I went down to Birmingham with Chris Hill, one of the MSc students joining the lab for the summer to meet Barry Leadbetter, who has made seminal contributions to our understanding of choanoflagellates. Now that we are armed with genome sequences, these unicellular eukaryotes look very much to be the the descendants of the unicellular ancestor of metazoa. They have a tyrosine kinome, which is a hallmark of metazoa, since virtually all cell-cell communication in animals involves tyosine phosphorylatioin at some point, even though tyrosine phosphate only accounts for ~2% of protein phosphorylation in a mammalian cell. Even more exciting from our perspective, was the analysis done by Alessandro Ori, which identified genes in choanoflagellates that might encode enzymes for heparan sulfate and chondroitin sulfate biosynthesis.
Barry provided us with detailed instructions and, most importantly, the benefit of his years of experience of growing these animals. We brought cultures of M Brevicolis and of S Rosetta back to the lab and we now embark on the adventure of growing these creatures, with the aim of seeing if we can find biochemical evidence for heparan sulfate.