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Science Center, Kirkpatrick Lecture Hall, A011

Mentewab Ayalew, Associate Professor of Biology Spelman College, Biology Department, Atlanta, GA Terrestrial plants extract minerals from the soil and in the process may take up antibiotics that are produced by soil microorganisms. In Arabidopsis thaliana, the WBC19 gene confers resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin but the exact mechanism involved is unknown. wbc19 mutants are very sensitive to kanamycin and their zinc uptake is compromised under normal conditions. In addition, iron uptake in normal plants declines when they are exposed to kanamycin. These preliminary findings suggested a complicated link between antibiotics and the uptake of different metals. We investigate this link with a mathematical model that integrates metal homeostasis, especially of iron and zinc, with the effects of kanamycin. The proposed model captured the redundancy as well as the subtle differences between the various transporters involved in iron and zinc transport. The dynamic model is formulated as a Generalized Mass Action (GMA) system and calibrated with data generated under various experimental conditions. The model explains the connection between metal uptake and antibiotic resistance and illustrates how plants rely on a combination of transporters to ensure optimal metal uptake. Models such as this are also excellent tools for introducing undergraduate biology students to quantitative thinking and thus systems biology. Specifically, they can serve as the basis for hands-on, computer-aided problem-based exploration and learning.

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