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Fungal Cell Biology

Current Projects Completed Projects

Filamentous fungi such as moulds and mildews, form tubular cells called hyphae. Some fungi colonize a diversity of non-living organic substrates, and others interact with living hosts through symbioses or by causing disease. Advantages to studying basic processes in fungal model systems include compact size, fast growth rate, morphological simplicity, and a wealth of experimental and genetic tools. Fungal genomes are smaller and less complex than those of animals (many fungal genomes are completely sequenced), and yet some animal and fungal genes are functionally homologous.

Fungal cells are surrounded and protected by walls that mediate their environmental interactions. My research uses chemical and cell molecular genetic methods and microscopy to explore aspects of fungal growth and interaction.

Our main research system is the model organism Aspergillus nidulans, particularly genes that affect hyphal morphogenesis and/or cell wall structure. These include galactofuranose biosynthesis and cell secretion genes. Along with well-established types of microscopy (confocal fluorescence, TEM, SEM), we are using high spatial resolution chemical analytical methods (including AFM, FTIR, and SERS) for characterizing fungal hyphae and their wall composition and structure.

Current Projectsuparrow

No current projects as of Jan 2015. Check back March 2015.

Completed Projectsuparrow

Kausar Alam Sean Xiaoxiao He Jill Shengnan Li Fatemeh Farazkhorasani Martin Prusinkiewicz Amira El-Ganiny Sharmin Afroz Robyn Pollock Geoff Bray Michelle Hubbard Miryha Retzlaff Sanjaya Ekanayake Alex Shi

Aspergillus Galactofuranose biosynthesisuparrow

Our paper on antifungal drug sensitivity (Alam, El-Ganiny, Afroz et al 2012 Fungal Genetics and Biology 49: 1033-1043) was chosen for the cover image of that issue.

Kausar Alam: Aspergillus nidulans Galactose Metabolismuparrow


My PhD research examined regulatory aspects of galactose metabolism and galactofuranose biosynthesis using gene deletion, overexpression, and complementation with site-directed mutants at the UGM catalytic site. Likely due to energy constraints, synthesis of the major wall carbohydrates, alpha- and beta-glucan (40% each) appears to be co-regulated.

Beginning Jan 2014, I will be a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Ron Geyer, Pathology, U Saskatchewan


Sean Xiaoxiao He: Aspergillus nidulans Galactofuranose Resistance Mechanismsuparrow

Sean             meiotic progeny              Parent and CFW mutant growth

My research is focused on alpha-glucan metabolism related to cell wall biosynthesis. Several deletion and overexpression strains display unusual phenotypes in shaken liquid culture that are distinct from their growth on agar medium.

Fig 1 shows meiotic progeny from a mating between AXE5 (CFW-resistant, yellow square) and AXM5 (CFW-sensitive, green oval) wild type. For 166 analyzed, CFW resistance:sensitivity was 81:85, for all three spore colours (white, chartreuse, and green)

Fig 2 shows a CFW mutant (AXE5, compared to wildtype strain (P2)

Jill Shengnan Liuparrow

Jill Shengnan Li Trichoderma harzianum

In humans, selenium (Se) is a micronutrient that is toxic at higher levels. My PhD project relates to Se metabolism in the filamentous fungus Trichoderma harzianum.

I am studying the details of Se metabolism using synchrotron spectroscopy with Prof Ingrid Pickering, Geological Sciences, U Saskatchewan, plus cell and molecular methods with Prof Susan Kaminskyj, Biology, U Saskatchewan.

Figure on right Trichoderma harzianum inoculated at the green arrow, can scavenge selenium ions placed at the red arrow, to form orange nanoparticles

Fatemeh Farazkhorasani (Gough Lab): Surface enhanced Ramin Spectroscopy using nanoparticlesuparrow


I will be using metallic nanoparticles (NPs) as an probe for surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), a high sensitivity and high spatial resolution chemical analysis method. We expect that SERS-NP analysis will provide results that are complementary to Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy.

Our paper on gold nanoparticles (Prusinkiewicz, Farazkhorasani et al 2012 Analyst 137: 4934-42) was chosen for the cover image of that issue.


Martin Prusinkiewicz: Nanoparticle biologyuparrow

I am currently an M.Sc. candidate with Troy Harkness, Anatomy & Cell Biology, U of S.

The chemical and biological activity of NPs depends on their composition, size, and location. When I was with the Kaminskyj lab, we were developing methods for growing NPs in fungal cells. We were combining light and electron microscopy to assess where the NPs form under different biosynthesis conditions, and whether they affect cell physiology.

Amira El-Ganiny: Characterization of Aspergillus nidulans Uge & Ugmuparrow


I am studying two enzymes in the UDP-galactofuranose biosynthesis pathway: UPD-glucose-4-epimerase (UgeA) and UDP-galactopyranose mutase (UgmA). Galactofuranose is found in the cell walls of many microorganisms including fungi. If inhibitors can be developed against these enzymes, they could be effective antifungal drugs.

UDP-Galf mutase

Sharmin Afroz: Aspergillus nidulans Galactofuranose Transportuparrow

Sharmin ugtA deletion

I am studying the UDP-galactofuranose transporter, which is expected to function downstream of UgmA. UDP-galactofuranose is synthesized in the cytoplasm, and must be transported into a membrane-bound compartment, likely the Golgi equivalent, prior to galactofuranose incorporation into the cell wall.

Saprolegnia and alarm substance:uparrow

Robyn Pollock: Effects of disease and environmental factors on alarm substance cell investment in fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas)uparrow


Fish in the order Ostariophyi have specialized epidermal cells known as alarm substance cells (ASCs). Alarm substance is released when ASCs are ruptured. Nearby conspecific fish use alarm substance as an indication of predation risk, leading to antipredator behaviour (e.g. dashing, freezing, schooling). Recently, however, we discovered that ASCs may also have an antipathogen function.

My research examines ASC investment in fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas), a model Ostariophysan, throughout the year and whether exposure to a pathogenic water mold (Saprolegnia ferax) influences ASC investment. I will also examine how intra-population differences, virulence of the pathogen, and pathogen density may affect ASC investment in fathead minnows. My work is co-supervised with Dr. Doug Chivers (Department of Biology).

image of fathead minnow skin section

Geoff Bray: Roles of hypB and Sec7 in hyphal morphogenesis of A. nidulansuparrow


Aspergillus nidulans hypB5 has a temperature sensitive morphogenetic defect. Its hyphae grow like wildtype strains at 28°C but not at 42°C. The hypB5 defect can be partially complemented by a Sec7 domain protein, cloned by Yi Yang during her M. Sc. research. I am working to resolve some questions remaining about the relationship between AnSec7 and hypB.

image of hypB and AnSec7

Michelle Hubbard: Dynamics of ER to Golgi transport in Aspergillus nidulansuparrow


Fungal tip growth uses targeted secretion of wall forming materials at the hyphal tip to produce tubular cells called hyphae. These materials are synthesized and transported within the hypha by components of the endomembrane system: the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), Golgi body equivalents (GEs), vacuoles and vesicles. Organization and motility of endomembrane cargo requires F-actin and microtubules, components of the cytoskeleton.

Laser scanning confocal epifluorescence microscopy is a superb tool for studying growth dynamics. I am using fluorescent-protein tagged gene products and fluorescent chemical probes to study endomembranes and cytoplasmic microtubules in growing Aspergillus hyphae.

GEs images

The images to the right show relatively stationary FM 4-64 stained endomembranes (red) and relatively motile granules GFP-tagged sodVIC (green, in a strain generated by Andy Breakspeare during his PhD research in Susan Assinder's lab, Dept Biological Sciences, Univ Wales-Bangor) that localize to fungal Golgi equivalents.

Miryha Retzlaff: Characterization of Aspergillus nidulans UGMuparrow

Miryha confocal micrograph image

My research is continuing work begun by Michelle Hubbard, studying the relationship between endomembrane arrays and hyphal morphology in Aspergillus nidulans. This image is a confocal micrograph of a living A. nidulans morphogenesis mutant colony after 20 h growth, stained with the endomembrane selective dye FM4-64.

Sanjaya Ekanayake: Aspergillus endomembrane dynamicsuparrow

Sanjaya confocal micrograph image

I am studying the relationship between endomembrane array dynamics and hyphal morphology in Aspergillus nidulans. This image is a confocal micrograph of actively growing A. nidulans hyphal tips stained with the endomembrane selective dye FM4-64.

Alex Shi: Aspergillus genome sequenceuparrow


My project was to complete the sequence annotation for hypA, including 5’RACE before there was an Aspergillus nidulans genome sequence, and knockout analysis.