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Already filled Internship positions.


Improving the efficiency of yeast by evolving them in millions of parallel pico-liter reactorsExperimental (Bachelor or Master) Position filled
Rinke van Tatenhove
Many systems show a trade-off between speed and efficiency. Think for instance of a car: when you drive fast it is less fuel efficient than when you drive slower, which means that when you drive fast you can drive less kilometers per unit of fuel. For the growth of the yeast S. cerevisiae it is the same: when this yeast grows fast it is generally less efficient in converting glucose to biomass, which means that it can make less biomass from one unit of glucose. This inefficient but fast growth in yeast usually occurs when the glucose concentration is high, while S. cerevisiae grows slow and efficient when the glucose concentration is low.
We would like to study this trade-off between growth rate and efficiency by finding efficient mutant strains regardless of the glucose concentration. Can we select for a yeast strain with a high efficiency in the presence of high glucose concentrations?
Yeast cells normally grow in suspension, sharing their environment and the available substrate. However, an efficient mutant cannot be enriched in suspension, because such a mutant will grow slower than its fast growing neighbors. Efficient but slow mutants can therefore not be selected in a shared environment. To be able to select efficient cells we separate them from each other in medium droplets floating in oil. In such a water-in-oil emulsion we have millions of separated pico-liter compartments, in which each cell has its own substrate pool and its own extracellular space. All these individual compartments can be analyzed in seconds and mutants can be picked out with a flow cytometer, allowing for high-throughput mutant selection.
In this project you will develop a platform to select efficient yeast strains, using water-in-oil emulsions. You will design a medium which is suitable to perform these selections and you will apply this method to select efficient yeast cells at a high glucose concentration.
S. pombe as an alternative model for eukaryotic central metabolismExperimental (Master)
Position filled
Johan van Heerden
The two distantly related yeast species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe, have been instrumental in our current understanding of the eukaryotic cell and its processes. Much of what we know about the cell cycle and its regulation was borne from pioneering studies with S. pombe, while S. cerevisiae has been a favourite workhorse in studies on eukaryotic metabolism (especially central carbon metabolism) and textbooks on this subject are therefore filled with insights derived from this organism.

While the cell-cycle field has embraced S. cerevisiae as a complementary eukaryotic model, researchers with a focus on metabolism have yet to harvest the potential insights to be gained from systematic (and comparative) studies of S. pombe metabolism. Today, the majority of research on S. pombe is still dedicated to unraveling cell cycle regulation and other cellular functions such as DNA repair, maintenance and aging, with very little fundamental research on the central metabolism of this yeast.

While there are many similarities between these two species, there are also several important differences including: cell morphology, the mode of cell division, the position of cell-size checkpoints during cell-cycle progression, the role of glucose sensors, the ability to respire ethanol, the presence of a glyoxylate cycle and differences in mitochondrial functions.

As many of the differences between these two species pertain to metabolic functions, a better understanding of the metabolic profile of S. pombe should serve to greatly expand our compendium of knowledge on eukaryotic metabolism, beyond that of S. cerevisiae and cancer cell lines.

The project
In this project you will lay down the foundation for metabolic studies that use S. pombe as an alternative to S. cerevisiae. You will perform both physiological and metabolic characterisations of S. pombe - in experimental settings that are typical for S. cerevisiae - in order to gain detailed descriptions of (1) growth kinetics, (2) cell size distributions and (3) profiles of intracellular pH and glycolytic intermediates, under different growth conditions. It is hoped that these results will serve to identify key differences, but also similarities, between these two species and that these insights will form a basis for future research.

Batch and/or chemostat cultivations
Genetic transformations to express fluorescent reporter proteins
Enzymatic assays to determine intracellular metabolite concentrations
And, depending on the progress of the project, one or several of the following analytical techniques: HPLC, Coulter counter, Flow cytometry and Fluorescence spectroscopy, Fluorescent microscopy.

Duration of project: 5-9 months

Your CV: Ideally you will have an experimental background, with experience working in a microbiological setting.

Start date: February 2017 or later.
The regulation of glycolytic-to-gluconeogenic transitions in different yeast speciesTheoretical/Experimental (Master)
Position filled
Phillipp Schmidt
Johan van Heerden
The preferred mode of metabolism for most yeast species is glycolysis. This metabolic pathway breaks down glucose or other sugars and produces pyruvate, which can further be utilized in fermentation or respiration in order to produce energy and precursors for biosynthesis. When encountering excess levels of glucose, the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae performs aerobic fermentation, which leads to the formation of ethanol. This is also called the Crabtree effect. Upon depletion of glucose it can utilize the previously produced ethanol as carbon source. This metabolic transition is called the diauxic shift. In order to grow on ethanol, the cells need to synthesize glucose and other metabolic intermediates. This achieved through the gluconeogenic pathway, which is a essentially glycolysis operating in the reverse direction. Due to the irreversibility of two glycolytic reactions, new enzymes need to be expressed for this pathway including FBPase (Fructose 1,6-bisphosphatase). The regulation of this enzyme is not completely understood, even though it has been intensely studied in S. cerevisiae. For example, an open question remains regarding the specific signals that lead to induction of this gluconeogenic enzyme - are low glucose levels sufficient to signal activation of gluconeogenic enzymes, or does extracellular ethanol play a role?

To find answers to these questions, other yeast species may provide clues. For example, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, like S. cerevisiae, exhibits the crabtree effect, but cannot consume the ethanol it produces via aerobic fermentation. Does ethanol still play a role in inducing gluconeogenesis? There are also crabtree negative yeasts, like Kluyveromyces lactis, that do not produce ethanol from glucose in the presence of oxygen. Clearly, in this case ethanol cannot play a role in signaling glycolytic-to-gluconeogenic transitions.

In this project, we want to compare the dynamic regulation of glycolytic-to-gluconeogenic transitions in these three different yeast species. We will use a technique called RNA FISH to count single mRNA molecules for PFK (Phosphofructokinase, a glycolytic gene) and FBPase (a gluconeogenic gene) in individual cells as they transition from excess to no glucose. By comparing differences in the induction of FBPase between these yeast species, the aim is to gain a better understanding of the roles that glucose and ethanol concentrations respectively play in inducing gluconeogenesis.

Duration of project: 5-9 months

Your CV: Ideally you will have a strong experimental background, and some basic programming skills (e.g. Python, R, Matlab).

Start date: May 2017 or later.
Drug targeting in metabolism: from antiparasitic target to drug screening assaysExperimental (Master)
Position filled
Jurgen Haanstra
j.r.haanstra[at] and Marijke Wagner
Trypanosoma brucei is the causative agent of deadly African Sleeping Sickness. In its lifestage inside the mammalian host this unicellular parasite relies almost exclusively on glycolysis to generate ATP. As 50% inhibition of glycolysis is sufficient to kill the parasite, glycolysis is a prominent target pathway for antiparasitic drugs. A network-based analysis has shown that the glucose transporter has the highest control over the glycolytic flux in T. brucei and is therefore a prominent drug target.
To get to a semi- to high throughput assay to test drugs against the T. brucei transporter we have complemented a yeast glucose-transporter null mutant with the trypanosome transporter. In this project you will design and test drug screening assays on live T. brucei and for the yeast complementation mutant.
If desired, this project can incorporate a modelling part as we have a kinetic model of T. brucei glycolysis (and yeast).