Publications & Prizes

Biochemistry Department Honour Board

Awards given to Department Members

Publications on this page begin in 2012. Some staff have a record of earlier publications on their personal pages.

  • Secreted amyloid precursor protein-alpha can restore novel object location memory and hippocampal LTP in aged rats.
  • Monica Xiong, Owen D Jones, Katie Peppercorn, Shane M Ohline, Warren P Tate, and Wickliffe C Abraham., Neurobiol Learn Mem 2016.
  • Published:9 August 2016
  • Secreted amyloid precursor protein-α (sAPPα) is a neurotrophic and neuroprotective molecule which can enhance learning and synaptic plasticity. Aging is associated with memory decline and impaired long-term potentiation (LTP). SAPPα therefore has potential as a nootropic agent which could be used to offset age-related cognitive decline. In this study we investigated the effects of sAPPα on spatial memory tasks and LTP in aged and young Long-Evans rats. Two hippocampus-dependent tasks were employed to measure spatial memory that is susceptible to impairments during aging. Aged rats showed a mild deficit in the novel object location task, but memory was significantly enhanced by bilateral intrahippocampal injections of sAPPα. There was no effect on the performance of young animals. In the watermaze task, however, sAPPα did not alleviate age-related decline in spatial memory. In subsequent electrophysiological experiments, LTP was impaired in slices from aged animals, but plasticity was rescued in a concentration-dependent manner by exogenous sAPPα administration. In contrast, LTP was impaired in young animals by sAPPα. Overall, these data support the hypothesis that sAPPα has therapeutic potential as a treatment for age-related cognitive decline.

  • Notch signalling mediates reproductive constraint in the adult worker honeybee.
  • Elizabeth J Duncan, Otto Hyink, and Peter K Dearden., Nat Commun 2016 vol. 7 p. 12427.
  • Published:3 August 2016
  • The hallmark of eusociality is the reproductive division of labour, in which one female caste reproduces, while reproduction is constrained in the subordinate caste. In adult worker honeybees (Apis mellifera) reproductive constraint is conditional: in the absence of the queen and brood, adult worker honeybees activate their ovaries and lay haploid male eggs. Here, we demonstrate that chemical inhibition of Notch signalling can overcome the repressive effect of queen pheromone and promote ovary activity in adult worker honeybees. We show that Notch signalling acts on the earliest stages of oogenesis and that the removal of the queen corresponds with a loss of Notch protein in the germarium. We conclude that the ancient and pleiotropic Notch signalling pathway has been co-opted into constraining reproduction in worker honeybees and we provide the first molecular mechanism directly linking ovary activity in adult worker bees with the presence of the queen.


  • Analyzing tumor heterogeneity and driver genes in single myeloid leukemia cells with SBCapSeq.
  • Karen M Mann, Justin Y Newberg, Michael A Black, Devin J Jones, Felipe Amaya-Manzanares, Liliana Guzman-Rojas, Takahiro Kodama, Jerrold M Ward, Alistair G Rust, Louise van der Weyden, Christopher Chin Kuan Yew, Jill L Waters, Marco L Leung, Keith Rogers, Susan M Rogers, Leslie A McNoe, Luxmanan Selvanesan, Nicholas Navin, Nancy A Jenkins, Neal G Copeland, and Michael B Mann., Nature Biotechnology 2016pp. 1-14.
  • Published:1 August 2016
  • A central challenge in oncology is how to kill tumors containing heterogeneous cell populations defined by different combinations of mutated genes. Identifying these mutated genes and understanding how they cooperate requires single-cell analysis, but current single-cell analytic methods, such as PCR-based strategies or whole-exome sequencing, are biased, lack sequencing depth or are cost prohibitive. Transposon-based mutagenesis allows the identification of early cancer drivers, but current sequencing methods have limitations that prevent single-cell analysis. We report a liquid-phase, capture-based sequencing and bioinformatics pipeline, Sleeping Beauty (SB) capture hybridization sequencing (SBCapSeq), that facilitates sequencing of transposon insertion sites from single tumor cells in a SB mouse model of myeloid leukemia (ML). SBCapSeq analysis of just 26 cells from one tumor revealed the tumor’s major clonal subpopulations, enabled detection of clonal insertion events not detected by other sequencing methods and led to the identification of dominant subclones, each containing a unique pair of interacting gene drivers along with three to six cooperating cancer genes with SB-driven expression changes.

  • Testing the Validity of Taxonic Schizotypy Using Genetic and Environmental Risk Variables.
  • Sarah E Morton, Kirstie J M O'Hare, Jaimee L K Maha, Max P Nicolson, Liana Machado, Ruth Topless, Tony R Merriman, and Richard J Linscott., Schizophr Bull 2016 p. sbw108.
  • Published:1 August 2016
  • BACKGROUND:Meehl regarded schizotypy as a categorial liability for schizophrenia that is the product of genes, environment, and gene-environment interactions. We sought to test whether schizophrenia-related genotypes and environmental risk factors predict membership in classes defined by taxometric analyses of positive (cognitive-perceptual), negative (interpersonal), and disorganized schizotypy.

    METHODS:Participants (n = 500) completed the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire (SPQ) and provided information on the following risk factors: cannabis use, pregnancy and obstetric complications, social adjustment, and family history of psychosis. Saliva samples were obtained so that the frequency of single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) alleles associated with risk for developing schizophrenia could be determined. Genotyped SNPs were rs1625579 (MIR137), rs7004633 (MMP16), rs7914558 (CNNM2), and rs12966547 (CCDC68). Sets of SPQ items were subject to multiple coherent cut kinetic (CCK) analyses, including mean-above-minus-below-a-cut, maximum covariance, maximum eigenvalue, and latent modes analyses.

    RESULTS:CCK analyses indicated latent taxonicity of schizotypy across the 3 item sets. The cognitive-perceptual class had a base rate of 25%, and membership was predicted by the rs7004633 SNP (odds ratio = 2.33, 95% confidence interval = 1.15-4.72 in adjusted analyses). Poor social adjustment predicted memberships in the interpersonal (16%) and disorganized (21%) classes. Classes were found not to be mutually exclusive.

    CONCLUSIONS:Schizotypy is taxonic and schizotypy class membership is predicted by genetic and environmental factors that predict schizophrenia. The findings hold the promise that a more complete understanding of schizotypy as a schizophrenia liability state will come from investigation of other genes and environmental factors associated with schizophrenia.

  • Mechanistic and Evolutionary Insights from the Reciprocal Promiscuity of Two Pyridoxal Phosphate-dependent Enzymes.
  • Valerie W C Soo, Yuliana Yosaatmadja, Christopher J Squire, and Wayne M Patrick., J Biol Chem 2016 vol. 291 (38) pp. 19873-19887.
  • Published:29 July 2016
  • Enzymes that utilize the cofactor pyridoxal 5'-phosphate play essential roles in amino acid metabolism in all organisms. The cofactor is used by proteins that adopt at least five different folds, which raises questions about the evolutionary processes that might explain the observed distribution of functions among folds. In this study, we show that a representative of fold type III, the Escherichia coli alanine racemase (ALR), is a promiscuous cystathionine β-lyase (CBL). Furthermore, E. coli CBL (fold type I) is a promiscuous alanine racemase. A single round of error-prone PCR and selection yielded variant ALR(Y274F), which catalyzes cystathionine β-elimination with a near-native Michaelis constant (Km = 3.3 mm) but a poor turnover number (kcat ≈10 h(-1)). In contrast, directed evolution also yielded CBL(P113S), which catalyzes l-alanine racemization with a poor Km (58 mm) but a high kcat (22 s(-1)). The structures of both variants were solved in the presence and absence of the l-alanine analogue, (R)-1-aminoethylphosphonic acid. As expected, the ALR active site was enlarged by the Y274F substitution, allowing better access for cystathionine. More surprisingly, the favorable kinetic parameters of CBL(P113S) appear to result from optimizing the pKa of Tyr-111, which acts as the catalytic acid during l-alanine racemization. Our data emphasize the short mutational routes between the functions of pyridoxal 5'-phosphate-dependent enzymes, regardless of whether or not they share the same fold. Thus, they confound the prevailing model of enzyme evolution, which predicts that overlapping patterns of promiscuity result from sharing a common multifunctional ancestor.

  • Trophoblastic debris modifies endothelial cell transcriptome in vitro: a mechanism by which fetal cells might control maternal responses to pregnancy.
  • J Wei, S Y Lau, C Blenkiron, Q Chen, J L James, T Kleffmann, M Wise, P R Stone, and L W Chamley., Sci Rep 2016 vol. 6 p. 30632.
  • Published:29 July 2016
  • The mechanisms by which the fetus induces maternal physiological adaptations to pregnancy are unclear. Cellular debris, shed from the placental syncytiotrophoblast into the maternal blood and phagocytosed by maternal endothelial and immune cells, may be one of these mechanisms. Here we show that trophoblastic debris from normal first trimester placentae induces changes in the transcriptome and proteome of endothelial cells in vitro, which might contribute to the adaptation of the maternal cardiovascular system to pregnancy. Trophoblastic debris also induced endothelial cells to transcribe placenta-specific genes, including the vasodilator hormone CSH1, thereby expanding the effective functional size of the placenta. Our data suggest that the deportation of trophoblastic debris is an important part of the complex network of feto-maternal communication. 


  • Mutation of Gly195 of the ChlH subunit of Mg-chelatase reduces chlorophyll and further disrupts PS II assembly in a Ycf48-deficient strain of synechocystis sp. PCC 6803.
  • Tim S Crawford, Julian J Eaton-Rye, and Tina C Summerfield., Front Plant Sci 2016 vol. 7 (JULY2016) p. 14812.
  • Published:20 July 2016
  • Biogenesis of the photosystems in oxygenic phototrophs requires co-translational insertion of chlorophyll a. The first committed step of chlorophyll a biosynthesis is the insertion of a Mg2+ ion into the tetrapyrrole intermediate protoporphyrin IX, catalyzed by Mg-chelatase. We have identified a Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 strain with a spontaneous mutation in chlH that results in a Gly195 to Glu substitution in a conserved region of the catalytic subunit of Mg-chelatase. Mutant strains containing the ChlH Gly195 to Glu mutation were generated using a two-step protocol that introduced the chlH gene into a putative neutral site in the chromosome prior to deletion of the native gene. The Gly195 to Glu mutation resulted in strains with decreased chlorophyll a. Deletion of the PS II assembly factor Ycf48 in a strain carrying the ChlH Gly195 to Glu mutation did not grow photoautotrophically. In addition, the ChlH-G195E:ΔYcf48 strain showed impaired PS II activity and decreased assembly of PS II centers in comparison to a ΔYcf48 strain. We suggest decreased chlorophyll in the ChlH-G195E mutant provides a background to screen for the role of assembly factors that are not essential under optimal growth conditions.

  • Fractionation of sheep cheese whey by a scalable method to sequentially isolate bioactive proteins.
  • Jodi Pilbrow, Alaa El-Din A Bekhit, and Alan Carne., Food Chemistry 2016 vol. 203 pp. 165-174.
  • Published:15 July 2016
  • This study reports a procedure for the simultaneous purification of glyco(caseino)macropeptide, immunoglobulin, lactoperoxidase, lactoferrin, α-lactalbumin and β-lactoglobulin from sheep cheese sweet whey, an under-utilized by-product of cheese manufacture generated by an emerging sheep dairy industry in New Zealand. These proteins have recognized value in the nutrition, biomedical and health-promoting supplements industries. A sequential fractionation procedure using economical anion and cation exchange chromatography on HiTrap resins was evaluated. The whey protein fractionation is performed under mild conditions, requires only the adjustment of pH between ion exchange chromatography steps, does not require buffer exchange and uses minimal amounts of chemicals. The purity of the whey protein fractions generated were analyzed by reversed phase-high performance liquid chromatography and the identity of the proteins was confirmed by mass spectrometry. This scalable procedure demonstrates that several proteins of recognized value can be fractionated in reasonable yield and purity from sheep cheese whey in one streamlined process.

  • Antioxidant and ACE-inhibitory activities of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) protein hydrolysates produced by the proteases AFP, HT, Pro-G, actinidin and zingibain.
  • Sue-Siang Teh, Alaa El-Din A Bekhit, Alan Carne, and John Birch., Food Chemistry 2016 vol. 203 pp. 199-206.
  • Published:15 July 2016
  • Hemp protein isolates (HPIs) were hydrolysed by proteases (AFP, HT, ProG, actinidin and zingibain). The enzymatic hydrolysis of HPIs was evaluated through the degree of hydrolysis and SDS-PAGE profiles. The bioactive properties of the resultant hydrolysates (HPHs) were accessed through ORAC, DPPḢ scavenging and ACE-inhibitory activities. The physical properties of the resultant HPHs were evaluated for their particle sizes, zeta potential and surface hydrophobicity. HT had the highest rate of caseinolytic activity at the lowest concentration (0.1mgmL(-1)) compared to other proteases that required concentration of 100mgmL(-1) to achieve their maximum rate of caseinolytic activity. This led to the highest degree of hydrolysis of HPIs by HT in the SDS-PAGE profiles. Among all proteases and substrates, HT resulted in the highest bioactivities (ORAC, DPPḢ scavenging and ACE-inhibitory activities) generated from alkali extracted HPI in the shortest time (2h) compared to the other protease preparations.

  • Insight into rheumatological cause and effect through the use of Mendelian randomization.
  • Philip C Robinson, Hyon K Choi, Ron Do, and Tony R Merriman., Nat Rev Rheumatol 2016 vol. 12 (8) pp. 486-496.
  • Published:14 July 2016
  • Establishing causality of risk factors is important to determine the pathogenetic mechanisms underlying rheumatic diseases, and can facilitate the design of interventions to improve care for affected patients. The presence of unmeasured confounders, as well as reverse causation, is a challenge to the assignment of causality in observational studies. Alleles for genetic variants are randomly inherited at meiosis. Mendelian randomization analysis uses these genetic variants to test whether a particular risk factor is causal for a disease outcome. In this Review of the Mendelian randomization technique, we discuss published results and potential applications in rheumatology, as well as the general clinical utility and limitations of the approach.