Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Tel-Aviv University (2013)
  • Ph.D., Tel Aviv University, Microbiology
  • M.Sc., Tel Aviv University, Genetics
  • B.Sc., Tel Aviv University, Biology

Stanford Advisors


All Publications

  • Impact of a homing intein on recombination frequency and organismal fitness PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Naor, A., Altman-Price, N., Soucy, S. M., Green, A. G., Mitiagin, Y., Turgeman-Grott, I., Davidovich, N., Gogarten, J. P., Gophna, U. 2016; 113 (32): E4654-E4661


    Inteins are parasitic genetic elements that excise themselves at the protein level by self-splicing, allowing the formation of functional, nondisrupted proteins. Many inteins contain a homing endonuclease (HEN) domain and rely on its activity for horizontal propagation. However, successful invasion of an entire population will make this activity redundant, and the HEN domain is expected to degenerate quickly under these conditions. Several theories have been proposed for the continued existence of the both active HEN and noninvaded alleles within a population. However, to date, these models were not directly tested experimentally. Using the natural cell fusion ability of the halophilic archaeon Haloferax volcanii we were able to examine this question in vivo, by mating polB intein-positive [insertion site c in the gene encoding DNA polymerase B (polB-c)] and intein-negative cells and examining the dispersal efficiency of this intein in a natural, polyploid population. Through competition between otherwise isogenic intein-positive and intein-negative strains we determined a surprisingly high fitness cost of over 7% for the polB-c intein. Our laboratory culture experiments and samples taken from Israel's Mediterranean coastline show that the polB-c inteins do not efficiently take over an inteinless population through mating, even under ideal conditions. The presence of the HEN/intein promoted recombination when intein-positive and intein-negative cells were mated. Increased recombination due to HEN activity contributes not only to intein dissemination but also to variation at the population level because recombination tracts during repair extend substantially from the homing site.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1606416113

    View details for Web of Science ID 000381293300013

    View details for PubMedID 27462108

  • Low Species Barriers in Halophilic Archaea and the Formation of Recombinant Hybrids CURRENT BIOLOGY Naor, A., Lapierre, P., Mevarech, M., Papke, R. T., Gophna, U. 2012; 22 (15): 1444-1448


    Speciation of sexually reproducing organisms requires reproductive barriers. Prokaryotes reproduce asexually but often exchange DNA by lateral gene transfer mechanisms and recombination [1], yet distinct lineages are still observed. Thus, barriers to gene flow such as geographic isolation, genetic incompatibility or a physiological inability to transfer DNA represent potential underlying mechanisms behind preferred exchange groups observed in prokaryotes [2-6]. In Bacteria, experimental evidence showed that sequence divergence impedes homologous recombination between bacterial species [7-11]. Here we study interspecies gene exchange in halophilic archaea that possess a parasexual mechanism of genetic exchange that is functional between species [12, 13]. In this process, cells fuse forming a diploid state containing the full genetic repertoire of both parental cells, which facilitates genetic exchange and recombination. Later, cells separate, occasionally resulting in hybrids of the parental strains [14]. We show high recombination frequencies between Haloferax volcanii and Haloferax mediterranei, two species that have an average nucleotide sequence identity of 86.6%. Whole genome sequencing of Haloferax interspecies hybrids revealed the exchange of chromosomal fragments ranging from 310Kb to 530Kb. These results show that recombination barriers may be more permissive in halophilic archaea than they are in bacteria.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2012.05.056

    View details for Web of Science ID 000307415000027

    View details for PubMedID 22748314

  • Translocation of Dense Granule Effectors across the Parasitophorous Vacuole Membrane in Toxoplasma-Infected Cells Requires the Activity of ROP17, a Rhoptry Protein Kinase. mSphere Panas, M. W., Ferrel, A., Naor, A., Tenborg, E., Lorenzi, H. A., Boothroyd, J. C. 2019; 4 (4)


    Toxoplasma gondii tachyzoites co-opt host cell functions through introduction of a large set of rhoptry- and dense granule-derived effector proteins. These effectors reach the host cytosol through different means: direct injection for rhoptry effectors and translocation across the parasitophorous vacuolar membrane (PVM) for dense granule (GRA) effectors. The machinery that translocates these GRA effectors has recently been partially elucidated, revealing three components, MYR1, MYR2, and MYR3. To determine whether other proteins might be involved, we returned to a library of mutants defective in GRA translocation and selected one with a partial defect, suggesting it might be in a gene encoding a new component of the machinery. Surprisingly, whole-genome sequencing revealed a missense mutation in a gene encoding a known rhoptry protein, a serine/threonine protein kinase known as ROP17. ROP17 resides on the host cytosol side of the PVM in infected cells and has previously been known for its activity in phosphorylating and thereby inactivating host immunity-related GTPases. Here, we show that null or catalytically dead mutants of ROP17 are defective in GRA translocation across the PVM but that translocation can be rescued "in trans" by ROP17 delivered by other tachyzoites infecting the same host cell. This strongly argues that ROP17's role in regulating GRA translocation is carried out on the host cytosolic side of the PVM, not within the parasites or lumen of the parasitophorous vacuole. This represents an entirely new way in which the different secretory compartments of Toxoplasma tachyzoites collaborate to modulate the host-parasite interaction.IMPORTANCE When Toxoplasma infects a cell, it establishes a protective parasitophorous vacuole surrounding it. While this vacuole provides protection, it also serves as a barrier to the export of parasite effector proteins that impact and take control of the host cell. Our discovery here that the parasite rhoptry protein ROP17 is necessary for export of these effector proteins provides a distinct, novel function for ROP17 apart from its known role in protecting the vacuole. This will enable future research into ways in which we can prevent the export of effector proteins, thereby preventing Toxoplasma from productively infecting its animal and human hosts.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mSphere.00276-19

    View details for PubMedID 31366709

  • Toxoplasma Controls Host Cyclin E Expression through the Use of a Novel MYR1-Dependent Effector Protein, HCE1. mBio Panas, M. W., Naor, A., Cygan, A. M., Boothroyd, J. C. 2019; 10 (2)


    Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular parasite that establishes a favorable environment in the host cells in which it replicates. We have previously reported that it uses MYR-dependent translocation of dense granule proteins to elicit a key set of host responses related to the cell cycle, specifically, E2F transcription factor targets, including cyclin E. We report here the identification of a novel Toxoplasma effector protein that is exported from the parasitophorous vacuole in a MYR1-dependent manner and localizes to the host's nucleus. Parasites lacking this inducer of host cyclin E (HCE1) are unable to modulate E2F transcription factor target genes and exhibit a substantial growth defect. Immunoprecipitation of HCE1 from infected host cells showed that HCE1 efficiently binds elements of the cyclin E regulatory complex, namely, DP1 and its partners E2F3 and E2F4. Expression of HCE1 in Neospora caninum, or in uninfected human foreskin fibroblasts (HFFs), showed localization of the expressed protein to the host nuclei and strong cyclin E upregulation. Thus, HCE1 is a novel effector protein that is necessary and sufficient to impact the E2F axis of transcription, resulting in co-opting of host functions to the advantage of Toxoplasma IMPORTANCE Like most Apicomplexan parasites, Toxoplasma gondii has the remarkable ability to invade and establish a replicative niche within another eukaryotic cell, in this case, any of a large number of cell types in almost any warm-blooded animals. Part of the process of establishing this niche is the export of effector proteins to co-opt host cell functions in favor of the parasite. Here we identify a novel effector protein, HCE1, that the parasites export into the nucleus of human cells, where it modulates the expression of multiple genes, including the gene encoding cyclin E, one of the most crucial proteins involved in controlling when and whether a human cell divides. We show that HCE1 works through binding to specific transcription factors, namely, E2F3, E2F4, and DP1, that normally carefully regulate these all-important pathways. This represents a new way in which these consummately efficient infectious agents co-opt the human cells that they so efficiently grow within.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mBio.00674-19

    View details for PubMedID 31040242

  • Pervasive acquisition of CRISPR memory driven by inter-species mating of archaea can limit gene transfer and influence speciation. Nature microbiology Turgeman-Grott, I., Joseph, S., Marton, S., Eizenshtein, K., Naor, A., Soucy, S. M., Stachler, A., Shalev, Y., Zarkor, M., Reshef, L., Altman-Price, N., Marchfelder, A., Gophna, U. 2018


    CRISPR-Cas systems provide prokaryotes with sequence-specific immunity against viruses and plasmids based on DNA acquired from these invaders, known as spacers. Surprisingly, many archaea possess spacers that match chromosomal genes of related species, including those encoding core housekeeping genes. By sequencing genomes of environmental archaea isolated from a single site, we demonstrate that inter-species spacers are common. We show experimentally, by mating Haloferax volcanii and Haloferax mediterranei, that spacers are indeed acquired chromosome-wide, although a preference for integrated mobile elements and nearby regions of the chromosome exists. Inter-species mating induces increased spacer acquisition and may result in interactions between the acquisition machinery of the two species. Surprisingly, many of the spacers acquired following inter-species mating target self-replicons along with those originating from the mating partner, indicating that the acquisition machinery cannot distinguish self from non-self under these conditions. Engineering the chromosome of one species to be targeted by the other's CRISPR-Cas reduces gene exchange between them substantially. Thus, spacers acquired during inter-species mating could limit future gene transfer, resulting in a role for CRISPR-Cas systems in microbial speciation.

    View details for PubMedID 30478289

  • MYR1-Dependent Effectors Are the Major Drivers of a Host Cell's Early Response to Toxoplasma, Including Counteracting MYR1-Independent Effects MBIO Naor, A., Panas, M. W., Marino, N., Coffey, M. J., Tonkin, C. J., Boothroyd, J. C. 2018; 9 (2)


    The obligate intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii controls its host cell from within the parasitophorous vacuole (PV) by using a number of diverse effector proteins, a subset of which require the aspartyl protease 5 enzyme (ASP5) and/or the recently discovered MYR1 protein to cross the PV membrane. To examine the impact these effectors have in the context of the entirety of the host response to Toxoplasma, we used RNA-Seq to analyze the transcriptome expression profiles of human foreskin fibroblasts infected with wild-type RH (RH-WT), RH?myr1, and RH?asp5 tachyzoites. Interestingly, the majority of the differentially regulated genes responding to Toxoplasma infection are MYR1 dependent. A subset of MYR1 responses were ASP5 independent, and MYR1 function did not require ASP5 cleavage, suggesting the export of some effectors requires only MYR1. Gene set enrichment analysis of MYR1-dependent host responses suggests an upregulation of E2F transcription factors and the cell cycle and a downregulation related to interferon signaling, among numerous others. Most surprisingly, "hidden" responses arising in RH?myr1- but not RH-WT-infected host cells indicate counterbalancing actions of MYR1-dependent and -independent activities. The host genes and gene sets revealed here to be MYR1 dependent provide new insight into the parasite's ability to co-opt host cell functions.IMPORTANCEToxoplasma gondii is unique in its ability to successfully invade and replicate in a broad range of host species and cells within those hosts. The complex interplay of effector proteins exported by Toxoplasma is key to its success in co-opting the host cell to create a favorable replicative niche. Here we show that a majority of the transcriptomic effects in tachyzoite-infected cells depend on the activity of a novel translocation system involving MYR1 and that the effectors delivered by this system are part of an intricate interplay of activators and suppressors. Removal of all MYR1-dependent effectors reveals previously unknown activities that are masked or hidden by the action of these proteins.

    View details for PubMedID 29615509

  • Identification of a novel protein complex essential for effector translocation across the parasitophorous vacuole membrane of Toxoplasma gondii PLOS PATHOGENS Marino, N. D., Panas, M. W., Franco, M., Theisen, T. C., Naor, A., Rastogi, S., Buchholz, K. R., Lorenzi, H. A., Boothroyd, J. C. 2018; 14 (1): e1006828


    Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular parasite that can infect virtually all nucleated cells in warm-blooded animals. The ability of Toxoplasma tachyzoites to infect and successfully manipulate its host is dependent on its ability to transport "GRA" proteins that originate in unique secretory organelles called dense granules into the host cell in which they reside. GRAs have diverse roles in Toxoplasma's intracellular lifecycle, including co-opting crucial host cell functions and proteins, such as the cell cycle, c-Myc and p38 MAP kinase. Some of these GRA proteins, such as GRA16 and GRA24, are secreted into the parasitophorous vacuole (PV) within which Toxoplasma replicates and are transported across the PV membrane (PVM) into the host cell, but the translocation process and its machinery are not well understood. We previously showed that TgMYR1, which is cleaved by TgASP5 into two fragments, localizes to the PVM and is essential for GRA transport into the host cell. To identify additional proteins necessary for effector transport, we screened Toxoplasma mutants defective in c-Myc up-regulation for their ability to export GRA16 and GRA24 to the host cell nucleus. Here we report that novel proteins MYR2 and MYR3 play a crucial role in translocation of a subset of GRAs into the host cell. MYR2 and MYR3 are secreted into the PV space and co-localize with PV membranes and MYR1. Consistent with their predicted transmembrane domains, all three proteins are membrane-associated, and MYR3, but not MYR2, stably associates with MYR1, whose N- and C-terminal fragments are disulfide-linked. We further show that fusing intrinsically disordered effectors to a structured DHFR domain blocks the transport of other effectors, consistent with a translocon-based model of effector transport. Overall, these results reveal a novel complex at the PVM that is essential for effector translocation into the host cell.

    View details for PubMedID 29357375

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5794187

  • Cis-regulatory evolution in prokaryotes revealed by interspecific archaeal hybrids SCIENTIFIC REPORTS Artieri, C. G., Naor, A., Turgeman-Grott, I., Zhou, Y., York, R., Gophna, U., Fraser, H. B. 2017; 7: 3986


    The study of allele-specific expression (ASE) in interspecific hybrids has played a central role in our understanding of a wide range of phenomena, including genomic imprinting, X-chromosome inactivation, and cis-regulatory evolution. However across the hundreds of studies of hybrid ASE, all have been restricted to sexually reproducing eukaryotes, leaving a major gap in our understanding of the genomic patterns of cis-regulatory evolution in prokaryotes. Here we introduce a method to generate stable hybrids between two species of halophilic archaea, and measure genome-wide ASE in these hybrids with RNA-seq. We found that over half of all genes have significant ASE, and that genes encoding kinases show evidence of lineage-specific selection on their cis-regulation. This pattern of polygenic selection suggested species-specific adaptation to low phosphate conditions, which we confirmed with growth experiments. Altogether, our work extends the study of ASE to archaea, and suggests that cis-regulation can evolve under polygenic lineage-specific selection in prokaryotes.

    View details for PubMedID 28638059

  • Extracellular DNA metabolism in Haloferax volcarm FRONTIERS IN MICROBIOLOGY Chimileski, S., Dolas, K., Naor, A., Gophna, U., Papke, R. T. 2014; 5


    Extracellular DNA is found in all environments and is a dynamic component of the microbial ecosystem. Microbial cells produce and interact with extracellular DNA through many endogenous mechanisms. Extracellular DNA is processed and internalized for use as genetic information and as a major source of macronutrients, and plays several key roles within prokaryotic biofilms. Hypersaline sites contain some of the highest extracellular DNA concentrations measured in nature-a potential rich source of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus for halophilic microorganisms. We conducted DNA growth studies for the halophilic archaeon Haloferax volcanii DS2 and show that this model Halobacteriales strain is capable of using exogenous double-stranded DNA as a nutrient. Further experiments with varying medium composition, DNA concentration, and DNA types revealed that DNA is utilized primarily as a phosphorus source, that growth on DNA is concentration-dependent, and that DNA isolated from different sources is metabolized selectively, with a bias against highly divergent methylated DNA. Additionally, fluorescence microscopy showed that labeled DNA co-localized with H. volcanii cells. The gene Hvo_1477 was also identified using a comparative genomic approach as a factor likely to be involved in DNA processing at the cell surface, and deletion of Hvo_1477 created a strain deficient in the ability to grow on extracellular DNA. Widespread distribution of Hvo_1477 homologs in archaea suggests metabolism of extracellular DNA may be of broad ecological and physiological relevance in this domain of life.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00057

    View details for Web of Science ID 000331931400001

    View details for PubMedID 24600440

  • A halocin-H4 mutant Haloferax mediterranei strain retains the ability to inhibit growth of other halophilic archaea EXTREMOPHILES Naor, A., Yair, Y., Gophna, U. 2013; 17 (6): 973-979


    Many members of the Halobacteriaceae were found to produce halocins, molecules that inhibit the growth of other halophilic archaea. Halocin H4 that is produced by Haloferax mediterranei and inhibits the growth of Halobacterium salinarum is one of the best studied halocins to date. The gene encoding this halocin had been previously identified as halH4, located on one of Hfx. mediterranei megaplasmids. We generated a mutant of the halH4 gene and examined the killing ability of the Haloferax mediterranei halH4 mutant with respect to both Halobacterium salinarum and Haloferax volcanii. We showed that both wild-type Hfx. mediterranei and the halH4 mutant strain efficiently inhibited the growth of both species, indicating halocin redundancy. Surprisingly, the halH4 deletion mutant exhibited faster growth in standard medium than the wild type, and is likely to have a better response to several nucleotides, which could explain this phenotype.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00792-013-0579-8

    View details for Web of Science ID 000326046200009

    View details for PubMedID 24037372

  • Cell fusion and hybrids in Archaea Prospects for genome shuffling and accelerated strain development for biotechnology BIOENGINEERED Naor, A., Gophna, U. 2013; 4 (3): 126-129


    The ability to exchange DNA between cells is a molecular process that exists in different species in the domain Archaea. Such horizontal gene transfer events were shown to take place between distant species of archaea and to result in the transfer of large genomic regions. Here we describe recent progress in this field, discuss the potential use of natural gene exchange processes to perform genome shuffling and argue its possible biotechnological applications.

    View details for DOI 10.4161/bioe.22649

    View details for Web of Science ID 000336903200010

    View details for PubMedID 23111319

  • A Genetic Investigation of the KEOPS Complex in Halophilic Archaea PLOS ONE Naor, A., Thiaville, P. C., Altman-Price, N., Cohen-Or, I., Allers, T., de Crecy-Lagard, V., Gophna, U. 2012; 7 (8)


    KEOPS is an important cellular complex conserved in Eukarya, with some subunits conserved in Archaea and Bacteria. This complex was recently found to play an essential role in formation of the tRNA modification threonylcarbamoyladenosine (t(6)A), and was previously associated with telomere length maintenance and transcription. KEOPS subunits are conserved in Archaea, especially in the Euryarchaea, where they had been studied in vitro. Here we attempted to delete the genes encoding the four conserved subunits of the KEOPS complex in the euryarchaeote Haloferax volcanii and study their phenotypes in vivo. The fused kae1-bud32 gene was shown to be essential as was cgi121, which is dispensable in yeast. In contrast, pcc1 (encoding the putative dimerizing unit of KEOPS) was not essential in H. volcanii. Deletion of pcc1 led to pleiotropic phenotypes, including decreased growth rate, reduced levels of t(6)A modification, and elevated levels of intra-cellular glycation products.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0043013

    View details for Web of Science ID 000308224700010

    View details for PubMedID 22927945

  • Native homing endonucleases can target conserved genes in humans and in animal models NUCLEIC ACIDS RESEARCH Barzel, A., Privman, E., Peeri, M., Naor, A., Shachar, E., Burstein, D., Lazary, R., Gophna, U., Pupko, T., Kupiec, M. 2011; 39 (15): 6646-6659


    In recent years, both homing endonucleases (HEases) and zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) have been engineered and selected for the targeting of desired human loci for gene therapy. However, enzyme engineering is lengthy and expensive and the off-target effect of the manufactured endonucleases is difficult to predict. Moreover, enzymes selected to cleave a human DNA locus may not cleave the homologous locus in the genome of animal models because of sequence divergence, thus hampering attempts to assess the in vivo efficacy and safety of any engineered enzyme prior to its application in human trials. Here, we show that naturally occurring HEases can be found, that cleave desirable human targets. Some of these enzymes are also shown to cleave the homologous sequence in the genome of animal models. In addition, the distribution of off-target effects may be more predictable for native HEases. Based on our experimental observations, we present the HomeBase algorithm, database and web server that allow a high-throughput computational search and assignment of HEases for the targeting of specific loci in the human and other genomes. We validate experimentally the predicted target specificity of candidate fungal, bacterial and archaeal HEases using cell free, yeast and archaeal assays.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/nar/gkr242

    View details for Web of Science ID 000294555800035

    View details for PubMedID 21525128

  • Homing endonucleases residing within inteins: evolutionary puzzles awaiting genetic solutions BIOCHEMICAL SOCIETY TRANSACTIONS Barzel, A., Naor, A., Privman, E., Kupiec, M., Gophna, U. 2011; 39: 169-173


    Inteins are selfish genetic elements that disrupt the sequence of protein-coding genes and are excised post-translationally. Most inteins also contain a HEN (homing endonuclease) domain, which is important for their horizontal transmission. The present review focuses on the evolution of inteins and their nested HENs, and highlights several unsolved questions that could benefit from molecular genetic approaches. Such approaches can be well carried out in halophilic archaea, which are naturally intein-rich and have highly developed genetic tools for their study. In particular, the fitness effects of harbouring an intein/HEN can be tested in direct competition assays, providing additional insights that will improve current evolutionary models.

    View details for DOI 10.1042/BST0390169

    View details for Web of Science ID 000287438000029

    View details for PubMedID 21265767

  • In Vivo Characterization of the Homing Endonuclease within the polB Gene in the Halophilic Archaeon Haloferax volcanii PLOS ONE Naor, A., Lazary, R., Barzel, A., Papke, R. T., Gophna, U. 2011; 6 (1)


    Inteins are parasitic genetic elements, analogous to introns that excise themselves at the protein level by self-splicing, allowing the formation of functional non-disrupted proteins. Many inteins contain a homing endonuclease (HEN) gene, and rely on its activity for horizontal propagation. In the halophilic archaeon, Haloferax volcanii, the gene encoding DNA polymerase B (polB) contains an intein with an annotated but uncharacterized HEN. Here we examine the activity of the polB HEN in vivo, within its natural archaeal host. We show that this HEN is highly active, and able to insert the intein into both a chromosomal target and an extra-chromosomal plasmid target, by gene conversion. We also demonstrate that the frequency of its incorporation depends on the length of the flanking homologous sequences around the target site, reflecting its dependence on the homologous recombination machinery. Although several evolutionary models predict that the presence of an intein involves a change in the fitness of the host organism, our results show that a strain deleted for the intein sequence shows no significant changes in growth rate compared to the wild type.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0015833

    View details for Web of Science ID 000286522200015

    View details for PubMedID 21283796

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