Virally-induced Cell Membrane Lipids as a Tool for the Study and Manipulation of Cell Death and Cell Immunity

Helen Fredricks, Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry
Ben Van Mooy, Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry


OLI Grant Funded 2009

We propose to determine the exact molecular structures of two specific membrane lipids from the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi that appear in response to infection by coccolithoviruses. Preliminary experiments have shown one of these molecules induces programmed cell death in the host, while the other molecule effectively ‘immunizes’ the host against infection by the same virus. Not yet reported in the literature, these membrane lipids could provide key insights on algae/virus infection mechanisms. Furthermore, these two molecules could act as powerful tools in manipulating programmed cell death (i.e. apoptosis) and viral defense in other algal systems used for production of biofuels.  Viruses are estimated to be the second most abundant source of biomass after prokaryotes and the most abundant biological entity in the world’s oceans. They infect nearly every living organism and thus have a major influence in both terrestrial and marine environments, not to mention their impact on one species in particular – Homo sapiens. This work will not only increase our understanding of viruses in the marine environment – for example their influence in the control of marine blooms – but will also have a broader impact on our understanding of viruses in general, and possibly on future therapies involving apoptosis or viral infection in humans.