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On the evolution of the standard genetic code: vestiges of critical scale invariance from the RNA world in current prokaryote genomes.
PUBLISHED: 02-02-2009
Herein two genetic codes from which the primeval RNA code could have originated the standard genetic code (SGC) are derived. One of them, called extended RNA code type I, consists of all codons of the type RNY (purine-any base-pyrimidine) plus codons obtained by considering the RNA code but in the second (NYR type) and third (YRN type) reading frames. The extended RNA code type II, comprises all codons of the type RNY plus codons that arise from transversions of the RNA code in the first (YNY type) and third (RNR) nucleotide bases. In order to test if putative nucleotide sequences in the RNA World and in both extended RNA codes, share the same scaling and statistical properties to those encountered in current prokaryotes, we used the genomes of four Eubacteria and three Archaeas. For each prokaryote, we obtained their respective genomes obeying the RNA code or the extended RNA codes types I and II. In each case, we estimated the scaling properties of triplet sequences via a renormalization group approach, and we calculated the frequency distributions of distances for each codon. Remarkably, the scaling properties of the distance series of some codons from the RNA code and most codons from both extended RNA codes turned out to be identical or very close to the scaling properties of codons of the SGC. To test for the robustness of these results, we show, via computer simulation experiments, that random mutations of current genomes, at the rates of 10(-10) per site per year during three billions of years, were not enough for destroying the observed patterns. Therefore, we conclude that most current prokaryotes may still contain relics of the primeval RNA World and that both extended RNA codes may well represent two plausible evolutionary paths between the RNA code and the current SGC.
Authors: Stéphanie Beaucourt, Antonio V. Bordería, Lark L. Coffey, Nina F. Gnädig, Marta Sanz-Ramos, Yasnee Beeharry, Marco Vignuzzi.
Published: 06-16-2011
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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Generation of RNA/DNA Hybrids in Genomic DNA by Transformation using RNA-containing Oligonucleotides
Authors: Ying Shen, Francesca Storici.
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology.
Synthetic short nucleic acid polymers, oligonucleotides (oligos), are the most functional and widespread tools of molecular biology. Oligos can be produced to contain any desired DNA or RNA sequence and can be prepared to include a wide variety of base and sugar modifications. Moreover, oligos can be designed to mimic specific nucleic acid alterations and thus, can serve as important tools to investigate effects of DNA damage and mechanisms of repair. We found that Thermo Scientific Dharmacon RNA-containing oligos with a length between 50 and 80 nucleotides can be particularly suitable to study, in vivo, functions and consequences of chromosomal RNA/DNA hybrids and of ribonucleotides embedded into DNA. RNA/DNA hybrids can readily form during DNA replication, repair and transcription, however, very little is known about the stability of RNA/DNA hybrids in cells and to which extent these hybrids can affect the genetic integrity of cells. RNA-containing oligos, therefore, represent a perfect vector to introduce ribonucleotides into chromosomal DNA and generate RNA/DNA hybrids of chosen length and base composition. Here we present the protocol for the incorporation of ribonucleotides into the genome of the eukaryotic model system yeast /Saccharomyces cerevisiae/. Yet, our lab has utilized Thermo Scientific Dharmacon RNA-containing oligos to generate RNA/DNA hybrids at the chromosomal level in different cell systems, from bacteria to human cells.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, RNA-containing oligonucleotides, ribonucleotides, RNA/DNA hybrids, yeast, transformation, gene targeting, genome instability, DNA repair
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Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Authors: R. Craig Stillwell, Ian Dworkin, Alexander W. Shingleton, W. Anthony Frankino.
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4. Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12). Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
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Substrate Generation for Endonucleases of CRISPR/Cas Systems
Authors: Judith Zoephel, Srivatsa Dwarakanath, Hagen Richter, André Plagens, Lennart Randau.
Institutions: Max-Planck-Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology.
The interaction of viruses and their prokaryotic hosts shaped the evolution of bacterial and archaeal life. Prokaryotes developed several strategies to evade viral attacks that include restriction modification, abortive infection and CRISPR/Cas systems. These adaptive immune systems found in many Bacteria and most Archaea consist of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) sequences and a number of CRISPR associated (Cas) genes (Fig. 1) 1-3. Different sets of Cas proteins and repeats define at least three major divergent types of CRISPR/Cas systems 4. The universal proteins Cas1 and Cas2 are proposed to be involved in the uptake of viral DNA that will generate a new spacer element between two repeats at the 5' terminus of an extending CRISPR cluster 5. The entire cluster is transcribed into a precursor-crRNA containing all spacer and repeat sequences and is subsequently processed by an enzyme of the diverse Cas6 family into smaller crRNAs 6-8. These crRNAs consist of the spacer sequence flanked by a 5' terminal (8 nucleotides) and a 3' terminal tag derived from the repeat sequence 9. A repeated infection of the virus can now be blocked as the new crRNA will be directed by a Cas protein complex (Cascade) to the viral DNA and identify it as such via base complementarity10. Finally, for CRISPR/Cas type 1 systems, the nuclease Cas3 will destroy the detected invader DNA 11,12 . These processes define CRISPR/Cas as an adaptive immune system of prokaryotes and opened a fascinating research field for the study of the involved Cas proteins. The function of many Cas proteins is still elusive and the causes for the apparent diversity of the CRISPR/Cas systems remain to be illuminated. Potential activities of most Cas proteins were predicted via detailed computational analyses. A major fraction of Cas proteins are either shown or proposed to function as endonucleases 4. Here, we present methods to generate crRNAs and precursor-cRNAs for the study of Cas endoribonucleases. Different endonuclease assays require either short repeat sequences that can directly be synthesized as RNA oligonucleotides or longer crRNA and pre-crRNA sequences that are generated via in vitro T7 RNA polymerase run-off transcription. This methodology allows the incorporation of radioactive nucleotides for the generation of internally labeled endonuclease substrates and the creation of synthetic or mutant crRNAs. Cas6 endonuclease activity is utilized to mature pre-crRNAs into crRNAs with 5'-hydroxyl and a 2',3'-cyclic phosphate termini.
Molecular biology, Issue 67, CRISPR/Cas, endonuclease, in vitro transcription, crRNA, Cas6
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iCLIP - Transcriptome-wide Mapping of Protein-RNA Interactions with Individual Nucleotide Resolution
Authors: Julian Konig, Kathi Zarnack, Gregor Rot, Tomaz Curk, Melis Kayikci, Blaz Zupan, Daniel J. Turner, Nicholas M. Luscombe, Jernej Ule.
Institutions: Medical Research Council - MRC, EMBL Heidelberg, University of Ljubljana, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
The unique composition and spatial arrangement of RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) on a transcript guide the diverse aspects of post-transcriptional regulation1. Therefore, an essential step towards understanding transcript regulation at the molecular level is to gain positional information on the binding sites of RBPs2. Protein-RNA interactions can be studied using biochemical methods, but these approaches do not address RNA binding in its native cellular context. Initial attempts to study protein-RNA complexes in their cellular environment employed affinity purification or immunoprecipitation combined with differential display or microarray analysis (RIP-CHIP)3-5. These approaches were prone to identifying indirect or non-physiological interactions6. In order to increase the specificity and positional resolution, a strategy referred to as CLIP (UV cross-linking and immunoprecipitation) was introduced7,8. CLIP combines UV cross-linking of proteins and RNA molecules with rigorous purification schemes including denaturing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. In combination with high-throughput sequencing technologies, CLIP has proven as a powerful tool to study protein-RNA interactions on a genome-wide scale (referred to as HITS-CLIP or CLIP-seq)9,10. Recently, PAR-CLIP was introduced that uses photoreactive ribonucleoside analogs for cross-linking11,12. Despite the high specificity of the obtained data, CLIP experiments often generate cDNA libraries of limited sequence complexity. This is partly due to the restricted amount of co-purified RNA and the two inefficient RNA ligation reactions required for library preparation. In addition, primer extension assays indicated that many cDNAs truncate prematurely at the crosslinked nucleotide13. Such truncated cDNAs are lost during the standard CLIP library preparation protocol. We recently developed iCLIP (individual-nucleotide resolution CLIP), which captures the truncated cDNAs by replacing one of the inefficient intermolecular RNA ligation steps with a more efficient intramolecular cDNA circularization (Figure 1)14. Importantly, sequencing the truncated cDNAs provides insights into the position of the cross-link site at nucleotide resolution. We successfully applied iCLIP to study hnRNP C particle organization on a genome-wide scale and assess its role in splicing regulation14.
Cellular Biology, Issue 50, RNA biochemistry, transcriptome, systems biology, RNA-binding protein
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Laser Microdissection Applied to Gene Expression Profiling of Subset of Cells from the Drosophila Wing Disc
Authors: Rosario Vicidomini, Giuseppe Tortoriello, Maria Furia, Gianluca Polese.
Institutions: University of Naples.
Heterogeneous nature of tissues has proven to be a limiting factor in the amount of information that can be generated from biological samples, compromising downstream analyses. Considering the complex and dynamic cellular associations existing within many tissues, in order to recapitulate the in vivo interactions thorough molecular analysis one must be able to analyze specific cell populations within their native context. Laser-mediated microdissection can achieve this goal, allowing unambiguous identification and successful harvest of cells of interest under direct microscopic visualization while maintaining molecular integrity. We have applied this technology to analyse gene expression within defined areas of the developing Drosophila wing disc, which represents an advantageous model system to study growth control, cell differentiation and organogenesis. Larval imaginal discs are precociously subdivided into anterior and posterior, dorsal and ventral compartments by lineage restriction boundaries. Making use of the inducible GAL4-UAS binary expression system, each of these compartments can be specifically labelled in transgenic flies expressing an UAS-GFP transgene under the control of the appropriate GAL4-driver construct. In the transgenic discs, gene expression profiling of discrete subsets of cells can precisely be determined after laser-mediated microdissection, using the fluorescent GFP signal to guide laser cut. Among the variety of downstream applications, we focused on RNA transcript profiling after localised RNA interference (RNAi). With the advent of RNAi technology, GFP labelling can be coupled with localised knockdown of a given gene, allowing to determinate the transcriptional response of a discrete cell population to the specific gene silencing. To validate this approach, we dissected equivalent areas of the disc from the posterior (labelled by GFP expression), and the anterior (unlabelled) compartment upon regional silencing in the P compartment of an otherwise ubiquitously expressed gene. RNA was extracted from microdissected silenced and unsilenced areas and comparative gene expression profiling determined by quantitative real-time RT-PCR. We show that this method can effectively be applied for accurate transcriptomics of subsets of cells within the Drosophila imaginal discs. Indeed, while massive disc preparation as source of RNA generally assumes cell homogeneity, it is well known that transcriptional expression can vary greatly within these structures in consequence of positional information. Using localized fluorescent GFP signal to guide laser cut, more accurate transcriptional analyses can be performed and profitably applied to disparate applications, including transcript profiling of distinct cell lineages within their native context.
Developmental Biology, Issue 38, Drosophila, Imaginal discs, Laser microdissection, Gene expression, Transcription profiling, Regulatory pathways , in vivo RNAi, GAL4-UAS, GFP labelling, Positional information
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Detection of the Genome and Transcripts of a Persistent DNA Virus in Neuronal Tissues by Fluorescent In situ Hybridization Combined with Immunostaining
Authors: Frédéric Catez, Antoine Rousseau, Marc Labetoulle, Patrick Lomonte.
Institutions: CNRS UMR 5534, Université de Lyon 1, LabEX DEVweCAN, CNRS UPR 3296, CNRS UMR 5286.
Single cell codetection of a gene, its RNA product and cellular regulatory proteins is critical to study gene expression regulation. This is a challenge in the field of virology; in particular for nuclear-replicating persistent DNA viruses that involve animal models for their study. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) establishes a life-long latent infection in peripheral neurons. Latent virus serves as reservoir, from which it reactivates and induces a new herpetic episode. The cell biology of HSV-1 latency remains poorly understood, in part due to the lack of methods to detect HSV-1 genomes in situ in animal models. We describe a DNA-fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) approach efficiently detecting low-copy viral genomes within sections of neuronal tissues from infected animal models. The method relies on heat-based antigen unmasking, and directly labeled home-made DNA probes, or commercially available probes. We developed a triple staining approach, combining DNA-FISH with RNA-FISH and immunofluorescence, using peroxidase based signal amplification to accommodate each staining requirement. A major improvement is the ability to obtain, within 10 µm tissue sections, low-background signals that can be imaged at high resolution by confocal microscopy and wide-field conventional epifluorescence. Additionally, the triple staining worked with a wide range of antibodies directed against cellular and viral proteins. The complete protocol takes 2.5 days to accommodate antibody and probe penetration within the tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 83, Life Sciences (General), Virology, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), Latency, In situ hybridization, Nuclear organization, Gene expression, Microscopy
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Engineering and Evolution of Synthetic Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) Gene Therapy Vectors via DNA Family Shuffling
Authors: Eike Kienle, Elena Senís, Kathleen Börner, Dominik Niopek, Ellen Wiedtke, Stefanie Grosse, Dirk Grimm.
Institutions: Heidelberg University, Heidelberg University.
Adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors represent some of the most potent and promising vehicles for therapeutic human gene transfer due to a unique combination of beneficial properties1. These include the apathogenicity of the underlying wildtype viruses and the highly advanced methodologies for production of high-titer, high-purity and clinical-grade recombinant vectors2. A further particular advantage of the AAV system over other viruses is the availability of a wealth of naturally occurring serotypes which differ in essential properties yet can all be easily engineered as vectors using a common protocol1,2. Moreover, a number of groups including our own have recently devised strategies to use these natural viruses as templates for the creation of synthetic vectors which either combine the assets of multiple input serotypes, or which enhance the properties of a single isolate. The respective technologies to achieve these goals are either DNA family shuffling3, i.e. fragmentation of various AAV capsid genes followed by their re-assembly based on partial homologies (typically >80% for most AAV serotypes), or peptide display4,5, i.e. insertion of usually seven amino acids into an exposed loop of the viral capsid where the peptide ideally mediates re-targeting to a desired cell type. For maximum success, both methods are applied in a high-throughput fashion whereby the protocols are up-scaled to yield libraries of around one million distinct capsid variants. Each clone is then comprised of a unique combination of numerous parental viruses (DNA shuffling approach) or contains a distinctive peptide within the same viral backbone (peptide display approach). The subsequent final step is iterative selection of such a library on target cells in order to enrich for individual capsids fulfilling most or ideally all requirements of the selection process. The latter preferably combines positive pressure, such as growth on a certain cell type of interest, with negative selection, for instance elimination of all capsids reacting with anti-AAV antibodies. This combination increases chances that synthetic capsids surviving the selection match the needs of the given application in a manner that would probably not have been found in any naturally occurring AAV isolate. Here, we focus on the DNA family shuffling method as the theoretically and experimentally more challenging of the two technologies. We describe and demonstrate all essential steps for the generation and selection of shuffled AAV libraries (Fig. 1), and then discuss the pitfalls and critical aspects of the protocols that one needs to be aware of in order to succeed with molecular AAV evolution.
Immunology, Issue 62, Adeno-associated virus, AAV, gene therapy, synthetic biology, viral vector, molecular evolution, DNA shuffling
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A Protocol for Analyzing Hepatitis C Virus Replication
Authors: Songyang Ren, Deisy Contreras, Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami.
Institutions: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) affects 3% of the world’s population and causes serious liver ailments including chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. HCV is an enveloped RNA virus belonging to the family Flaviviridae. Current treatment is not fully effective and causes adverse side effects. There is no HCV vaccine available. Thus, continued effort is required for developing a vaccine and better therapy. An HCV cell culture system is critical for studying various stages of HCV growth including viral entry, genome replication, packaging, and egress. In the current procedure presented, we used a wild-type intragenotype 2a chimeric virus, FNX-HCV, and a recombinant FNX-Rluc virus carrying a Renilla luciferase reporter gene to study the virus replication. A human hepatoma cell line (Huh-7 based) was used for transfection of in vitro transcribed HCV genomic RNAs. Cell-free culture supernatants, protein lysates and total RNA were harvested at various time points post-transfection to assess HCV growth. HCV genome replication status was evaluated by quantitative RT-PCR and visualizing the presence of HCV double-stranded RNA. The HCV protein expression was verified by Western blot and immunofluorescence assays using antibodies specific for HCV NS3 and NS5A proteins. HCV RNA transfected cells released infectious particles into culture supernatant and the viral titer was measured. Luciferase assays were utilized to assess the replication level and infectivity of reporter HCV. In conclusion, we present various virological assays for characterizing different stages of the HCV replication cycle.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 88, Hepatitis C Virus, HCV, Tumor-virus, Hepatitis C, Cirrhosis, Liver Cancer, Hepatocellular Carcinoma
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Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Authors: Lorena Stannek, Richard Egelkamp, Katrin Gunka, Fabian M. Commichau.
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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Isolation of Ribosome Bound Nascent Polypeptides in vitro to Identify Translational Pause Sites Along mRNA
Authors: Sujata S. Jha, Anton A. Komar.
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
The rate of translational elongation is non-uniform. mRNA secondary structure, codon usage and mRNA associated proteins may alter ribosome movement on the messagefor review see 1. However, it's now widely accepted that synonymous codon usage is the primary cause of non-uniform translational elongation rates1. Synonymous codons are not used with identical frequency. A bias exists in the use of synonymous codons with some codons used more frequently than others2. Codon bias is organism as well as tissue specific2,3. Moreover, frequency of codon usage is directly proportional to the concentrations of cognate tRNAs4. Thus, a frequently used codon will have higher multitude of corresponding tRNAs, which further implies that a frequent codon will be translated faster than an infrequent one. Thus, regions on mRNA enriched in rare codons (potential pause sites) will as a rule slow down ribosome movement on the message and cause accumulation of nascent peptides of the respective sizes5-8. These pause sites can have functional impact on the protein expression, mRNA stability and protein foldingfor review see 9. Indeed, it was shown that alleviation of such pause sites can alter ribosome movement on mRNA and subsequently may affect the efficiency of co-translational (in vivo) protein folding1,7,10,11. To understand the process of protein folding in vivo, in the cell, that is ultimately coupled to the process of protein synthesis it is essential to gain comprehensive insights into the impact of codon usage/tRNA content on the movement of ribosomes along mRNA during translational elongation. Here we describe a simple technique that can be used to locate major translation pause sites for a given mRNA translated in various cell-free systems6-8. This procedure is based on isolation of nascent polypeptides accumulating on ribosomes during in vitro translation of a target mRNA. The rationale is that at low-frequency codons, the increase in the residence time of the ribosomes results in increased amounts of nascent peptides of the corresponding sizes. In vitro transcribed mRNA is used for in vitro translational reactions in the presence of radioactively labeled amino acids to allow the detection of the nascent chains. In order to isolate ribosome bound nascent polypeptide complexes the translation reaction is layered on top of 30% glycerol solution followed by centrifugation. Nascent polypeptides in polysomal pellet are further treated with ribonuclease A and resolved by SDS PAGE. This technique can be potentially used for any protein and allows analysis of ribosome movement along mRNA and the detection of the major pause sites. Additionally, this protocol can be adapted to study factors and conditions that can alter ribosome movement and thus potentially can also alter the function/conformation of the protein.
Genetics, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Ribosome, Nascent polypeptide, Co-translational protein folding, Synonymous codon usage, gene regulation
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Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Authors: Ashwin Prakash, Jason Bechtel, Alexei Fedorov.
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al. 2009). Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al. 2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
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Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Authors: Anna Karlgren, Jenny Carlsson, Niclas Gyllenstrand, Ulf Lagercrantz, Jens F. Sundström.
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies). Here we present a modified DIG in situ hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica napus. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3 and BnAP3 were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana and B. napus and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies. For P. abies the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film. Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study. Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at and Jens F. Sundström at
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
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Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Authors: Kwyn A. Meagher, Benjamin N. Doblack, Mercedes Ramirez, Lilian P. Davila.
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications.  For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately.  To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models.  To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models.  This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented.  The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix.  With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions.  The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures.  This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models.  Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created.  An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material.  In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures.  One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Authors: Justen Manasa, Siva Danaviah, Sureshnee Pillay, Prevashinee Padayachee, Hloniphile Mthiyane, Charity Mkhize, Richard John Lessells, Christopher Seebregts, Tobias F. Rinke de Wit, Johannes Viljoen, David Katzenstein, Tulio De Oliveira.
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
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Mouse Genome Engineering Using Designer Nucleases
Authors: Mario Hermann, Tomas Cermak, Daniel F. Voytas, Pawel Pelczar.
Institutions: University of Zurich, University of Minnesota.
Transgenic mice carrying site-specific genome modifications (knockout, knock-in) are of vital importance for dissecting complex biological systems as well as for modeling human diseases and testing therapeutic strategies. Recent advances in the use of designer nucleases such as zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) 9 system for site-specific genome engineering open the possibility to perform rapid targeted genome modification in virtually any laboratory species without the need to rely on embryonic stem (ES) cell technology. A genome editing experiment typically starts with identification of designer nuclease target sites within a gene of interest followed by construction of custom DNA-binding domains to direct nuclease activity to the investigator-defined genomic locus. Designer nuclease plasmids are in vitro transcribed to generate mRNA for microinjection of fertilized mouse oocytes. Here, we provide a protocol for achieving targeted genome modification by direct injection of TALEN mRNA into fertilized mouse oocytes.
Genetics, Issue 86, Oocyte microinjection, Designer nucleases, ZFN, TALEN, Genome Engineering
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Polysome Fractionation and Analysis of Mammalian Translatomes on a Genome-wide Scale
Authors: Valentina Gandin, Kristina Sikström, Tommy Alain, Masahiro Morita, Shannon McLaughlan, Ola Larsson, Ivan Topisirovic.
Institutions: McGill University, Karolinska Institutet, McGill University.
mRNA translation plays a central role in the regulation of gene expression and represents the most energy consuming process in mammalian cells. Accordingly, dysregulation of mRNA translation is considered to play a major role in a variety of pathological states including cancer. Ribosomes also host chaperones, which facilitate folding of nascent polypeptides, thereby modulating function and stability of newly synthesized polypeptides. In addition, emerging data indicate that ribosomes serve as a platform for a repertoire of signaling molecules, which are implicated in a variety of post-translational modifications of newly synthesized polypeptides as they emerge from the ribosome, and/or components of translational machinery. Herein, a well-established method of ribosome fractionation using sucrose density gradient centrifugation is described. In conjunction with the in-house developed “anota” algorithm this method allows direct determination of differential translation of individual mRNAs on a genome-wide scale. Moreover, this versatile protocol can be used for a variety of biochemical studies aiming to dissect the function of ribosome-associated protein complexes, including those that play a central role in folding and degradation of newly synthesized polypeptides.
Biochemistry, Issue 87, Cells, Eukaryota, Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases, Neoplasms, Metabolic Phenomena, Cell Physiological Phenomena, mRNA translation, ribosomes, protein synthesis, genome-wide analysis, translatome, mTOR, eIF4E, 4E-BP1
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Metabolic Labeling of Newly Transcribed RNA for High Resolution Gene Expression Profiling of RNA Synthesis, Processing and Decay in Cell Culture
Authors: Bernd Rädle, Andrzej J. Rutkowski, Zsolt Ruzsics, Caroline C. Friedel, Ulrich H. Koszinowski, Lars Dölken.
Institutions: Max von Pettenkofer Institute, University of Cambridge, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich.
The development of whole-transcriptome microarrays and next-generation sequencing has revolutionized our understanding of the complexity of cellular gene expression. Along with a better understanding of the involved molecular mechanisms, precise measurements of the underlying kinetics have become increasingly important. Here, these powerful methodologies face major limitations due to intrinsic properties of the template samples they study, i.e. total cellular RNA. In many cases changes in total cellular RNA occur either too slowly or too quickly to represent the underlying molecular events and their kinetics with sufficient resolution. In addition, the contribution of alterations in RNA synthesis, processing, and decay are not readily differentiated. We recently developed high-resolution gene expression profiling to overcome these limitations. Our approach is based on metabolic labeling of newly transcribed RNA with 4-thiouridine (thus also referred to as 4sU-tagging) followed by rigorous purification of newly transcribed RNA using thiol-specific biotinylation and streptavidin-coated magnetic beads. It is applicable to a broad range of organisms including vertebrates, Drosophila, and yeast. We successfully applied 4sU-tagging to study real-time kinetics of transcription factor activities, provide precise measurements of RNA half-lives, and obtain novel insights into the kinetics of RNA processing. Finally, computational modeling can be employed to generate an integrated, comprehensive analysis of the underlying molecular mechanisms.
Genetics, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Eukaryota, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Gene expression profiling, RNA synthesis, RNA processing, RNA decay, 4-thiouridine, 4sU-tagging, microarray analysis, RNA-seq, RNA, DNA, PCR, sequencing
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Nanomanipulation of Single RNA Molecules by Optical Tweezers
Authors: William Stephenson, Gorby Wan, Scott A. Tenenbaum, Pan T. X. Li.
Institutions: University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York.
A large portion of the human genome is transcribed but not translated. In this post genomic era, regulatory functions of RNA have been shown to be increasingly important. As RNA function often depends on its ability to adopt alternative structures, it is difficult to predict RNA three-dimensional structures directly from sequence. Single-molecule approaches show potentials to solve the problem of RNA structural polymorphism by monitoring molecular structures one molecule at a time. This work presents a method to precisely manipulate the folding and structure of single RNA molecules using optical tweezers. First, methods to synthesize molecules suitable for single-molecule mechanical work are described. Next, various calibration procedures to ensure the proper operations of the optical tweezers are discussed. Next, various experiments are explained. To demonstrate the utility of the technique, results of mechanically unfolding RNA hairpins and a single RNA kissing complex are used as evidence. In these examples, the nanomanipulation technique was used to study folding of each structural domain, including secondary and tertiary, independently. Lastly, the limitations and future applications of the method are discussed.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, RNA folding, single-molecule, optical tweezers, nanomanipulation, RNA secondary structure, RNA tertiary structure
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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RNA Extraction from Neuroprecursor Cells Using the Bio-Rad Total RNA Kit
Authors: Jia Sheng Su, Edwin S. Monuki.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI), University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Basic Protocols, Issue 9, RNA, Purification, Brain
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