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

  • 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