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1.  Use of a Molecular Decoy to Segregate Transport from Antigenicity in the FrpB Iron Transporter from Neisseria meningitidis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56746.
FrpB is an outer membrane transporter from Neisseria meningitidis, the causative agent of meningococcal meningitis. It is a member of the TonB-dependent transporter (TBDT) family and is responsible for iron uptake into the periplasm. FrpB is subject to a high degree of antigenic variation, principally through a region of hypervariable sequence exposed at the cell surface. From the crystal structures of two FrpB antigenic variants, we identify a bound ferric ion within the structure which induces structural changes on binding which are consistent with it being the transported substrate. Binding experiments, followed by elemental analysis, verified that FrpB binds Fe3+ with high affinity. EPR spectra of the bound Fe3+ ion confirmed that its chemical environment was consistent with that observed in the crystal structure. Fe3+ binding was reduced or abolished on mutation of the Fe3+-chelating residues. FrpB orthologs were identified in other Gram-negative bacteria which showed absolute conservation of the coordinating residues, suggesting the existence of a specific TBDT sub-family dedicated to the transport of Fe3+. The region of antigenic hypervariability lies in a separate, external sub-domain, whose structure is conserved in both the F3-3 and F5-1 variants, despite their sequence divergence. We conclude that the antigenic sub-domain has arisen separately as a result of immune selection pressure to distract the immune response from the primary transport function. This would enable FrpB to function as a transporter independently of antibody binding, by using the antigenic sub-domain as a ‘molecular decoy’ to distract immune surveillance.
PMCID: PMC3574120  PMID: 23457610
2.  The effect of iron availability on transcription of the Neisseria meningitidis fHbp gene varies among clonal complexes 
Microbiology  2012;158(Pt 4):869-876.
Factor H binding protein (fHbp) is a major antigenic component of novel vaccines designed to protect against meningococcal disease. Prediction of the potential coverage of these vaccines is difficult, as fHbp is antigenically variable and levels of expression differ among isolates. Transcriptional regulation of the fHbp gene is poorly understood, although evidence suggests that oxygen availability is involved. In this study iron accessibility was found to affect fHbp transcription. However, regulation differed among meningococcal clonal complexes (ccs). For the majority of isolates, increased iron concentrations upregulated transcription. This effect was enhanced by the presence of a 181 bp insertion element upstream of fHbp, associated with isolates belonging to cc4 and cc5. Conversely, meningococci belonging to cc32 showed iron-repressed control of fHbp, as regulation was dominated by cotranscription with the iron-repressed upstream gene cbbA. These results highlight the complexity of fHbp regulation and demonstrate that control of transcription can vary among genetic lineages.
PMCID: PMC3949423  PMID: 22241045
3.  Yeast forms dominate fungal diversity in the deep oceans 
Fungi are the principal degraders of biomass in most terrestrial ecosystems. In contrast to surface environments, deep-sea environmental gene libraries have suggested that fungi are rare and non-diverse in high-pressure marine environments. Here, we report the diversity of fungi from 11 deep-sea samples from around the world representing depths from 1500 to 4000 m (146–388 atm) and two shallower water column samples (250 and 500 m). We sequenced 239 clones from 10 fungal-specific 18S rRNA gene libraries constructed from these samples, from which we detected only 18 fungal 18S-types in deep-sea samples. Our phylogenetic analyses show that a total of only 32 fungal 18S-types have so far been recovered from deep-sea habitats, and our results suggest that fungi, in general, are relatively rare in the deep-sea habitats we sampled. The fungal diversity detected suggests that deep-sea environments host an evolutionarily diverse array of fungi dominated by groups of distantly related yeasts, although four putative filamentous fungal 18S-types were detected. The majority of our new sequences branch close to known fungi found in surface environments. This pattern contradicts the proposal that deep-sea and hydrothermal vent habitats represent ancient ecosystems, and demonstrates a history of frequent dispersal between terrestrial and deep-sea habitats.
PMCID: PMC2293941  PMID: 17939990
life under huge barometric pressures; osmotrophy; environmental gene library; microbial diversity; SSU rDNA phylogeny

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