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Functional genomics and forward genetics seek to assign function to all known genes in a genome. Entamoeba histolytica is a protozoan parasite for which forward genetics approaches have not been extensively applied. It is the causative agent of amoebic dysentery and liver abscess, and infection is prevalent in developing countries that cannot prevent its fecal-oral spread. It is responsible for considerable global morbidity and mortality. Given that the E. histolytica genome has been sequenced, it should be possible to apply genomic approaches to discover gene function. We used a genome-wide over-expression screen to uncover genes regulating an important virulence function of E. histolytica, namely phagocytosis. We developed an episomal E. histolytica cDNA over-expression library, transfected the collection of plasmids into trophozoites, and applied a high-throughput screen to identify phagocytosis mutants in the population of over-expressing cells. The screen was based on the phagocytic uptake of human red blood cells loaded with the metabolic toxin, tubercidin. Expression plasmids were isolated from trophozoites that survived exposure to tubercidin-charged erythrocytes (phagocytosis mutants), and the cDNAs were sequenced. We isolated the gene encoding profilin, a well-characterized cytoskeleton-regulating protein with a known role in phagocytosis. This supports the validity of our approach. Furthermore, we assigned a phagocytic role to several genes not previously known to function in this manner. To our knowledge, this is the first genome-wide forward genetics screen to be applied to this pathogen. The study demonstrates the power of forward genetics in revealing genes regulating virulence in E. histolytica. In addition, the study validates an E. histolytica cDNA over-expression library as a valuable tool for functional genomics.


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