Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Charles Derby

Second Advisor

Phang C. Tai

Third Advisor

Chung-Dar Lu


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A 60 kDa monomeric protein isolated from the defensive purple ink secretion of the sea hare Aplysia californica has broad antimicrobial activity in tryptone peptone rich medium. This protein, which we call ‘escapin’, belongs to an L-amino acid oxidase family. The goals of my project were 1) to determine the products of escapin’s oxidation of its main substrate L-lysine, 2) to characterize the antimicrobial effects of escapin’s products, and 3) determine bactericidal mechanisms of action of these products.

Escapin is a powerful bactericidal agent against several bacteria species including Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, and Vibrio harveyi. Escapin operates through a two-step process: 1) deamination of L-amino acids (especially L-lysine) by enzymatic activity to produce escapin intermediate products of L-lysine (EIP-K), hydrogen peroxide, and ammonia; and 2) EIP-K simultaneously reacts with hydrogen peroxide to generate escapin end products (EEP-K). EIP exists as an equilibrium mixture of the linear a-keto analogue of lysine and its cyclic forms, and the relative amount of the linear form increases with pH decreases. The powerful bactericidal effect of escapin requires the simultaneous presence of hydrogen peroxide and EIP-K in weak acidic conditions, which suggests that linear form of EIP-K with hydrogen peroxide is responsible for the bactericidal effect of escapin. Using E. coli MC4100 as a model, the mechanism of action of escapin was examined. Brief treatment with EIP-K + H2O2, but not EIP-K or H2O2 alone, causes irreversible DNA condensation with a time course similar to the bactericidal effect. A mutant strain resistant to EIP-K + H2O2 was isolated, and a single point mutation was found in the oxidative stress regulator gene (oxyR). Through a complementary assay, it was shown that wild type E. coli is conferred resistance to EIP-K + H2O2 by carrying mutated oxyR plasmid. Furthermore, in this bactericidal effect, heat or cold shock does not substitute for hydrogen peroxide induced oxidative stress. Thus, escapin’s powerful bactericidal effect may be through irreversible DNA condensation mediated through hydrogen peroxide generating an oxidative stress response, but the pathway mediating EIP-K’s synergistic effect is still unclear.

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