Townsend James P.

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James P.

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  • Article
    TIAMMAt: leveraging biodiversity to revise protein domain models, evidence from innate immunity
    (Oxford University Press, 2021-08-30) Tassia, Michael G. ; David, Kyle T. ; Townsend, James P. ; Halanych, Kenneth M.
    Sequence annotation is fundamental for studying the evolution of protein families, particularly when working with nonmodel species. Given the rapid, ever-increasing number of species receiving high-quality genome sequencing, accurate domain modeling that is representative of species diversity is crucial for understanding protein family sequence evolution and their inferred function(s). Here, we describe a bioinformatic tool called Taxon-Informed Adjustment of Markov Model Attributes (TIAMMAt) which revises domain profile hidden Markov models (HMMs) by incorporating homologous domain sequences from underrepresented and nonmodel species. Using innate immunity pathways as a case study, we show that revising profile HMM parameters to directly account for variation in homologs among underrepresented species provides valuable insight into the evolution of protein families. Following adjustment by TIAMMAt, domain profile HMMs exhibit changes in their per-site amino acid state emission probabilities and insertion/deletion probabilities while maintaining the overall structure of the consensus sequence. Our results show that domain revision can heavily impact evolutionary interpretations for some families (i.e., NLR’s NACHT domain), whereas impact on other domains (e.g., rel homology domain and interferon regulatory factor domains) is minimal due to high levels of sequence conservation across the sampled phylogenetic depth (i.e., Metazoa). Importantly, TIAMMAt revises target domain models to reflect homologous sequence variation using the taxonomic distribution under consideration by the user. TIAMMAt’s flexibility to revise any subset of the Pfam database using a user-defined taxonomic pool will make it a valuable tool for future protein evolution studies, particularly when incorporating (or focusing) on nonmodel species.
  • Article
    Field testing of biohybrid robotic jellyfish to demonstrate enhanced swimming speeds
    (MDPI, 2020-11-21) Xu, Nicole W. ; Townsend, James P. ; Costello, John H. ; Colin, Sean P. ; Gemmell, Brad J. ; Dabiri, John O.
    Biohybrid robotic designs incorporating live animals and self-contained microelectronic systems can leverage the animals’ own metabolism to reduce power constraints and act as natural chassis and actuators with damage tolerance. Previous work established that biohybrid robotic jellyfish can exhibit enhanced speeds up to 2.8 times their baseline behavior in laboratory environments. However, it remains unknown if the results could be applied in natural, dynamic ocean environments and what factors can contribute to large animal variability. Deploying this system in the coastal waters of Massachusetts, we validate and extend prior laboratory work by demonstrating increases in jellyfish swimming speeds up to 2.3 times greater than their baseline, with absolute swimming speeds up to 6.6 ± 0.3 cm s−1. These experimental swimming speeds are predicted using a hydrodynamic model with morphological and time-dependent input parameters obtained from field experiment videos. The theoretical model can provide a basis to choose specific jellyfish with desirable traits to maximize enhancements from robotic manipulation. With future work to increase maneuverability and incorporate sensors, biohybrid robotic jellyfish can potentially be used to track environmental changes in applications for ocean monitoring.
  • Article
    Ink release and swimming behavior in the oceanic Ctenophore Eurhamphaea vexilligera
    (University of Chicago Press, 2020-06-08) Townsend, James P. ; Gemmell, Brad J. ; Sutherland, Kelly R. ; Colin, Sean P. ; Costello, John H.
    Of the more than 150 ctenophore species, the oceanic ctenophore Eurhamphaea vexilligera is notable for its bright orange-yellow ink, secreted from numerous small vesicles that line its substomodeal comb rows. To date, in situ observations by scuba divers have proved the most fruitful method of observing these animals’ natural behavior. We present the results of one such contemporary scuba-based observation of E. vexilligera, conducted in the Gulf Stream waters off the coast of Florida, using high-resolution photography and video. Utilizing underwater camera systems purpose built for filming gelatinous zooplankton, we observed E. vexilligera ink release and swimming behavior in situ. From these data, we describe the timeline and mechanics of E. vexilligera ink release in detail, as well as the animal’s different swimming behaviors and resulting ink dispersal patterns. We also describe a rolling swimming behavior, accompanied and possibly facilitated by a characteristic change in overall body shape. These observations provide further insight into the behavioral ecology of this distinctive ctenophore and may serve as the foundation for future kinematic studies.