Venoms are chemically complex secretions typically comprising numerous proteins and peptides with varied physiological activities. Functional characterization of venom proteins has important biomedical applications, including the identification of drug leads or probes for cellular receptors. Spiders are the most species rich clade of venomous organisms, but the venoms of only a few species are well-understood, in part due to the difficulty associated with collecting minute quantities of venom from small animals. This paper presents a protocol for the collection of venom from spiders using electrical stimulation, demonstrating the procedure on the Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus). The collected venom is useful for varied downstream analyses including direct protein identification via mass spectrometry, functional assays, and stimulation of venom gene expression for transcriptomic studies. This technique has the advantage over protocols that isolate venom from whole gland homogenates, which do not separate genuine venom components from cellular proteins that are not secreted as part of the venom. Representative results demonstrate the detection of known venom peptides from the collected sample using mass spectrometry. The venom collection procedure is followed by a protocol for dissecting spider venom glands, with results demonstrating that this leads to the characterization of venom-expressed proteins and peptides at the sequence level.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Harvesting Sperm and Artificial Insemination of Mice
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Rodents of the genus Peromyscus (deer mice) are the most prevalent native North American mammals. Peromyscus species are used in a wide range of research including toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, behavioral, and genetic studies. Here they provide a useful model for demonstrations of artificial insemination.
Methods similar to those displayed here have previously been used in several deer mouse studies, yet no detailed protocol has been published. Here we demonstrate the basic method of artificial insemination. This method entails extracting the testes from the rodent, then isolating the sperm from the epididymis and vas deferens. The mature sperm, now in a milk mixture, are placed in the female’s reproductive tract at the time of ovulation. Fertilization is counted as day 0 for timing of embryo development. Embryos can then be retrieved at the desired time-point and manipulated.
Artificial insemination can be used in a variety of rodent species where exact embryo timing is crucial or hard to obtain. This technique is vital for species or strains (including most Peromyscus) which may not mate immediately and/or where mating is hard to assess. In addition, artificial insemination provides exact timing for embryo development either in mapping developmental progress and/or transgenic work. Reduced numbers of animals can be used since fertilization is guaranteed. This method has been vital to furthering the Peromyscus system, and will hopefully benefit others as well.
Developmental Biology, Issue 3, sperm, mouse, artificial insemination, dissection
A Noninvasive Method For In situ Determination of Mating Success in Female American Lobsters (Homarus americanus)
Institutions: University of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Boston University, Middle College.
Despite being one of the most productive fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic, much remains unknown about the natural reproductive dynamics of American lobsters. Recent work in exploited crustacean populations (crabs and lobsters) suggests that there are circumstances where mature females are unable to achieve their full reproductive potential due to sperm limitation. To examine this possibility in different regions of the American lobster fishery, a reliable and noninvasive method was developed for sampling large numbers of female lobsters at sea. This method involves inserting a blunt-tipped needle into the female's seminal receptacle to determine the presence or absence of a sperm plug and to withdraw a sample that can be examined for the presence of sperm. A series of control studies were conducted at the dock and in the laboratory to test the reliability of this technique. These efforts entailed sampling 294 female lobsters to confirm that the presence of a sperm plug was a reliable indicator of sperm within the receptacle and thus, mating. This paper details the methodology and the results obtained from a subset of the total females sampled. Of the 230 female lobsters sampled from George's Bank and Cape Ann, MA (size range = 71-145 mm in carapace length), 90.3% were positive for sperm. Potential explanations for the absence of sperm in some females include: immaturity (lack of physiological maturity), breakdown of the sperm plug after being used to fertilize a clutch of eggs, and lack of mating activity. The surveys indicate that this technique for examining the mating success of female lobsters is a reliable proxy that can be used in the field to document reproductive activity in natural populations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 84, sperm limitation, spermatophore, lobster fishery, sex ratios, sperm receptacle, mating, American lobster, Homarus americanus
A Novel Method for Assessing Proximal and Distal Forelimb Function in the Rat: the Irvine, Beatties and Bresnahan (IBB) Forelimb Scale
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco.
Several experimental models of cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) have been developed recently to assess the consequences of damage to this level of the spinal cord (Pearse et al.
, 2005, Gensel et al.
, 2006, Anderson et al.
, 2009), as the majority of human SCI occur here (Young, 2010; www.sci-info-pages.com). Behavioral deficits include loss of forelimb function due to damage to the white matter affecting both descending motor and ascending sensory systems, and to the gray matter containing the segmental circuitry for processing sensory input and motor output for the forelimb. Additionally, a key priority for human patients with cervical SCI is restoration of hand/arm function (Anderson, 2004). Thus, outcome measures that assess both proximal and distal forelimb function are needed. Although there are several behavioral assays that are sensitive to different aspects of forelimb recovery in experimental models of cervical SCI (Girgis et al.
, 2007, Gensel et al.
, 2006, Ballerman et al.
, 2001, Metz and Whishaw, 2000, Bertelli and Mira, 1993, Montoya et al.
, 1991, Whishaw and Pellis, 1990), few techniques provide detailed information on the recovery of fine motor control and digit movement.
The current measurement technique, the Irvine, Beatties and Bresnahan forelimb scale (IBB), can detect recovery of both proximal and distal forelimb function including digit movements during a naturally occurring behavior that does not require extensive training or deprivation to enhance motivation. The IBB was generated by observing recovery after a unilateral C6 SCI, and involves video recording of animals eating two differently shaped cereals (spherical and doughnut) of a consistent size. These videos were then used to assess features of forelimb use, such as joint position, object support, digit movement and grasping technique.
The IBB, like other forelimb behavioral tasks, shows a consistent pattern of recovery that is sensitive to injury severity. Furthermore, the IBB scale could be used to assess recovery following other types of injury that impact normal forelimb function.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, spinal cord injury, recovery of function, forelimb function, neurological test, cervical injuries
Single Particle Electron Microscopy Reconstruction of the Exosome Complex Using the Random Conical Tilt Method
Institutions: Yale University.
Single particle electron microscopy (EM) reconstruction has recently become a popular tool to get the three-dimensional (3D) structure of large macromolecular complexes. Compared to X-ray crystallography, it has some unique advantages. First, single particle EM reconstruction does not need to crystallize the protein sample, which is the bottleneck in X-ray crystallography, especially for large macromolecular complexes. Secondly, it does not need large amounts of protein samples. Compared with milligrams of proteins necessary for crystallization, single particle EM reconstruction only needs several micro-liters of protein solution at nano-molar concentrations, using the negative staining EM method. However, despite a few macromolecular assemblies with high symmetry, single particle EM is limited at relatively low resolution (lower than 1 nm resolution) for many specimens especially those without symmetry. This technique is also limited by the size of the molecules under study, i.e. 100 kDa for negatively stained specimens and 300 kDa for frozen-hydrated specimens in general.
For a new sample of unknown structure, we generally use a heavy metal solution to embed the molecules by negative staining. The specimen is then examined in a transmission electron microscope to take two-dimensional (2D) micrographs of the molecules. Ideally, the protein molecules have a homogeneous 3D structure but exhibit different orientations in the micrographs. These micrographs are digitized and processed in computers as "single particles". Using two-dimensional alignment and classification techniques, homogenous molecules in the same views are clustered into classes. Their averages enhance the signal of the molecule's 2D shapes. After we assign the particles with the proper relative orientation (Euler angles), we will be able to reconstruct the 2D particle images into a 3D virtual volume.
In single particle 3D reconstruction, an essential step is to correctly assign the proper orientation of each single particle. There are several methods to assign the view for each particle, including the angular reconstitution1
and random conical tilt (RCT) method2
. In this protocol, we describe our practice in getting the 3D reconstruction of yeast exosome complex using negative staining EM and RCT. It should be noted that our protocol of electron microscopy and image processing follows the basic principle of RCT but is not the only way to perform the method. We first describe how to embed the protein sample into a layer of Uranyl-Formate with a thickness comparable to the protein size, using a holey carbon grid covered with a layer of continuous thin carbon film. Then the specimen is inserted into a transmission electron microscope to collect untilted (0-degree) and tilted (55-degree) pairs of micrographs that will be used later for processing and obtaining an initial 3D model of the yeast exosome. To this end, we perform RCT and then refine the initial 3D model by using the projection matching refinement method3
Structural Biology, Issue 49, Electron microscopy, single particle three-dimensional reconstruction, exosome complex, negative staining
Synthetic Spider Silk Production on a Laboratory Scale
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
As society progresses and resources become scarcer, it is becoming increasingly important to cultivate new technologies that engineer next generation biomaterials with high performance properties. The development of these new structural materials must be rapid, cost-efficient and involve processing methodologies and products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Spiders spin a multitude of different fiber types with diverse mechanical properties, offering a rich source of next generation engineering materials for biomimicry that rival the best manmade and natural materials. Since the collection of large quantities of natural spider silk is impractical, synthetic silk production has the ability to provide scientists with access to an unlimited supply of threads. Therefore, if the spinning process can be streamlined and perfected, artificial spider fibers have the potential use for a broad range of applications ranging from body armor, surgical sutures, ropes and cables, tires, strings for musical instruments, and composites for aviation and aerospace technology. In order to advance the synthetic silk production process and to yield fibers that display low variance in their material properties from spin to spin, we developed a wet-spinning protocol that integrates expression of recombinant spider silk proteins in bacteria, purification and concentration of the proteins, followed by fiber extrusion and a mechanical post-spin treatment. This is the first visual representation that reveals a step-by-step process to spin and analyze artificial silk fibers on a laboratory scale. It also provides details to minimize the introduction of variability among fibers spun from the same spinning dope. Collectively, these methods will propel the process of artificial silk production, leading to higher quality fibers that surpass natural spider silks.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Biochemistry, Spider silk, fibroins, synthetic spider silk, silk-producing glands, wet-spinning, post-spin draw
Application of Two-spotted Spider Mite Tetranychus urticae for Plant-pest Interaction Studies
Institutions: The University of Western Ontario, Instituto de Ciencias de la Vid y el Vino, Ghent University, University of Amsterdam.
The two-spotted spider mite, Tetranychus urticae
, is a ubiquitous polyphagous arthropod herbivore that feeds on a remarkably broad array of species, with more than 150 of economic value. It is a major pest of greenhouse crops, especially in Solanaceae
, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini) and greenhouse ornamentals (e.g.
, roses, chrysanthemum, carnations), annual field crops (such as maize, cotton, soybean, and sugar beet), and in perennial cultures (alfalfa, strawberries, grapes, citruses, and plums)1,2
. In addition to the extreme polyphagy that makes it an important agricultural pest, T. urticae
has a tendency to develop resistance to a wide array of insecticides and acaricides that are used for its control3-7
is an excellent experimental organism, as it has a rapid life cycle (7 days at 27 °C) and can be easily maintained at high density in the laboratory. Methods to assay gene expression (including in situ
hybridization and antibody staining) and to inactivate expression of spider mite endogenous genes using RNA interference have been developed8-10
. Recently, the whole genome sequence of T. urticae
has been reported, creating an opportunity to develop this pest herbivore as a model organism with equivalent genomic resources that already exist in some of its host plants (Arabidopsis thaliana
and the tomato Solanum lycopersicum
. Together, these model organisms could provide insights into molecular bases of plant-pest interactions.
Here, an efficient method for quick and easy collection of a large number of adult female mites, their application on an experimental plant host, and the assessment of the plant damage due to spider mite feeding are described. The presented protocol enables fast and efficient collection of hundreds of individuals at any developmental stage (eggs, larvae, nymphs, adult males, and females) that can be used for subsequent experimental application.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, two-spotted spider mite, plant-herbivore interaction, Tetranychus urticae, Arabidopsis thaliana, plant damage analysis, herbivory, plant pests
Microdissection of Black Widow Spider Silk-producing Glands
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Modern spiders spin high-performance silk fibers with a broad range of biological functions, including locomotion, prey capture and protection of developing offspring 1,2
. Spiders accomplish these tasks by spinning several distinct fiber types that have diverse mechanical properties. Such specialization of fiber types has occurred through the evolution of different silk-producing glands, which function as small biofactories. These biofactories manufacture and store large quantities of silk proteins for fiber production. Through a complex series of biochemical events, these silk proteins are converted from a liquid into a solid material upon extrusion.
Mechanical studies have demonstrated that spider silks are stronger than high-tensile steel 3
. Analyses to understand the relationship between the structure and function of spider silk threads have revealed that spider silk consists largely of proteins, or fibroins, that have block repeats within their protein sequences 4
. Common molecular signatures that contribute to the incredible tensile strength and extensibility of spider silks are being unraveled through the analyses of translated silk cDNAs. Given the extraordinary material properties of spider silks, research labs across the globe are racing to understand and mimic the spinning process to produce synthetic silk fibers for commercial, military and industrial applications. One of the main challenges to spinning artificial spider silk in the research lab involves a complete understanding of the biochemical processes that occur during extrusion of the fibers from the silk-producing glands.
Here we present a method for the isolation of the seven different silk-producing glands from the cobweaving black widow spider, which includes the major and minor ampullate glands [manufactures dragline and scaffolding silk] 5,6
, tubuliform [synthesizes egg case silk] 7,8
, flagelliform [unknown function in cob-weavers], aggregate [makes glue silk], aciniform [synthesizes prey wrapping and egg case threads] 9
and pyriform [produces attachment disc silk] 10
. This approach is based upon anesthetizing the spider with carbon dioxide gas, subsequent separation of the cephalothorax from the abdomen, and microdissection of the abdomen to obtain the silk-producing glands. Following the separation of the different silk-producing glands, these tissues can be used to retrieve different macromolecules for distinct biochemical analyses, including quantitative real-time PCR, northern- and western blotting, mass spectrometry (MS or MS/MS) analyses to identify new silk protein sequences, search for proteins that participate in the silk assembly pathway, or use the intact tissue for cell culture or histological experiments.
Cellular Biology, Issue 47, Spider silk, silk-producing glands, fibroins, structural proteins, spidroins
Assessing Forelimb Function after Unilateral Cervical SCI using Novel Tasks: Limb Step-alternation, Postural Instability and Pasta Handling
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas at Austin, University of Florida.
Cervical spinal cord injury (cSCI) can cause devastating neurological deficits, including impairment or loss of upper limb and hand function. A majority of the spinal cord injuries in humans occur at the cervical levels. Therefore, developing cervical injury models and developing relevant and sensitive behavioral tests is of great importance. Here we describe the use of a newly developed forelimb step-alternation test after cervical spinal cord injury in rats. In addition, we describe two behavioral tests that have not been used after spinal cord injury: a postural instability test (PIT), and a pasta-handling test. All three behavioral tests are highly sensitive to injury and are easy to use. Therefore, we feel that these behavioral tests can be instrumental in investigating therapeutic strategies after cSCI.
Behavior, Issue 79, Behavior, Animal, Motor Activity, Nervous System Diseases, Wounds and Injuries, cervical spinal cord injury, lateral hemisection model, limb alternation, pasta handling, postural instability
Helical Organization of Blood Coagulation Factor VIII on Lipid Nanotubes
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch.
Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM)1
is a powerful approach to investigate the functional structure of proteins and complexes in a hydrated state and membrane environment2
Coagulation Factor VIII (FVIII)3
is a multi-domain blood plasma glycoprotein. Defect or deficiency of FVIII is the cause for Hemophilia type A - a severe bleeding disorder. Upon proteolytic activation, FVIII binds to the serine protease Factor IXa on the negatively charged platelet membrane, which is critical for normal blood clotting4
. Despite the pivotal role FVIII plays in coagulation, structural information for its membrane-bound state is incomplete5
. Recombinant FVIII concentrate is the most effective drug against Hemophilia type A and commercially available FVIII can be expressed as human or porcine, both forming functional complexes with human Factor IXa6,7
In this study we present a combination of Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM), lipid nanotechnology and structure analysis applied to resolve the membrane-bound structure of two highly homologous FVIII forms: human and porcine. The methodology developed in our laboratory to helically organize the two functional recombinant FVIII forms on negatively charged lipid nanotubes (LNT) is described. The representative results demonstrate that our approach is sufficiently sensitive to define the differences in the helical organization between the two highly homologous in sequence (86% sequence identity) proteins. Detailed protocols for the helical organization, Cryo-EM and electron tomography (ET) data acquisition are given. The two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) structure analysis applied to obtain the 3D reconstructions of human and porcine FVIII-LNT is discussed. The presented human and porcine FVIII-LNT structures show the potential of the proposed methodology to calculate the functional, membrane-bound organization of blood coagulation Factor VIII at high resolution.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, Cryo-electron microscopy, Lipid nanotubes, Helical assembly, Membrane-bound organization, Coagulation factor VIII
Dissection and Staining of Drosophila Larval Ovaries
Institutions: Weizmann Institute of Science.
Many organs depend on stem cells for their development during embryogenesis and for maintenance or repair during adult life. Understanding how stem cells form, and how they interact with their environment is therefore crucial for understanding development, homeostasis and disease. The ovary of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster
has served as an influential model for the interaction of germ line stem cells (GSCs) with their somatic support cells (niche) 1, 2
. The known location of the niche and the GSCs, coupled to the ability to genetically manipulate them, has allowed researchers to elucidate a variety of interactions between stem cells and their niches 3-12
Despite the wealth of information about mechanisms controlling GSC maintenance and differentiation, relatively little is known about how GSCs and their somatic niches form during development. About 18 somatic niches, whose cellular components include terminal filament and cap cells (Figure 1), form during the third larval instar 13-17
. GSCs originate from primordial germ cells (PGCs). PGCs proliferate at early larval stages, but following the formation of the niche a subgroup of PGCs becomes GSCs 7, 16, 18, 19
. Together, the somatic niche cells and the GSCs make a functional unit that produces eggs throughout the lifetime of the organism.
Many questions regarding the formation of the GSC unit remain unanswered. Processes such as coordination between precursor cells for niches and stem cell precursors, or the generation of asymmetry within PGCs as they become GSCs, can best be studied in the larva. However, a methodical study of larval ovary development is physically challenging. First, larval ovaries are small. Even at late larval stages they are only 100μm across. In addition, the ovaries are transparent and are embedded in a white fat body. Here we describe a step-by-step protocol for isolating ovaries from late third instar (LL3) Drosophila
larvae, followed by staining with fluorescent antibodies. We offer some technical solutions to problems such as locating the ovaries, staining and washing tissues that do not sink, and making sure that antibodies penetrate into the tissue. This protocol can be applied to earlier larval stages and to larval testes as well.
Cellular Biology, Issue 51, development, Drosophila, ovaries, larvae, dissection, niche, germ line stem cells
Assessing Differences in Sperm Competitive Ability in Drosophila
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
Competition among conspecific males for fertilizing the ova is one of the mechanisms of sexual selection, i.e.
selection that operates on maximizing the number of successful mating events rather than on maximizing survival and viability 1
. Sperm competition represents the competition between males after copulating with the same female 2
, in which their sperm are coincidental in time and space. This phenomenon has been reported in multiple species of plants and animals 3
. For example, wild-caught D. melanogaster
females usually contain sperm from 2-3 males 4
. The sperm are stored in specialized organs with limited storage capacity, which might lead to the direct competition of the sperm from different males 2,5
Comparing sperm competitive ability of different males of interest (experimental male types) has been performed through controlled double-mating experiments in the laboratory 6,7
. Briefly, a single female is exposed to two different males consecutively, one experimental male and one cross-mating reference male. The same mating scheme is then followed using other experimental male types thus facilitating the indirect comparison of the competitive ability of their sperm through a common reference. The fraction of individuals fathered by the experimental and reference males is identified using markers, which allows one to estimate sperm competitive ability using simple mathematical expressions 7,8
. In addition, sperm competitive ability can be estimated in two different scenarios depending on whether the experimental male is second or first to mate (offense and defense assay, respectively) 9
, which is assumed to be reflective of different competence attributes.
Here, we describe an approach that helps to interrogate the role of different genetic factors that putatively underlie the phenomenon of sperm competitive ability in D. melanogaster
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Spermatozoa, Drosophila melanogaster, Biological Evolution, Phenotype, genetics (animal and plant), animal biology, double-mating experiment, sperm competitive ability, male fertility, Drosophila, fruit fly, animal model
Effect of Male Accessory Gland Products on Egg Laying in Gastropod Molluscs
Institutions: VU University.
In internally fertilizing animals, seminal fluid is usually added to the spermatozoa, together forming the semen or ejaculate. Besides nourishing and activating sperm, the components in the seminal fluid can also influence female physiology to augment fertilization success of the sperm donor. While many studies have reported such effects in species with separate sexes, few studies have addressed this in simultaneously hermaphroditic animals. This video protocol presents a method to study effects of seminal fluid in gastropods, using a simultaneously hermaphroditic freshwater snail, the great pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis
, as model organism. While the procedure is shown using complete prostate gland extracts, individual components (i.e.
, proteins, peptides, and other compounds) of the seminal fluid can be tested in the same way. Effects of the receipt of ejaculate components on egg laying can be quantified in terms of frequency of egg laying and more subtle estimates of female reproductive performance such as egg numbers within each egg masses. Results show that seminal fluid proteins affect female reproductive output in this simultaneous hermaphrodite, highlighting their importance for sexual selection.
Physiology, Issue 88, Allohormone, Fresh-water snail, Gastropod, Lymnaea stagnalis, Mollusc, Pond snail, Prostate, Semen, Seminal fluid Sexual selection, Sperm
Laboratory Estimation of Net Trophic Transfer Efficiencies of PCB Congeners to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) from Its Prey
Institutions: U. S. Geological Survey, Grand Valley State University, Shedd Aquarium.
A technique for laboratory estimation of net trophic transfer efficiency (γ) of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners to piscivorous fish from their prey is described herein. During a 135-day laboratory experiment, we fed bloater (Coregonus hoyi
) that had been caught in Lake Michigan to lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush
) kept in eight laboratory tanks. Bloater is a natural prey for lake trout. In four of the tanks, a relatively high flow rate was used to ensure relatively high activity by the lake trout, whereas a low flow rate was used in the other four tanks, allowing for low lake trout activity. On a tank-by-tank basis, the amount of food eaten by the lake trout on each day of the experiment was recorded. Each lake trout was weighed at the start and end of the experiment. Four to nine lake trout from each of the eight tanks were sacrificed at the start of the experiment, and all 10 lake trout remaining in each of the tanks were euthanized at the end of the experiment. We determined concentrations of 75 PCB congeners in the lake trout at the start of the experiment, in the lake trout at the end of the experiment, and in bloaters fed to the lake trout during the experiment. Based on these measurements, γ was calculated for each of 75 PCB congeners in each of the eight tanks. Mean γ was calculated for each of the 75 PCB congeners for both active and inactive lake trout. Because the experiment was replicated in eight tanks, the standard error about mean γ could be estimated. Results from this type of experiment are useful in risk assessment models to predict future risk to humans and wildlife eating contaminated fish under various scenarios of environmental contamination.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, trophic transfer efficiency, polychlorinated biphenyl congeners, lake trout, activity, contaminants, accumulation, risk assessment, toxic equivalents
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
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.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis
. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g.,
snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g.,
flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
Behavior, Issue 92, Detection, threat, attention, attentional bias, anxiety, visual search
A Method for Investigating Age-related Differences in the Functional Connectivity of Cognitive Control Networks Associated with Dimensional Change Card Sort Performance
Institutions: University of Western Ontario.
The ability to adjust behavior to sudden changes in the environment develops gradually in childhood and adolescence. For example, in the Dimensional Change Card Sort task, participants switch from sorting cards one way, such as shape, to sorting them a different way, such as color. Adjusting behavior in this way exacts a small performance cost, or switch cost, such that responses are typically slower and more error-prone on switch trials in which the sorting rule changes as compared to repeat trials in which the sorting rule remains the same. The ability to flexibly adjust behavior is often said to develop gradually, in part because behavioral costs such as switch costs typically decrease with increasing age. Why aspects of higher-order cognition, such as behavioral flexibility, develop so gradually remains an open question. One hypothesis is that these changes occur in association with functional changes in broad-scale cognitive control networks. On this view, complex mental operations, such as switching, involve rapid interactions between several distributed brain regions, including those that update and maintain task rules, re-orient attention, and select behaviors. With development, functional connections between these regions strengthen, leading to faster and more efficient switching operations. The current video describes a method of testing this hypothesis through the collection and multivariate analysis of fMRI data from participants of different ages.
Behavior, Issue 87, Neurosciences, fMRI, Cognitive Control, Development, Functional Connectivity
Demonstration of Cutaneous Allodynia in Association with Chronic Pelvic Pain
Institutions: University of Calgary.
Pelvic pain is a common condition that is associated with dysmenorrhea and endometriosis. In some women the severe episodes of cyclic pain change and the resultant pain becomes continuous and this condition becomes known as Chronic Pelvic Pain. This state can be present even after the appropriate medical or surgical therapy has been instituted. It can be associated with pain and tenderness in the muscles of the abdomen wall and intra-pelvic muscles leading to severe dyspareunia. Additional symptoms of irritable bowel and interstitial cystitis are common. A common sign of the development of this state is the emergence of cutaneous allodynia
which emerges from the so-called viscero-somatic reflex. A simple bedside test for the presence of cutaneous allodynia
is presented that does not require excessive time or special equipment. This test builds on previous work associated with changes in sensation related to gall bladder function and the viscera-somatic reflex(1;2).
The test is undertaken with the subject s permission after an explanation of how the test will be performed. Allodynia
refers to a condition in which a stimulus that is not normally painful is interpreted by the subject as painful. In this instance the light touch associated with a cotton-tipped applicator would not be expected to be painful. A positive test is however noted by the woman as suddenly painful or suddenly sharp. The patterns of this sensation are usually in a discrete pattern of a dermatome of the nerves that innervate the pelvis.
The underlying pathology is now interpreted as evidence of neuroplasticity as a consequence of severe and repeating pain with changes in the functions of the dorsal horns of the spinal cord that results in altered function of visceral tissues and resultant somatic symptoms(3).
The importance of recognizing the condition lies in an awareness that this process may present coincidentally with the initiating condition or after it has been treated. It also permits the clinician to evaluate the situation from the perspective that alternative explanations for the pain may be present that may not require additional surgery.
Medicine, Issue 28, Chronic pelvic pain, cutaneous allodynia, trigger points, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, dyspareunia
Enrichment of NK Cells from Human Blood with the RosetteSep Kit from StemCell Technologies
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Natural killer (NK) cells are large granular cytotoxic lymphocytes that belong to the innate immune system and play major roles in fighting against cancer and infections, but are also implicated in the early stages of pregnancy and transplant rejection. These cells are present in peripheral blood, from which they can be isolated. Cells can be isolated using either positive or negative selection. For positive selection we use antibodies directed to a surface marker present only on the cells of interest whereas for negative selection we use cocktails of antibodies targeted to surface markers present on all cells but the cells of interest. This latter technique presents the advantage of leaving the cells of interest free of antibodies, thereby reducing the risk of unwanted cell activation or differenciation. In this video-protocol we demonstrate how to separate NK cells from human blood by negative selection, using the RosetteSep kit from StemCell technologies. The procedure involves obtaining human peripheral blood (under an institutional review board-approved protocol to protect the human subjects) and mixing it with a cocktail of antibodies that will bind to markers absent on NK cells, but present on all other mononuclear cells present in peripheral blood (e.g., T lymphocytes, monocytes...). The antibodies present in the cocktail are conjugated to antibodies directed to glycophorin A on erythrocytes. All unwanted cells and red blood cells will therefore be trapped in complexes. The mix of blood and antibody cocktail is then diluted, overlayed on a Histopaque gradient, and centrifuged. NK cells (>80% pure) can be collected at the interface between the Histopaque and the diluted plasma. Similar cocktails are available for enrichment of other cell populations, such as human T lymphocytes.
Immunology, issue 8, blood, cell isolation, natural killer, lymphocyte, primary cells, negative selection, PBMC, Ficoll gradient, cell separation
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing