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Use of phylogenetics and cell biology to investigate mitochondrial and eukaryote origins


Published data indicate that mitochondria originated only once in eukaryote evolution from an endosymbiotic bacterium of still debated evolutionary affiliation.

I will be trained in, and use, sophisticated maximum likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to test the hypothesis that contemporary members of the Ricketsialles, a group of important obligate intracellular bacteria causing major diseases, are the nearest relatives of mitochondria.

I will then use the same methods to test whether (or not) eukaryotic genes for non-mitochondrial energy metabolism originated from the mitochondrial endosymbiont, as predicted by competing hypotheses for eukaryote origins. During the transition from endosymbiont to organelle the emerging organelle acquired the ability to import host-nucelar-encoded proteins.

I will use classical cell biology and biochemistry to investigate the protein import machinery of highly reduced mitochondrial variants found in parasitic protozoa affecting human health. By doing so, I will illuminate how these organelles function and also provide insight into the minimal requirement for protein import into an organelle. My project will involve a flexible and multidisciplinary approach with training in molecular cell biology and sequence analysis.

I will do this work at Newcastle University where there are excellent facilities with Prof. Martin Embley, an expert on mitochondria-derived organelles and phylogenetics. My own expertise in molecular biology and biogenesis of rickettsiae and mitochondria 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 and obligate endosymbiotic rickettsiae as their bacterial relatives.

Call for proposal

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6, Kensington Terrace
Newcastle Upon Tyne
United Kingdom