model of two methanogens: Methanoregula boonei 6A8 and Methanosphaerula palustris E1-9c. M. boonei and M. palustris are part of the Methanomicrobiales order and perform hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis, which means that they reduce CO2 to CH4 by using H2 as their major electron donor. Metabolic models are frameworks for understanding a cell as a system and they provide the means to assess the changes in gene regulation in response in various environmental and physiological constraints. The Pathway-Tools software v16 was used to generate these draft models. The models were manually curated using literature searches, the KEGG database and homology methods with the Methanosarcina acetivorans strain, the closest methanogen strain with a nearly complete metabolic reconstruction. These preliminary models attempt to complete the pathways required for amino acid biosynthesis, methanogenesis, and major cofactors related to methanogenesis. The M. boonei reconstruction currently includes 99 pathways and has 82% of its reactions completed, while the M. palustris reconstruction includes 102 pathways and has 89% of its reactions completed.
Viral infections are a significant cause of disease in humans. While some viral diseases have been eliminated, many more continue to infect millions. Viral infections are challenging to treat because viruses use host cell machinery to replicate, so it is difficult to develop drugs that can target viruses. Normally, the host’s immune system is capable of destroying the virus, but during chronic infections it becomes exhausted and T cells lose their effector functions necessary for the clearance of the virus. IL-2 can help relieve this exhaustion, but causes toxicity to the body. In mice infected with chronic LCMV, IL-2 administration causes death due to pulmonary hemorrhage. CD4 deficient mice were infected with chronic LCMV and then dosed with IL-2 and survived, but mice that were deficient for CD8 T cells died, indicating that toxicity was mediated by CD8 T cells. CD8 T cells can kill infected host cells directly by producing perforin, or can produce cytokines like IFN-γ and TNF to further activate the immune system and mediate killing. Mice that were deficient in perforin died after IL-2 administration, as well as mice that were deficient in IFN-γ. Mice deficient in TNF, however, survived, indicating that TNF was mediating the toxicity in response to IL-2. There are two different receptors for TNF, p55 and p75. p55 is known as TNFR1 and has been implicated in apoptosis of virally infected cells. P75 is known as TNFR2 and is associated more with inflammation in response to infection. My hypothesis was that if TNFR2 was knocked out, infected mice would survive IL-2 dosing. When single knockouts of TNFR1 and 2 were used in an experiment however, it was found that either receptor is capable of mediating toxicity, as both experimental groups failed to survive. This is relevant to current IL-2 therapies because there is no way to eliminate a single receptor in order to reduce toxicity. Further studies exploring the anti-viral capabilities of IFN-γ are suggested.
Bexarotene is a commercially produced drug commonly known as Targetin presecribed to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL). Bex mimics the actions of natural 9-cis retinoic acid in the body, which are derived from Vitamin A in the diet and boost the immune system. Bex has been shown to be effective in the treatment of multiple types of cancer, including lung cancer. However, the disadvantages of using Bex include increased instances of hypothyroidism and excessive concentrations of blood triglycerides. If an analog of Bex can be developed which retains high affinity RXR binding similar to the 9-cis retinoic acid while exhibiting less interference for heterodimerization pathways, it would be of great clinical significance in improving the quality of life for patients with CTCL. This thesis will detail the biological profiling of additional novel (Generation Two) analogs, which are currently in submission for publication, as well as that of Generation Three analogs. The results from these studies reveal that specific alterations in the core structure of the Bex "parent" compound structure can have dramatic effects in modifying the biological activity of RXR agonists.
Clean water for drinking, food preparation, and bathing is essential for astronaut health and safety during long duration habitation of the International Space Station (ISS), including future missions to Mars. Despite stringent water treatment and recycling efforts on the ISS, it is impossible to completely prevent microbial contamination of onboard water supplies. In this work, we used a spaceflight analogue culture system to better understand how the microgravity environment can influence the pathogenesis-related characteristics of Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc), an opportunistic pathogen previously recovered from the ISS water system. The results of the present study suggest that there may be important differences in how this pathogen can respond and adapt to spaceflight and other low fluid shear environments encountered during their natural life cycles. Future studies are aimed at understanding the underlying mechanisms responsible for these phenotypes.
Vaccinia virus (VV) is a prototype virus of the Orthopox viruses. The large dsDNA virus composed of 200kbp genome contains approximately 200 genes and replicates entirely in the cytosol. Since its use as a live vaccine against smallpox that leads to the successful eradication of smallpox, Vaccinia has been intensely studied as a vaccine vector since the large genome allows for the insertion of multiple genes. It is also studied as a molecular tool for gene therapy and gene functional study. Despite its success as a live vaccine, the vaccination causes some mild to serious bur rare adverse events in vaccinees such as generalized Vaccinia and encepharitis. Therefore, identification of virulence genes and removal of these genes to create a safer vaccine remain an important tasks. In this study, the author seeks to elucidate the possible relationship between immune evading proteins E3 and B19. VV did not allow double deletions of E3 and B19, indicating the existence of a relationship between the two genes.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world and represents a tremendous burden on patients, families and societies. S. Typhimurium strains are specifically attracted to compounds produced by cancer cells and could overcome the traditional therapeutic barrier. However, a major problem with using live attenuated Salmonella as anti-cancer agents is their toxicity at the dose required for therapeutic efficacy, but reducing the dose results in diminished efficacy. In this project, we explored novel means to reduce the toxicity of the recombinant attenuated Salmonella by genetically engineering those virulence factors to facilitate maximal colonization of tumor tissues and reduced fitness in normal tissues. We have constructed two sets of Salmonella strains. In the first set, each targeted gene was knocked out by deletion of the gene. In the second set, the predicted promoter region of each gene was replaced with a rhamnose-regulated promoter, which will cease the synthesis of these genes in vivo, a rhamnose-free environment.
Wolbachia is a genus of obligately intracellular bacterial endosymbionts of arthropods and nematodes, infecting up to 66% of all such species. In order to ensure its transmission, it may modify host reproduction by inducing one of four phenotypes: cytoplasmic incompatibility, feminization of genetic males, killing of male embryos, and induction of thelytokous parthenogenesis. This investigation was a characterization of the so-far unexamined Wolbachia infection of Pogonomyrmex ants. Five main questions were addressed: whether Wolbachia infection rates vary between North and South America, whether infection rates are dependent on host range, whether Wolbachia affects the caste determination of P. barbatus, whether infection rates in Pogonomyrmex are similar to those of other ants, and whether Wolbachia phylogeny parallels the phylogeny of its Pogonomyrmex hosts. Using PCR amplification of the wsp, ftsZ, and gatB loci, Wolbachia infections were detected in four of fifteen Pogonomyrmex species (26.7%), providing the first known evidence of Wolbachia infection in this genus. All infected species were from South America, specifically Argentina. Therefore, Wolbachia has no role in the caste determination of the North American species P. barbatus. Additionally, while it appears that the incidence of Wolbachia in Pogonomyrmex may be limited to South America, host range did not correlate with infection status. The incidence of Wolbachia in Pogonomyrmex as a whole was similar to that of invasive Solenopsis and Linepithema species, but not to Wasmannia auropunctata or Anoplolepis gracilipes, which retain Wolbachia infection in non-native locations. This suggests that there may be a parallel in Wolbachia infection spread in certain short-term models of species colonization and long-term models of genus radiation. Finally, there was no congruity between host and parasite phylogeny according to maximum likelihood analyses, necessarily due to horizontal transfer of Wolbachia between hosts and lateral gene transfer between Wolbachia strains within hosts.
Little is known about the diversity and role of bacteriophages in carbon (C) rich ecosystems such as peatlands in tropical and temperate regions. In fact, there is no currently published assessment of phage abundance on diversity in a key tropical ecosystem such as Amazon peatlands. To better understand phage assemblages in terrestrial ecosystems and how bacteriophages influence organic C cycling to final products like CO2 and CH4, phage communities and phage-like particles were recovered, quantified, and viable phage particles were enriched from pore water from contrasting Amazon peatlands. Here we present the first results on assessing Amazon bacteriophages on native heterotrophic bacteria. Several steps to test for methodological suitability were taken. First, the efficiency of iron flocculation method was determined using fluorescent microscopy counts of phage TLS, a TolC-specific and LPS-specific bacteriophage, and Escherichia coli host pre- and post-extraction method. One-hundred percent efficiency and 0.15% infectivity was evidenced. Infectivity effects were determined by calculating plaque forming units pre and post extraction method. After testing these methods, fieldwork in the Amazon peatlands ensued, where phages were enriched from pore water samples. Phages were extracted and concentrated by in tandem filtering rounds to remove organic matter and bacteria, and then iron flocculation to bind the phages and allow for precipitation onto a filter. Phage concentrates were then used for overall counts, with fluorescent microscopy, as well as phage isolation attempts. Phage isolations were performed by first testing for lysis of host cells in liquid media using OD600 absorbance of cultures with and without phage concentrate as well as attempts with the cross-streaking methods. Forty-five heterotrophic bacterial isolates obtained from the same Amazon peatland were challenged with phage concentrates. Once a putative host was found, steps were taken to further propagate and isolate the phage. Several putative phages were enriched from Amazon peatland pore water and require further characterization. TEM imaging was taken of two phages isolated from two plaques. Genomes of selected phages will be sequenced for identification. These results provide the groundwork for further characterizing the role bacteriophage play in C cycling and greenhouse gas production from Amazon peatland soils.
Many bacteria actively import environmental DNA and incorporate it into their genomes. This behavior, referred to as transformation, has been described in many species from diverse taxonomic backgrounds. Transformation is expected to carry some selective advantages similar to those postulated for meiotic sex in eukaryotes. However, the accumulation of loss-of-function alleles at transformation loci and an increased mutational load from recombining with DNA from dead cells create additional costs to transformation. These costs have been shown to outweigh many of the benefits of recombination under a variety of likely parameters. We investigate an additional proposed benefit of sexual recombination, the Red Queen hypothesis, as it relates to bacterial transformation. Here we describe a computational model showing that host-pathogen coevolution may provide a large selective benefit to transformation and allow transforming cells to invade an environment dominated by otherwise equal non-transformers. Furthermore, we observe that host-pathogen dynamics cause the selection pressure on transformation to vary extensively in time, explaining the tight regulation and wide variety of rates observed in naturally competent bacteria. Host-pathogen dynamics may explain the evolution and maintenance of natural competence despite its associated costs.
Background: Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever) is a respiratory disease that is caused by the soil-dwelling fungi Coccidioides immitis and Coccidioides posadasii. Because fungal glycosylation patterns are distinct from mammalian glycosylation patterns, we hypothesized that certain lectins (carbohydrate-binding proteins) might have differential binding properties to coccidioidal glycoproteins, and therefore serve as a tool for the purification and characterization of these glycoproteins from patient specimens. Materials and Methods: To identify potential Coccidioides-binding lectins, lectin-based immunohistochemistry was performed using a panel of 21 lectins on lung tissue from human patients infected with Coccidioides. Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISAs) were used to confirm and test candidate Coccidioides-binding lectins for their ability to bind to proteins from antigen preparations of laboratory-grown Coccidioides. Inhibition IHC and ELISAs were used to confirm binding properties of these lectins. SDS-PAGE and mass spectrometry were performed on eluates from coccidioidal antigen preparations run through lectin-affinity chromatography columns to characterize and identify lectin-binding coccidioidal glycoproteins. Results: Two GlcNAc-binding lectins, GSLII and sWGA, bound specifically to spherules and endospores in infected human lung tissue, and not to adjacent lung tissue. The binding of these lectins to both Coccidioides proteins in lung tissue and to coccidioidal antigen preparations was confirmed to have lectin-like characteristics. SDS-PAGE analysis of eluates from lectin-affinity chromatography demonstrated that GSLII and sWGA bind to coccidioidal glycoproteins. Mass spectrometric identification of the top ten lectin affinity-purified glycoproteins demonstrated that GSLII and sWGA share affinity to a common set of coccidioidal glycoproteins. Conclusion: This is the first report of lectins that bind specifically to Coccidioides spherules and endospores in infected humans. These lectins may have the potential to serve as tools for a better method of detection and diagnosis of Valley Fever.