Date of Award

Fall 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Yingfu Li


Eric D. Brown



Committee Member

David W. Andrews


Small molecule metabolites have important and diverse roles in every major cellular function. To study the activities of metabolites and the biological processes in which they are involved, it is important to be able to detect their levels within cells. Technologies that measure the concentrations of small molecules within the context of living, growing cells are highly advantageous but are challenging to produce. In this thesis, a novel class of intracellular small molecule sensors is produced, characterized and applied to address novel and relevant research questions. These sensors detect a specific target molecule within bacterial cells using RNA regulatory elements known as riboswitches and one of many possible reporter proteins. In addition to a project that yielded new methodology to create custom riboswitches, two projects that assess the capabilities of sensors that detect an active form of vitamin B12 are described. These projects present an abundance of data that provide novel insights into the transport and metabolism of vitamin B12 in E. coli cells. Overall, the results presented indicate that riboswitch-based sensors represent valuable and unique tools for the study of microbial biology. The thesis is concluded with a discussion that describes design strategies and several exciting potential applications for future riboswitch sensors.

McMaster University Library

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