Assessing the combined effects of xenobiotics, climate change and predators on aquatic organisms in multiple stressor experiments - a case study with pyrimethanil
- The environmental impact of climate change is meanwhile not only discussed in the scientific community but also in the general public. However, little is known about the interaction between climate change and pollutants like pesticides. A combination of multiple stressors (e.g. temperature, pollutants, predators) may lead to severe alterations for organisms such as changes in time of reproduction, reproductive success and growth performance, mortality and geographic distribution. The questions if aquatic organisms tend to react more sensitive towards incidents under climate change conditions remains. Therefore, within the present thesis the aquatic ecotoxicological profile of the fungicide pyrimethanil, as an exemplarily anthropogenic used contaminant, was examined.
A large test battery of ecotoxicological standard tests and supplement bioassays with non-model species was conducted to investigate if species-specific or life stage-specific differences occur or if temperature alteration may change the impact of the fungicide. Two of the most sensitive species (Chironomus riparius and Daphnia magna) were used to investigate the acute and chronic thermal dependence of pyrimethanil effects. The results clearly depict that the ecotoxicity of pyrimethanil at optimal thermal conditions did not depend on the trophic level, but was species-specific. With regard to EC10 values the acute pyrimethanil toxicity on C. riparius increased with higher temperature (6.78 mg L-1 at 14°C and 3.06 mg L-1 at 26°C). The chronic response of D. magna to the NOEC (no observed effect concentration) of the fungicide (0.5 mg L-1) was examined in an experiment which lasted for several generations under three simulated near-natural temperature regimes (‘cold year, today’ (11 to 22.7°C), ‘warm year, today’ (14 to 25.2°C) and ‘warm year, 2080’ (16.5 to 28.1°C)). A pyrimethanil-induced mortality increase was buffered by the strongly related increase of the general reproductive capacity, while population growth was stronger influenced by temperature than by the fungicide. At a further pyrimethanil concentration (LOEC – lowest observed effect concentration: 1 mg L-1), a second generation could not be established by D. magna under all thermal regimes.
Besides daphnids, the midge C. riparius was used for a second multigeneration study. In a bifactorial test design it was tested if climate change conditions alter or affect the impact of a low fungicide concentration on life history and genetic diversity. The NOAEC/2 (half of the no observed adverse effect concentration derived from a standard toxicity test) was used as a low pyrimethanil concentration to which laboratory populations of the midges were chronically exposed under the mentioned temperature scenarios. During the 140-day-multigeneration study, survival, emergence, reproduction, population growth, and genetic diversity of C. riparius were analyzed. The results reveal that high temperatures and pyrimethanil act synergistically on life history parameters of C. riparius. In simulated present-day scenarios, a NOAEC/2 of pyrimethanil provoked only slight to moderate beneficial or adverse effects. In contrast, an exposure to a NOAEC/2 concentration of pyrimethanil at a thermal situation likely for a summer under the future expactations uncovered adverse effects on mortality and population growth rate. In addition, genetic diversity was considerably reduced by pyrimethanil in the ‘warm year, 2080’ scenario, but only slightly under current climatic conditions. The multigeneration studies under near-natural thermal conditions indicate that not only the impact of climate change, but also low concentrations of pesticides may pose a reasonable risk for aquatic invertebrates in the future. This clearly shows that thermal and multigenerational effects should be considered when appraising the ecotoxicity of pesticides and assessing their future risk for the environment.
In addition to temperature further multiple abiotic and biotic stressors alterate pollutant effects. Moreover, to better discriminate and understand the intrinsic and environmental correlates of changing aquatic ecosystems, it was experimentally unraveled how the effects of a low-dose of pyrimethanil on daphnids becomes modified by different temperatures (15°C, 20°C, 25°C) and in the presence/ absence of predator kairomones of Chaoborus flavicans larvae. The usage of a fractional multifactorial test design provided the possibility to investigate the individual growth, reproduction and population growth rate of Daphnia pulex via different exposure routes to the fungicide pyrimethanil at an environmentally relevant concentration (0.05 mg L-1) - either directly (via the water phase), indirectly (via algae food), dually (via water and food) or for multiple generations (fungicide treated source population).
The number of neonates increased with increasing temperatures. At a temperature of 25°C no significant differences between the individual treatment groups were observed although the growth was overall inhibited due to pyrimethanil. Besides, at 15 and 20°C it is obvious that daphnids which were fed with contaminated algae had the lowest reproduction and growth rate. The obtained results clearly demonstrate that multiple stress factors can modify the response of daphnids to pollutants. The exposure routes of the contaminant are of minor importance, while temperature and the presence of a predator are the dominant factors impacting the reproduction of D. pulex. It can be concluded that low concentrations of pyrimethanil may disturb the zooplankton community at suboptimal temperature conditions, but the effects will become masked if chaoborid larvae are present. Therefore it seems necessary to observe prospectively if the combination of several stress factors like pesticide exposure and suboptimal temperature may influence the life history and sensitivity of several aquatic invertebrates differently.
Besides standard test organisms it is inevitable to conduct test with aquatic invertebrate which are not yet considered regularly in ecotoxicological experiments. For example molluscs represent one of the largest phyla of macroinvertebrates with more than 100.000 species, being ecologically and economically important. Therefore, within the present study embryo, juvenile, half- and full-life cycle toxicity tests with the snail Physella acuta were performed to investigate the impact of pollutants on various life stages. Different concentrations of pyrimethanil (0.06-0.5 or 1.0 mg L-1) assessed at three temperatures (15°C, 20°C, 25°C) revealed that pyrimethanil caused concentration-dependent effects independent of temperature. Interestingly, the ecotoxicity of pyrimethanil was higher at lower temperature for the embryo hatching and F1 reproduction, but its ecotoxicity for the growth of juveniles and the F0 reproduction increased with increasing temperature. More specifically, it could have been observed that especially during the reproduction test high mortality rates occurred at the highest concentration of 1 mg L-1 at all temperatures. Due to high mortality rates no snails were available for the F1 at the highest concentrations (0.5 and 1.0 mg L-1). Compared to the F0, overall more egg masses were produced in the F1, being all fertile and no mortality occurred. For the F1-generation the strongest pyrimethanil effects were detected at 15°C. A comparison of effect concentrations between both generations showed that the F1 is more sensitive than the F0.
These results indicate that an exposure over more than one generation may give a better overview of the impact of xenobiotics. With the establishment of an embryo and reproduction test under different temperatures and various concentrations of pyrimethanil with P. acuta we could successfully show that molluscs can respond more sensitive than model organisms and that both, chemical and thermal stressor strongly influence the behaviour of the pulmonates. It can be concluded that the high susceptibility for the fungicide observed in gastropods clearly demonstrates the complexity of pesticide-temperature interactions and the challenge to draw conclusions for the ecotoxicological risk assessment of pesticides under the impact of global climate change.
Biochemical characterization of Fucoxanthin Chlorophyll a/c binding proteins in the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum
- Diatoms contribute largely to the total primary production of the ecosphere and are key players in global biogeochemical cycles. Their chloroplasts are surrounded by four membranes owing to their secondary endosymbiotic origin. Their thylakoids are arranged into three parallel bands and differentiation of thylakoid membranes into grana or stroma is not observed. The fucoxanthin chlorophyll a/c binding proteins act as the light harvesting proteins and play a role in photoprotection during excess light as well. The diatom genome encodes three different families of antenna proteins. Family I are the classical light harvesting proteins called "Lhcf". Family II are the red algae related Lhca-R1/2 proteins called "Lhcr" and family III are the photoprotective LI818 related proteins called "Lhcx".
All known Fcps have a molecular weight in the range of 17-23 kDa. They are membrane proteins and have shorter loops and termini compared to LHCs of higher plants and are therefore extremely hydrophobic. This makes the isolation of single specific Fcps using routine protein purification techniques difficult.
The purification of a specific Fcp containing complex has not been achieved so far and until this is done several questions concerning light harvesting antenna systems of diatoms cannot be answered. For e.g. Which proteins interact specifically? Are various Fcps differently pigmented? Which pigments interact with each other and how? Which proteins contribute to photosystem specific antenna systems? Can pure Fcps be reconstituted into crystals like LHCII proteins? In order to answer these questions specific Fcp containing complexes have to be purified. ...
Cell specific crosstalk of the Wnt/β-catenin and the Shh pathway: implications for tumor development and regression
- The canonical Wnt/β-catenin and the Shh pathway as well as the Notch signaling cascade
are key regulators in stem cell biology and are independently associated with the development
of cancer. Despite the knowledge of a balanced signaling for cellular maintenance, the
fundamental biochemical mechanisms of crosstalk are still poorly understood. This study
demonstrates that the outcome of interaction between Wnt and Shh is cell type specific. A
combined inhibitory mechanism of the Shh and Notch2/Jagged2 pathways on dominant
active β-catenin signaling in the adult tongue epithelium keeps Wnt/β-catenin signaling
restricted to physiological tolerable levels. In the opposite crosstalk the activation of
Wnt/β-catenin signaling in medulloblastoma (MB) of the Shh subtype, in turn inhibits the Hh
The inhibitory mechanism of Shh and Notch2/Jagged2 on Wnt/β-catenin signaling is
independent of the degradation complex of β-catenin and takes place inside the nucleus.
Furthermore, the negative feedback on Wnt/β-catenin signaling by the Shh pathway relies
on transcriptional activity of Gli1/2A. Inhibition of Gli1/2A with the specific inhibitor GANT61
abrogated the negative impact of Shh on β-catenin signaling in vitro. Although the negative
feedback loop of Shh is still functional in human SCC25 cells, the inhibitory effect of
Notch2/Jagged2 is lost and contributes to the cancerogenic phenotype of these cells. In the
inverse situation, the activation of β−catenin signaling has a negative feedback on
constantly active Shh signaling and significantly inhibits the Hh pathway. This was shown in
Ptch+/- and Math1-Cre:SmoM2Fl/+ MB tumor spheres in vitro, in which inhibition of sphere
formation and growth was observed and Hh target gene transcription was down-regulated.
This demonstrates for the first time that the activation of canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling
in primary MB cells with a Hh pathway over-activation has a negative effect on the growth of
these cells in vitro.
In summary the results show that crosstalk of Wnt/β-catenin and Shh signaling has context
specific outcome on pathway activity. Elucidation of the molecular interactions will improve
our understanding of Wnt and Hh associated tumors and contribute to the development of
new therapeutic strategies.
Climate-linked temporal and spatial patterns in the evolution of African bovidae
Tim F. Schikora
- Climate and subsequent environmental changes are regarded as one driver of species evolution. Against this background the present study investigates the evolutionary history of the mammalian family Bovidae (Cetartiodactyla, Mammalia), today the most species-rich family of large herbivores on the African continent. Temporal and spatial patterns in that group’s evolution are the focus of the present study and were investigated using methods and data deriving from multiple disciplines (palaeontology, genetics, climatology, conservation biology). The results serve as a validation of macroevolutionary hypotheses of species evolution.
A major proportion of African mammalian fossils can be assigned to that family. Due to their morphological adaptations, bovid species are highly indicative of their habitats. Hence, bovids are of great importance for paleontology. However, a strong taphonomic bias is present in the fossil record of bovids, favoring large and arid- adapted species. Molecular phylogenies of extant species and species distribution modelling combined with climate reconstructions can help to overcome these limitations.
A molecular phylogeny, based on the cytochrome b gene of 136 bovid species served as basis for analysis of temporal patterns. Divergence events were dated using the relaxed molecular clock approach. The tree was time calibrated at 30 nodes using information inferred from the fossil record. Lineage-Through-Time plots and the respective statistical analyses reveal detailed temporal patterns in the evolutionary history of tribes and groups combining arid- and humid-adapted tribes. The resulting pattern shows three distinct phases. Phase 1 (P1) is dominated by speciation events within the humid group, while the second phase (P2) is marked by a dominance of speciation within the arid group. The switch in diversification rates (BDS) from P1 to P2 is dated to 2.8 million years ago. The third phase (P3) shows low diversification rates for all groups, starting around 1.4 million year ago and culminates in a significantly reduced diversification rate for the complete family at 0.8 million years ago. Both transitions are contemporaneous with global climate changes and turnover events in fossil faunal communities.
To investigate the impact of climate changes onto the habitat availability within the last 3 million years and its putative influence on diversification rates, the species distribution modeling method was applied. For 85 African species and subspecies the climate niches were established and grouped into 5 climate-groups based on their climate preferences. For each group the available habitat for the period before and after the BDS was calculated on continental scale using reconstructed climate scenarios. To evaluate the modeled habitat distributions, regional analyses were performed in test areas surrounding well studied fossil sites (Laetoli, Olduvai, Chiwondo Beds, Lothagam, Koobi Fora, West Turkana, Swartkrans, Sterkfontain und Toros-Menalla). Habitat profiles (HP) permitted the comparison of the model based habitat reconstruction with the interpretations of classic paleontological reconstruction. The validity of the habitat modeling has been shown in particular for East African test areas. The reconstructions for the northern and southern fossil sites does not support the modeled habitats in these areas. Yet, the method of habitat- profiling may serve as suitable tool for environmental reconstruction of areas lacking sufficient paleontological material. A comparison of habitat availability before and after the BDS on continental scale identified a significant loss of habitat for humid adapted groups (7-22%) and habitat gain for arid adapted groups (19-173%). The climatically intermediate group experiences a tremendous gain of habitat (3366%). The greatest environmental change was modeled for East Africa, initiated by a progressive regional aridification.
In addition to the distribution modeling for past climate conditions, the geographical distribution was modeled for the future, i.e. for climate scenarios representing the years 2050 and 2080 under a putative climate change scenario (global surface warming). It was shown that in particular the arid groups have to expect a remarkable loss of habitat (41-76%), while a gain of available habitat can be expected for the humid adapted groups (114-577%). The climatically intermediate group suffers the strongest habitat loss (85%). Regions with locally stable climate conditions were detected and may serve as potential refugia and are already today known as Africa’s hot spots of biodiversity.
The results show a positive correlation of high diversification rates and increasing habitat availability. None of the tested speciation hypotheses taken alone explains the observations (e.g., Turnover-pulse Hypothesis, Relay Model). A major element in these hypotheses is the passive fragmentation of populations induced by unfavorable climate changes. In contrast, the Periodic Model (Grubb 1999) considers natural, periodically recurring climate changes and moreover, the active dispersal of individuals and resulting founder events. I added the effect of a superimposed directed climate trend – like the progressive aridification since the late Pliocene in Africa – which leads to a bias in the proportion and probability towards leading edge effects. This Directed Periodic Model explains the patterns found in the evolution of Bovidae.
The combination of a molecular phylogeny and species distribution modeling, together with information inferred from the fossil record, reveals remarkable temporal and spatial patterns in the evolution of bovids, and helps overcome the limitations of the fossil record. The present study highlights the importance of active dispersal and founder populations in speciation processes. A point widely unattended in speciation hypotheses. The fully dated molecular phylogeny is the most densely sampled tree for the family Bovidae to date and may serve as a framework for a connection of present and future population studies, permitting the connection of medium-scale with long- term effects induced by climate and environmental changes.
European pea crabs - taxonomy, morphology, and host-ecology (Crustacea: Brachyura: Pinnotheridae)
- Pinnotherids are small crabs symbiotic to a variety of invertebrates. The European species infest bivalves and sea squirts. Their way of life is parasitic and poses a threat to commercially exploited bivalves. While juveniles of both sexes still look very similar - being agile swimmers and partially free living - a metamorphosis takes place in the female after mating and results in a conspicuous sexual dimorphism. Thereafter, the female settles in its host definitely and is morphologically strongly adapted to the parasitic life phase. A very high reproductive output was demonstrated among several pea crab species infesting bivalves. Despite from that, hardly any information is present in the literature on the pinnotherids’ reproductive biology and the underlying morphology.
Due to their cryptic way of life, the sexual dimorphism, and the different morphotypes of the female, the taxonomy of the Pinnotheridae is a serious challenge. Two widely accepted species are recognized on European coasts: Pinnotheres pisum and Nepinnotheres pinnotheres. Pinnotheres pectunculi was so far only known from the bivalve Glycymeris glycymeris in its type locality Roscoff (France), while Pinnotheres ascidicola and Pinnotheres marioni were described as living exclusively in ascidians without careful comparison with the previously described species. In order to produce standardized comparative descriptions, pea crabs were collected and studied from different hosts and localities in the Northeast Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. Nepinnotheres pinnotheres and Pinnotheres pisum were redescribed with consideration to characters of female and male. According to our morphological analysis, Pinnotheres ascidicola and Pinnotheres marioni are junior synonyms of Nepinnotheres pinnotheres, whereas the status of Pinnotheres pectunculi as a valid species was ascertained. Important characters are the mouthparts, the male gonopods, and especially chelipeds that showed consistent characteristics among different crab stages of both sexes.
Based on our sampling, we estimated the host-range of the European species. Nepinnotheres pinnotheres lives in ascidians and in the pen shell Pinna nobilis. Pinnotheres pisum infests numerous bivalve species - Pinna nobilis included. For Pinnotheres pectunculi novel host records are presented, all from the bivalve family Veneridae. Furthermore, feeding of the Pinnotheres-species was observed. They use a setae comb ventrally on the claw to brush mucus (and the accumulated food particles) from the bivalve gills. Feeding strategies and host-ecology will be thoroughly discussed in consideration to other Pinnotheridae.
We investigated the reproductive systems of European pinnotherids by histological methods, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and confocal laser scanning microscopy.
The Eubrachyura have internal fertilization: paired vaginas enlarge into storage structures, the spermathecae, which are connected to the ovaries by oviducts. Sperm is stored until the oocytes are mature and transported into the spermathecae, where fertilization takes place. In the investigated pinnotherids, the vagina is of the ‘concave pattern’. Musculature is attached alongside flexible parts of the vagina-wall to control the dimension of its lumen. The genital opening is closed by a muscular mobile operculum.
The spermatheca can be divided into two distinct regions by function and morphology. The ventral part includes the connection with vagina and oviduct and is regarded as the zone where fertilization takes place. It is lined with cuticle except where the oviduct enters the spermatheca by the ‘holocrine transfer tissue’. At ovulation, the oocytes have to pass through this multi-layered glandular epithelium, which has a holocrine mode secretion. The dorsal part of the spermatheca is lined by a highly secretory apocrine glandular epithelium, which was to date only found in fiddler crabs of the genus Uca.
The male internal reproductive system consists of paired testes and corresponding vasa deferentia. The sperm morphology of pinnotherids conforms to other thoracotremes, with slight differences between Nepinnotheres pinnotheres and Pinnotheres pisum. Spermatozoa become enveloped into spermatophores in the secretory proximal vas deferens. The medial vas deferens is strongly enlarged and stores spermatophores embedded in seminal plasma. The distal vas deferens holds tubular appendices, which extend into the ventral cephalothorax and slightly into the pleon. These appendices produce and store vast quantities of seminal plasma. The copulatory system of the Brachyura is formed by paired penes and two pairs of gonopods, which function in sperm transfer. In pinnotherids, the long first gonopods transfers the sperm mass to the female. It holds the ejaculatory canal inside, which opens proximally and distally. The second gonopod is solid, short and conical. During copulation, the penis and the second gonopod are inserted into the base of the tubular first gonopod. The second gonopod functions in the transport of the sperm mass inside the ejaculatory canal towards its distal opening. The specific shape of the second gonopod is strongly adapted for a sealing of the tubular first gonopod with longitudinal cuticle foldings that interlock inside the first gonopod. The presented results are discussed concerning their function in reproduction and in respect of the systematic account.
The role of secretion in sperm transfer, storage and fertilization among the Brachyura is still under debate. It is notable that structure and function of secretion are more complex in pinnotherids and probably more efficient than in other brachyuran crabs, which will be discussed, in view of the parasitic way of life and the high fecundity of pinnotherids.
Function of flotillins in Alzheimer disease and apoptosis
Bincy Anu John
- Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a common, age associated neurodegenerative disease that manifests as progressive dementia and is characterized by accumulation of the amyloid beta (Aβ) peptide which is a processing product of a transmembrane protein termed Alzheimer Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP). The Aβ peptide is generated by a sequential proteolytic processing of APP by two distinct proteases that are termed β- and γ-secretase. The β-secretase, also called BACE-1 or memapsin 2, belongs to the family of aspartyl proteases. BACE-1 evidently cleaves APP in an acidic endosomal compartment after endocytosis of APP, thereby facilitating Aβ peptide generation.
Sorting of transmembrane proteins is generally controlled by sorting signals in the cytoplasmic domains of the cargo proteins. The short cytoplasmic tail of BACE-1 with 23 amino acids contains a sorting signal of the acidic cluster, di-leucine (ACDL) type. The two Leu residues in this determinant are important for the clathrin mediated endocytosis of BACE-1, whereas the acidic residues together with the Leu are required for the endosomal sorting and recycling of BACE-1 back to the plasma membrane. The ACDL motif binds to the members of the GGA (Golgi-localized γ ear-containg ARF- binding proteins) family (GGA1-GGA3) that are involved in the sorting of BACE-1.
One of the major aims of this study was to address the role of flotillins in the intracellular sorting of BACE-1. This study shows that flotillin-1 directly binds to the di-leucine motif in the cytoplasmic tail of BACE-1, whereas flotillin-2 only shows an association mediated by flotillin-1. Flotillin-1 competes with GGA2 for the binding to BACE-1 tail, and thus influences the endosomal sorting of BACE-1. Importantly, depletion of flotillins results in an altered localization of the wildtype BACE-1, whereas the plasma membrane resident Leu to Ala (LLAA) mutant is not affected. Flotillin knockdown results in an accumulation of BACE-1, implicating reduced degradation and enhanced stability of this protease. Thus, flotillins appear to be important for the cellular targeting of BACE-1 and also influence the amyloidogenic processing of APP, as demonstrated by an increase in the amyloidogenic C-99 processing fragments.
When flotillin depleted cells were subjected to apoptotic stresses including Aβ25-35 synthetic peptide (inducer of the extrinsic apoptosis pathway) or several chemotherapeutic agents (staurosporine, brefeldin A, doxorubicin, carboplatin and paclitaxel: intrinsic apoptosis pathway) and cytotoxicity was determined, various apoptotic markers were activated in flotillin depleted cells. Caspase-3 and GGA3 are well accepted apoptosis markers and an enhanced caspase-3 cleavage was detected upon STS induced apoptosis in SH-SY5Y, HeLa, and HaCaT cell lines and increased GGA3 cleavage was observed in MCF7 cell line.
One of the major reasons for the apoptotic sensitivity in the absence of flotillins was a PI3K/Akt signaling defect. Neuroblastoma cells depleted of flotillins showed diminished levels of total Akt, phospho-Akt and phospho-ERK upon STS induced apoptosis. Since PI3K/Akt was the primary survival pathway affected upon STS induced apoptosis, ectopic expression of Akt in neuroblastoma cell line reduced caspase-3 cleavage and retarded apoptosis.
The direct downstream target of Akt is FOXO3a, whose localization was investigated in flotillin depleted cells. A major proportion of FOXO3a was localized in the nucleus of flotillin knockdown cells, implicating that FOXOs are active in these cells and subsequently trigger the transcription of death genes. Strikingly, an essential anti-apoptotic molecule and a major cancer target, Mcl-1, was inherently downregulated in flotillin knockdown cells. Mcl-1 is a chief member of the Bcl-2 family as it plays a pivotal role in cell survival and it is a critical protein in cancer therapeutics as suppression of Mcl-1 protein can curtail the survival and growth of tumorous cells.
Neuroblastoma cells were rescued from undergoing permanent damage due to STS induced apoptosis by overexpression of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2. Phorbol esters are well known PKC activators, and pre-treatment of neuroblastoma cells with phorbol esters along with staurosporine reduced caspase-3 cleavage.
These results demonstrate that absence of flotillins can sensitize cellular systems to apoptosis induction. The two main characteristics of cancer cells include resistance to apoptosis and unresponsiveness to chemotherapeutic agents. It is a well established fact that impaired apoptosis is central to tumour development. This study implicates that the downregulation of flotillin function can trigger cellular susceptibility and enhances apoptosis in response to conventional chemotherapeutic agents. Therefore, flotillins can serve as vital regulators in providing a more rational approach in molecular-targeted therapies for receding cancer growth and survival.
Genetic and chemical biology approaches for the characterization of the yeast PDK1 orthologs in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans
- Fungal organisms, including the most common human pathogens Candida spp., are commensal organisms that are widely present as part of the human flora. Fungal infections are, most frequently, local infections that do not compromise the life of patients. However, mycotic diseases can be life-threatening if they become systemic infections. Systemic fungal infections have risen over the last three decades in parallel to the increased immune-compromised population as a consequence of diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS) or therapeutic interventions that affect the immune system (e.g. chemotherapy for cancer treatment and immunosuppressors used for patients with organ transplants). This has resulted in the demand of new antifungal drugs that can eradicate the new infections caused by these opportunistic fungal pathogens. However, most of the current compounds have poor pharmaceutical properties such as narrow spectrum of activity, susceptibility to be extruded by efflux pumps or lack of specificity, which make them not suitable for human clinical applications. The treatment of fungal and parasitic infections has been traditionally difficult because the infective organisms are eukaryotic cells that share most of the pathways and enzymes with human cells. To avoid side effects and to develop a targeted therapy, the research has traditionally been centered on the very few enzymes and pathways existing in the infectious organism but absent in humans. Until now, antifungal therapeutic options are limited and are almost dominated by azole class of sterol biosynthesis inhibitors affecting the synthesis of ergosterol, a major constituent of the fungal cell membrane. Because human cells do not have a cell wall, the development of effective and safe antifungal agents has also been directed to enzymes required for the synthesis of the cell wall. Alternatively, it is theoretically possible to target enzymes that are present in fungal organisms and in humans, when: 1) sufficient selectivity can be achieved, and 2) inhibition of the fungal enzyme is lethal to the fungus but does not produce major side effects to humans. In this line, it would be ideal to evaluate the development of selective inhibitors of enzymes which are already known to be drug targets, like protein kinases.
Identification of biomarkers for the fruiting body formation in Myxococcus xanthus
- Myxobacteria are on order of Gram-negative, soil dwelling bacteria that feature an impressive number of properties: they can glide on solid surfaces by using two different motility motors, subsist by preying on other microorganisms, are often producers of multiple natural products, and upon adverse environmental conditions, they are able to form multicellular structures called “fruiting bodies”. The process, in which these macroscopically visible structures arise from independent single cells, has been the predominant subject of myxobacterial research for many decades. More precisely, researchers have strived for the discovery of genes, proteins and small molecules that act as signals, receivers or modulators of this complex process. In this regard, the species Myxococcus xanthus has evolved into the model organism due to its relatively simple and reliable handling in a laboratory environment. The research underlying this thesis focused on the identification and biosynthesis of lipids that may act as intercellular signaling molecules during the course of fruiting body formation of the myxobacterium Myxococcus xanthus as part of the “E-signal” system. In general, lipids containing branched-chain fatty acids with an uneven number of carbon atoms were found to be important players in this particular process. Nevertheless, their exact roles remain largely unknown as of this day. The first publication that is part of this thesis deals with an aspect that even strengthened the importance of role of iso-branched compounds in myxobacteria: myxobacterial metabolism is able to transform precursors of iso-lipids to isoprenoids. It addresses the question whether isoprenoids in general are important for fruiting body formation. Phenotypic analysis of mutants impaired in the biosynthesis of the central isoprenoid precursor 3-hydroxymethylglutaryl-Coenzyme A (3-HMG-CoA) from acetate and/or branched chain keto acids and their genetic and metabolic complementation clearly showed that isoprenoids are essential for fruiting body formation and confirmed that leucine derived isovalerate is an important source for isoprenoid precursors in myxobacteria. The second, and by far and away most tedious and sophisticated study, addressed the question as to how myxobacteria form fatty acid derived iso-branched ether lipids and to what extent they are important for fruiting body formation and sporulation. In a previous study, those unusual lipids were identified as specific biomarkers for myxobacterial development. No biochemical pathways to ether lipids specific for prokaryotes were known by then. In this study, a putative candidate gene that may be in involved in ether lipid biosynthesis was investigated. A combination of gene disruption and complementation experiments, phenotypic analysis and monitoring of ether lipid formation by means of GC-MS demonstrated its involvement in myxobacterial ether lipid biosynthesis and the importance of these lipids for the developmental process. Heterologous expression and biochemical testing of this gene together with in-silico sequence analysis and docking experiments confirmed the functions of its predicted domains. The discussion section provides an additional suggestion on how the ether bond formation is performed. Furthermore and most importantly, iso-branched ether lipids were found to be essential for sporulation but not for fruiting body formation. In summary, one or several molecules derived from an iso-branched alkylglycerol seem to play a role during sporulation in M. xanthus and a multidomain enzyme unique for myxobacteria is involved in their biosynthesis. The last manuscript addresses the complexity of lipid metabolism in myxobacteria. Prior to this work, there was limited knowledge about the exact composition of the myxobacterial lipidome and no method was available to monitor putative changes in the myxobacterial lipidome down to the single molecular species for studying lipid biosynthesis or regulation. An ultra-performance liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry based method with electrospray ionization (UPLC-ESI-MS) utilizing standard equipment and a water/acetonitrile/isopropanol based eluent system proved to be geared for the construction of lipid profiles for wild type and mutant cells of M. xanthus and to show their differences. Fragmentation spectra based structure elucidation of lipid molecular species resulted in the identification of 99 molecular species comprising glycerophosphoethanolamines, glycerophosphoglycerols, glycerolipids, ceramides and ceramide phosphoinositols. The latter have never been described for any prokaryotes before. Three dimensional plots were created from the relative intensity differences of the single molecular ion species between the different samples to provide an efficient and versatile visualization of the data and enable the researcher to quickly detect differences.
Identification of novel base methyltransferases of the 25S rRNA in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- RNA modifications are present in all three kingdoms of life and detected in all classes of cellular RNAs. RNA modifications are diverse, with more than 100 types of chemical modifications identified to date. These chemical modifications expand the topological repertoire of RNAs and are expected to fine-tune their functions. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) contains two types of covalent modifications, either methylation on the sugar (Nm) or bases (mN), or base isomerization (conversion of uridine into pseudouridines, "). Pseudouridylations and ribose methylations are catalyzed by site-specific H/ACA and C/D box snoRNPs, respectively. The RNA component (snoRNA) of both types of snoRNPs is responsible for the site selection by base pairing with the rRNA substrate, whereas the protein component catalyzes the modification reaction: Nop1 in C/D box and Cbf5 in H/ACA box snoRNPs. Contrastingly, base methylations are performed by snoRNA independent, ‘protein-only’, methyltransferases (MTases). rRNA modifications occur at highly conserved positions, all clustering around functional ribosomal sites. Mutations in factors involved in rRNA modification have been linked to severe human diseases (e.g. X-linked Dyskeratosis congenita). Emerging evidences indicate that heterogeneity in RNA modification prevails, i.e. not all positions are modified at all time, and the concept of ‘specialized ribosomes’ has been coined. rRNA modification heterogeneity has been correlated with disease etiology (cancer), and shown to play a role in cell differentiation(hematopoiesis). Remarkably, alteration in rRNA modification patterns profoundly affects the preference of ribosomes for cap- versus IRESdependent translation initiation, with major consequences on cell physiology.
Impact of land-use on savanna vegetation and populations of non-timber forest product-providing tree species in West Africa
- Savannas are the most important timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) providing ecosystems in West Africa. They have been shaped by traditional human land-use (i.e. agriculture, grazing, and harvesting) for thousands of years. In the last decades, land-use has drastically changed due to the rapid population growth and the growing production of cash-crop in West Africa and this process is still continuing. The percentage of land intensively used for agriculture has increased, while the length of fallow periods has decreased. Such changes have enormous ecological, economic, and social consequences. In the context of land-use changes, there is an urgent need to better understand and evaluate the impact of land-use on savannas. Such an understanding provides insights on appropriate management activities that ensure the maintenance of savannas and guarantee the availability of savanna products for subsistence and commercial use of rural West African people.
The major objective of the present thesis was to study the impact of land-use on savanna vegetation and diversity as well as on populations of two important NTFP-providing tree species in a semi-arid area in West Africa. The study area was located in the south-eastern part of Burkina Faso and comprised the protected W National Park and its adjacent communal area.
In the first study (chapter 2), I investigated in cooperation with a colleague from Burkina Faso (Blandine Nacoulma) the impact of land-use on the savanna vegetation. We analyzed which environmental factors determine the occurrence of the vegetation types and investigated the effect of land-use on vegetation structure and the occurrence of life forms and highly valued tree species. Furthermore, we tested whether land-use has an impact on plant diversity pattern and if this impact differed between the vegetation types and layers (woody and herb layer). Vegetation relevés were performed and the vegetation and plant diversity of the protected W National Park were compared with those of its surrounding communal area. Our results reveal five vegetation types occurring in both areas. Elevation and physical soil characteristics and thus soil water availability for plants played the most important role for the occurrence of the vegetation types. The influence of land-use on plant diversity differed between the five vegetation types and the two layers. The impact was highest on the vegetation types with the most favorable soil conditions for cultivation and lowest on rocky habitats with poor soils. While the diversity of the woody layer was increased under human land-use, the diversity of the herb layer was diminished. Overall, as land-use effects were not only negative, our findings suggest that land-use does not automatically lead to a loss of plant species and to a degradation of savanna habitats. We conclude that both protected and communal areas are of great importance for the conservation of savanna vegetation and diversity. Our study highlights furthermore the importance of different management strategies for each vegetation type.
In the following two studies (chapter 3 and 4), the impact of land-use - and in particular of harvesting - on populations of Adansonia digitata L., the baobab tree, and Anogeissus leiocarpa (DC.) Guill. & Perr. was examined. These two tree species were chosen as they provide several NTFPs for the local population and as they show different levels of human protection and opposed life histories. Thus, they may react differently to land-use. Stands of the protected W National Park were compared with those of its surrounding communal area (in fallows, croplands, and villages). I applied dendrometric methods to study the population structures and combined it with rates and patterns of NTFP-harvesting (debarking and chopping/pruning). Furthermore, the impact of land-use and harvesting on the fruit production of A. digitata and on the sprouting ability of A. leiocarpa were studied. The inverse J-shaped size class distribution curve indicates that the stands of A. digitata were in a healthy state in the park, while the low number of smaller size classes in fallows, croplands, and villages may give evidence of an ageing population. However, a high number of seedlings were recorded in villages. The stands of A. leiocarpa were also in healthy states in the park and likewise in fallows. In contrast, the absence of saplings gives evidence of a declining population in croplands. Both species were strongly harvested by local people and harvesting was tree size-specific. Pruning in interaction with tree-size had a significant impact on fruit production of A. digitata. While smaller trees were more vulnerable to pruning, bigger trees benefited from slight-pruning. A. leiocarpa had a great ability to respond to chopping by sprouting. The sprouting ability increased even with higher chopping intensity. Results suggest that despite the intense harvesting and the land-use impact, populations of both species are still well preserved. While A. digitata can withstand the harvesting and land-use pressure by its longevity, extremely low adult mortality rates, and particularly due to positive human influences, A. leiocarpa is able to withstand the use pressure by its fast growing, high recruitment, and high sprouting ability. I conclude that a none protected tree species (A. leiocarpa) might not necessarily be at higher risk to the harvesting and land-use impact than a protected tree species (A. digitata) as the adverse impact of harvesting and land-use can be compensated by its specific life history.
Important additional information to such ecological findings can be provided by local people. Learning from traditional knowledge and management systems of local people will help to produce culturally and ecologically reasonable conservation and management strategies. Thus, I investigated local uses and management strategies of A. digitata and A. leiocarpa in the last two studies (chapter 5 and 6). Quantitative ethnobotanical surveys among the Gulimanceba people were conducted in the communal area in order to document uses of the different plant parts, harvesting modes, perceptions about the population status, and conservation status of both species. Hereby, differences in knowledge between gender, generations, and people from different villages were tested. Interviews reveal that both species are harvested for multipurpose and emphasize the high importance of both species for local people. Especially the leaves and fruits of A. digitata add valuable minerals and vitamins to the otherwise micronutrient-“poor” staple crops of the Gulimanceba people. In comparison with other studies in West Africa, it has turned out that people in this area could benefit even more from A. leiocarpa, e.g. for dyeing of clothes, for treatment of malaria and skin problems. Local knowledge did not differ between genders and generations, while it slightly differed between people from different villages. The lack of age differences suggests that the traditional knowledge about these two species is passed on from one generation to another. Differences between people from different villages might be explained by influences from the neighboring countries Niger and Benin. Current local harvesting modes and management strategies of both species resulted in sustainable use. However, ongoing land-use intensifications require adapted harvesting and management techniques to guarantee the persistence of these economically important species. These results provide, in combination with the ecological findings (chapter 3 and 4), appropriate management recommendations for A. digitata and A. leiocarpa that are reliable under currently practiced management strategies.