Biological Protein Patterning Systems across the Domains of Life: from Experiments to Modelling

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Copyright: Xu, Zhuang
Distinct localisation of macromolecular structures relative to cell shape is a common feature across the domains of life. One mechanism for achieving spatiotemporal intracellular organisation is the Turing reaction-diffusion system (e.g. Min system in the bacterium Escherichia coli controlling in cell division). In this thesis, I explore potential Turing systems in archaea and eukaryotes as well as the effects of subdiffusion. Recently, a MinD homologue, MinD4, in the archaeon Haloferax volcanii was found to form a dynamic spatiotemporal pattern that is distinct from E. coli in its localisation and function. I investigate all four archaeal Min paralogue systems in H. volcanii by identifying four putative MinD activator proteins based on their genomic location and show that they alter motility but do not control MinD4 patterning. Additionally, one of these proteins shows remarkably fast dynamic motion with speeds comparable to eukaryotic molecular motors, while its function appears to be to control motility via interaction with the archaellum. In metazoa, neurons are highly specialised cells whose functions rely on the proper segregation of proteins to the axonal and somatodendritic compartments. These compartments are bounded by a structure called the axon initial segment (AIS) which is precisely positioned in the proximal axonal region during early neuronal development. How neurons control these self-organised localisations is poorly understood. Using a top-down analysis of developing neurons in vitro, I show that the AIS lies at the nodal plane of the first non-homogeneous spatial harmonic of the neuron shape while a key axonal protein, Tau, is distributed with a concentration that matches the same harmonic. These results are consistent with an underlying Turing patterning system which remains to be identified. The complex intracellular environment often gives rise to the subdiffusive dynamics of molecules that may affect patterning. To simulate the subdiffusive transport of biopolymers, I develop a stochastic simulation algorithm based on the continuous time random walk framework, which is then applied to a model of a dimeric molecular motor. This provides insight into the effects of subdiffusion on motor dynamics, where subdiffusion reduces motor speed while increasing the stall force. Overall, this thesis makes progress towards understanding intracellular patterning systems in different organisms, across the domains of life.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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