Investigation of the biosynthesis of bacterial natural products
- Natural products (NPs) have been a rich source for pharmaceutically used anti-infectives and other drugs. However, the application of anti-infectives inevitably causes the development of resistant and multiresistant pathogens, which have to be treated with novel anti-infectives. The industrial research for novel anti-infectives has been concentrating on members of the bacterial Actinomycetales for a long time. Due to several reasons, e.g. the rediscovery of already known NPs, pharmaceutical companies abandoned their NP-research and focused on drug development based on combinatorial chemistry. However, the limited structural diversity of merely synthetic compound libraries has not been a fruitful source for bioactive compounds. Hence the discovery of novel bioactive NPs as a source for anti-infectives is still of economical and humanitarian interest and will remain to be an important branch of research in the future. One strategy to circumvent the rediscovery of bioactive NPs is the analysis of yet unexplored bacterial taxa. Based on this assumption, this work aimed at the discovery of novel NPs from the entomopathogenic bacterial genera Xenorhabdus and Photorhabdus and other promising taxa, as well as the investigation of their biosynthesis. ...
Genetic diversity and geneflow between Arctic and Antarctic populations of the lichen Cetraria aculeata along the Andes and the Rocky Mountains
Fernando Fernández Mendoza
- Lichens are present in most land ecosystems, frequently occupying habitats where few other organisms are able to survive. Their contribution to the ecosystems in terms of biomass and ground cover increases with latitude and altitude, being, together with bryophytes, the most conspicuous component of alpine and polar landscapes. Whereas some polar lichens have reduced distributions and are restricted to high latitudes, most of them have very wide distributional ranges, which oven extend over several climatic regions. Many of them are common to Polar Regions of both hemispheres, a distributional pattern that has been denominated as bipolar, antitropical or amphitropical. Bipolar distributions are not exclusive to lichens, but common to many groups of organisms. The bipolar element in lichens is exceptional as it includes a large number of species, while in most other land organisms it includes genera or families but very seldom species.
In this dissertation I use the bipolar lichen Cetraria aculeata to give a first insight into the phylogeography of this biogeographic element in lichens. I discuss how and when the disjunct distribution of C. aculeata came to be, and try to partial out the roles that historical and ecological processes played in shaping its distribution.
Sampling was designed to cover a wide geographic extension. The main e"ort was made to collect in boreal, temperate and tropical mountain ranges in North and South America, as well to include Mediterranean populations in which specimens with deviant morphologies are observed.
I found that Cetraria aculeata forms a genetically congruent taxon. Although whether it should include C. muricata remains unsolved, I excluded all specimens identified as the latter from our analyses. Thee populations of both algal and fungal symbionts have a strong geographic structure. The study of the lichen fungus suggested that the species originated in the Eurasian continent and later expanded to acquire its current distribution during the Pleistocene. The results showed that all American populations originated from an ancestral population, more similar to the extant Arctic populations than to the Mediterranean ones.
The comparison between the structure of fungal and algal populations showed a high degree of coherence between them. However, the similarity in photobiont use between Arctic and Antarctic populations suggests that photobiont use responds not only to a history of codispersal in vegetative propagula, but it is also a result of a selective process related to climate. Since this climatic pattern of similarity is also found in the community of Alphaproteobacteria associated with C. aculeata, we concluded that lichens might be able to accommodate or to respond to different environmental conditions by selectively associating with different symbiotic partners.
Lastly, we found the Mediterranean populations of C. aculeata to be genetically differentiated in algal and fungal symbionts from the rest of the populations. While we found no grounds to believe that the overgrown morphs encountered in the region are due to the association with different algal lineages, I believe that a switch in photobiont use might be responsible for the pattern of genetic isolation encountered. Furthermore, I suggest that the Mediterranean and bipolar C. aculeata could be two different species, since both are ecologically, genetically and at least in part morphologically divergent.
Lateralization of Travelling Wave Response in the Hearing Organ of Bushcrickets
Arun Palghat Udayashankar
- Travelling waves are the physical basis of frequency discrimination in many vertebrate and invertebrate taxa, including mammals, birds, and some insects. In bushcrickets (Tettigoniidae), the crista acustica is the hearing organ that has been shown to use sound-induced travelling waves. Up to now, data on mechanical characteristics of sound-induced travelling waves were only available along the longitudinal (proximal-distal) direction. In this study, we use laser Doppler vibrometry to investigate in-vivo radial (anterior-posterior) features of travelling waves in the tropical bushcricket Mecopoda elongata. Our results demonstrate that the maximum of sound-induced travelling wave amplitude response is always shifted towards the anterior part of the crista acustica. This lateralization of the travelling wave response induces a tilt in the motion of the crista acustica, which presumably optimizes sensory transduction by exerting a shear motion on the sensory cilia in this hearing organ.
The phylogeny of the genus Gazella and the phylogeography and population genetics of arabian species
- Biodiversity is caused by a fundamental evolutionary process: speciation. When species can spread into new habitats and are allowed to colonize new ecological niches, speciation can become accelerated and is then called radiation. This can happen, e.g., when formerly separated land masses become connected. A prime example of such a scenario is the Arabian Peninsula that connects Africa and Asia since the Oligocene (approx. 30 Ma ago). Since then, the peninsula promoted several faunal exchanges between both continents. The mammalian genus Gazella is an excellent candidate for investigating this faunal exchange. Species are distributed on both, the African and Asian continent as well as on the Arabian Peninsula that is located in between. The aim of my thesis was to cast new light on the evolution and speciation of the genus and, furthermore, to evaluate the currently problematic taxonomy to infer suggestions for improved conservation actions for threatened gazelle species. Therefore, I investigated the taxon Gazella genetically and identified factors that promoted the speciation of this diverse genus. I assessed intraspecific genetic variability for species that inhabited the Arabian Peninsula to infer the past demography of those species and to estimate the history of species divergence and past population parameters.
In the first part of my thesis I inferred a mitochondrial phylogeny based on cytochrome b gene sequences using samples of all nine extant species of Gazella and also of closely related taxa (chapter 2). Besides the monophyly of the genus Gazella two reciprocally monophyletic clades were detected that evolved in allopatry: one predominantly African and one predominantly Asian clade. Within both clades species pairs could be inferred with species being ecologically adapted to different habitats: one species is a desert-dweller (probably the ancestral character state combination), while the other one is adapted to rather mountainous and humid habitats. These adaptations also correlate with the behavior of the species with the mountainous forms being sedentary, territorial and living in small groups and the desert forms being migratory, non-territorial and living in larger herds.
The second part of my thesis focuses on the Arabian gazelle species. In a study about G. subgutturosa I could show that the Arabian form G. marica (sand gazelle)—previously recognized as a subspecies of G. subgutturosa—is genetically distinct from the nominate form (chapter 3). Moreover, a phylogenetic tree based on cytochrome b gene sequences revealed a polyphyly of G. subgutturosa and G. marica with sand gazelles being more closely related to G. leptoceros and G. cuvieri of North Africa. Consequently, I suggested the restoration to full species level for G. marica corroborating earlier conservation practices of breeding both taxa separately in captivity.
In case of G. dorcas such a genetic differentiation could not be detected (chapter 4). Despite the large distribution range from Mali in the west to Saudi Arabia in the east only low genetic variation was detectable in mitochondrial sequence data. Statistically parsimony network analyses revealed pronounced haplotype sharing across regions. Using a coalescence approach I observed a steep population decline that started about 25,000 years ago and which is still ongoing. The decline could be correlated with human hunting activities in the Sahara. Hence, hunting of G. dorcas (already in ancient times) had a much larger impact on gazelle populations than previously thought and even led to the extinction of the Arabian form of G. dorcas.
In chapter 5 of my thesis I provided a rigorous test to genetically distinguish between the potential species G. gazella and G. arabica. Previously recognized as a single species mitochondrial sequence analyses provided first hints for the separation of both taxa. But without the investigation of nuclear loci the observed pattern could also be the result of male biased dispersal combined with female philopatry. Therefore, I amplified mitochondrial sequence markers and nuclear microsatellite loci for both taxa and found support for the earlier view of two separate species. No signs of recurrent gene flow could be detected between neighboring populations of G. arabica and G. gazella. The split of both species could be estimated one million years ago and the recommendation of breeding both taxa separately in captivity for conservation purposes is fully justified.
Several populations of G. arabica suffer from a severe decline. In chapter 6 I asked whether the population occurring on the Farasan archipelago—being at stable individual numbers for decades—may serve as potential source for future reintroduction on the Arabian mainland, although the gazelles show a reduced body size. Analyzing the genetic differentiation of Farasan gazelles, a genetic cluster could be inferred being endemic to the archipelago. However, only approx. 70% of Farasan individuals were assigned to this specific cluster, while the others showed at least intermediate or even complete assignment to the mainland cluster. This indicates ongoing introgression that is probably mediated by human translocations of gazelles from and onto the islands. Considering the uniform dwarfism of Farasan gazelles, reasons for the smaller body size might be direct consequences of resource limitations, i.e., phenotypic plasticity. If the population decline on the mainland will hold on Farasan gazelles could serve as stocks for future reintroductions.
Development of β-Lactamase as a Tool for Monitoring Conditional Gene Expression by a Tetracycline-Riboswitch in Methanosarcina acetivorans
Miriam M. Geist
Julia E. Weigand
- The use of reporter gene fusions to assess cellular processes such as protein targeting and regulation of transcription or translation is established technology in archaeal, bacterial, and eukaryal genetics. Fluorescent proteins or enzymes resulting in chromogenic substrate turnover, like β -galactosidase, have been particularly useful for microscopic and screening purposes. However, application of such methodology is of limited use for strictly anaerobic organisms due to the requirement of molecular oxygen for chromophore formation or color development. We have developed β -lactamase from Escherichia coli (encoded by bla) in conjunction with the chromogenic substrate nitrocefin into a reporter system usable under anaerobic conditions for the methanogenic archaeon Methanosarcina acetivorans. By using a signal peptide of a putative flagellin from M. acetivorans and different catabolic promoters, we could demonstrate growth substrate-dependent secretion of β -lactamase, facilitating its use in colony screening on agar plates. Furthermore, a series of fusions comprised of a constitutive promoter and sequences encoding variants of the synthetic tetracycline-responsive riboswitch (tc-RS) was created to characterize its influence on translation initiation in M. acetivorans. One tc-RS variant resulted in more than 11-fold tetracycline-dependent regulation of bla expression, which is in the range of regulation by naturally occurring riboswitches. Thus, tc-RS fusions represent the first solely cis-active, that is, factor-independent system for controlled gene expression in Archaea.
Are accessory hearing structures linked to inner ear morphology? Insights from 3D orientation patterns of ciliary bundles in three cichlid species
Brian D. Metscher
- Background: Cichlid fishes show considerable diversity in swim bladder morphology. In members of the subfamily Etroplinae, the connection between anterior swim bladder extensions and the inner ears enhances sound transmission and translates into an improved hearing ability. We tested the hypothesis that those swim bladder modifications coincide with differences in inner ear morphology and thus compared Steatocranus tinanti (vestigial swim bladder), Hemichromis guttatus (large swim bladder without extensions), and Etroplus maculatus (intimate connection between swim bladder and inner ears). Methodology and results We applied immunostaining together with confocal imaging and scanning electron microscopy for the investigation of sensory epithelia, and high-resolution, contrast-enhanced microCT imaging for characterizing inner ears in 3D, and evaluated otolith dimensions. Compared to S. tinanti and H. guttatus, inner ears of E. maculatus showed an enlargement of all three maculae, and a particularly large lacinia of the macula utriculi. While our analysis of orientation patterns of ciliary bundles on the three macula types using artificially flattened maculae uncovered rather similar orientation patterns of ciliary bundles, interspecific differences became apparent when illustrating the orientation patterns on the 3D models of the maculae: differences in the shape and curvature of the lacinia of the macula utriculi, and the anterior arm of the macula lagenae resulted in an altered arrangement of ciliary bundles.
Conclusions: Our results imply that improved audition in E. maculatus is associated not only with swim bladder modifications but also with altered inner ear morphology. However, not all modifications in E. maculatus could be connected to enhanced auditory abilities, and so a potential improvement of the vestibular sense, among others, also needs to be considered. Our study highlights the value of analyzing orientation patterns of ciliary bundles in their intact 3D context in studies of inner ear morphology and physiology.
Novel three-dimensional in vitro models of ovarian endometriosis
Nagesh P. Rao
Simon A. Gayther
- Background: Endometriosis is characterized by the presence of functional endometrial tissue outside of the uterine cavity. It affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. This chronic condition commonly leads to consequences such as pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, infertility and an elevated risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Despite the prevalence of endometriosis and its impact on women's lives, there are relatively few in vitro and in vivo models available for studying the complex disease biology, pathophysiology, and for use in the preclinical development of novel therapies. The goal of this study was to develop a novel three-dimensional (3D) cell culture model of ovarian endometriosis and to test whether it is more reflective of endometriosis biology than traditional two dimensional (2D) monolayer cultures.
Methods: A novel ovarian endometriosis epithelial cell line (EEC16) was isolated from a 34-year old female with severe endometriosis. After characterization of cells using in vitro assays, western blotting and RNA-sequencing, this cell line and a second, already well characterized endometriosis cell line, EEC12Z, were established as in vitro 3D spheroid models. We compared biological features of 3D spheroids to 2D cultures and human endometriosis lesions using immunohistochemistry and real-time semi-quantitative PCR.
Results: In comparison to normal ovarian epithelial cells, EEC16 displayed features of neoplastic transformation in in vitro assays. When cultured in 3D, EEC16 and EEC12Z showed differential expression of endometriosis-associated genes compared to 2D monolayer cultures, and more closely mimicked the molecular and histological features of human endometriosis lesions.
Conclusions: To our knowledge, this represents the first report of an in vitro spheroid model of endometriosis. 3D endometriosis models represent valuable experimental tools for studying EEC biology and the development of novel therapeutic approaches.
Generation and Phenotyping of a Collection of sRNA Gene Deletion Mutants of the Haloarchaeon Haloferax volcanii
- The haloarchaeon Haloferax volcanii was shown to contain 145 intergenic and 45 antisense sRNAs. In a comprehensive approach to unravel various biological roles of haloarchaeal sRNAs in vivo, 27 sRNA genes were selected and deletion mutants were generated. The phenotypes of these mutants were compared to that of the parent strain under ten different conditions, i.e. growth on four different carbon sources, growth at three different salt concentrations, and application of four different stress conditions. In addition, cell morphologies in exponential and stationary phase were observed. Furthermore, swarming of 17 mutants was analyzed. 24 of the 27 mutants exhibited a difference from the parent strain under at least one condition, revealing that haloarchaeal sRNAs are involved in metabolic regulation, growth under extreme conditions, regulation of morphology and behavior, and stress adaptation. Notably, 7 deletion mutants showed a gain of function phenotype, which has not yet been described for any other prokaryotic sRNA gene deletion mutant. Comparison of the transcriptomes of one sRNA gene deletion mutant and the parent strain led to the identification of differentially expressed genes. Genes for flagellins and chemotaxis were up-regulated in the mutant, in accordance with its gain of function swarming phenotype. While the deletion mutant analysis underscored that haloarchaeal sRNAs are involved in many biological functions, the degree of conservation is extremely low. Only 3 of the 27 genes are conserved in more than 10 haloarchaeal species. 22 of the 27 genes are confined to H. volcanii, indicating a fast evolution of haloarchaeal sRNA genes.
openSNP–A Crowdsourced Web Resource for Personal Genomics
Philipp E. Bayer
- Genome-Wide Association Studies are widely used to correlate phenotypic traits with genetic variants. These studies usually compare the genetic variation between two groups to single out certain Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) that are linked to a phenotypic variation in one of the groups. However, it is necessary to have a large enough sample size to find statistically significant correlations. Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) genetic testing can supply additional data: DTC-companies offer the analysis of a large amount of SNPs for an individual at low cost without the need to consult a physician or geneticist. Over 100,000 people have already been genotyped through Direct-To-Consumer genetic testing companies. However, this data is not public for a variety of reasons and thus cannot be used in research. It seems reasonable to create a central open data repository for such data. Here we present the web platform openSNP, an open database which allows participants of Direct-To-Consumer genetic testing to publish their genetic data at no cost along with phenotypic information. Through this crowdsourced effort of collecting genetic and phenotypic information, openSNP has become a resource for a wide area of studies, including Genome-Wide Association Studies. openSNP is hosted at http://www.opensnp.org, and the code is released under MIT-license at http://github.com/gedankenstuecke/snpr.
Neonicotinoids Interfere with Specific Components of Navigation in Honeybees
- Three neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiacloprid, agonists of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the central brain of insects, were applied at non-lethal doses in order to test their effects on honeybee navigation. A catch-and-release experimental design was applied in which feeder trained bees were caught when arriving at the feeder, treated with one of the neonicotinoids, and released 1.5 hours later at a remote site. The flight paths of individual bees were tracked with harmonic radar. The initial flight phase controlled by the recently acquired navigation memory (vector memory) was less compromised than the second phase that leads the animal back to the hive (homing flight). The rate of successful return was significantly lower in treated bees, the probability of a correct turn at a salient landscape structure was reduced, and less directed flights during homing flights were performed. Since the homing phase in catch-and-release experiments documents the ability of a foraging honeybee to activate a remote memory acquired during its exploratory orientation flights, we conclude that non-lethal doses of the three neonicotinoids tested either block the retrieval of exploratory navigation memory or alter this form of navigation memory. These findings are discussed in the context of the application of neonicotinoids in plant protection.