Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Life Sciences

Major Professor

Barry D. Bruce

Committee Members

Robert L. Hettich, Igor B. Jouline, Frank W. Larimer, Stevern W. Wilhelm


The eukaryotic mitochondrion was formed by the endosymbiotic association of an - proteobacterium and a primordial phagocytic eukaryote. A second, and later, endosymbiosis between the eukaryote and a cyanobacterium gave rise to the chloroplast of plants. Following each of these events most of the organellar DNA was exported to the nucleus. A system evolved wherein proteins produced on cytosolic ribosomes are targeted to organelle protein translocators by N-terminal targeting sequences. Protein sorting between the chloroplast and the mitochondrion in the plant cell by the general import pathways shows remarkable fidelity despite a lack of sequence conservation among transit peptides and pre-sequences and despite very little sequence difference between these two targeting peptides. There is evidence for a hydrophobic recognition motif in mitochondrial presequences, and a similar motif has been proposed for the chloroplast transit peptide. We have developed novel motif-finding methods and applied them to our own chloroplast proteome data and to literature mitochondrial data. We fail to find a hydrophobic motif that discriminates the chloroplast and the mitochondrion. Another little understood phenomenon of organelle protein trafficking is how the targeting sequence is acquired after transfer of organelle DNA to the nucleus. It has been hypothesized that the transit peptide is acquired by exon shuffling. We find no correlation of transit peptide lengths with exon boundaries. Furthermore, using highly expressed cyanobacterial proteins conserved in plants, we find that the transit peptide appears as likely to be attached within the primordial sequence as without, indicating a more stochastic process for the origin of the transit peptide.

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