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  1. Abstract

    Ecologists have long studied the evolution of niche breadth, including how variability in environments can drive the evolution of specialism and generalism. This concept is of particular interest in viruses, where niche breadth evolution may explain viral disease emergence, or underlie the potential for therapeutic measures like phage therapy. Despite the significance and potential applications of virus–host interactions, the genetic determinants of niche breadth evolution remain underexplored in many bacteriophages. In this study, we present the results of an evolution experiment with a model bacteriophage system,Escherichia virus T4,in several host environments: exposure toEscherichia coliC, exposure toE. coliK‐12, and exposure to bothE. coliC andE. coliK‐12. This experimental framework allowed us to investigate the phenotypic and molecular manifestations of niche breadth evolution. First, we show that selection on different hosts led to measurable changes in phage productivity in all experimental populations. Second, whole—genome sequencing of experimental populations revealed signatures of selection. Finally, clear and consistent patterns emerged across the host environments, especially the presence of new mutations in phage structural genes—genes encoding proteins that provide morphological and biophysical integrity to a virus. A comparison of mutations found across functional gene categories revealed that structural genes acquired significantly more mutations than other categories. Our findings suggest that structural genes are central determinants in bacteriophage niche breadth.

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  2. Abstract

    While reverse genetics and functional genomics have long affirmed the role of individual mutations in determining protein function, there have been fewer studies addressing how large‐scale changes in protein sequences, such as in entire modular segments, influence protein function and evolution. Given how recombination can reassort protein sequences, these types of changes may play an underappreciated role in how novel protein functions evolve in nature. Such studies could aid our understanding of whether certain organismal phenotypes related to protein function—such as growth in the presence or absence of an antibiotic—are robust with respect to the identity of certain modular segments. In this study, we combine molecular genetics with biochemical and biophysical methods to gain a better understanding of protein modularity in dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), an enzyme target of antibiotics also widely used as a model for protein evolution. We replace an integral α‐helical segment ofEscherichia coliDHFR with segments from a number of different organisms (many nonmicrobial) and examine how these chimeric enzymes affect organismal phenotypes (e.g., resistance to an antibiotic) as well as biophysical properties of the enzyme (e.g., thermostability). We find that organismal phenotypes and enzyme properties are highly sensitive to the identity of DHFR modules, and that this chimeric approach can create enzymes with diverse biophysical characteristics.

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  3. null (Ed.)
    Normal cellular processes give rise to toxic metabolites that cells must mitigate. Formaldehyde is a universal stressor and potent metabolic toxin that is generated in organisms from bacteria to humans. Methylotrophic bacteria such as Methylorubrum extorquens face an acute challenge due to their production of formaldehyde as an obligate central intermediate of single-carbon metabolism. Mechanisms to sense and respond to formaldehyde were speculated to exist in methylotrophs for decades but had never been discovered. Here, we identify a member of the DUF336 domain family, named efgA for enhanced formaldehyde growth, that plays an important role in endogenous formaldehyde stress response in M. extorquens PA1 and is found almost exclusively in methylotrophic taxa. Our experimental analyses reveal that EfgA is a formaldehyde sensor that rapidly arrests growth in response to elevated levels of formaldehyde. Heterologous expression of EfgA in Escherichia coli increases formaldehyde resistance, indicating that its interaction partners are widespread and conserved. EfgA represents the first example of a formaldehyde stress response system that does not involve enzymatic detoxification. Thus, EfgA comprises a unique stress response mechanism in bacteria, whereby a single protein directly senses elevated levels of a toxic intracellular metabolite and safeguards cells from potential damage. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Protein–protein binding is fundamental to most biological processes. It is important to be able to use computation to accurately estimate the change in protein–protein binding free energy due to mutations in order to answer biological questions that would be experimentally challenging, laborious, or time-consuming. Although nonrigorous free-energy methods are faster, rigorous alchemical molecular dynamics-based methods are considerably more accurate and are becoming more feasible with the advancement of computer hardware and molecular simulation software. Even with sufficient computational resources, there are still major challenges to using alchemical free-energy methods for protein–protein complexes, such as generating hybrid structures and topologies, maintaining a neutral net charge of the system when there is a charge-changing mutation, and setting up the simulation. In the current study, we have used the pmx package to generate hybrid structures and topologies, and a double-system/single-box approach to maintain the net charge of the system. To test the approach, we predicted relative binding affinities for two protein–protein complexes using a nonequilibrium alchemical method based on the Crooks fluctuation theorem and compared the results with experimental values. The method correctly identified stabilizing from destabilizing mutations for a small protein–protein complex, and a larger, more challenging antibody complex. Strong correlations were obtained between predicted and experimental relative binding affinities for both protein–protein systems. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    For many species, vision is one of the most important sensory modalities for mediating essential tasks that include navigation, predation and foraging, predator avoidance, and numerous social behaviors. The vertebrate visual process begins when photons of the light interact with rod and cone photoreceptors that are present in the neural retina. Vertebrate visual photopigments are housed within these photoreceptor cells and are sensitive to a wide range of wavelengths that peak within the light spectrum, the latter of which is a function of the type of chromophore used and how it interacts with specific amino acid residues found within the opsin protein sequence. Minor differences in the amino acid sequences of the opsins are known to lead to large differences in the spectral peak of absorbance (i.e. the λmax value). In our prior studies, we developed a new approach that combined homology modeling and molecular dynamics simulations to gather structural information associated with chromophore conformation, then used it to generate statistical models for the accurate prediction of λmax values for photopigments derived from Rh1 and Rh2 amino acid sequences. In the present study, we test our novel approach to predict the λmax of phylogenetically distant Sws2 cone opsins. To build a model that can predict the λmax using our approach presented in our prior studies, we selected a spectrally-diverse set of 11 teleost Sws2 photopigments for which both amino acid sequence information and experimentally measured λmax values are known. The final first-order regression model, consisting of three terms associated with chromophore conformation, was sufficient to predict the λmax of Sws2 photopigments with high accuracy. This study further highlights the breadth of our approach in reliably predicting λmax values of Sws2 cone photopigments, evolutionary-more distant from template bovine RH1, and provided mechanistic insights into the role of known spectral tuning sites 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    A growing number of computational tools have been developed to accurately and rapidly predict the impact of amino acid mutations on protein-protein relative binding affinities. Such tools have many applications, for example, designing new drugs and studying evolutionary mechanisms. In the search for accuracy, many of these methods employ expensive yet rigorous molecular dynamics simulations. By contrast, non-rigorous methods use less exhaustive statistical mechanics, allowing for more efficient calculations. However, it is unclear if such methods retain enough accuracy to replace rigorous methods in binding affinity calculations. This trade-off between accuracy and computational expense makes it difficult to determine the best method for a particular system or study. Here, eight non-rigorous computational methods were assessed using eight antibody-antigen and eight non-antibody-antigen complexes for their ability to accurately predict relative binding affinities (ΔΔG) for 654 single mutations. In addition to assessing accuracy, we analyzed the CPU cost and performance for each method using a variety of physico-chemical structural features. This allowed us to posit scenarios in which each method may be best utilized. Most methods performed worse when applied to antibody-antigen complexes compared to non-antibody-antigen complexes. Rosetta-based JayZ and EasyE methods classified mutations as destabilizing (ΔΔG < -0.5 kcal/mol) with high (83–98%) accuracy and a relatively low computational cost for non-antibody-antigen complexes. Some of the most accurate results for antibody-antigen systems came from combining molecular dynamics with FoldX with a correlation coefficient (r) of 0.46, but this was also the most computationally expensive method. Overall, our results suggest these methods can be used to quickly and accurately predict stabilizing versus destabilizing mutations but are less accurate at predicting actual binding affinities. This study highlights the need for continued development of reliable, accessible, and reproducible methods for predicting binding affinities in antibody-antigen proteins and provides a recipe for using current methods. 
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  7. null (Ed.)
    Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in infants and children worldwide. Inflammation induced by RSV infection is responsible for its hallmark manifestation of bronchiolitis and pneumonia. The cellular debris created through lytic cell death of infected cells is a potent initiator of this inflammation. Macrophages are known to play a pivotal role in the early innate immune and inflammatory response to viral pathogens. However, the lytic cell death mechanisms associated with RSV infection in macrophages remains unknown. Two distinct mechanisms involved in lytic cell death are pyroptosis and necroptosis. Our studies revealed that RSV induces lytic cell death in macrophages via both of these mechanisms, specifically through the ASC (Apoptosis-associated speck like protein containing a caspase recruitment domain)-NLRP3 (nucleotide-binding domain, leucine-rich-containing family, pyrin domain-containing-3) inflammasome activation of both caspase-1 dependent pyroptosis and receptor-interacting serine/threonine-protein kinase 3 (RIPK3), as well as a mixed lineage kinase domain like pseudokinase (MLKL)-dependent necroptosis. In addition, we demonstrated an important role of reactive oxygen species (ROS) during lytic cell death of RSV-infected macrophages. 
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  8. null (Ed.)
    One of the long-standing holy grails of molecular evolution has been the ability to predict an organism’s fitness directly from its genotype. With such predictive abilities in hand, researchers would be able to more accurately forecast how organisms will evolve and how proteins with novel functions could be engineered, leading to revolutionary advances in medicine and biotechnology. In this work, we assemble the largest reported set of experimental TEM-1 β-lactamase folding free energies and use this data in conjunction with previously acquired fitness data and computational free energy predictions to determine how much of the fitness of β-lactamase can be directly predicted by thermodynamic folding and binding free energies. We focus upon β-lactamase because of its long history as a model enzyme and its central role in antibiotic resistance. Based upon a set of 21 β-lactamase single and double mutants expressly designed to influence protein folding, we first demonstrate that modeling software designed to compute folding free energies such as FoldX and PyRosetta can meaningfully, although not perfectly, predict the experimental folding free energies of single mutants. Interestingly, while these techniques also yield sensible double mutant free energies, we show that they do so for the wrong physical reasons. We then go on to assess how well both experimental and computational folding free energies explain single mutant fitness. We find that folding free energies account for, at most, 24% of the variance in β-lactamase fitness values according to linear models and, somewhat surprisingly, complementing folding free energies with computationally-predicted binding free energies of residues near the active site only increases the folding-only figure by a few percent. This strongly suggests that the majority of β-lactamase’s fitness is controlled by factors other than free energies. Overall, our results shed a bright light on to what extent the community is justified in using thermodynamic measures to infer protein fitness as well as how applicable modern computational techniques for predicting free energies will be to the large data sets of multiply-mutated proteins forthcoming 
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  9. In collaboration with scientists, engineers, sociologists and designers, we have developed virtual worlds for the visualization and interaction with dynamic systems. This allows participants to interact with three-dimensional structures that constantly change and adapt through time. Participants can use simple building blocks to manipulate three-dimensional structures in real-time, allowing them to interact with systems that constantly change and adapt over time. This paper analyses the source and role of change in dynamic systems using virtual reality; particularly the role of constraints and transformations that can generate real-time adaptations of a virtual system. We propose a new design process that allows participants to collaborate with virtual agents. The goal of this process is to create accurate dynamic three-dimensional systems that can self-adapt under constraints and evolve into new spatial configurations as a result of adaptation. The collaboration between participants and virtual agents offers new perspectives on user interaction, dynamic three-dimensional manipulations and about the evolution of a virtual architecture inside a virtual world. 
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  10. null (Ed.)
    Estimating free energy differences by computer simulation is useful for a wide variety of applications such as virtual screening for drug design and for understanding how amino acid mutations modify protein interactions. However, calculating free energy differences remains challenging and often requires extensive trial and error and very long simulation times in order to achieve converged results. Here, we present an implementation of the adaptive integration method (AIM). We tested our implementation on two molecular systems and compared results from AIM to those from a suite of other methods. The model systems tested here include calculating the solvation free energy of methane, and the free energy of mutating the peptide GAG to GVG. We show that AIM is more efficient than other tested methods for these systems, that is, AIM results converge to a higher level of accuracy and precision for a given simulation time. 
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