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1.  Iron economy in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii 
While research on iron nutrition in plants has largely focused on iron-uptake pathways, photosynthetic microbes such as the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii provide excellent experimental systems for understanding iron metabolism at the subcellular level. Several paradigms in iron homeostasis have been established in this alga, including photosystem remodeling in the chloroplast and preferential retention of some pathways and key iron-dependent proteins in response to suboptimal iron supply. This review presents our current understanding of iron homeostasis in Chlamydomonas, with specific attention on characterized responses to changes in iron supply, like iron-deficiency. An overview of frequently used methods for the investigation of iron-responsive gene expression, physiology and metabolism is also provided, including preparation of media, the effect of cell size, cell density and strain choice on quantitative measurements and methods for the determination of metal content and assessing the effect of iron supply on photosynthetic performance.
PMCID: PMC3759009  PMID: 24032036
photosynthesis; transcriptome; ferredoxin; respiration; ferroxidases; photo-oxidative stress; acidocalcisome
2.  The ins and outs of algal metal transport 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2012;1823(9):1531-1552.
Metal transporters are a central component in the interaction of algae with their environment. They represent the first line of defense to cellular perturbations in metal concentration, and by analyzing algal metal transporter repertoires, we gain insight into a fundamental aspect of algal biology. The ability of individual algae to thrive in environments with unique geochemistry, compared to non-algal species commonly used as reference organisms for metal homeostasis, provides an opportunity to broaden our understanding of biological metal requirements, preferences and trafficking. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is the best developed reference organism for the study of algal biology, especially with respect to metal metabolism; however, the diversity of algal niches necessitates a comparative genomic analysis of all sequenced algal genomes. A comparison between known and putative proteins in animals, plants, fungi and algae using protein similarity networks has revealed the presence of novel metal metabolism components in Chlamydomonas including new iron and copper transporters. This analysis also supports the concept that, in terms of metal metabolism, algae from similar niches are more related to one another than to algae from the same phylogenetic clade.
PMCID: PMC3408858  PMID: 22569643
3.  Genome of the long-living sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.) 
Genome Biology  2013;14(5):R41.
Sacred lotus is a basal eudicot with agricultural, medicinal, cultural and religious importance. It was domesticated in Asia about 7,000 years ago, and cultivated for its rhizomes and seeds as a food crop. It is particularly noted for its 1,300-year seed longevity and exceptional water repellency, known as the lotus effect. The latter property is due to the nanoscopic closely packed protuberances of its self-cleaning leaf surface, which have been adapted for the manufacture of a self-cleaning industrial paint, Lotusan.
The genome of the China Antique variety of the sacred lotus was sequenced with Illumina and 454 technologies, at respective depths of 101× and 5.2×. The final assembly has a contig N50 of 38.8 kbp and a scaffold N50 of 3.4 Mbp, and covers 86.5% of the estimated 929 Mbp total genome size. The genome notably lacks the paleo-triplication observed in other eudicots, but reveals a lineage-specific duplication. The genome has evidence of slow evolution, with a 30% slower nucleotide mutation rate than observed in grape. Comparisons of the available sequenced genomes suggest a minimum gene set for vascular plants of 4,223 genes. Strikingly, the sacred lotus has 16 COG2132 multi-copper oxidase family proteins with root-specific expression; these are involved in root meristem phosphate starvation, reflecting adaptation to limited nutrient availability in an aquatic environment.
The slow nucleotide substitution rate makes the sacred lotus a better resource than the current standard, grape, for reconstructing the pan-eudicot genome, and should therefore accelerate comparative analysis between eudicots and monocots.
PMCID: PMC4053705  PMID: 23663246
4.  YeiR: a metal-binding GTPase from Escherichia coli involved in metal homeostasis 
A comparative genomic analysis predicted that many members of the under-characterized COG0523 subfamily of putative P-loop GTPases function in metal metabolism. In this work we focused on the uncharacterized Escherichia coli protein YeiR by studying both the physiology of a yeiR mutant and the in vitro biochemical properties of YeiR expressed as a fusion with the maltose-binding protein (YeiR-MBP). Our results demonstrate that deletion of yeiR increases the sensitivity of E. coli to EDTA or cadmium and this phenotype in linked to zinc depletion. In vitro, the tagged protein binds several Zn2+ ions with nanomolar affinity and oligomerizes in the presence of metal. The GTPase activity of YeiR is similar to that measured for other members of the group, but GTP hydrolysis is enhanced by Zn2+ binding. These results support the predicted connection between the COG0523 P-loop GTPases and roles in metal homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3574555  PMID: 22511334
GTPase; zinc homeostasis; metal-binding; COG0523; cadmium
5.  Mining high-throughput experimental data to link gene and function 
Trends in biotechnology  2011;29(4):174-182.
Nearly 2200 genomes encoding some 6 million proteins have now been sequenced. Around 40% of these proteins are of unknown function even when function is loosely and minimally defined as “belonging to a superfamily”. In addition to in silico methods, the swelling stream of high-throughput experimental data can give valuable clues for linking these “unknowns” with precise biological roles. The goal is to develop integrative data-mining platforms that allow the scientific community at large to access and utilize this rich source of experimental knowledge. To this end, we review recent advances in generating whole-genome experimental datasets, where this data can be accessed, and how it can be used to drive prediction of gene function.
PMCID: PMC3073767  PMID: 21310501
6.  Role of a Zn-independent DksA in Zn homeostasis and stringent response 
Molecular microbiology  2010;79(3):700-715.
DksA is a global transcriptional regulator that directly interacts with RNA polymerase (RNAP) and, in conjunction with an alarmone ppGpp, alters transcription initiation at target promoters. DksA proteins studied to date contain a canonical Cys4 Zn-finger motif thought to be essential for their proper folding and thus activity. In addition to the canonical DksA protein, the Pseudomonas aeruginosa genome encodes a closely-related paralog DksA2 that lacks the Zn-finger motif. Here, we report that DksA2 can functionally substitute for the canonical DksA in vivo in Escherichia coli and P. aeruginosa. We also demonstrate that DksA2 affects transcription by the E. coli RNAP in vitro similarly to DksA. The dksA2 gene is positioned downstream of a putative Zur-binding site. Accordingly, we show that dksA2 expression is repressed by the presence of exogenous Zn, deletion of Zur results in constitutive expression of dksA2, and Zur binds specifically to the promoter region of dksA2. We also found that deletion of dksA2 confers a growth defect in the absence of Zn. Our data suggest that DksA2 plays a role in Zn homeostasis and serves as a back-up copy of the canonical Zn-dependent DksA in Zn poor environments.
PMCID: PMC3076637  PMID: 21255113
DksA; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; Zur; zinc
8.  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
9.  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

Results 1-9 (9)