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author:("blab, Ian K.")
2.  Towards a Systems Approach in the Genetic Analysis of Archaea: Accelerating Mutant Construction and Phenotypic Analysis in Haloferax volcanii 
Archaea  2010;2010:426239.
With the availability of a genome sequence and increasingly sophisticated genetic tools, Haloferax volcanii is becoming a model for both Archaea and halophiles. In order for H. volcanii to reach a status equivalent to Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, or Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a gene knockout collection needs to be constructed in order to identify the archaeal essential gene set and enable systematic phenotype screens. A streamlined gene-deletion protocol adapted for potential automation was implemented and used to generate 22 H. volcanii deletion strains and identify several potentially essential genes. These gene deletion mutants, generated in this and previous studies, were then analyzed in a high-throughput fashion to measure growth rates in different media and temperature conditions. We conclude that these high-throughput methods are suitable for a rapid investigation of an H. volcanii mutant library and suggest that they should form the basis of a larger genome-wide experiment.
PMCID: PMC3017900  PMID: 21234384
3.  Quinolinate Salvage and Insights for Targeting NAD Biosynthesis in Group A Streptococci 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(4):726-732.
The essential coenzyme NAD plays important roles in metabolic reactions and cell regulation in all organisms. As such, NAD synthesis has been investigated as a source for novel antibacterial targets. Cross-species genomics-based reconstructions of NAD metabolism in group A streptococci (GAS), combined with focused experimental testing in Streptococcus pyogenes, led to a better understanding of NAD metabolism in the pathogen. The predicted niacin auxotrophy was experimentally verified, as well as the essential role of the nicotinamidase PncA in the utilization of nicotinamide (Nm). PncA is dispensable in the presence of nicotinate (Na), ruling it out as a viable antibacterial target. The function of the “orphan” NadC enzyme, which is uniquely present in all GAS species despite the absence of other genes of NAD de novo synthesis, was elucidated. Indeed, the quinolinate (Qa) phosphoribosyltransferase activity of NadC from S. pyogenes allows the organism to sustain growth when Qa is present as a sole pyridine precursor. Finally, the redundancy of functional upstream salvage pathways in GAS species narrows the choice of potential drug targets to the two indispensable downstream enzymes of NAD synthesis, nicotinate adenylyltransferase (NadD family) and NAD synthetase (NadE family). Biochemical characterization of NadD confirmed its functional role in S. pyogenes, and its potential as an antibacterial target was supported by inhibition studies with previously identified class I inhibitors of the NadD enzyme family. One of these inhibitors efficiently inhibited S. pyogenes NadD (sp.NadD) in vitro (50% inhibitory concentration [IC50], 15 μM), exhibiting a noncompetitive mechanism with a Ki of 8 μM.
PMCID: PMC3562111  PMID: 23204464
4.  Experimental Evolution of a Facultative Thermophile from a Mesophilic Ancestor 
Experimental evolution via continuous culture is a powerful approach to the alteration of complex phenotypes, such as optimal/maximal growth temperatures. The benefit of this approach is that phenotypic selection is tied to growth rate, allowing the production of optimized strains. Herein, we demonstrate the use of a recently described long-term culture apparatus called the Evolugator for the generation of a thermophilic descendant from a mesophilic ancestor (Escherichia coli MG1655). In addition, we used whole-genome sequencing of sequentially isolated strains throughout the thermal adaptation process to characterize the evolutionary history of the resultant genotype, identifying 31 genetic alterations that may contribute to thermotolerance, although some of these mutations may be adaptive for off-target environmental parameters, such as rich medium. We undertook preliminary phenotypic analysis of mutations identified in the glpF and fabA genes. Deletion of glpF in a mesophilic wild-type background conferred significantly improved growth rates in the 43-to-48°C temperature range and altered optimal growth temperature from 37°C to 43°C. In addition, transforming our evolved thermotolerant strain (EVG1064) with a wild-type allele of glpF reduced fitness at high temperatures. On the other hand, the mutation in fabA predictably increased the degree of saturation in membrane lipids, which is a known adaptation to elevated temperature. However, transforming EVG1064 with a wild-type fabA allele had only modest effects on fitness at intermediate temperatures. The Evolugator is fully automated and demonstrates the potential to accelerate the selection for complex traits by experimental evolution and significantly decrease development time for new industrial strains.
PMCID: PMC3255606  PMID: 22020511
5.  Synergistic use of plant-prokaryote comparative genomics for functional annotations 
BMC Genomics  2011;12(Suppl 1):S2.
Identifying functions for all gene products in all sequenced organisms is a central challenge of the post-genomic era. However, at least 30-50% of the proteins encoded by any given genome are of unknown or vaguely known function, and a large number are wrongly annotated. Many of these ‘unknown’ proteins are common to prokaryotes and plants. We set out to predict and experimentally test the functions of such proteins. Our approach to functional prediction integrates comparative genomics based mainly on microbial genomes with functional genomic data from model microorganisms and post-genomic data from plants. This approach bridges the gap between automated homology-based annotations and the classical gene discovery efforts of experimentalists, and is more powerful than purely computational approaches to identifying gene-function associations.
Among Arabidopsis genes, we focused on those (2,325 in total) that (i) are unique or belong to families with no more than three members, (ii) occur in prokaryotes, and (iii) have unknown or poorly known functions. Computer-assisted selection of promising targets for deeper analysis was based on homology-independent characteristics associated in the SEED database with the prokaryotic members of each family. In-depth comparative genomic analysis was performed for 360 top candidate families. From this pool, 78 families were connected to general areas of metabolism and, of these families, specific functional predictions were made for 41. Twenty-one predicted functions have been experimentally tested or are currently under investigation by our group in at least one prokaryotic organism (nine of them have been validated, four invalidated, and eight are in progress). Ten additional predictions have been independently validated by other groups. Discovering the function of very widespread but hitherto enigmatic proteins such as the YrdC or YgfZ families illustrates the power of our approach.
Our approach correctly predicted functions for 19 uncharacterized protein families from plants and prokaryotes; none of these functions had previously been correctly predicted by computational methods. The resulting annotations could be propagated with confidence to over six thousand homologous proteins encoded in over 900 bacterial, archaeal, and eukaryotic genomes currently available in public databases.
PMCID: PMC3223725  PMID: 21810204
6.  FolX and FolM Are Essential for Tetrahydromonapterin Synthesis in Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa▿ † 
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;192(2):475-482.
Tetrahydromonapterin is a major pterin in Escherichia coli and is hypothesized to be the cofactor for phenylalanine hydroxylase (PhhA) in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, but neither its biosynthetic origin nor its cofactor role has been clearly demonstrated. A comparative genomics analysis implicated the enigmatic folX and folM genes in tetrahydromonapterin synthesis via their phyletic distribution and chromosomal clustering patterns. folX encodes dihydroneopterin triphosphate epimerase, which interconverts dihydroneopterin triphosphate and dihydromonapterin triphosphate. folM encodes an unusual short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase known to have dihydrofolate and dihydrobiopterin reductase activity. The roles of FolX and FolM were tested experimentally first in E. coli, which lacks PhhA and in which the expression of P. aeruginosa PhhA plus the recycling enzyme pterin 4a-carbinolamine dehydratase, PhhB, rescues tyrosine auxotrophy. This rescue was abrogated by deleting folX or folM and restored by expressing the deleted gene from a plasmid. The folX deletion selectively eliminated tetrahydromonapterin production, which far exceeded folate production. Purified FolM showed high, NADPH-dependent dihydromonapterin reductase activity. These results were substantiated in P. aeruginosa by deleting tyrA (making PhhA the sole source of tyrosine) and folX. The ΔtyrA strain was, as expected, prototrophic for tyrosine, whereas the ΔtyrA ΔfolX strain was auxotrophic. As in E. coli, the folX deletant lacked tetrahydromonapterin. Collectively, these data establish that tetrahydromonapterin formation requires both FolX and FolM, that tetrahydromonapterin is the physiological cofactor for PhhA, and that tetrahydromonapterin can outrank folate as an end product of pterin biosynthesis.
PMCID: PMC2805310  PMID: 19897652
7.  A Gateway platform for functional genomics in Haloferax volcanii: deletion of three tRNA modification genes 
Archaea  2009;2(4):211-219.
In part due to the existence of simple methods for its cultivation and genetic manipulation, Haloferax volcanii is a major archaeal model organism. It is the only archaeon for which the whole set of post-transcriptionally modified tRNAs has been sequenced, allowing for an in silico prediction of all RNA modification genes present in the organism. One approach to check these predictions experimentally is via the construction of targeted gene deletion mutants. Toward this goal, an integrative “Gateway vector” that allows gene deletion in H. volcanii uracil auxotrophs was constructed. The vector was used to delete three predicted tRNA modification genes: HVO_2001 (encoding an archaeal transglycosyl tranferase or arcTGT), which is involved in archeosine biosynthesis; HVO_2348 (encoding a newly discovered GTP cyclohydrolase I), which catalyzes the first step common to archaeosine and folate biosynthesis; and HVO_2736 (encoding a member of the COG1444 family), which is involved in N4-acetylcytidine (ac4C) formation. Preliminary phenotypic analysis of the deletion mutants was conducted, and confirmed all three predictions.
PMCID: PMC2686393  PMID: 19478918
Archaea; GTP-cyclohydrolase I; halophile; tRNA-modification

Results 1-7 (7)