August 2014

Using Evolution to Decipher how Mycobacteria Regulate Responses

Wed, 6 August 14 09:59

In order to understand how evolution shapes regulatory architecture, researchers at UCD conducted a study which compared two members of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC); M. tuberculosis and M. bovis, the causative agents of tuberculosis in humans and animals, with a closely related environmental mycobacteria, M. marinum

The analysis identified several novel regulatory elements controlling the expression of important virulence associated genes. One such element was associated with whiB7, a master regulator that controls intrinsic (innate) antibiotic resistance across the mycobacterial clade. 

Certain bacteria including members of the MTBC are particularly hard to treat as they display an intrinsic resistance or insensitivity to many commonly used antibiotics which severely limits therapeutic options available. 

Study lead, Professor Brendan Loftus, UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science and UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research Fellow, said

Our discovery of a control element governing expression of this master regulator provides not only mechanistic insight into antibiotic resistance in mycobacteria but should facilitate the identification of inhibitors that could render pathogens such as M. tuberculosis more sensitive to antibiotics. 

The study also uncovered evidence that members of the MTBC have accumulated a large amount of non-protein coding RNA transcripts resulting in a comparatively high level of background transcriptional “noise” compared to environmental mycobacteria. 

The increased potential for stochastic variation or “noise” between cells of a population at the RNA level has been linked to the ability of differing cells to react differently to fluctuating environmental conditions. 

The study concluded that such noise is a consequence of the evolutionary history of the MTBC, which forfeited much of its capacity to spring-clean its genome of accumulated mutations during the transition to becoming an obligate pathogen. The findings indicate that, in general, bacterial transcriptomes are a blend of those elements that nature has selected for interspersed with a healthy quotient of genetic hitchhikers just along for the ride.

The findings of the study are published in the current issue of mBio, an open access journal of theAmerican Society of Microbiology.

This work was supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) grants 05/RP1/B908 and 05/RP1/908/EC07 to B.J.L. and by grant SFI/08/IN.1/B2038 to S.V.G. Research performed by A.M.D. is supported by The Wellcome Trust (grant no. 099817/Z/12/Z).

Relaxed selection drives a noisy non-coding transcriptome in members of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis Complex (MTBC). Adam M. Dinan, Pin Tong, Amanda J. Lohan, Kevin M. Conlon, Aleksandra A. Miranda-CasoLuengo, Kerri M. Malone, Stephen V. Gordon, Brendan J. Loftus. doi:10.1128/mBio01169-14R1

Original article by UCD Conway Institute.