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Computational design of auxotrophy-dependent microbial biosensors for combinatorial metabolic engineering experiments.
PUBLISHED: 01-21-2011
Combinatorial approaches in metabolic engineering work by generating genetic diversity in a microbial population followed by screening for strains with improved phenotypes. One of the most common goals in this field is the generation of a high rate chemical producing strain. A major hurdle with this approach is that many chemicals do not have easy to recognize attributes, making their screening expensive and time consuming. To address this problem, it was previously suggested to use microbial biosensors to facilitate the detection and quantification of chemicals of interest. Here, we present novel computational methods to: (i) rationally design microbial biosensors for chemicals of interest based on substrate auxotrophy that would enable their high-throughput screening; (ii) predict engineering strategies for coupling the synthesis of a chemical of interest with the production of a proxy metabolite for which high-throughput screening is possible via a designed bio-sensor. The biosensor design method is validated based on known genetic modifications in an array of E. coli strains auxotrophic to various amino-acids. Predicted chemical production rates achievable via the biosensor-based approach are shown to potentially improve upon those predicted by current rational strain design approaches. (A Matlab implementation of the biosensor design method is available via
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Published: 07-25-2013
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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
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The Logic, Experimental Steps, and Potential of Heterologous Natural Product Biosynthesis Featuring the Complex Antibiotic Erythromycin A Produced Through E. coli
Authors: Ming Jiang, Haoran Zhang, Blaine A. Pfeifer.
Institutions: State University of New York at Buffalo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The heterologous production of complex natural products is an approach designed to address current limitations and future possibilities. It is particularly useful for those compounds which possess therapeutic value but cannot be sufficiently produced or would benefit from an improved form of production. The experimental procedures involved can be subdivided into three components: 1) genetic transfer; 2) heterologous reconstitution; and 3) product analysis. Each experimental component is under continual optimization to meet the challenges and anticipate the opportunities associated with this emerging approach. Heterologous biosynthesis begins with the identification of a genetic sequence responsible for a valuable natural product. Transferring this sequence to a heterologous host is complicated by the biosynthetic pathway complexity responsible for product formation. The antibiotic erythromycin A is a good example. Twenty genes (totaling >50 kb) are required for eventual biosynthesis. In addition, three of these genes encode megasynthases, multi-domain enzymes each ~300 kDa in size. This genetic material must be designed and transferred to E. coli for reconstituted biosynthesis. The use of PCR isolation, operon construction, multi-cystronic plasmids, and electro-transformation will be described in transferring the erythromycin A genetic cluster to E. coli. Once transferred, the E. coli cell must support eventual biosynthesis. This process is also challenging given the substantial differences between E. coli and most original hosts responsible for complex natural product formation. The cell must provide necessary substrates to support biosynthesis and coordinately express the transferred genetic cluster to produce active enzymes. In the case of erythromycin A, the E. coli cell had to be engineered to provide the two precursors (propionyl-CoA and (2S)-methylmalonyl-CoA) required for biosynthesis. In addition, gene sequence modifications, plasmid copy number, chaperonin co-expression, post-translational enzymatic modification, and process temperature were also required to allow final erythromycin A formation. Finally, successful production must be assessed. For the erythromycin A case, we will present two methods. The first is liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to confirm and quantify production. The bioactivity of erythromycin A will also be confirmed through use of a bioassay in which the antibiotic activity is tested against Bacillus subtilis. The assessment assays establish erythromycin A biosynthesis from E. coli and set the stage for future engineering efforts to improve or diversify production and for the production of new complex natural compounds using this approach.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 71, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Basic Protocols, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Heterologous biosynthesis, natural products, antibiotics, erythromycin A, metabolic engineering, E. coli
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High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Authors: Mary F. Farrow, Frances H. Arnold.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing. Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10 and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12. We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli. (Fig 1) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness. Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13 involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14 for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus and Penicillium decumbens (shown in Figure 2), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
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Engineering Adherent Bacteria by Creating a Single Synthetic Curli Operon
Authors: Benoît Drogue, Philippe Thomas, Laurent Balvay, Claire Prigent-Combaret, Corinne Dorel.
Institutions: Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon.
The method described here consists in redesigning E. coli adherence properties by assembling the minimum number of curli genes under the control of a strong and metal-overinducible promoter, and in visualizing and quantifying the resulting gain of bacterial adherence. This method applies appropriate engineering principles of abstraction and standardization of synthetic biology, and results in the BBa_K540000 Biobrick (Best new Biobrick device, engineered, iGEM 2011). The first step consists in the design of the synthetic operon devoted to curli overproduction in response to metal, and therefore in increasing the adherence abilities of the wild type strain. The original curli operon was modified in silico in order to optimize transcriptional and translational signals and escape the "natural" regulation of curli. This approach allowed to test with success our current understanding of curli production. Moreover, simplifying the curli regulation by switching the endogenous complex promoter (more than 10 transcriptional regulators identified) to a simple metal-regulated promoter makes adherence much easier to control. The second step includes qualitative and quantitative assessment of adherence abilities by implementation of simple methods. These methods are applicable to a large range of adherent bacteria regardless of biological structures involved in biofilm formation. Adherence test in 24-well polystyrene plates provides a quick preliminary visualization of the bacterial biofilm after crystal violet staining. This qualitative test can be sharpened by the quantification of the percentage of adherence. Such a method is very simple but more accurate than only crystal violet staining as described previously 1 with both a good repeatability and reproducibility. Visualization of GFP-tagged bacteria on glass slides by fluorescence or laser confocal microscopy allows to strengthen the results obtained with the 24-well plate test by direct observation of the phenomenon.
Bioengineering, Issue 69, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, curli, cobalt, biofilm, Escherichia coli, synthetic operon, synthetic biology, adherence assay, biofilm quantification, microscopy
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Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Authors: Jennifer L Soong, Dan Reuss, Colin Pinney, Ty Boyack, Michelle L Haddix, Catherine E Stewart, M. Francesca Cotrufo.
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 13C with 15N, 18O or 2H 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 13C and 15N 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 13C and 15N 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%13C and 6.7 atom%15N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13C and 0.56 atom%15N 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 13C-CO2 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
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Reporter-based Growth Assay for Systematic Analysis of Protein Degradation
Authors: Itamar Cohen, Yifat Geffen, Guy Ravid, Tommer Ravid.
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Protein degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is a major regulatory mechanism for protein homeostasis in all eukaryotes. The standard approach to determining intracellular protein degradation relies on biochemical assays for following the kinetics of protein decline. Such methods are often laborious and time consuming and therefore not amenable to experiments aimed at assessing multiple substrates and degradation conditions. As an alternative, cell growth-based assays have been developed, that are, in their conventional format, end-point assays that cannot quantitatively determine relative changes in protein levels. Here we describe a method that faithfully determines changes in protein degradation rates by coupling them to yeast cell-growth kinetics. The method is based on an established selection system where uracil auxotrophy of URA3-deleted yeast cells is rescued by an exogenously expressed reporter protein, comprised of a fusion between the essential URA3 gene and a degradation determinant (degron). The reporter protein is designed so that its synthesis rate is constant whilst its degradation rate is determined by the degron. As cell growth in uracil-deficient medium is proportional to the relative levels of Ura3, growth kinetics are entirely dependent on the reporter protein degradation. This method accurately measures changes in intracellular protein degradation kinetics. It was applied to: (a) Assessing the relative contribution of known ubiquitin-conjugating factors to proteolysis (b) E2 conjugating enzyme structure-function analyses (c) Identification and characterization of novel degrons. Application of the degron-URA3-based system transcends the protein degradation field, as it can also be adapted to monitoring changes of protein levels associated with functions of other cellular pathways.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Protein Degradation, Ubiquitin, Proteasome, Baker's Yeast, Growth kinetics, Doubling time
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Ratiometric Biosensors that Measure Mitochondrial Redox State and ATP in Living Yeast Cells
Authors: Jason D. Vevea, Dana M. Alessi Wolken, Theresa C. Swayne, Adam B. White, Liza A. Pon.
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University.
Mitochondria have roles in many cellular processes, from energy metabolism and calcium homeostasis to control of cellular lifespan and programmed cell death. These processes affect and are affected by the redox status of and ATP production by mitochondria. Here, we describe the use of two ratiometric, genetically encoded biosensors that can detect mitochondrial redox state and ATP levels at subcellular resolution in living yeast cells. Mitochondrial redox state is measured using redox-sensitive Green Fluorescent Protein (roGFP) that is targeted to the mitochondrial matrix. Mito-roGFP contains cysteines at positions 147 and 204 of GFP, which undergo reversible and environment-dependent oxidation and reduction, which in turn alter the excitation spectrum of the protein. MitGO-ATeam is a Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) probe in which the ε subunit of the FoF1-ATP synthase is sandwiched between FRET donor and acceptor fluorescent proteins. Binding of ATP to the ε subunit results in conformation changes in the protein that bring the FRET donor and acceptor in close proximity and allow for fluorescence resonance energy transfer from the donor to acceptor.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, life sciences, roGFP, redox-sensitive green fluorescent protein, GO-ATeam, ATP, FRET, ROS, mitochondria, biosensors, GFP, ImageJ, microscopy, confocal microscopy, cell, imaging
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A High Throughput MHC II Binding Assay for Quantitative Analysis of Peptide Epitopes
Authors: Regina Salvat, Leonard Moise, Chris Bailey-Kellogg, Karl E. Griswold.
Institutions: Dartmouth College, University of Rhode Island, Dartmouth College.
Biochemical assays with recombinant human MHC II molecules can provide rapid, quantitative insights into immunogenic epitope identification, deletion, or design1,2. Here, a peptide-MHC II binding assay is scaled to 384-well format. The scaled down protocol reduces reagent costs by 75% and is higher throughput than previously described 96-well protocols1,3-5. Specifically, the experimental design permits robust and reproducible analysis of up to 15 peptides against one MHC II allele per 384-well ELISA plate. Using a single liquid handling robot, this method allows one researcher to analyze approximately ninety test peptides in triplicate over a range of eight concentrations and four MHC II allele types in less than 48 hr. Others working in the fields of protein deimmunization or vaccine design and development may find the protocol to be useful in facilitating their own work. In particular, the step-by-step instructions and the visual format of JoVE should allow other users to quickly and easily establish this methodology in their own labs.
Biochemistry, Issue 85, Immunoassay, Protein Immunogenicity, MHC II, T cell epitope, High Throughput Screen, Deimmunization, Vaccine Design
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Optical Detection of E. coli Bacteria by Mesoporous Silicon Biosensors
Authors: Naama Massad-Ivanir, Giorgi Shtenberg, Ester Segal.
Institutions: Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.
A label-free optical biosensor based on a nanostructured porous Si is designed for rapid capture and detection of Escherichia coli K12 bacteria, as a model microorganism. The biosensor relies on direct binding of the target bacteria cells onto its surface, while no pretreatment (e.g. by cell lysis) of the studied sample is required. A mesoporous Si thin film is used as the optical transducer element of the biosensor. Under white light illumination, the porous layer displays well-resolved Fabry-Pérot fringe patterns in its reflectivity spectrum. Applying a fast Fourier transform (FFT) to reflectivity data results in a single peak. Changes in the intensity of the FFT peak are monitored. Thus, target bacteria capture onto the biosensor surface, through antibody-antigen interactions, induces measurable changes in the intensity of the FFT peaks, allowing for a 'real time' observation of bacteria attachment. The mesoporous Si film, fabricated by an electrochemical anodization process, is conjugated with monoclonal antibodies, specific to the target bacteria. The immobilization, immunoactivity and specificity of the antibodies are confirmed by fluorescent labeling experiments. Once the biosensor is exposed to the target bacteria, the cells are directly captured onto the antibody-modified porous Si surface. These specific capturing events result in intensity changes in the thin-film optical interference spectrum of the biosensor. We demonstrate that these biosensors can detect relatively low bacteria concentrations (detection limit of 104 cells/ml) in less than an hour.
Bioengineering, Issue 81, analytical chemistry, silicon materials, microbiology, optical materials, Porous Si, optical biosensor, bacteria detection, label-free biosensor, nanostructure, E. coli bacteria
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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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Methods for Facilitating Microbial Growth on Pulp Mill Waste Streams and Characterization of the Biodegradation Potential of Cultured Microbes
Authors: Stephanie L. Mathews, Ali S. Ayoub, Joel Pawlak, Amy M. Grunden.
Institutions: North Carolina State University, North Carolina State University.
The kraft process is applied to wood chips for separation of lignin from the polysaccharides within lignocellulose for pulp that will produce a high quality paper. Black liquor is a pulping waste generated by the kraft process that has potential for downstream bioconversion. However, the recalcitrant nature of the lignocellulose resources, its chemical derivatives that constitute the majority of available organic carbon within black liquor, and its basic pH present challenges to microbial biodegradation of this waste material. Methods for the collection and modification of black liquor for microbial growth are aimed at utilization of this pulp waste to convert the lignin, organic acids, and polysaccharide degradation byproducts into valuable chemicals. The lignocellulose extraction techniques presented provide a reproducible method for preparation of lignocellulose growth substrates for understanding metabolic capacities of cultured microorganisms. Use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry enables the identification and quantification of the fermentation products resulting from the growth of microorganisms on pulping waste. These methods when used together can facilitate the determination of the metabolic activity of microorganisms with potential to produce fermentation products that would provide greater value to the pulping system and reduce effluent waste, thereby increasing potential paper milling profits and offering additional uses for black liquor.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, biodegradation (bacterial degradation), pulp mill waste, black liquor, kraft process, lignocellulose extraction, microorganisms, fermentation products, GC-MS
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A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Eric K. Donahue, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
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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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FIBS-enabled Noninvasive Metabolic Profiling
Authors: Alireza Behjousiar, Antony Constantinou, Karen M. Polizzi, Cleo Kontoravdi.
Institutions: Imperial College London, Imperial College London.
In the era of computational biology, new high throughput experimental systems are necessary in order to populate and refine models so that they can be validated for predictive purposes. Ideally such systems would be low volume, which precludes sampling and destructive analyses when time course data are to be obtained. What is needed is an in situ monitoring tool which can report the necessary information in real-time and noninvasively. An interesting option is the use of fluorescent, protein-based in vivo biological sensors as reporters of intracellular concentrations. One particular class of in vivo biosensors that has found applications in metabolite quantification is based on Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) between two fluorescent proteins connected by a ligand binding domain. FRET integrated biological sensors (FIBS) are constitutively produced within the cell line, they have fast response times and their spectral characteristics change based on the concentration of metabolite within the cell. In this paper, the method for constructing Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell lines that constitutively express a FIBS for glucose and glutamine and calibrating the FIBS in vivo in batch cell culture in order to enable future quantification of intracellular metabolite concentration is described. Data from fed-batch CHO cell cultures demonstrates that the FIBS was able in each case to detect the resulting change in the intracellular concentration. Using the fluorescent signal from the FIBS and the previously constructed calibration curve, the intracellular concentration was accurately determined as confirmed by an independent enzymatic assay.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, metabolite monitoring, in vivo biosensors, in situ monitoring, mammalian cell culture, bioprocess engineering, medium formulation
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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A Microplate Assay to Assess Chemical Effects on RBL-2H3 Mast Cell Degranulation: Effects of Triclosan without Use of an Organic Solvent
Authors: Lisa M. Weatherly, Rachel H. Kennedy, Juyoung Shim, Julie A. Gosse.
Institutions: University of Maine, Orono, University of Maine, Orono.
Mast cells play important roles in allergic disease and immune defense against parasites. Once activated (e.g. by an allergen), they degranulate, a process that results in the exocytosis of allergic mediators. Modulation of mast cell degranulation by drugs and toxicants may have positive or adverse effects on human health. Mast cell function has been dissected in detail with the use of rat basophilic leukemia mast cells (RBL-2H3), a widely accepted model of human mucosal mast cells3-5. Mast cell granule component and the allergic mediator β-hexosaminidase, which is released linearly in tandem with histamine from mast cells6, can easily and reliably be measured through reaction with a fluorogenic substrate, yielding measurable fluorescence intensity in a microplate assay that is amenable to high-throughput studies1. Originally published by Naal et al.1, we have adapted this degranulation assay for the screening of drugs and toxicants and demonstrate its use here. Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent that is present in many consumer products and has been found to be a therapeutic aid in human allergic skin disease7-11, although the mechanism for this effect is unknown. Here we demonstrate an assay for the effect of triclosan on mast cell degranulation. We recently showed that triclosan strongly affects mast cell function2. In an effort to avoid use of an organic solvent, triclosan is dissolved directly into aqueous buffer with heat and stirring, and resultant concentration is confirmed using UV-Vis spectrophotometry (using ε280 = 4,200 L/M/cm)12. This protocol has the potential to be used with a variety of chemicals to determine their effects on mast cell degranulation, and more broadly, their allergic potential.
Immunology, Issue 81, mast cell, basophil, degranulation, RBL-2H3, triclosan, irgasan, antibacterial, β-hexosaminidase, allergy, Asthma, toxicants, ionophore, antigen, fluorescence, microplate, UV-Vis
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
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
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Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Authors: Melissa N. Patterson, Patrick H. Maxwell.
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to: ● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media. ● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method. ● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria. ● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage. ● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure. ● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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Biology of Microbial Communities - Interview
Authors: Roberto Kolter.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termit
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Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
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
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BioMEMS and Cellular Biology: Perspectives and Applications
Authors: Albert Folch.
Institutions: University of Washington.
The ability to culture cells has revolutionized hypothesis testing in basic cell and molecular biology research. It has become a standard methodology in drug screening, toxicology, and clinical assays, and is increasingly used in regenerative medicine. However, the traditional cell culture methodology essentially consisting of the immersion of a large population of cells in a homogeneous fluid medium and on a homogeneous flat substrate has become increasingly limiting both from a fundamental and practical perspective. Microfabrication technologies have enabled researchers to design, with micrometer control, the biochemical composition and topology of the substrate, and the medium composition, as well as the neighboring cell type in the surrounding cellular microenvironment. Additionally, microtechnology is conceptually well-suited for the development of fast, low-cost in vitro systems that allow for high-throughput culturing and analysis of cells under large numbers of conditions. In this interview, Albert Folch explains these limitations, how they can be overcome with soft lithography and microfluidics, and describes some relevant examples of research in his lab and future directions.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 8, BioMEMS, Soft Lithography, Microfluidics, Agrin, Axon Guidance, Olfaction, Interview
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Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Authors: Edward F. DeLong.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome
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Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
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JoVE Visualize is a tool created to match the last 5 years of PubMed publications to methods in JoVE's video library.

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