Although a life of research often leads to an extremely narrow field of expertise, reading and learning about new research and knowledge from other, sometimes completely unrelated, fields can be both exciting and intriguing. One such example is Ayana’s project on Cryptococcus neoformans, specifically on searching for links between the BZP4 gene and their virulence in humans.
C. neoformans is a very common yeast, often found clinging to the dirt and other plants and animals. While widespread, infections from the fungus is rare, as most people’s immune systems are capable of defending against the pathogen. However, occasionally, they opportunistically infect the lungs, which can then spread to the central nervous system where the fungi can cause meningitis or encephalitis- two very dangerous conditions. Therefore, Ayana’s lab is researching the pathology and potential factors that could help the development of some form of prevention or cure. Currently, her project revolves around the curious BZP4 gene within C. neoformans, as the gene has been previously known to fluctuate in gene expression levels in different conditions and upon knockout, the virulence of the fungi disappears. Thus, she has decided to investigate its relationship to the virulence of the fungi by directly interfering with it function.
In Ayana’s first aim, she hopes to confirm the link between virulence and BZP4 in C. neoformans, by taking a BZP4-knockout strain and blasting it with the BZP4 gene to observe for a recovery in lethality. This is cool primarily because it involves the use of a gene gun, which is just a really awesome machine that exists apparently, transforming cells with DNA by blasting them with a gene-coated bullet- and it works! At some point in my life, I need to devise a transformation experiment that requires that machine just to see it in action. Furthermore, her work would further pinpoint a site of target for treatments of C. neoformans infections, which is a monumental success in the world of disease prevention and care. Additionally, it could demonstrate a stronger link between virulence and the BZP4 gene, as the gene’s interactions and expression post-transformation could be identical to pre-knockout levels which would indicate greater independence between the gene’s mere presence and virulence over the possibility of gene expression interactions and post-translational activity with nearby genes being the source of virulence.
In Ayana’s second aim, the goal is to determine if there a competitive advantage given by the BZP4 gene. To study this, she will be inoculating a BZP4+ strain of C. neoformans and a BZP4- strain in close proximity, and measuring their growth and interactions upon reaching one another. This will perhaps give some insight in the purpose of the BZP4 gene, as not much is known beyond the excitatory effects it has on melanin production, which at most can be suspected to boost tolerance to environmental oxidants such as UV radiation. This is also important because the results can be used to determine if virulent C. neoformans growth can be stymied by the introduction of nonvirulent BZP4- strains into important sites of infection. However, something I wondered in this component of the project but did not remember to ask was the activity of BZP4 in various environments. As antioxidants are so versatile and diverse, many function differently in different conditions, so I wonder if there are any environments where BZP4 activity is optimized, boosting the vitality of C. neoformans in that environment. Similarly, which environments is activity dampened in? This could perhaps explain what BZP4 is specialized for (or what the melanin is meant to do) and what pathway exactly that it manipulates in the body to cause so much damage. Studies like these fascinate me and remind me of just how essential research is to the field of medicine, even in straight biology settings. While not at all related to my research in Alzheimer’s disease, this project gave me some energy and exciting plans to bring to my work.
“A piece of my gel fell on the floor once and I didn’t notice, so renovations re-varnished the lab. Now it’s forever imprinted on the floor.”-Stuart Sundseth detailing one of many Western fails
“I accidentally threw my gel into the sink once.”-Stuart Sundseth
“I’ve torn a gel before”-Stuart Sundseth an hour before tearing another gel
“Have fun at the beach this weekend!”-Christine O’Connell
“Wow, you’re going to the beach again?”-Dang Nguyen
“Yeah, I left some potatoes in the cupboard”-Joan Wilson
“I feel…so dizzy…I think…I might fall over”-Hui Fang as she aggressively hoses the floor with liquid nitrogen
“And now I’ll just seal up this bad boy and throw him in the cold room for the-” *throws dead spider in box at Dang* “-night and let him blot since I can’t find the antibody.”-Stuart Sundseth
*graphic screaming*-Dang Nguyen