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Genotype-to-structural type and genotype-to-phenotype studies of flagellin glycosylation in Campylobacter jejuni

Principal Supervisor: Dr. Chris Bayliss, Department of Genetics and Genome Biology

Co-supervisor: Prof. Julian M. Ketley (University of Leicester) and Prof. Helen J. Cooper (University of Birmingham)

PhD project title: Genotype-to-structural type and genotype-to-phenotype studies of flagellin glycosylation in Campylobacter jejuni

University of Registration: University of Leicester

Project outline:

The underpinning hypothesis is that “Flagellin glycosylation in Campylobacter jejuni is adaptive and contributes to the virulence of this pathogen”.

Campylobacter jejuni is the major causative agent of foodborne gastroenteritis across Europe. Contaminated chicken meat is the main source of infections and hence control of this pathogen is critical to food security in the poultry industry. The three major virulence determinants of C. jejuni are capsule, lipooligosaccharide and flagella. These determinants exhibit significant variation in glycan composition between due to differences in gene content and phase variation. Some of these glycans have known virulence phenotypes such as serum resistance and autoimmunity. Prof. Cooper’s group have utilised FAIMS mass spectrometry to demonstrate that C. jejuni flagellin is heavily glycosylated at multiple locations with a variety of glycan types. Prof. Ketley’s group has dissected links between motility and chemotaxis, known determinants of C. jejuni virulence. Some flagella glycans have known roles in aggregation of bacterial cells, suggesting that glycans may directly influence virulence phenotypes. Equally C. jejuni flagellin is a signal for induction of innate immunity and a target of adaptive immunity, phenotypes that can be modified by the flagellin glycans. Some correlations have been established between specific genes and particular glycans and between specific glycans and phenotypes. There are however major gaps with many uncharacterised genes and limited understanding of the amount of glycan present on the flagella.

Phase variation refers to high frequency, reversible ON and OFF switching of specific phenotypes mediated by hypermutable DNA sequences. Multiple genes of C. jejuni are subject to phase variation due to mutations in polyG tracts including multiple genes encoding putative glycosylation genes. Recent unpublished data from Dr. Bayliss group indicates that alterations in expression of the phase-variable genes in the flagella locus is frequent during persistence of C. jejuni in chickens. Most of the phase-variable genes are of unknown function and have not been linked to specific glycan structures or biological phenotypes.

This project will combine genomics, molecular genetics and mass spectometry to link genotype, structural type and phenotype for glycosylation genes. A major output will be BIG data sets of use in systems biology for elucidation of a microbal glycome.


Objective 1. Examine the strain-to-strain variation in flagella glycosylation

Year 1. 0-6 months. Interrogate Campylobacter genomic databases for distribution of the phase-variable and non-variable flagella glycosylation genes. Analyse structure of flagella glycans from 3-4 strains with diverse patterns of genes.

Objective 2. Determine genotype-to-structural type for flagellin glycosylation genes

Year 1. 7-12 months. Construct a series of mutants in flagellin glycosylation genes and in the phase-variable glycosylation genes including locked-ON and locked-OFF mutants.

Year 2. Perform structural analyses of flagellin glycosylation in mutant strains.

Objective 3. Investigate virulence phenotypes of flagellin glycosylation genes

Year 3. Compare motility and aggregation phenotypes of mutant strains. Compare adhesion and invasion phenotypes in cultured cells. Compare colonisation and disease phenotypes in chicken and mouse models. Perform a direct analysis of glycan patterns in tissue, caecal and faecal samples from model infections.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Food Security

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

Molecular Microbiological Techniques

  • Experimental skills will include multiplex PCR and GeneScan analyses, cloning and site-directed modification of DNA sequences, and bacterial growth.
  • Utilisation of models of infection including cell culture and mouse/chicken models.

Genomics and Data Analysis Techniques

  • Genomic approaches will include analysis of large genome databases available for Campylobacter strains in collaboration with researchers in Oxford, Swansea and Aberdeen.

Structural Techniques

  • High resolution mass spectrometry, high field asymmetric wave from ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS), tandem mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography, proteomics.
Contact: Dr Chris Bayliss, University of Leicester