George Owttrim, PhD



Biological Sciences


My lab is investigating the mechanisms by which photosynthetic organisms sense and respond to environmental change, using cyanobacterial RNA helicases as our model system. Expression of two distinct RNA helicases, CrhC and CrhR, whose expression is regulated by environmental stresses including light and temperature that induce alterations in the redox status of the electron transport chain. Since RNA helicases unwind dsRNA (inactive) to produce ssRNA that is functional, they have the potential to regulate gene expression, thereby linking environmentally induced changes in gene transcription with control at the post-transcriptional level. The research involves an integrated approach using molecular, biochemical, genetic and physiological techniques.

Our current research focuses on four primary issues:

Project 1. Environmental change and regulation of gene expression. We are interested in determining the players involved in sensing, signal transduction and expression of crhR in response to environmental conditions that alter the redox status of the electron transport chain. We are utilizing our knowledge of environmental gene regulation to control expression of proteins required for biotechnological purposes, for example biofuel production.

Project 2. Omics analysis of RNA helicase interacting partners. We are attempting to identify RNA and protein cofactors interacting with the RNA helicases using co-IP/affinity purification combined with RNA sequencing and mass spectrometric techniques. This analysis will allow insights into the physiological role performed by RNA helicases.

Project 3. Biochemistry of RNA helicase alteration of RNA secondary structure. CrhC and CrhR alter different RNA secondary structures. We are interested in determining how the helicases interact with specific RNAs and the mechanism by which the secondary structure alteration is accomplished.

Project 4. In conjunction with the Konhauser lab (EAS, UofA) we are interested in growing cyanobacteria under conditions that existed on the early earth, studying the ability to grow under these adverse conditions and also elucidating how cyanobacteria contributed to changing the earths environment. For example participation in the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) and the precipitation of minerals from the oceans.