September 22, 2019  |  

Functional characterization of the mucus barrier on the Xenopus tropicalis skin surface.

Mucosal surfaces represent critical routes for entry and exit of pathogens. As such, animals have evolved strategies to combat infection at these sites, in particular the production of mucus to prevent attachment and to promote subsequent movement of the mucus/microbe away from the underlying epithelial surface. Using biochemical, biophysical, and infection studies, we have investigated the host protective properties of the skin mucus barrier of the Xenopus tropicalis tadpole. Specifically, we have characterized the major structural component of the barrier and shown that it is a mucin glycoprotein (Otogelin-like or Otogl) with similar sequence, domain organization, and structural properties to human gel-forming mucins. This mucin forms the structural basis of a surface barrier (~6 µm thick), which is depleted through knockdown of Otogl. Crucially, Otogl knockdown leads to susceptibility to infection by the opportunistic pathogen Aeromonas hydrophila To more accurately reflect its structure, tissue localization, and function, we have renamed Otogl as Xenopus Skin Mucin, or MucXS. Our findings characterize an accessible and tractable model system to define mucus barrier function and host-microbe interactions. Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.


September 22, 2019  |  

A combinatorial approach to synthetic transcription factor-promoter combinations for yeast strain engineering.

Despite the need for inducible promoters in strain development efforts, the majority of engineering in Saccharomyces cerevisiae continues to rely on a few constitutively active or inducible promoters. Building on advances that use the modular nature of both transcription factors and promoter regions, we have built a library of hybrid promoters that are regulated by a synthetic transcription factor. The hybrid promoters consist of native S. cerevisiae promoters, in which the operator regions have been replaced with sequences that are recognized by the bacterial LexA DNA binding protein. Correspondingly, the synthetic transcription factor (TF) consists of the DNA binding domain of the LexA protein, fused with the human estrogen binding domain and the viral activator domain, VP16. The resulting system with a bacterial DNA binding domain avoids the transcription of native S. cerevisiae genes, and the hybrid promoters can be induced using estradiol, a compound with no detectable impact on S. cerevisiae physiology. Using combinations of one, two or three operator sequence repeats and a set of native S. cerevisiae promoters, we obtained a series of hybrid promoters that can be induced to different levels, using the same synthetic TF and a given estradiol. This set of promoters, in combination with our synthetic TF, has the potential to regulate numerous genes or pathways simultaneously, to multiple desired levels, in a single strain.© 2017 The Authors. Yeast published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


July 19, 2019  |  

Exploiting members of the BAHD acyltransferase family to synthesize multiple hydroxycinnamate and benzoate conjugates in yeast.

BAHD acyltransferases, named after the first four biochemically characterized enzymes of the group, are plant-specific enzymes that catalyze the transfer of coenzyme A-activated donors onto various acceptor molecules. They are responsible for the synthesis in plants of a myriad of secondary metabolites, some of which are beneficial for humans either as therapeutics or as specialty chemicals such as flavors and fragrances. The production of pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and commodity chemicals using engineered microbes is an alternative, green route to energy-intensive chemical syntheses that consume petroleum-based precursors. However, identification of appropriate enzymes and validation of their functional expression in heterologous hosts is a prerequisite for the design and implementation of metabolic pathways in microbes for the synthesis of such target chemicals.For the synthesis of valuable metabolites in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we selected BAHD acyltransferases based on their preferred donor and acceptor substrates. In particular, BAHDs that use hydroxycinnamoyl-CoAs and/or benzoyl-CoA as donors were targeted because a large number of molecules beneficial to humans belong to this family of hydroxycinnamate and benzoate conjugates. The selected BAHD coding sequences were synthesized and cloned individually on a vector containing the Arabidopsis gene At4CL5, which encodes a promiscuous 4-coumarate:CoA ligase active on hydroxycinnamates and benzoates. The various S. cerevisiae strains obtained for co-expression of At4CL5 with the different BAHDs effectively produced a wide array of valuable hydroxycinnamate and benzoate conjugates upon addition of adequate combinations of donors and acceptor molecules. In particular, we report here for the first time the production in yeast of rosmarinic acid and its derivatives, quinate hydroxycinnamate esters such as chlorogenic acid, and glycerol hydroxycinnamate esters. Similarly, we achieved for the first time the microbial production of polyamine hydroxycinnamate amides; monolignol, malate and fatty alcohol hydroxycinnamate esters; tropane alkaloids; and benzoate/caffeate alcohol esters. In some instances, the additional expression of Flavobacterium johnsoniae tyrosine ammonia-lyase (FjTAL) allowed the synthesis of p-coumarate conjugates and eliminated the need to supplement the culture media with 4-hydroxycinnamate.We demonstrate in this study the effectiveness of expressing members of the plant BAHD acyltransferase family in yeast for the synthesis of numerous valuable hydroxycinnamate and benzoate conjugates.


July 19, 2019  |  

SMRT Gate: A method for validation of synthetic constructs on Pacific Biosciences sequencing platforms.

Current DNA assembly methods are prone to sequence errors, requiring rigorous quality control (QC) to identify incorrect assemblies or synthesized constructs. Such errors can lead to misinterpretation of phenotypes. Because of this intrinsic problem, routine QC analysis is generally performed on three or more clones using a combination of restriction endonuclease assays, colony PCR, and Sanger sequencing. However, as new automation methods emerge that enable high-throughput assembly, QC using these techniques has become a major bottleneck. Here, we describe a quick and affordable methodology for the QC of synthetic constructs. Our method involves a one-pot digestion-ligation DNA assembly reaction, based on the Golden Gate assembly methodology, that is coupled with Pacific Biosciences’ Single Molecule, Real-Time (PacBio SMRT) sequencing technology.


July 7, 2019  |  

The genetic basis of resistance and matching-allele interactions of a host-parasite system: The Daphnia magna-Pasteuria ramosa model.

Negative frequency-dependent selection (NFDS) is an evolutionary mechanism suggested to govern host-parasite coevolution and the maintenance of genetic diversity at host resistance loci, such as the vertebrate MHC and R-genes in plants. Matching-allele interactions of hosts and parasites that prevent the emergence of host and parasite genotypes that are universally resistant and infective are a genetic mechanism predicted to underpin NFDS. The underlying genetics of matching-allele interactions are unknown even in host-parasite systems with empirical support for coevolution by NFDS, as is the case for the planktonic crustacean Daphnia magna and the bacterial pathogen Pasteuria ramosa. We fine-map one locus associated with D. magna resistance to P. ramosa and genetically characterize two haplotypes of the Pasteuria resistance (PR-) locus using de novo genome and transcriptome sequencing. Sequence comparison of PR-locus haplotypes finds dramatic structural polymorphisms between PR-locus haplotypes including a large portion of each haplotype being composed of non-homologous sequences resulting in haplotypes differing in size by 66 kb. The high divergence of PR-locus haplotypes suggest a history of multiple, diverse and repeated instances of structural mutation events and restricted recombination. Annotation of the haplotypes reveals striking differences in gene content. In particular, a group of glycosyltransferase genes that is present in the susceptible but absent in the resistant haplotype. Moreover, in natural populations, we find that the PR-locus polymorphism is associated with variation in resistance to different P. ramosa genotypes, pointing to the PR-locus polymorphism as being responsible for the matching-allele interactions that have been previously described for this system. Our results conclusively identify a genetic basis for the matching-allele interaction observed in a coevolving host-parasite system and provide a first insight into its molecular basis.


July 7, 2019  |  

A novel cold active esterase from a deep sea sponge Stelletta normani metagenomic library

Esterases catalyze the hydrolysis of ester bonds in fatty acid esters with short-chain acyl groups. Due to the widespread applications of lipolytic enzymes in various industrial applications, there continues to be an interest in novel esterases with unique properties. Marine ecosystems have long been acknowledged as a significant reservoir of microbial biodiversity and in particular of bacterial enzymes with desirable characteristics for industrial use, such as for example cold adaptation and activity in the alkaline pH range. We employed a functional metagenomic approach to exploit the enzymatic potential of one particular marine ecosystem, namely the microbiome of the deep sea sponge Stelletta normani. Screening of a metagenomics library from this sponge resulted in the identification of a number of lipolytic active clones. One of these encoded a highly, cold-active esterase 7N9, and the recombinant esterase was subsequently heterologously expressed in Escherichia coli. The esterase was classified as a type IV lipolytic enzyme, belonging to the GDSAG subfamily of hormone sensitive lipases. Furthermore, the recombinant 7N9 esterase was biochemically characterized and was found to be most active at alkaline pH (8.0) and displays salt tolerance over a wide range of concentrations. In silico docking studies confirmed the enzyme’s activity toward short-chain fatty acids while also highlighting the specificity toward certain inhibitors. Furthermore, structural differences to a closely related mesophilic E40 esterase isolated from a marine sediment metagenomics library are discussed.


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