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Title: Complexity and dynamics of kinetoplast DNA in the sleeping sickness parasite Trypanosoma brucei
Author: Cooper, Sinclair
ISNI:       0000 0004 7223 4869
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2017
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The mitochondrial genome (kinetoplast or kDNA) of Trypanosoma brucei is highly complex in terms of structure, content and function. It is composed of two types of molecules: 10-50 copies of identical ~23-kb maxicircles and 5,000-10,000 highly heterogeneous 1-kb minicircles. Maxicircles and minicircles form a concatenated network that resembles chainmail. Maxicircles are the equivalent of mitochondrial DNA in other eukaryotes, but 12 out of the 18 protein-coding genes encoded on the maxicircle require post-transcriptional RNA editing by uridylate insertion and removal before a functional mRNA can be generated. The 1-kb minicircles make up the bulk of the kDNA content and facilitate the editing of the maxicircle-encoded mRNAs by encoding short guide RNAs (gRNAs) that are complementary to blocks of edited sequence. It is estimated that there are at least hundred classes of minicircle, each class encoding a different set of gRNAs. At each cycle of cell division the contents of the kDNA genome must be faithfully copied and segregated into the daughter cells. Mathematical modelling of kDNA replication has shown that failure to segregate evenly will eventually result in loss of low copy number minicircle classes from the population. Depending on the type of minicircle that is lost this can result in immediate parasite death or, if the loss occurred in the bloodstream stage, render the cells unable to complete the canonical life-cycle in the tsetse fly vector. In order to investigate minicircle complexity and replication in T. brucei further we i) first established the true complexity of the kDNA genome using a Illumina short read sequencing and a bespoke assembly pipeline, ii) annotated the minicircles to establish the editing capacity of the cells, iii) analysed expression levels of predicted gRNA gene cassettes using small RNA data, and iv) carried out a long term time course to measure how kDNA complexity changes over time and compared this to preliminary model predictions. The structure of this thesis follows these steps. Using these approaches, 365 unique and complete minicircle sequences were assembled and annotated, representing 99% of the minicircle genome of the differentiation competent (i.e. transmission competent) T. brucei strain AnTat90.13. These minicircles encode 593 canonical gRNAs, defined as having a match in the known editing space, and a further 558 non-canonical gRNAs with unknown function. Transcriptome analysis showed that the non-canonical gRNAs, like the canonical set, have 3' U-tails and showed the same length distribution. Canonical and non-canonical sets differ, however, in their sense to anti-sense transcript ratios. In vitro culturing of bloodstream form T. brucei for ~500 generations resulted in loss of ~30 minicircle classes. After incorporating parameters for network size and minicircle diversity determined above, model fitting to longitudinal kDNA complexity data will provide estimations for the fidelity of kDNA segregation. The refined mathematical model for kDNA segregation will permit insight into time constraints for transmissibility during chronic infections due to progressive minicircle loss. It also has the potential to shed light on the selective pressures that may have led to the apparent co-evolution of the concatenated kDNA network structure and parasitism in kinetoplastids.
Supervisor: Savill, Nick ; Schnaufer, Achim Sponsor: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: trypanosomatids ; Trypanosoma brucei ; mitochondrion ; kinetoplast ; RNA-editing ; minicircles