Date of Award


Document type


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Molecular and Cellular Biology

First Advisor

Margaret A. Riley

Second Advisor

Michele Klingbeil

Third Advisor

Lynne A. McLandsborough

Subject Categories

Cell and Developmental Biology | Molecular Biology


Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a common autosomal genetic disorder in Caucasian populations. CF is caused by mutations in the cftr gene, which encodes the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR). CFTR regulates chloride and sodium ion transport across the epithelial cells lining the exocrine organs. Mutations in the cftr result in a failure to mediate chloride transport, which leads to dehydration of the mucus layer surrounding the epithelial cells. The mucus coating in the lung epithelia provides a favorable environment for invasion and growth of several opportunistic bacterial pathogens resulting in life threatening respiratory infections in CF patients. Pseudomonas aeruginosa(Pa) and Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) are associated with chronic lung infections and are responsible for much of the mortality in CF. Little is known about interactions between these two, often co-infecting, species. When in competition, it is not known whether Bcc replaces the resident Pa or if the two species co-exist in the CF lung. Bacteriocins are potent toxins produced by bacteria. They have a quite narrow killing range in comparison to antibiotics and have been implicated in intra-specific and inter-specific bacterial competition brought on by limited nutrients or niche space. Both Pa and Bcc produce bacteriocins known as pyocins and cepaciacins, respectively. More than 90% of Pa strains examined to date produce one or more of three pyocin types: R, F, and S. A limited number of phenotypic surveys suggest that approximately 30% of Bcc also produce bacteriocins. The goals of my thesis study were to determine if clinical strains of Pa and Bcc produce bacteriocins and to determine whether these toxins play a role in mediating intra- and inter-specific bacterial interactions in the CF lung. The final goal was to identify novel bacteriocins from clinical Pa and Bcc strains. First, I designed a phenotypic bacteriocin survey to evaluate bacteriocin production in 66 clinical Pa (38) and Bcc (28) strains procured from CF patients. This study revealed that 97% of Pa strains and 68% of Bcc strains produce bacteriocin-like inhibitory activity. Further phenotypic and molecular based assays showed that the source of inhibition is different for Pa and Bcc. In Pa, much of the inhibitory activity is due to the well known S- and RF-type pyocins. S-and RF pyocins were the source of within species inhibitory activity while RF pyocins were primarily implicated in the between species inhibitory activity of Pa strains. In contrast, Bcc inhibition appeared to be due to novel inhibitory agents. Finally, I constructed genome libraries of B. multivorans, B. dolosa, and B. cenocepacia to screen for genes responsible for the inhibitory activity previously described in Bcc. ~10,000 clones/genome were screened, resulting in fifteen clones with the anticipated inhibition phenotype. Of these fifteen, only five clones had stable inhibitory activity. These clones encoded proteins involved in various metabolic pathways including bacterial apoptosis, amino acid biosynthesis, sugar metabolism, and degradation of aromatic compounds. Surprisingly, none of Bcc clones possessed typical bacteriocin-like genes. These data suggest that, in contrast to all bacterial species examined in a similar fashion to date, Bcc may not produce bacteriocins. Instead, Bcc may be using novel molecular strategies to mediate intra- and inter-specific bacterial interactions.