Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Computer-assisted Large-scale Visualization and Quantification of Pancreatic Islet Mass, Size Distribution and Architecture
Institutions: University of Chicago, National Institutes of Health, University of Chicago, University of Massachusetts.
The pancreatic islet is a unique micro-organ composed of several hormone secreting endocrine cells such as beta-cells (insulin), alpha-cells (glucagon), and delta-cells (somatostatin) that are embedded in the exocrine tissues and comprise 1-2% of the entire pancreas. There is a close correlation between body and pancreas weight. Total beta-cell mass also increases proportionately to compensate for the demand for insulin in the body. What escapes this proportionate expansion is the size distribution of islets. Large animals such as humans share similar islet size distributions with mice, suggesting that this micro-organ has a certain size limit to be functional. The inability of large animal pancreata to generate proportionately larger islets is compensated for by an increase in the number of islets and by an increase in the proportion of larger islets in their overall islet size distribution. Furthermore, islets exhibit a striking plasticity in cellular composition and architecture among different species and also within the same species under various pathophysiological conditions. In the present study, we describe novel approaches for the analysis of biological image data in order to facilitate the automation of analytic processes, which allow for the analysis of large and heterogeneous data collections in the study of such dynamic biological processes and complex structures. Such studies have been hampered due to technical difficulties of unbiased sampling and generating large-scale data sets to precisely capture the complexity of biological processes of islet biology. Here we show methods to collect unbiased "representative" data within the limited availability of samples (or to minimize the sample collection) and the standard experimental settings, and to precisely analyze the complex three-dimensional structure of the islet. Computer-assisted automation allows for the collection and analysis of large-scale data sets and also assures unbiased interpretation of the data. Furthermore, the precise quantification of islet size distribution and spatial coordinates (i.e. X, Y, Z-positions) not only leads to an accurate visualization of pancreatic islet structure and composition, but also allows us to identify patterns during development and adaptation to altering conditions through mathematical modeling. The methods developed in this study are applicable to studies of many other systems and organisms as well.
Cellular Biology, Issue 49, beta-cells, islets, large-scale analysis, pancreas
Testing Visual Sensitivity to the Speed and Direction of Motion in Lizards
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Visual sensitivity, motion perception, operant conditioning, speed, coherence, Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus)
Flying Insect Detection and Classification with Inexpensive Sensors
Institutions: University of California, Riverside, University of California, Riverside, University of São Paulo - USP, ISCA Technologies.
An inexpensive, noninvasive system that could accurately classify flying insects would have important implications for entomological research, and allow for the development of many useful applications in vector and pest control for both medical and agricultural entomology. Given this, the last sixty years have seen many research efforts devoted to this task. To date, however, none of this research has had a lasting impact. In this work, we show that pseudo-acoustic optical sensors can produce superior data; that additional features, both intrinsic and extrinsic to the insect’s flight behavior, can be exploited to improve insect classification; that a Bayesian classification approach allows to efficiently learn classification models that are very robust to over-fitting, and a general classification framework allows to easily incorporate arbitrary number of features. We demonstrate the findings with large-scale experiments that dwarf all previous works combined, as measured by the number of insects and the number of species considered.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, flying insect detection, automatic insect classification, pseudo-acoustic optical sensors, Bayesian classification framework, flight sound, circadian rhythm
Measuring Fast Calcium Fluxes in Cardiomyocytes
Institutions: Queensborough Community College, Stony Brook University.
Cardiomyocytes have multiple Ca2+
fluxes of varying duration that work together to optimize function 1,2
. Changes in Ca2+
activity in response to extracellular agents is predominantly regulated by the phospholipase Cβ- Gαq
pathway localized on the plasma membrane which is stimulated by agents such as acetylcholine 3,4
. We have recently found that plasma membrane protein domains called caveolae5,6
can entrap activated Gαq 7
. This entrapment has the effect of stabilizing the activated state of Gαq
and resulting in prolonged Ca2+
signals in cardiomyocytes and other cell types8
. We uncovered this surprising result by measuring dynamic calcium responses on a fast scale in living cardiomyocytes. Briefly, cells are loaded with a fluorescent Ca2+
indicator. In our studies, we used Ca2+
Green (Invitrogen, Inc.) which exhibits an increase in fluorescence emission intensity upon binding of calcium ions. The fluorescence intensity is then recorded for using a line-scan mode of a laser scanning confocal microscope. This method allows rapid acquisition of the time course of fluorescence intensity in pixels along a selected line, producing several hundreds of time traces on the microsecond time scale. These very fast traces are transferred into excel and then into Sigmaplot for analysis, and are compared to traces obtained for electronic noise, free dye, and other controls. To dissect Ca2+
responses of different flux rates, we performed a histogram analysis that binned pixel intensities with time. Binning allows us to group over 500 traces of scans and visualize the compiled results spatially and temporally on a single plot. Thus, the slow Ca2+
waves that are difficult to discern when the scans are overlaid due to different peak placement and noise, can be readily seen in the binned histograms. Very fast fluxes in the time scale of the measurement show a narrow distribution of intensities in the very short time bins whereas longer Ca2+
waves show binned data with a broad distribution over longer time bins. These different time distributions allow us to dissect the timing of Ca2+
fluxes in the cells, and to determine their impact on various cellular events.
Cellular Biology, Issue 57, Calcium fluxes, laser scanning microscopy, cardiomyocytes, fluorescent indicators
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
A Lightweight, Headphones-based System for Manipulating Auditory Feedback in Songbirds
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University, Emory University.
Experimental manipulations of sensory feedback during complex behavior have provided valuable insights into the computations underlying motor control and sensorimotor plasticity1
. Consistent sensory perturbations result in compensatory changes in motor output, reflecting changes in feedforward motor control that reduce the experienced feedback error. By quantifying how different sensory feedback errors affect human behavior, prior studies have explored how visual signals are used to recalibrate arm movements2,3
and auditory feedback is used to modify speech production4-7
. The strength of this approach rests on the ability to mimic naturalistic errors in behavior, allowing the experimenter to observe how experienced errors in production are used to recalibrate motor output.
Songbirds provide an excellent animal model for investigating the neural basis of sensorimotor control and plasticity8,9
. The songbird brain provides a well-defined circuit in which the areas necessary for song learning are spatially separated from those required for song production, and neural recording and lesion studies have made significant advances in understanding how different brain areas contribute to vocal behavior9-12
. However, the lack of a naturalistic error-correction paradigm - in which a known acoustic parameter is perturbed by the experimenter and then corrected by the songbird - has made it difficult to understand the computations underlying vocal learning or how different elements of the neural circuit contribute to the correction of vocal errors13
The technique described here gives the experimenter precise control over auditory feedback errors in singing birds, allowing the introduction of arbitrary sensory errors that can be used to drive vocal learning. Online sound-processing equipment is used to introduce a known perturbation to the acoustics of song, and a miniaturized headphones apparatus is used to replace a songbird's natural auditory feedback with the perturbed signal in real time. We have used this paradigm to perturb the fundamental frequency (pitch) of auditory feedback in adult songbirds, providing the first demonstration that adult birds maintain vocal performance using error correction14
. The present protocol can be used to implement a wide range of sensory feedback perturbations (including but not limited to pitch shifts) to investigate the computational and neurophysiological basis of vocal learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Anatomy, Physiology, Zoology, Behavior, Songbird, psychophysics, auditory feedback, biology, sensorimotor learning
Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
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
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 Anna.Karlgren@ebc.uu.se and Jens F. Sundström at Jens.Sundstrom@vbsg.slu.se
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
Recording Single Neurons' Action Potentials from Freely Moving Pigeons Across Three Stages of Learning
Institutions: Ruhr-University Bochum.
While the subject of learning has attracted immense interest from both behavioral and neural scientists, only relatively few investigators have observed single-neuron activity while animals are acquiring an operantly conditioned response, or when that response is extinguished. But even in these cases, observation periods usually encompass only a single stage of learning, i.e.
acquisition or extinction, but not both (exceptions include protocols employing reversal learning; see Bingman et al.1
for an example). However, acquisition and extinction entail different learning mechanisms and are therefore expected to be accompanied by different types and/or loci of neural plasticity.
Accordingly, we developed a behavioral paradigm which institutes three stages of learning in a single behavioral session and which is well suited for the simultaneous recording of single neurons' action potentials. Animals are trained on a single-interval forced choice task which requires mapping each of two possible choice responses to the presentation of different novel visual stimuli (acquisition). After having reached a predefined performance criterion, one of the two choice responses is no longer reinforced (extinction). Following a certain decrement in performance level, correct responses are reinforced again (reacquisition). By using a new set of stimuli in every session, animals can undergo the acquisition-extinction-reacquisition process repeatedly. Because all three stages of learning occur in a single behavioral session, the paradigm is ideal for the simultaneous observation of the spiking output of multiple single neurons. We use pigeons as model systems, but the task can easily be adapted to any other species capable of conditioned discrimination learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, pigeon, single unit recording, learning, memory, extinction, spike sorting, operant conditioning, reward, electrophysiology, animal cognition, model species
Who is Who? Non-invasive Methods to Individually Sex and Mark Altricial Chicks
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin.
Many experiments require early determination of offspring's sex as well as early marking of newborns for individual recognition. According to animal welfare guidelines, non-invasive techniques should be preferred whenever applicable. In our group, we work on different species of song birds in the lab and in the field, and we successfully apply non-invasive methods to sex and individually mark chicks. This paper presents a comprehensive non-invasive tool-box. Sexing birds prior to the expression of secondary sexual traits requires the collection of DNA-bearing material for PCR. We established a quick and easy method to sex birds of any age (post hatching) by extracting DNA from buccal swabs. Results can be obtained within 3 hours. For individual marking chick's down feathers are trimmed in specific patterns allowing fast identification within the hatching order. This set of methods is easily applicable in a standard equipped lab and especially suitable for working in the field as no special equipment is required for sampling and storage. Handling of chicks is minimized and marking and sexing techniques are non-invasive thereby supporting the RRR-principle of animal welfare guidelines.
Developmental Biology, Issue 87, songbird, molecular sexing, PCR, individual marking, down feather, DNA extraction, sample storage, zebra finch, buccal swabs, saliva, gender
Optical Recording of Suprathreshold Neural Activity with Single-cell and Single-spike Resolution
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin.
Signaling of information in the vertebrate central nervous system is often carried by populations of neurons rather than individual neurons. Also propagation of suprathreshold spiking activity involves populations of neurons. Empirical studies addressing cortical function directly thus require recordings from populations of neurons with high resolution. Here we describe an optical method and a deconvolution algorithm to record neural activity from up to 100 neurons with single-cell and single-spike resolution. This method relies on detection of the transient increases in intracellular somatic calcium concentration associated with suprathreshold electrical spikes (action potentials) in cortical neurons. High temporal resolution of the optical recordings is achieved by a fast random-access scanning technique using acousto-optical deflectors (AODs)1
. Two-photon excitation of the calcium-sensitive dye results in high spatial resolution in opaque brain tissue2
. Reconstruction of spikes from the fluorescence calcium recordings is achieved by a maximum-likelihood method. Simultaneous electrophysiological and optical recordings indicate that our method reliably detects spikes (>97% spike detection efficiency), has a low rate of false positive spike detection (< 0.003 spikes/sec), and a high temporal precision (about 3 msec) 3
. This optical method of spike detection can be used to record neural activity in vitro
and in anesthetized animals in vivo3,4
Neuroscience, Issue 67, functional calcium imaging, spatiotemporal patterns of activity, dithered random-access scanning
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) with Auditory Stimulation in Songbirds
Institutions: University of Antwerp.
The neurobiology of birdsong, as a model for human speech, is a pronounced area of research in behavioral neuroscience. Whereas electrophysiology and molecular approaches allow the investigation of either different stimuli on few neurons, or one stimulus in large parts of the brain, blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) allows combining both advantages, i.e.
compare the neural activation induced by different stimuli in the entire brain at once. fMRI in songbirds is challenging because of the small size of their brains and because their bones and especially their skull comprise numerous air cavities, inducing important susceptibility artifacts. Gradient-echo (GE) BOLD fMRI has been successfully applied to songbirds 1-5
(for a review, see 6
). These studies focused on the primary and secondary auditory brain areas, which are regions free of susceptibility artifacts. However, because processes of interest may occur beyond these regions, whole brain BOLD fMRI is required using an MRI sequence less susceptible to these artifacts. This can be achieved by using spin-echo (SE) BOLD fMRI 7,8
. In this article, we describe how to use this technique in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata
), which are small songbirds with a bodyweight of 15-25 g extensively studied in behavioral neurosciences of birdsong. The main topic of fMRI studies on songbirds is song perception and song learning. The auditory nature of the stimuli combined with the weak BOLD sensitivity of SE (compared to GE) based fMRI sequences makes the implementation of this technique very challenging.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biophysics, Physiology, Anatomy, Functional MRI, fMRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, blood oxygenation level dependent fMRI, BOLD fMRI, Brain, Songbird, zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, Auditory Stimulation, stimuli, animal model, imaging
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
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
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
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
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Emotion Regulation
Institutions: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to control/regulate emotions is an important coping mechanism in the face of emotionally stressful situations. Although significant progress has been made in understanding conscious/deliberate emotion regulation (ER), less is known about non-conscious/automatic ER and the associated neural correlates. This is in part due to the problems inherent in the unitary concepts of automatic and conscious processing1
. Here, we present a protocol that allows investigation of the neural correlates of both deliberate and automatic ER using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This protocol allows new avenues of inquiry into various aspects of ER. For instance, the experimental design allows manipulation of the goal to regulate emotion (conscious vs. non-conscious), as well as the intensity of the emotional challenge (high vs. low). Moreover, it allows investigation of both immediate (emotion perception) and long-term effects (emotional memory) of ER strategies on emotion processing. Therefore, this protocol may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of emotion regulation in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in depression and anxiety disorders in which emotion dys
regulation is often among the core debilitating features.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, Emotion Suppression, Automatic Emotion Control, Deliberate Emotion Control, Goal Induction, Neuroimaging
Measurement of Leaf Hydraulic Conductance and Stomatal Conductance and Their Responses to Irradiance and Dehydration Using the Evaporative Flux Method (EFM)
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Water is a key resource, and the plant water transport system sets limits on maximum growth and drought tolerance. When plants open their stomata to achieve a high stomatal conductance (gs
) to capture CO2
for photosynthesis, water is lost by transpiration1,2
. Water evaporating from the airspaces is replaced from cell walls, in turn drawing water from the xylem of leaf veins, in turn drawing from xylem in the stems and roots. As water is pulled through the system, it experiences hydraulic resistance, creating tension throughout the system and a low leaf water potential (Ψleaf
). The leaf itself is a critical bottleneck in the whole plant system, accounting for on average 30% of the plant hydraulic resistance3
. Leaf hydraulic conductance (Kleaf
= 1/ leaf hydraulic resistance) is the ratio of the water flow rate to the water potential gradient across the leaf, and summarizes the behavior of a complex system: water moves through the petiole and through several orders of veins, exits into the bundle sheath and passes through or around mesophyll cells before evaporating into the airspace and being transpired from the stomata. Kleaf
is of strong interest as an important physiological trait to compare species, quantifying the effectiveness of the leaf structure and physiology for water transport, and a key variable to investigate for its relationship to variation in structure (e.g.
, in leaf venation architecture) and its impacts on photosynthetic gas exchange. Further, Kleaf
responds strongly to the internal and external leaf environment3
can increase dramatically with irradiance apparently due to changes in the expression and activation of aquaporins, the proteins involved in water transport through membranes4
, and Kleaf
declines strongly during drought, due to cavitation and/or collapse of xylem conduits, and/or loss of permeability in the extra-xylem tissues due to mesophyll and bundle sheath cell shrinkage or aquaporin deactivation5-10
. Because Kleaf
can constrain gs
and photosynthetic rate across species in well watered conditions and during drought, and thus limit whole-plant performance they may possibly determine species distributions especially as droughts increase in frequency and severity11-14
We present a simple method for simultaneous determination of Kleaf
on excised leaves. A transpiring leaf is connected by its petiole to tubing running to a water source on a balance. The loss of water from the balance is recorded to calculate the flow rate through the leaf. When steady state transpiration (E
, mmol • m-2
) is reached, gs
is determined by dividing by vapor pressure deficit, and Kleaf
by dividing by the water potential driving force determined using a pressure chamber (Kleaf
This method can be used to assess Kleaf
responses to different irradiances and the vulnerability of Kleaf
Plant Biology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Ecology, Biology, Botany, Leaf traits, hydraulics, stomata, transpiration, xylem, conductance, leaf hydraulic conductance, resistance, evaporative flux method, whole plant
Electroporation of Mycobacteria
Institutions: Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
Microbiology, Issue 15, Springer Protocols, Mycobacteria, Electroporation, Bacterial Transformation, Transformation Efficiency, Bacteria, Tuberculosis, M. Smegmatis, Springer Protocols
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut