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Investigating the evolution of hydrogenosomes using molecular cell biology


Recent discoveries suggest that all eukaryotes contain an organelle of mitochondrial ancestry (a homologue), suggesting that the organelle is essential for eukaryotic life. To understand why, requires comparative analyses of diverse mitochondrial homologue s to identify common essential functions. My project will study hydrogenosomes, mitochondrial homologues that make hydrogen, found in diverse anaerobic eukaryotes including trichomonads, fungi and ciliates. I will use a flexible and multidisciplinary approach with training in molecular cell biology and sequence analysis, to address two questions. To investigate a common function for hydrogenosomes and mitochondria, I will determine if ciliate hydrogenosomes can make FeS clusters.

This is an essential fun ction of yeast mitochondria and is the leading hypothesis for an essential role of all mitochondrial homologues. I will also investigate how mitochondria are converted into hydrogenosomes. Anaerobic ciliates represent a unique but largely unrealised oppo rtunity to tackle this question, because they have converted their mitochondria to hydrogenosomes on at least four separate occasions. To understand the facility by which ciliates achieve this, I will determine the evolutionary origins of ciliate hydrogenase, the canonical enzyme for hydrogenosomes.

I will also investigate whether ciliate hydrogenosomes have retained an organelle genome, providing a direct evolutionary link between the two organelles. I will do this work at Newcastle University where there are excellent facilities with Prof. Martin Embley, an expert on hydrogenosomes. My own expertise in mitochondrial genomics and anaerobic ciliates complements that of Prof Embley, and will ensure a productive and timely synergy. My project is innovative and original and addresses Life Sciences Priority (LSH-2003-1.2.2-3) to provide basic information on the fundamental biology of mitochondria as vital eukaryotic organelles.

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