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1.  Functional analysis of the omega-6 fatty acid desaturase (CaFAD2) gene family of the oil seed crop Crambe abyssinica 
BMC Plant Biology  2013;13:146.
Crambe abyssinica produces high erucic acid (C22:1, 55-60%) in the seed oil, which can be further increased by reduction of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) levels. The omega-6 fatty acid desaturase enzyme (FAD2) is known to be involved in PUFA biosynthesis. In crambe, three CaFAD2 genes, CaFAD2-C1, CaFAD2-C2 and CaFAD2-C3 are expressed.
The individual effect of each CaFAD2 gene on oil composition was investigated through studying transgenic lines (CaFAD2-RNAi) for differential expression levels in relation to the composition of seed-oil. Six first generation transgenic plants (T1) showed C18:1 increase (by 6% to 10.5%) and PUFA reduction (by 8.6% to 10.2%). The silencing effect in these T1-plants ranged from the moderate silencing (40% to 50% reduction) of all three CaFAD2 genes to strong silencing (95% reduction) of CaFAD2-C3 alone. The progeny of two T1-plants (WG4-4 and WG19-6) was further analysed. Four or five transgene insertions are characterized in the progeny (T2) of WG19-6 in contrast to a single insertion in the T2 progeny of WG4-4. For the individual T2-plants of both families (WG19-6 and WG4-4), seed-specific silencing of CaFAD2-C1 and CaFAD2-C2 was observed in several individual T2-plants but, on average in both families, the level of silencing of these genes was not significant. A significant reduction in expression level (P < 0.01) in both families was only observed for CaFAD2-C3 together with significantly different C18:1 and PUFA levels in oil.
CaFAD2-C3 expression is highly correlated to levels of C18:1 (r = -0.78) and PUFA (r = 0.75), which suggests that CaFAD2-C3 is the most important one for changing the oil composition of crambe.
PMCID: PMC3829706  PMID: 24083776
Crambe abyssinica; Fatty acid desaturase 2; Oil crop; Oleic acid; Polyunsaturated fatty acid; RNAi; Gene expression
2.  Efficient selection and evaluation of transgenic lines of Crambe abyssinica 
Crambe abyssinica is a dedicated oilseed crop suitable for production of industrial feedstocks. Genetic modification of crambe has progressed substantially in the last few years, but the transformation efficiency needs to be further improved. Meanwhile, developing a reliable molecular system including Southern blot and qRT-PCR analyses is desired for effectively evaluating transgenic lines and gene expression levels of both endogenous and transgenes. In this study, we have developed an efficient transformation protocol with hygromycin as the selective agent for crambe transformation. In the regeneration test, addition of hygromycin at concentration of 5 mg L−1 resulted in 18% of shoot regeneration using crambe hypocotyls as explants, while no regeneration occurred when the hygromycin concentration reached 10 mg L−1. Based on this result, the hygromycin concentration up to 10 mg L−1 was used in the subsequent transformations. The results showed that the transformation efficiency under constant low selection pressure (H3-H3) was similar to that under higher selection pressure first, followed by transfer to lower selection pressure (H10-H3). The PCR, Southern blot and fatty acid composition analyses confirmed the integration of transgenes in the crambe genome. We have also optimized the Southern and qRT-PCR methods for future studies on crambe or related species. For Southern blot analysis on crambe, more than 50 μg DNA is required for a clear band. The choice of enzymes for DNA digestion was not rigid for confirmation of the T-DNA integration, while for determining the copy number of transgenes, suitable enzymes should be chosen. Increasing the enzyme concentration could improve the digestion and 20 μl enzyme was recomended for a complete digestion of up to 80 μg crambe DNA. For qRT-PCR analysis, around 20 days after flowering was observed to be the suitable sampling time for expresseion analysis of genes invovled in the seed oil biosynthesis.
PMCID: PMC3664313  PMID: 23750164
Crambe abyssinica; genetic transformation; hygromycin selection; qRT-PCR; Southern blotting
3.  Identification of avian wax synthases 
BMC Biochemistry  2012;13:4.
Bird species show a high degree of variation in the composition of their preen gland waxes. For instance, galliform birds like chicken contain fatty acid esters of 2,3-alkanediols, while Anseriformes like goose or Strigiformes like barn owl contain wax monoesters in their preen gland secretions. The final biosynthetic step is catalyzed by wax synthases (WS) which have been identified in pro- and eukaryotic organisms.
Sequence similarities enabled us to identify six cDNAs encoding putative wax synthesizing proteins in chicken and two from barn owl and goose. Expression studies in yeast under in vivo and in vitro conditions showed that three proteins from chicken performed WS activity while a sequence from chicken, goose and barn owl encoded a bifunctional enzyme catalyzing both wax ester and triacylglycerol synthesis. Mono- and bifunctional WS were found to differ in their substrate specificities especially with regard to branched-chain alcohols and acyl-CoA thioesters. According to the expression patterns of their transcripts and the properties of the enzymes, avian WS proteins might not be confined to preen glands.
We provide direct evidence that avian preen glands possess both monofunctional and bifunctional WS proteins which have different expression patterns and WS activities with different substrate specificities.
PMCID: PMC3316144  PMID: 22305293
4.  Fatty acyl-CoA reductases of birds 
BMC Biochemistry  2011;12:64.
Birds clean and lubricate their feathers with waxes that are produced in the uropygial gland, a holocrine gland located on their back above the tail. The type and the composition of the secreted wax esters are dependent on the bird species, for instance the wax ester secretion of goose contains branched-chain fatty acids and unbranched fatty alcohols, whereas that of barn owl contains fatty acids and alcohols both of which are branched. Alcohol-forming fatty acyl-CoA reductases (FAR) catalyze the reduction of activated acyl groups to fatty alcohols that can be esterified with acyl-CoA thioesters forming wax esters.
cDNA sequences encoding fatty acyl-CoA reductases were cloned from the uropygial glands of barn owl (Tyto alba), domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) and domestic goose (Anser anser domesticus). Heterologous expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae showed that they encode membrane associated enzymes which catalyze a NADPH dependent reduction of acyl-CoA thioesters to fatty alcohols. By feeding studies of transgenic yeast cultures and in vitro enzyme assays with membrane fractions of transgenic yeast cells two groups of isozymes with different properties were identified, termed FAR1 and FAR2. The FAR1 group mainly synthesized 1-hexadecanol and accepted substrates in the range between 14 and 18 carbon atoms, whereas the FAR2 group preferred stearoyl-CoA and accepted substrates between 16 and 20 carbon atoms. Expression studies with tissues of domestic chicken indicated that FAR transcripts were not restricted to the uropygial gland.
The data of our study suggest that the identified and characterized avian FAR isozymes, FAR1 and FAR2, can be involved in wax ester biosynthesis and in other pathways like ether lipid synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3265415  PMID: 22151413
5.  Human box C/D snoRNAs with miRNA like functions: expanding the range of regulatory RNAs 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;39(2):675-686.
Small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) and microRNAs are two classes of non-protein-coding RNAs with distinct functions in RNA modification or post-transcriptional gene silencing. In this study, we introduce novel insights to RNA-induced gene activity adjustments in human cells by identifying numerous snoRNA-derived molecules with miRNA-like function, including H/ACA box snoRNAs and C/D box snoRNAs. In particular, we demonstrate that several C/D box snoRNAs give rise to gene regulatory RNAs, named sno-miRNAs here. Our data are complementing the increasing number of studies in the field of small RNAs with regulatory functions. In massively deep sequencing of small RNA fractions we identified high copy numbers of sub-sequences from >30 snoRNAs with lengths of ≥18 nt. RNA secondary structure prediction indicated for a majority of candidates a location in predicted stem regions. Experimental analysis revealed efficient gene silencing for 11 box C/D sno-miRNAs, indicating cytoplasmic processing and recruitment to the RNA silencing machinery. Assays in four different human cell lines indicated variations in both the snoRNA levels and their processing to active sno-miRNAs. In addition we show that box D elements are predominantly flanking at least one of the sno-miRNA strands, while the box C element locates within the sequence of the sno-miRNA guide strand.
PMCID: PMC3025573  PMID: 20846955
6.  RNAi-mediated inhibition of HIV-1 by targeting partially complementary viral sequences 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(18):6194-6204.
Potent antiviral RNAi can be induced by intracellular expression of short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) and artificial microRNAs (miRNAs). Expression of shRNA and miRNA results in target mRNA degradation (perfect base pairing) or translational repression (partial base pairing). Although efficient inhibition can be obtained, error-prone viruses such as human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) can escape from RNAi-mediated inhibition by mutating the target sequence. Recently, artificial miRNAs have been shown to be potent RNAi inducers due to their efficient processing by the RNAi machinery. Furthermore, miRNAs may be more proficient in suppressing imperfect targets than shRNAs. In this study, we tested the knockdown efficiency of miRNAs and shRNAs against wild-type and RNAi-escape HIV-1 variants with one or two mutations in the target sequence. ShRNAs and miRNAs can significantly inhibit the production of HIV-1 variants with mutated target sequences in the open reading frame. More pronounced mutation-tolerance was measured for targets in the 3′ untranslated region (3′ UTR). Partially complementary sequences within the 3′ UTR of the HIV-1 RNA genome efficiently act as target sites for miRNAs and shRNAs. These data suggest that targeting imperfect target sites by antiviral miRNAs or shRNAs provides an alternative RNAi approach for inhibition of pathogenic viruses.
PMCID: PMC2764431  PMID: 19656954

Results 1-6 (6)