Recent recommendations by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to redact key methodological details of two studies involving mammal-to-mammal transmission of the H5N1 (H5) subtype influenza viruses, has led to a temporary moratorium on all research involving live H5N1 or H5 HA reassortant viruses shown to be transmissible in ferrets. Herein, I review the events which led to this impasse and comment on their impact.
The recent moratorium on research using engineered H5N1 influenza viruses is a move which cannot achieve its aims as it ignores the prevalence of molecular biology.
Iron is an essential growth factor for virtually all organisms. However, iron is not readily available in most environments and microorganisms have evolved specialized mechanisms, such as the use of siderophores and high-affinity transport systems, to acquire iron when confronted with iron-limiting conditions. In general these systems are tightly regulated to prevent iron-induced toxicity and because they are quite costly to the microbe. Because of this tight regulation we chose to explore the response of Bifidobacterium breve UCC2003 to iron limitation. Through microarray and complementation analyses we identified and characterized a presumed ferrous iron uptake system, encoded by bfeUOB, from B. breve UCC2003 and exploited its regulated transcription to develop an inducible expression system for use in bifidobacteria.
iron-regulation; plasmid; probiotic
We have recently reported the first partially synthetic eukaryotic genome. Saccharomyces cerevisiae chromosomes synIXR and semi-synVIL are fully synthetic versions of the right arm of chromosome IX and the telomeric segment of the left arm of chromosome VI, respectively, and represent the beginning of the synthetic yeast genome project, Sc2.0, that progressively replaces native yeast DNA with synthetic sequences. We have designed synthetic chromosome sequences according to principles specifying a wild-type phenotype, highly stable genome, and maintenance of genetic flexibility. Although other synthetic genome projects exist, the Sc2.0 approach is unique in that we have implemented design specifications predicted to generate a wild-type phenotype until induction of “SCRaMbLE,” an inducible evolution system that generates significant genetic diversity. Here we further explore the significance of Sc2.0 and show how SCRaMbLE can serve as a genome minimization tool.
genome minimization; Sc2.0; syn VIL; Synthetic genome; yeast
Over the past 20 years, directed evolution has been seen to be the most reliable approach to protein engineering. Emulating the natural selection algorithm, ad hoc enzymes with novel features can be tailor-made for practical purposes through iterative rounds of random mutagenesis, DNA recombination and screening. Of the heterologous hosts used in laboratory evolution experiments, the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae has become the best choice to express eukaryotic proteins with improved properties. S. cerevisiae not only allows mutant enzymes to be secreted but also, it permits a wide range of genetic manipulations to be employed, ranging from in vivo cloning to the creation of greater molecular diversity, thanks to its efficient DNA recombination apparatus. Here, we summarize some successful examples of the use of the S. cerevisiae machinery to accelerate artificial evolution, complementing the traditional in vitro methods to generate tailor-made enzymes.
directed evolution; DNA recombination; IvAM; IVOE; random mutagenesis; Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Selected Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains are used for wine fermentation. Based on several criteria, winemakers often use a specific yeast to improve the flavor, mouth feel, decrease the alcohol content and desired phenolic content, just to name a few properties. Scientists at the AWRI previously illustrated the potential for increased flavor release from grape must via overexpression of the Escherichia coli Tryptophanase enzyme in wine yeast. To pursue a self-cloning approach for improving the aroma production, we recently characterized the S. cerevisiae cystathionine β-lyase STR3, and investigated its flavor releasing capabilities. Here, we continue with a phylogenetic investigation of STR3 homologs from non-Saccharomyces yeasts to map the potential for using natural variation to engineer new strains.
aromatic thiols; cystathionine β-lyase; flavor; non-Saccharomyces; self-cloning; wine; yeast
Reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) and its oxidized form play central roles in energy and redox metabolisms. For many years, researchers have relied on the weak NADH endogenous fluorescence signal to determine the NADH level in living cells. We recently reported a series of genetically encoded fluorescent sensors highly specific for NADH. These sensors allow real-time, quantitative measurement of this significant molecule in different subcellular compartments. In this study, we provide a more detailed discussion of the benefits and limitations of these genetically encoded fluorescent sensors. These sensors are utilized in most laboratories without the need for sophisticated instruments because of their superior sensitivity and specificity. They are also viable alternatives to existing techniques for measuring the endogenous fluorescence of intracellular NAD(P)H.
electron transport chain; genetically encoded sensor; glucose; hypoxia; metabolic state; reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH); subcellular distribution
A total of 220 lactic acid bacteria isolates were screened for antifungal activity using Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus niger as the target strains. Four Lactobacillus strains exhibited strong inhibitory activity on agar surfaces. All four were also identified as having strong inhibitory activity against the human pathogenic fungi Microsporum canis, Microsporum gypseum and Epidermophyton floccosum. One of the four lactobacilli, namely Lb. reuteri ee1p exhibited the most inhibition against dermatophytes. Cell-free culture supernatants of Lb. reuteri ee1p and of the non-antifungal Lb. reuteri M13 were freeze-dried and used to access and compare antifungal activity in agar plate assays and microtiter plate assays. Addition of the Lb. reuteri ee1p freeze-dried cell-free supernatant powder into the agar medium at concentrations greater than 2% inhibited all fungal colony growth. Addition of the powder at 5% to liquid cultures caused complete inhibition of fungal growth on the basis of turbidity. Freeze-dried supernatant of the non-antifungal Lb. reuteri M13 at the same concentrations had a much lesser effect. As Lb. reuteri M13 is very similar to the antifungal strain ee1p in terms of growth rate and final pH in liquid culture, and as it has little antifungal activity, it is clear that other antifungal compounds must be specifically produced (or produced at higher levels) by the anti-dermatophyte strain Lb. reuteri ee1p. Reuterin was undetectable in all four antifungal strains. The cell free supernatant of Lb. reuteri ee1p was analyzed by LC-FTMS using an Accela LC coupled to an LTQ Orbitrap XL mass spectrometer. The high mass accuracy spectrum produced by compounds in the Lb. reuteri ee1p strain was compared with both a multianalyte chromatogram and individual spectra of standard anti-fungal compounds, which are known to be produced by lactic acid bacteria. Ten antifungal metabolites were detected.
Epidermophyton floccosum; antifungal; lactic acid bacteria; Microsporum canis; Microsporum gypseum
Infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) causes an infectious respiratory disease of domestic fowl that affects poultry of all ages causing economic problems for the poultry industry worldwide. Although IBV is controlled using live attenuated and inactivated vaccines it continues to be a major problem due to the existence of many serotypes, determined by the surface spike protein resulting in poor cross-protection, and loss of immunogenicity associated with vaccine production. Live attenuated IBV vaccines are produced by the repeated passage in embryonated eggs resulting in spontaneous mutations. As a consequence attenuated viruses have only a few mutations responsible for the loss of virulence, which will differ between vaccines affecting virulence and/or immunogenicity and can revert to virulence. A new generation of vaccines is called for and one means of controlling IBV involves the development of new and safer vaccines by precisely modifying the IBV genome using reverse genetics for the production of rationally attenuated IBVs in order to obtain an optimum balance between loss of virulence and capacity to induce immunity.
avian; coronavirus; homologous recombination; infectious bronchitis virus; infectious clone; poultry; reverse genetics; spike glycoprotein; vaccine; vaccinia virus
The promoter is a key element in gene transcription and regulation. We previously reported that artificial sequences rich in the dinucleotide CpG are sufficient to drive expression in vitro in mammalian cell lines, without requiring canonical binding sites for transcription factor proteins. Here, we report that introducing a promoter organization that alternates in CpGs and regions rich in A and T further increases expression strength, as well as how insertion of specific binding sites makes such sequences respond to induced levels of the transcription factor NFκB. Our findings further contribute to the mechanistic understanding of promoters, as well as how these sequences might be shaped by evolutionary pressure in living organisms.
Artificial promoters; canonical binding sites; CpG content; CpG spacing; NFκB
Chip-integrated luminescent recombinant reporter bacteria were combined with fluidics and light detection systems to form a real-time water biomonitor. The biomonitor was exposed to a continuous water flow for up to ten days, in the course of which it was challenged with spikes of both model toxic compounds and toxic environmental samples. All simulated contamination events were reported within 0.5–2.5 h. Furthermore, the response pattern of the reporter bacteria was indicative of the nature of the contaminating chemicals. Efforts were aimed at improving signal quality and at the development of an alarm management software. Following further research, a device of the proposed design could be implemented in monitoring networks as an early warning system against water pollution by toxic chemicals.
biochip; bioluminescence; biosensor; reporter bacteria; toxicity bioassays; water monitoring
Baculoviruses are one of the most studied insect viruses both in basic virology research and in biotechnology applications. Incorporating an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) into the baculovirus genome generates bi-cistronic baculoviruses expression vectors that produce two genes of interest. The bi-cistronic baculoviruses also facilitate recombinant virus isolation and titer determination when the green fluorescent protein was co-expressed. Furthermore, when the secretion proteins were co-expressed with the cytosolic green fluorescent protein, the cell lysis and cytosolic protein released into the culture medium could be monitored by the green fluorescence, thus facilitating purification of the secreted proteins.
baculovirus; bi-cistronic; EGFP; IRES; secretion proteins
The status of E. coli K-12 as an exclusively non-invasive, non-pathogenic bacterium has almost been incontrovertible. Our recent finding that a mutation in one of its main architectural protein, HU, converts E. coli K-12 to an actively invasive form suggests that gaining host cell entry might be an expedient survival tactic for traditional commensals during certain altered host conditions. The mutant E. coli (SK3842) exhibits properties usually associated with pathogenic bacteria: host cell invasion, phagosomal disruption and intracellular replication. However, unlike the situation with some pathogens, internalized SK3842 imparts anti-apoptotic and cyto-protective effects rather than lethality on the host cell, both in vitro and in vivo. Here, we show that SK3842 also provides colonization resistance against other invasive pathogens—a trait not shared by the parental commensal strain. Thus, the altered lifestyle of SK3842 encompasses characteristics both from traditional pathogens as well as beneficial probiotic strains.
E. coli K-12; Apoptosis; histone-like protein HU; intestinal epithelial cells; invasive bacteria
Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are widely exploited as health-promoting bacteria in many functional foods. However, the molecular mechanisms as to how these bacteria positively impact on host health are far from completely understood. For this reason these microorganisms represent a growing area of interest with respect to their genomics, molecular biology and genetics. Recent genome sequencing of a large number of strains of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli has allowed access to the complete genetic makeup of representative members of these bacteria. Here, we will discuss how the analysis of genomic data has helped us to understand the mechanisms by which these bacteria adapt to the specific environment of the gastrointestinal tract, while also revealing genetic functions that mediate specific host-microbe interactions.
bifidobacteria; genomics; gut microbiota; lactobacilli; probiotic bacteria
An overwhelming array of structural variants has evolved from a comparatively small number of protein structural domains; which has in turn facilitated an expanse of functional derivatives. Herein, I review the primary mechanisms which have contributed to the vastness of our existing, and expanding, protein repertoires. Protein function prediction strategies, both sequence and structure based, are also discussed and their associated strengths and weaknesses assessed.
circular permutation; combination; divergence; evolution; gene duplication; homology-based transfer; ontologies; protein domains; protein function; sequence and structure motifs
Efficient delivery of large intact vectors into mammalian cells remains problematical. Here we evaluate delivery by bacterial invasion of two large BACs of more than 150 kb in size into various cells. First, we determined the effect of several drugs on bacterial delivery of a small plasmid into different cell lines. Most drugs tested resulted in a marginal increase of the overall efficiency of delivery in only some cell lines, except the lysosomotropic drug chloroquine, which was found to increase the efficiency of delivery by 6-fold in B16F10 cells. Bacterial invasion was found to be significantly advantageous compared with lipofection in delivering large intact BACs into mouse cells, resulting in 100% of clones containing intact DNA. Furthermore, evaluation of expression of the human hypoxanthine phosphoribosyltransferase (HPRT) gene from its genomic locus, which was present in one of the BACs, showed that single copy integrations of the HPRT-containing BAC had occurred in mouse B16F10 cells and that expression of HPRT from each human copy was 0.33 times as much as from each endogenous mouse copy. These data provide new evidence that bacterial delivery is a convenient and efficient method to transfer large intact therapeutic genes into mammalian cells.
BACs; bacterial transfer; lysosomotropic drugs
A characteristic of the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes is its tolerance to the harsh conditions found both in minimally processed foods and the human gastrointestinal tract. This trait is partly under the control of the alternative sigma factor sigma B (σB). To study the mechanisms that trigger the activation of σB, and hence the development of stress tolerance, we have developed a fluorescent reporter fusion that allows the real-time activity of σB to be monitored. The reporter, designated Plmo2230::egfp, fuses the strong σB-dependent promoter from the lmo2230 gene (which encodes a putative arsenate reductase) to a gene encoding enhanced green fluorescence protein (EGFP). The reporter was integrated into the genomes of the wild-type strain L. monocytogenes EGD-e as well as two mutant derivatives lacking either sigB or rsbV. The resulting strains were used to study σB activation in response to growth phase and hyperosmotic stress. The wild-type was strongly fluorescent in stationary phase or in cultures with added NaCl and this fluorescence was abolished in both the sigB and rsbV backgrounds, consistent with the σB-dependency of the lmo2230 promoter. During sudden osmotic upshock (addition of 0.5 M NaCl during growth) a real-time increase in fluorescence was observed microscopically, reaching maximal activation after 30 min. Flow cytometry was used to study the activation of σB at a population level by hyperosmotic stress during exponential growth. A strong and proportional increase in fluorescence was observed as the salt concentration increased from 0 to 0.9 M NaCl. Interestingly, there was considerable heterogeneity within the population and a significant proportion of cells failed to induce a high level of fluorescence, suggesting that σB activation occurs stochastically in response to hyperosmotic stress. Thus the Plmo2230::egfp is a powerful tool that will allow the stress response to be better studied in this important human pathogen.
Listeria monocytogenes; EGFP; hyperosmotic stress; lmo2230; reporter; RsbV; sigma B
Human trisomy 21 is the most frequent live-born human aneuploidy and causes a constellation of disease phenotypes classified as Down syndrome, which include heart defects, myeloproliferative disorder, cognitive disabilities and Alzheimer-type neurodegeneration. Because these phenotypes are associated with an extra copy of a human chromosome, the genetic analysis of Down syndrome has been a major challenge. To complement human genetic approaches, mouse models have been generated and analyzed based on evolutionary conservation between the human and mouse genomes. These efforts have been greatly facilitated by Cre/loxP-mediated mouse chromosome engineering, which may result in the establishment of minimal critical genomic regions and eventually new dosage-sensitive genes associated with Down syndrome phenotypes. The success in genetic analysis of Down syndrome will further enhance our understanding of this disorder and lead to better strategies in developing effective therapeutic interventions.
chromosome engineering; Down syndrome; genetic dissection; mouse models; trisomy 21
Plants express genes that encode enzymes that catalyse reactions to form plant secondary metabolites in specific cell types. However, the mechanisms of how plants decide their cellular metabolic fate and how cells diversify and specialise their specific secondary metabolites remains largely unknown. Additionally, whether and how an established metabolic program impacts genome-wide reprogramming of plant gene expression is unclear. We recently isolated PAP1-programmed anthocyanin-producing (red) and -free (white) cells from Arabidopsis thaliana; our previous studies have indicated that the PAP1 expression level is similar between these two different cell types. Transcriptional analysis showed that the red cells contain the TTG1-GL3/TT8-PAP1 regulatory complex, which controls anthocyanin biosynthesis; in contrast, the white cells and the wild-type cells lack this entire complex. These data indicate that different regulatory programming underlies the different metabolic states of these cells. In addition, our previous transcriptomic comparison indicated that there is a clear difference in the gene expression profiles of the red and wild-type cells, which is probably a consequence of cell-specific reprogramming. Based on these observations, in this report we discuss the potential mechanisms that underlie the programming and reprogramming of gene expression involved in anthocyanin biosynthesis.
Anthocyanin; Arabidopsis thaliana; metabolic engineering; metabolic fate; PAP1; plant secondary metabolism
A key challenge in the area of determining how the microbiome communicates with the host's karyome is deciding which microbial functions should be studied. Ideally we would wish to look at functions which are not only important to the microbial host, but which also play roles in host physiology. Selecting the key microbial functions is essential to developing robust strategies to either promote or demote them, with the aim to enhancing host health. This commentary argues that the bottom-up approach is not providing the necessary gene-set from which we can start to develop a robust core microbiome and in fact we should adopt a top-down strategy in order to indentify the functions that are important and need further study.
microbiome; bacteriome; metagenomics; metabonomics; gut functions
Leishmania parasites cause a variety of devastating diseases in tropical areas around the world. Due to the lack of vaccines and limited availability of drugs, new therapeutic targets are urgently needed. A variety of genetic tools have been developed to investigate the complex biology of this parasite and its interactions with the host. One of the main techniques is the generation of knockout parasites via targeted gene replacement, a process that takes advantage of the parasites ability to undergo homologous recombination. Studying the effect of gene deletions in vitro and in infectivity models in vivo allows understanding the function of a target gene and its potential as a therapeutic target. Other genetic manipulations available include episomal and chromosomal complementation and the generation of overproducer strains. However, there are also limitations, such as the lack of RNA interference machinery in most Leishmania species and limited options for inducible expression systems. The genomes of several Leishmania species have now been sequenced and will provide powerful resources in combination with the genetic tools that are available. The increasing knowledge of parasite biology and host parasite interactions derived from these studies will raise the number of potential therapeutic targets, which are sorely needed to combat leishmaniasis.
Leishmania; genetic manipulation; targeted gene deletion; episomes; overproducers
Insects carry out essential ecological functions, such as pollination, but also cause extensive damage to agricultural crops and transmit human diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Advances in insect transgenesis are making it increasingly feasible to engineer genes conferring desirable phenotypes, and gene drive systems are required to spread these genes into wild populations. Medea provides one solution, being able to spread into a population from very low initial frequencies through the action of a maternally-expressed toxin linked to a zygotically-expressed antidote. Several other toxin-antidote combinations are imaginable that distort the offspring ratio in favor of a desired transgene, or drive the population towards an all-male crash. We explore two such systems—Semele, which is capable of spreading a desired transgene into an isolated population in a confined manner; and Merea, which is capable of inducing a local population crash when located on the Z chromosome of a Lepidopteron pest.
dengue fever; malaria; Medea; Merea; mosquitoes; pink bollworms; population replacement; population suppression; Semele
Bacteria-mediated immunomodulation has important implications in microbial infection and bacterial vaccines. Intraphagosomal bacteria negotiate survival niches with the intracellular environment by modulating the phagosome composition during invasion. The final phagosome composition determines the fate of the intraphagosomal bacterium or the efficacy of a bacterial vaccine. Therefore, the phagosome proteome is a valuable readout to assess the ability of a natural or genetically engineered bacterial strain to modulate the host immune response. Compared to a preparation of latex-bead-containing phagosomes, the preparation of bacterial phagosomes requires additional measures to ensure comparable purity due to their closer density to some other organelles. This bottleneck can be overcome with delicate preparation protocols, proper experimental designs to facilitate bioinformatics based discrimination against contaminating proteins, and the incorporation of stable-isotope labeled internal standards to correct for contaminating fractions of phagosomal proteins. The rapid progress in the proteomics and bioinformatics fields provides an array of techniques that promise to bring about an unprecedented coverage of both known and as yet undiscovered immunomodulation pathways within bacterial phagosome proteomes. A precise portrait of the bacteria-mediated immunomodulation pathways in phagosomes will likely aid in the intelligent design of bioengineered bacterial vaccine strains for important future biomedical applications.
phagosome; proteomics; immunomodulation; bacterial pathogen; mass spectrometry; intracellular bacteria; host-pathogen interaction; lysosome; antigen presentation; antigen processing
In 2010, our group announced the discovery of two cellodextrin transporter families from the cellulolytic fungus Neurospora crassa. Furthermore, we demonstrated the utility of these transporters in the production of lignocellulosic biofuels. This discovery was made possible by a decision to systematically study cell wall degradation by N. crassa. The identified transport pathway has opened up a new way of thinking about microbial fermentation of hexoses as well as pentoses derived from plant cell walls. Integrating this pathway with the endogenous metabolism and signaling networks of S. cerevisiae is now a major goal of our group.
biofuel; cellodextrin; yeast; ethanol; fermentation; transport