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Reverse engineering of bacterial chemotaxis pathway via frequency domain analysis.
PUBLISHED: 01-24-2010
Chemotaxis is defined as a behavior involving organisms sensing attractants or repellents and leading towards or away from them. Therefore, it is possible to reengineer chemotaxis network to control the movement of bacteria to our advantage. Understanding the design principles of chemotaxis pathway is a prerequisite and an important topic in synthetic biology. Here, we provide guidelines for chemotaxis pathway design by employing control theory and reverse engineering concept on pathway dynamic design. We first analyzed the mathematical models for two most important kinds of E. coli chemotaxis pathway-adaptive and non-adaptive pathways, and concluded that the control units of the pathway de facto function as a band-pass filter and a low-pass filter, respectively, by abstracting the frequency response properties of the pathways. The advantage of the band-pass filter is established, and we demonstrate how to tune the three key parameters of it-A (max amplification), omega(1) (down cut-off frequency) and omega(2) (up cut-off frequency) to optimize the chemotactic effect. Finally, we hypothesized a similar but simpler version of the dynamic pathway model based on the principles discovered and show that it leads to similar properties with native E. coli chemotactic behaviors. Our study provides an example of simulating and designing biological dynamics in silico and indicates how to make use of the native pathways features in this process. Furthermore, the characteristics we discovered and tested through reverse engineering may help to understand the design principles of the pathway and promote the design of artificial chemotaxis pathways.
Many eukaryotic cells can detect gradients of chemical signals in their environments and migrate accordingly 1. This guided cell migration is referred as chemotaxis, which is essential for various cells to carry out their functions such as trafficking of immune cells and patterning of neuronal cells 2, 3. A large family of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) detects variable small peptides, known as chemokines, to direct cell migration in vivo 4. The final goal of chemotaxis research is to understand how a GPCR machinery senses chemokine gradients and controls signaling events leading to chemotaxis. To this end, we use imaging techniques to monitor, in real time, spatiotemporal concentrations of chemoattractants, cell movement in a gradient of chemoattractant, GPCR mediated activation of heterotrimeric G-protein, and intracellular signaling events involved in chemotaxis of eukaryotic cells 5-8. The simple eukaryotic organism, Dictyostelium discoideum, displays chemotaxic behaviors that are similar to those of leukocytes, and D. discoideum is a key model system for studying eukaryotic chemotaxis. As free-living amoebae, D. discoideum cells divide in rich medium. Upon starvation, cells enter a developmental program in which they aggregate through cAMP-mediated chemotaxis to form multicullular structures. Many components involved in chemotaxis to cAMP have been identified in D. discoideum. The binding of cAMP to a GPCR (cAR1) induces dissociation of heterotrimeric G-proteins into Gγ and Gβγ subunits 7, 9, 10. Gβγ subunits activate Ras, which in turn activates PI3K, converting PIP2 into PIP3 on the cell membrane 11-13. PIP3 serve as binding sites for proteins with pleckstrin Homology (PH) domains, thus recruiting these proteins to the membrane 14, 15. Activation of cAR1 receptors also controls the membrane associations of PTEN, which dephosphorylates PIP3 to PIP216, 17. The molecular mechanisms are evolutionarily conserved in chemokine GPCR-mediated chemotaxis of human cells such as neutrophils 18. We present following methods for studying chemotaxis of D. discoideum cells. 1. Preparation of chemotactic component cells. 2. Imaging chemotaxis of cells in a cAMP gradient. 3. Monitoring a GPCR induced activation of heterotrimeric G-protein in single live cells. 4. Imaging chemoattractant-triggered dynamic PIP3 responses in single live cells in real time. Our developed imaging methods can be applied to study chemotaxis of human leukocytes.
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C. elegans Positive Butanone Learning, Short-term, and Long-term Associative Memory Assays
Authors: Amanda Kauffman, Lance Parsons, Geneva Stein, Airon Wills, Rachel Kaletsky, Coleen Murphy.
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University.
The memory of experiences and learned information is critical for organisms to make choices that aid their survival. C. elegans navigates its environment through neuron-specific detection of food and chemical odors1, 2, and can associate nutritive states with chemical odors3, temperature4, and the pathogenicity of a food source5. Here, we describe assays of C. elegans associative learning and short- and long-term associative memory. We modified an aversive olfactory learning paradigm6 to instead produce a positive response; the assay involves starving ~400 worms, then feeding the worms in the presence of the AWC neuron-sensed volatile chemoattractant butanone at a concentration that elicits a low chemotactic index (similar to Toroyama et al.7). A standard population chemotaxis assay1 tests the worms' attraction to the odorant immediately or minutes to hours after conditioning. After conditioning, wild-type animals' chemotaxis to butanone increases ~0.6 Chemotaxis Index units, its "Learning Index". Associative learning is dependent on the presence of both food and butanone during training. Pairing food and butanone for a single conditioning period ("massed training") produces short-term associative memory that lasts ~2 hours. Multiple conditioning periods with rest periods between ("spaced training") yields long-term associative memory (<40 hours), and is dependent on the cAMP Response Element Binding protein (CREB),6 a transcription factor required for long-term memory across species.8 Our protocol also includes image analysis methods for quick and accurate determination of chemotaxis indices. High-contrast images of animals on chemotaxis assay plates are captured and analyzed by worm counting software in MatLab. The software corrects for uneven background using a morphological tophat transformation.9 Otsu's method is then used to determine a threshold to separate worms from the background.10 Very small particles are removed automatically and larger non-worm regions (plate edges or agar punches) are removed by manual selection. The software then estimates the size of single worm by ignoring regions that are above a specified maximum size and taking the median size of the remaining regions. The number of worms is then estimated by dividing the total area identified as occupied by worms by the estimated size of a single worm. We have found that learning and short- and long-term memory can be distinguished, and that these processes share similar key molecules with higher organisms.6,8 Our assays can quickly test novel candidate genes or molecules that affect learning and short- or long-term memory in C. elegans that are relevant across species.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, memory, associative learning, C. elegans, chemotaxis, spaced training, behavior
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Quasi-light Storage for Optical Data Packets
Authors: Thomas Schneider, Stefan Preußler.
Institutions: Hochschule für Telekommunikation, Leipzig.
Today's telecommunication is based on optical packets which transmit the information in optical fiber networks around the world. Currently, the processing of the signals is done in the electrical domain. Direct storage in the optical domain would avoid the transfer of the packets to the electrical and back to the optical domain in every network node and, therefore, increase the speed and possibly reduce the energy consumption of telecommunications. However, light consists of photons which propagate with the speed of light in vacuum. Thus, the storage of light is a big challenge. There exist some methods to slow down the speed of the light, or to store it in excitations of a medium. However, these methods cannot be used for the storage of optical data packets used in telecommunications networks. Here we show how the time-frequency-coherence, which holds for every signal and therefore for optical packets as well, can be exploited to build an optical memory. We will review the background and show in detail and through examples, how a frequency comb can be used for the copying of an optical packet which enters the memory. One of these time domain copies is then extracted from the memory by a time domain switch. We will show this method for intensity as well as for phase modulated signals.
Physics, Issue 84, optical communications, Optical Light Storage, stimulated Brillouin scattering, Optical Signal Processing, optical data packets, telecommunications
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Measurement of Cellular Chemotaxis with ECIS/Taxis
Authors: Kathryn M. Pietrosimone, Xiuyin Yin, David A. Knecht, Michael A. Lynes.
Institutions: University of Connecticut, University of Connecticut.
Cellular movement in response to external stimuli is fundamental to many cellular processes including wound healing, inflammation and the response to infection. A common method to measure chemotaxis is the Boyden chamber assay, in which cells and chemoattractant are separated by a porous membrane. As cells migrate through the membrane toward the chemoattractant, they adhere to the underside of the membrane, or fall into the underlying media, and are subsequently stained and visually counted 1. In this method, cells are exposed to a steep and transient chemoattractant gradient, which is thought to be a poor representation of gradients found in tissues 2. Another assay system, the under-agarose chemotaxis assay, 3, 4 measures cell movement across a solid substrate in a thin aqueous film that forms under the agarose layer. The gradient that develops in the agarose is shallow and is thought to be an appropriate representation of naturally occurring gradients. Chemotaxis can be evaluated by microscopic imaging of the distance traveled. Both the Boyden chamber assay and the under-agarose assay are usually configured as endpoint assays. The automated ECIS/Taxis system combines the under-agarose approach with Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) 5, 6. In this assay, target electrodes are located in each of 8 chambers. A large counter-electrode runs through each of the 8 chambers (Figure 2). Each chamber is filled with agarose and two small wells are the cut in the agarose on either side of the target electrode. One well is filled with the test cell population, while the other holds the sources of diffusing chemoattractant (Figure 3). Current passed through the system can be used to determine the change in resistance that occurs as cells pass over the target electrode. Cells on the target electrode increase the resistance of the system 6. In addition, rapid fluctuations in the resistance represent changes in the interactions of cells with the electrode surface and are indicative of ongoing cellular shape changes. The ECIS/Taxis system can measure movement of the cell population in real-time over extended periods of time, but is also sensitive enough to detect the arrival of a single cell at the target electrode. Dictyostelium discoidium is known to migrate in the presence of a folate gradient 7, 8 and its chemotactic response can be accurately measured by ECIS/Taxis 9. Leukocyte chemotaxis, in response to SDF1α and to chemotaxis antagonists has also been measured with ECIS/Taxis 10, 11. An example of the leukocyte response to SDF1α is shown in Figure 1.
Cellular Biology, Issue 62, Electric Cell- substrate Impedance Sensing, ECIS, ECIS/Taxis, Chemotaxis
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Tracking Neutrophil Intraluminal Crawling, Transendothelial Migration and Chemotaxis in Tissue by Intravital Video Microscopy
Authors: Najia Xu, Xi Lei, Lixin Liu.
Institutions: University of Saskatchewan .
The recruitment of circulating leukocytes from blood stream to the inflamed tissue is a crucial and complex process of inflammation1,2. In the postcapillary venules of inflamed tissue, leukocytes initially tether and roll on the luminal surface of venular wall. Rolling leukocytes arrest on endothelium and undergo firm adhesion in response to chemokine or other chemoattractants on the venular surface. Many adherent leukocytes relocate from the initial site of adhesion to the junctional extravasation site in endothelium, a process termed intraluminal crawling3. Following crawling, leukocytes move across endothelium (transmigration) and migrate in extravascular tissue toward the source of chemoattractant (chemotaxis)4. Intravital microscopy is a powerful tool for visualizing leukocyte-endothelial cell interactions in vivo and revealing cellular and molecular mechanisms of leukocyte recruitment2,5. In this report, we provide a comprehensive description of using brightfield intravital microscopy to visualize and determine the detailed processes of neutrophil recruitment in mouse cremaster muscle in response to the gradient of a neutrophil chemoattractant. To induce neutrophil recruitment, a small piece of agarose gel (~1-mm3 size) containing neutrophil chemoattractant MIP-2 (CXCL2, a CXC chemokine) or WKYMVm (Trp-Lys-Tyr-Val-D-Met, a synthetic analog of bacterial peptide) is placed on the muscle tissue adjacent to the observed postcapillary venule. With time-lapsed video photography and computer software ImageJ, neutrophil intraluminal crawling on endothelium, neutrophil transendothelial migration and the migration and chemotaxis in tissue are visualized and tracked. This protocol allows reliable and quantitative analysis of many neutrophil recruitment parameters such as intraluminal crawling velocity, transmigration time, detachment time, migration velocity, chemotaxis velocity and chemotaxis index in tissue. We demonstrate that using this protocol, these neutrophil recruitment parameters can be stably determined and the single cell locomotion conveniently tracked in vivo.
Immunology, Issue 55, intravital microscopy, leukocyte recruitment, neutrophils, endothelial cells, chemotaxis
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Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Authors: Rangaraj M. Rangayyan, Shantanu Banik, J.E. Leo Desautels.
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion. Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
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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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Isolation and Chemical Characterization of Lipid A from Gram-negative Bacteria
Authors: Jeremy C. Henderson, John P. O'Brien, Jennifer S. Brodbelt, M. Stephen Trent.
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas at Austin.
Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is the major cell surface molecule of gram-negative bacteria, deposited on the outer leaflet of the outer membrane bilayer. LPS can be subdivided into three domains: the distal O-polysaccharide, a core oligosaccharide, and the lipid A domain consisting of a lipid A molecular species and 3-deoxy-D-manno-oct-2-ulosonic acid residues (Kdo). The lipid A domain is the only component essential for bacterial cell survival. Following its synthesis, lipid A is chemically modified in response to environmental stresses such as pH or temperature, to promote resistance to antibiotic compounds, and to evade recognition by mediators of the host innate immune response. The following protocol details the small- and large-scale isolation of lipid A from gram-negative bacteria. Isolated material is then chemically characterized by thin layer chromatography (TLC) or mass-spectrometry (MS). In addition to matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight (MALDI-TOF) MS, we also describe tandem MS protocols for analyzing lipid A molecular species using electrospray ionization (ESI) coupled to collision induced dissociation (CID) and newly employed ultraviolet photodissociation (UVPD) methods. Our MS protocols allow for unequivocal determination of chemical structure, paramount to characterization of lipid A molecules that contain unique or novel chemical modifications. We also describe the radioisotopic labeling, and subsequent isolation, of lipid A from bacterial cells for analysis by TLC. Relative to MS-based protocols, TLC provides a more economical and rapid characterization method, but cannot be used to unambiguously assign lipid A chemical structures without the use of standards of known chemical structure. Over the last two decades isolation and characterization of lipid A has led to numerous exciting discoveries that have improved our understanding of the physiology of gram-negative bacteria, mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, the human innate immune response, and have provided many new targets in the development of antibacterial compounds.
Chemistry, Issue 79, Membrane Lipids, Toll-Like Receptors, Endotoxins, Glycolipids, Lipopolysaccharides, Lipid A, Microbiology, Lipids, lipid A, Bligh-Dyer, thin layer chromatography (TLC), lipopolysaccharide, mass spectrometry, Collision Induced Dissociation (CID), Photodissociation (PD)
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Rapid Synthesis and Screening of Chemically Activated Transcription Factors with GFP-based Reporters
Authors: R. Scott McIsaac, Benjamin L. Oakes, David Botstein, Marcus B. Noyes.
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University, California Institute of Technology.
Synthetic biology aims to rationally design and build synthetic circuits with desired quantitative properties, as well as provide tools to interrogate the structure of native control circuits. In both cases, the ability to program gene expression in a rapid and tunable fashion, with no off-target effects, can be useful. We have constructed yeast strains containing the ACT1 promoter upstream of a URA3 cassette followed by the ligand-binding domain of the human estrogen receptor and VP16. By transforming this strain with a linear PCR product containing a DNA binding domain and selecting against the presence of URA3, a constitutively expressed artificial transcription factor (ATF) can be generated by homologous recombination. ATFs engineered in this fashion can activate a unique target gene in the presence of inducer, thereby eliminating both the off-target activation and nonphysiological growth conditions found with commonly used conditional gene expression systems. A simple method for the rapid construction of GFP reporter plasmids that respond specifically to a native or artificial transcription factor of interest is also provided.
Genetics, Issue 81, transcription, transcription factors, artificial transcription factors, zinc fingers, Zif268, synthetic biology
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Authors: Leah M. Rommereim, Miryam A. Hortua Triana, Alejandra Falla, Kiah L. Sanders, Rebekah B. Guevara, David J. Bzik, Barbara A. Fox.
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination. Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2. The Δku80 strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro and in vivo and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80 strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4. Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80 strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium).
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
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Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g. protein-protein) and functional (e.g. gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10. Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format. Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g. the 'Keio' collection11) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e. alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e. slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2 as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9.
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
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Two Types of Assays for Detecting Frog Sperm Chemoattraction
Authors: Lindsey A. Burnett, Nathan Tholl, Douglas E. Chandler.
Institutions: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Arizona State University .
Sperm chemoattraction in invertebrates can be sufficiently robust that one can place a pipette containing the attractive peptide into a sperm suspension and microscopically visualize sperm accumulation around the pipette1. Sperm chemoattraction in vertebrates such as frogs, rodents and humans is more difficult to detect and requires quantitative assays. Such assays are of two major types - assays that quantitate sperm movement to a source of chemoattractant, so-called sperm accumulation assays, and assays that actually track the swimming trajectories of individual sperm. Sperm accumulation assays are relatively rapid allowing tens or hundreds of assays to be done in a single day, thereby allowing dose response curves and time courses to be carried out relatively rapidly. These types of assays have been used extensively to characterize many well established chemoattraction systems - for example, neutrophil chemotaxis to bacterial peptides and sperm chemotaxis to follicular fluid. Sperm tracking assays can be more labor intensive but offer additional data on how chemoattractancts actually alter the swimming paths that sperm take. This type of assay is needed to demonstrate the orientation of sperm movement relative to the chemoattrractant gradient axis and to visualize characteristic turns or changes in orientation that bring the sperm closer to the egg. Here we describe methods used for each of these two types of assays. The sperm accumulation assay utilized is called a "two-chamber" assay. Amphibian sperm are placed in a tissue culture plate insert with a polycarbonate filter floor having 12 μm diameter pores. Inserts with sperm are placed into tissue culture plate wells containing buffer and a chemoatttractant carefully pipetted into the bottom well where the floor meets the wall (see Fig. 1). After incubation, the top insert containing the sperm reservoir is carefully removed, and sperm in the bottom chamber that have passed through the membrane are removed, pelleted and then counted by hemocytometer or flow cytometer. The sperm tracking assay utilizes a Zigmond chamber originally developed for observing neutrophil chemotaxis and modified for observation of sperm by Giojalas and coworkers2,3. The chamber consists of a thick glass slide into which two vertical troughs have been machined. These are separated by a 1 mm wide observation platform. After application of a cover glass, sperm are loaded into one trough, the chemoattractant agent into the other and movement of individual sperm visualized by video microscopy. Video footage is then analyzed using software to identify two-dimensional cell movements in the x-y plane as a function of time (xyt data sets) that form the trajectory of each sperm.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Sperm chemotaxis, fertilization, sperm accumulation assay, sperm tracking assay, sperm motility, Xenopus laevis, egg jelly
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Microfluidic Platform for Measuring Neutrophil Chemotaxis from Unprocessed Whole Blood
Authors: Caroline N. Jones, Anh N. Hoang, Laurie Dimisko, Bashar Hamza, Joseph Martel, Daniel Irimia.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Shriners Burns Hospital, Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Neutrophils play an essential role in protection against infections and their numbers in the blood are frequently measured in the clinic. Higher neutrophil counts in the blood are usually an indicator of ongoing infections, while low neutrophil counts are a warning sign for higher risks for infections. To accomplish their functions, neutrophils also have to be able to move effectively from the blood where they spend most of their life, into tissues, where infections occur. Consequently, any defects in the ability of neutrophils to migrate can increase the risks for infections, even when neutrophils are present in appropriate numbers in the blood. However, measuring neutrophil migration ability in the clinic is a challenging task, which is time consuming, requires large volume of blood, and expert knowledge. To address these limitations, we designed a robust microfluidic assays for neutrophil migration, which requires a single droplet of unprocessed blood, circumvents the need for neutrophil separation, and is easy to quantify on a simple microscope. In this assay, neutrophils migrate directly from the blood droplet, through small channels, towards the source of chemoattractant. To prevent the granular flow of red blood cells through the same channels, we implemented mechanical filters with right angle turns that selectively block the advance of red blood cells. We validated the assay by comparing neutrophil migration from blood droplets collected from finger prick and venous blood. We also compared these whole blood (WB) sources with neutrophil migration from samples of purified neutrophils and found consistent speed and directionality between the three sources. This microfluidic platform will enable the study of human neutrophil migration in the clinic and the research setting to help advance our understanding of neutrophil functions in health and disease.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, chemotaxis, neutrophil, whole blood assay, microfluidic device, chemoattractant, migration, inflammation
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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In vitro Coculture Assay to Assess Pathogen Induced Neutrophil Trans-epithelial Migration
Authors: Mark E. Kusek, Michael A. Pazos, Waheed Pirzai, Bryan P. Hurley.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, MGH for Children, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Mucosal surfaces serve as protective barriers against pathogenic organisms. Innate immune responses are activated upon sensing pathogen leading to the infiltration of tissues with migrating inflammatory cells, primarily neutrophils. This process has the potential to be destructive to tissues if excessive or held in an unresolved state.  Cocultured in vitro models can be utilized to study the unique molecular mechanisms involved in pathogen induced neutrophil trans-epithelial migration. This type of model provides versatility in experimental design with opportunity for controlled manipulation of the pathogen, epithelial barrier, or neutrophil. Pathogenic infection of the apical surface of polarized epithelial monolayers grown on permeable transwell filters instigates physiologically relevant basolateral to apical trans-epithelial migration of neutrophils applied to the basolateral surface. The in vitro model described herein demonstrates the multiple steps necessary for demonstrating neutrophil migration across a polarized lung epithelial monolayer that has been infected with pathogenic P. aeruginosa (PAO1). Seeding and culturing of permeable transwells with human derived lung epithelial cells is described, along with isolation of neutrophils from whole human blood and culturing of PAO1 and nonpathogenic K12 E. coli (MC1000).  The emigrational process and quantitative analysis of successfully migrated neutrophils that have been mobilized in response to pathogenic infection is shown with representative data, including positive and negative controls. This in vitro model system can be manipulated and applied to other mucosal surfaces. Inflammatory responses that involve excessive neutrophil infiltration can be destructive to host tissues and can occur in the absence of pathogenic infections. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that promote neutrophil trans-epithelial migration through experimental manipulation of the in vitro coculture assay system described herein has significant potential to identify novel therapeutic targets for a range of mucosal infectious as well as inflammatory diseases.
Infection, Issue 83, Cellular Biology, Epithelium, Neutrophils, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Respiratory Tract Diseases, Neutrophils, epithelial barriers, pathogens, transmigration
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Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Authors: Robert S. McNeill, Ralf S. Schmid, Ryan E. Bash, Mark Vitucci, Kristen K. White, Andrea M. Werneke, Brian H. Constance, Byron Huff, C. Ryan Miller.
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro and in vivo and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
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A Gradient-generating Microfluidic Device for Cell Biology
Authors: Bong Geun Chung, Amir Manbachi, Wajeeh Saadi, Francis Lin, Noo Li Jeon, Ali Khademhosseini.
Institutions: Brigham and Women's Hospital.
The fabrication and operation of a gradient-generating microfluidic device for studying cellular behavior is described. A microfluidic platform is an enabling experimental tool, because it can precisely manipulate fluid flows, enable high-throughput experiments, and generate stable soluble concentration gradients. Compared to conventional gradient generators, poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS)-based microfluidic devices can generate stable concentration gradients of growth factors with well-defined profiles. Here, we developed simple gradient-generating microfluidic devices with three separate inlets. Three microchannels combined into one microchannel to generate concentration gradients. The stability and shape of growth factor gradients were confirmed by fluorescein isothyiocyanate (FITC)-dextran with a molecular weight similar to epidermal growth factor (EGF). Using this microfluidic device, we demonstrated that fibroblasts exposed to concentration gradients of EGF migrated toward higher concentrations. The directional orientation of cell migration and motility of migrating cells were quantitatively assessed by cell tracking analysis. Thus, this gradient-generating microfluidic device might be useful for studying and analyzing the behavior of migrating cells.
Issue 7, Cell Biology, tissue engineering, microfluidic, cell migration, gradient
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Chemotactic Response of Marine Micro-Organisms to Micro-Scale Nutrient Layers
Authors: Justin R. Seymour, Marcos, Roman Stocker.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The degree to which planktonic microbes can exploit microscale resource patches will have considerable implications for oceanic trophodynamics and biogeochemical flux. However, to take advantage of nutrient patches in the ocean, swimming microbes must overcome the influences of physical forces including molecular diffusion and turbulent shear, which will limit the availability of patches and the ability of bacteria to locate them. Until recently, methodological limitations have precluded direct examinations of microbial behaviour within patchy habitats and realistic small-scale flow conditions. Hence, much of our current knowledge regarding microbial behaviour in the ocean has been procured from theoretical predictions. To obtain new information on microbial foraging behaviour in the ocean we have applied soft lithographic fabrication techniques to develop 2 microfluidic devices, which we have used to create (i) microscale nutrient patches with dimensions and diffusive characteristics relevant to oceanic processes and (ii) microscale vortices, with shear rates corresponding to those expected in the ocean. These microfluidic devices have permitted a first direct examination of microbial swimming and chemotactic behaviour within a heterogeneous and dynamic seascape. The combined use of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy allow direct examinations of the physical dimensions and diffusive characteristics of nutrient patches, while observing the population-level aggregative response, in addition to the swimming behaviour of individual microbes. These experiments have revealed that some species of phytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and phagotrophic protists are adept at locating and exploiting diffusing microscale resource patches within very short time frames. We have also shown that up to moderate shear rates, marine bacteria are able to fight the flow and swim through their environment at their own accord. However, beyond a threshold high shear level, bacteria are aligned in the shear flow and are less capable of swimming without disturbance from the flow. Microfluidics represents a novel and inexpensive approach for studying aquatic microbial ecology, and due to its suitability for accurately creating realistic flow fields and substrate gradients at the microscale, is ideally applicable to examinations of microbial behaviour at the smallest scales of interaction. We therefore suggest that microfluidics represents a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of the ecology of microorganisms in the ocean.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
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C. elegans Chemotaxis Assay
Authors: Olivia Margie, Chris Palmer, Ian Chin-Sang.
Institutions: Queen's University , Queen's University , Queen's University .
Many organisms use chemotaxis to seek out food sources, avoid noxious substances, and find mates. Caenorhabditis elegans has impressive chemotaxis behavior. The premise behind testing the response of the worms to an odorant is to place them in an area and observe the movement evoked in response to an odorant. Even with the many available assays, optimizing worm starting location relative to both the control and test areas, while minimizing the interaction of worms with each other, while maintaining a significant sample size remains a work in progress 1-10. The method described here aims to address these issues by modifying the assay developed by Bargmann et al.1. A Petri dish is divided into four quadrants, two opposite quadrants marked "Test" and two are designated "Control". Anesthetic is placed in all test and control sites. The worms are placed in the center of the plate with a circle marked around the origin to ensure that non-motile worms will be ignored. Utilizing a four-quadrant system rather than one 2 or two 1 eliminates bias in the movement of the worms, as they are equidistant from test and control samples, regardless of which side of the origin they began. This circumvents the problem of worms being forced to travel through a cluster of other worms to respond to an odorant, which can delay worms or force them to take a more circuitous route, yielding an incorrect interpretation of their intended path. This method also shows practical advantages by having a larger sample size and allowing the researcher to run the assay unattended and score the worms once the allotted time has expired.
Behavior, Issue 74, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Chemical Engineering, chemotaxis, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, chemotaxis assay, nematode, chemotactic index, worm movement, animal model
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A Microfluidic Device for Quantifying Bacterial Chemotaxis in Stable Concentration Gradients
Authors: Derek L. Englert, Michael D. Manson, Arul Jayaraman.
Institutions: Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University.
Chemotaxis allows bacteria to approach sources of attractant chemicals or to avoid sources of repellent chemicals. Bacteria constantly monitor the concentration of specific chemoeffectors by comparing the current concentration to the concentration detected a few seconds earlier. This comparison determines the net direction of movement. Although multiple, competing gradients often coexist in nature, conventional approaches for investigating bacterial chemotaxis are suboptimal for quantifying migration in response to concentration gradients of attractants and repellents. Here, we describe the development of a microfluidic chemotaxis model for presenting precise and stable concentration gradients of chemoeffectors to bacteria and quantitatively investigating their response to the applied gradient. The device is versatile in that concentration gradients of any desired absolute concentration and gradient strength can be easily generated by diffusive mixing. The device is demonstrated using the response of Escherichia coli RP437 to gradients of amino acids and nickel ions.
Microbiology, Issue 38, chemotaxis, microfluidics, gradients
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Studies of Bacterial Chemotaxis Using Microfluidics - Interview
Authors: Roman Stocker.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
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