One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1 Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23 However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g., vocabulary),5 or include a significant motor component (e.g., pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22 This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g., laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24 Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Assessment of Age-related Changes in Cognitive Functions Using EmoCogMeter, a Novel Tablet-computer Based Approach
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Charité Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich.
The main goal of this study was to assess the usability of a tablet-computer-based application (EmoCogMeter) in investigating the effects of age on cognitive functions across the lifespan in a sample of 378 healthy subjects (age range 18-89 years). Consistent with previous findings we found an age-related cognitive decline across a wide range of neuropsychological domains (memory, attention, executive functions), thereby proving the usability of our tablet-based application. Regardless of prior computer experience, subjects of all age groups were able to perform the tasks without instruction or feedback from an experimenter. Increased motivation and compliance proved to be beneficial for task performance, thereby potentially increasing the validity of the results. Our promising findings underline the great clinical and practical potential of a tablet-based application for detection and monitoring of cognitive dysfunction.
Behavior, Issue 84, Neuropsychological Testing, cognitive decline, age, tablet-computer, memory, attention, executive functions
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Studying Food Reward and Motivation in Humans
Institutions: University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital.
A key challenge in studying reward processing in humans is to go beyond subjective self-report measures and quantify different aspects of reward such as hedonics, motivation, and goal value in more objective ways. This is particularly relevant for the understanding of overeating and obesity as well as their potential treatments. In this paper are described a set of measures of food-related motivation using handgrip force as a motivational measure. These methods can be used to examine changes in food related motivation with metabolic (satiety) and pharmacological manipulations and can be used to evaluate interventions targeted at overeating and obesity. However to understand food-related decision making in the complex food environment it is essential to be able to ascertain the reward goal values that guide the decisions and behavioral choices that people make. These values are hidden but it is possible to ascertain them more objectively using metrics such as the willingness to pay and a method for this is described. Both these sets of methods provide quantitative measures of motivation and goal value that can be compared within and between individuals.
Behavior, Issue 85, Food reward, motivation, grip force, willingness to pay, subliminal motivation
Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo
, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata,
however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e.
teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e.
urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio
), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae
. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum
) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
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
High-throughput Analysis of Mammalian Olfactory Receptors: Measurement of Receptor Activation via Luciferase Activity
Institutions: Monell Chemical Senses Center.
Odorants create unique and overlapping patterns of olfactory receptor activation, allowing a family of approximately 1,000 murine and 400 human receptors to recognize thousands of odorants. Odorant ligands have been published for fewer than 6% of human receptors1-11
. This lack of data is due in part to difficulties functionally expressing these receptors in heterologous systems. Here, we describe a method for expressing the majority of the olfactory receptor family in Hana3A cells, followed by high-throughput assessment of olfactory receptor activation using a luciferase reporter assay. This assay can be used to (1) screen panels of odorants against panels of olfactory receptors; (2) confirm odorant/receptor interaction via dose response curves; and (3) compare receptor activation levels among receptor variants. In our sample data, 328 olfactory receptors were screened against 26 odorants. Odorant/receptor pairs with varying response scores were selected and tested in dose response. These data indicate that a screen is an effective method to enrich for odorant/receptor pairs that will pass a dose response experiment, i.e.
receptors that have a bona fide response to an odorant. Therefore, this high-throughput luciferase assay is an effective method to characterize olfactory receptors—an essential step toward a model of odor coding in the mammalian olfactory system.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Firefly luciferase, Renilla Luciferase, Dual-Glo Luciferase Assay, olfaction, Olfactory receptor, Odorant, GPCR, High-throughput
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
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
Using Eye Movements to Evaluate the Cognitive Processes Involved in Text Comprehension
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
The present article describes how to use eye tracking methodologies to study the cognitive processes involved in text comprehension. Measuring eye movements during reading is one of the most precise methods for measuring moment-by-moment (online) processing demands during text comprehension. Cognitive processing demands are reflected by several aspects of eye movement behavior, such as fixation duration, number of fixations, and number of regressions (returning to prior parts of a text). Important properties of eye tracking equipment that researchers need to consider are described, including how frequently the eye position is measured (sampling rate), accuracy of determining eye position, how much head movement is allowed, and ease of use. Also described are properties of stimuli that influence eye movements that need to be controlled in studies of text comprehension, such as the position, frequency, and length of target words. Procedural recommendations related to preparing the participant, setting up and calibrating the equipment, and running a study are given. Representative results are presented to illustrate how data can be evaluated. Although the methodology is described in terms of reading comprehension, much of the information presented can be applied to any study in which participants read verbal stimuli.
Behavior, Issue 83, Eye movements, Eye tracking, Text comprehension, Reading, Cognition
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
Application of a C. elegans Dopamine Neuron Degeneration Assay for the Validation of Potential Parkinson's Disease Genes
Institutions: University of Alabama.
Improvements to the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD) are dependent upon knowledge about susceptibility factors that render populations at risk. In the process of attempting to identify novel genetic factors associated with PD, scientists have generated many lists of candidate genes, polymorphisms, and proteins that represent important advances, but these leads remain mechanistically undefined. Our work is aimed toward significantly narrowing such lists by exploiting the advantages of a simple animal model system. While humans have billions of neurons, the microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans has precisely 302, of which only eight produce dopamine (DA) in hemaphrodites. Expression of a human gene encoding the PD-associated protein, alpha-synuclein, in C. elegans DA neurons results in dosage and age-dependent neurodegeneration.
Worms expressing human alpha-synuclein in DA neurons are isogenic and express both GFP and human alpha-synuclein under the DA transporter promoter (Pdat-1). The presence of GFP serves as a readily visualized marker for following DA neurodegeneration in these animals. We initially demonstrated that alpha-synuclein-induced DA neurodegeneration could be rescued in these animals by torsinA, a protein with molecular chaperone activity 1
. Further, candidate PD-related genes identified in our lab via large-scale RNAi screening efforts using an alpha-synuclein misfolding assay were then over-expressed in C. elegans DA neurons. We determined that five of seven genes tested represented significant candidate modulators of PD as they rescued alpha-synuclein-induced DA neurodegeneration 2
. Additionally, the Lindquist Lab (this issue of JoVE) has performed yeast screens whereby alpha-synuclein-dependent toxicity is used as a readout for genes that can enhance or suppress cytotoxicity. We subsequently examined the yeast candidate genes in our C. elegans alpha-synuclein-induced neurodegeneration assay and successfully validated many of these targets 3, 4
Our methodology involves generation of a C. elegans DA neuron-specific expression vector using recombinational cloning of candidate gene cDNAs under control of the Pdat-1 promoter. These plasmids are then microinjected in wild-type (N2) worms, along with a selectable marker for successful transformation. Multiple stable transgenic lines producing the candidate protein in DA neurons are obtained and then independently crossed into the alpha-synuclein degenerative strain and assessed for neurodegeneration, at both the animal and individual neuron level, over the course of aging.
Neuroscience, Issue 17, C. elegans, Parkinson's disease, neuroprotection, alpha-synuclein, Translational Research
A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1
. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2
. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps
). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Long-term Lethal Toxicity Test with the Crustacean Artemia franciscana
Institutions: Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, Regional Agency for Environmental Protection in Emilia-Romagna.
Our research activities target the use of biological methods for the evaluation of environmental quality, with particular reference to saltwater/brackish water and sediment. The choice of biological indicators must be based on reliable scientific knowledge and, possibly, on the availability of standardized procedures. In this article, we present a standardized protocol that used the marine crustacean Artemia
to evaluate the toxicity of chemicals and/or of marine environmental matrices. Scientists propose that the brine shrimp (Artemia
) is a suitable candidate for the development of a standard bioassay for worldwide utilization. A number of papers have been published on the toxic effects of various chemicals and toxicants on brine shrimp (Artemia
). The major advantage of this crustacean for toxicity studies is the overall availability of the dry cysts; these can be immediately used in testing and difficult cultivation is not demanded1,2
. Cyst-based toxicity assays are cheap, continuously available, simple and reliable and are thus an important answer to routine needs of toxicity screening, for industrial monitoring requirements or for regulatory purposes3
. The proposed method involves the mortality as an endpoint. The numbers of survivors were counted and percentage of deaths were calculated. Larvae were considered dead if they did not exhibit any internal or external movement during several seconds of observation4
. This procedure was standardized testing a reference substance (Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate); some results are reported in this work. This article accompanies a video that describes the performance of procedural toxicity testing, showing all the steps related to the protocol.
Chemistry, Issue 62, Artemia franciscana, bioassays, chemical substances, crustaceans, marine environment
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
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
Determination of the Gas-phase Acidities of Oligopeptides
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Amino acid residues located at different positions in folded proteins often exhibit different degrees of acidities. For example, a cysteine residue located at or near the N-terminus of a helix is often more acidic than that at or near the C-terminus 1-6
. Although extensive experimental studies on the acid-base properties of peptides have been carried out in the condensed phase, in particular in aqueous solutions 6-8
, the results are often complicated by solvent effects 7
. In fact, most of the active sites in proteins are located near the interior region where solvent effects have been minimized 9,10
. In order to understand intrinsic acid-base properties of peptides and proteins, it is important to perform the studies in a solvent-free environment.
We present a method to measure the acidities of oligopeptides in the gas-phase. We use a cysteine-containing oligopeptide, Ala3
CH), as the model compound. The measurements are based on the well-established extended Cooks kinetic method (Figure 1
. The experiments are carried out using a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer interfaced with an electrospray ionization (ESI) ion source (Figure 2
). For each peptide sample, several reference acids are selected. The reference acids are structurally similar organic compounds with known gas-phase acidities. A solution of the mixture of the peptide and a reference acid is introduced into the mass spectrometer, and a gas-phase proton-bound anionic cluster of peptide-reference acid is formed. The proton-bound cluster is mass isolated and subsequently fragmented via collision-induced dissociation (CID) experiments. The resulting fragment ion abundances are analyzed using a relationship between the acidities and the cluster ion dissociation kinetics. The gas-phase acidity of the peptide is then obtained by linear regression of the thermo-kinetic plots 17,18
The method can be applied to a variety of molecular systems, including organic compounds, amino acids and their derivatives, oligonucleotides, and oligopeptides. By comparing the gas-phase acidities measured experimentally with those values calculated for different conformers, conformational effects on the acidities can be evaluated.
Chemistry, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Oligopeptide, gas-phase acidity, kinetic method, collision-induced dissociation, triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry, oligopeptides, peptides, mass spectrometry, MS
LeafJ: An ImageJ Plugin for Semi-automated Leaf Shape Measurement
Institutions: University of California Davis.
High throughput phenotyping (phenomics) is a powerful tool for linking genes to their functions (see review1
and recent examples2-4
). Leaves are the primary photosynthetic organ, and their size and shape vary developmentally and environmentally within a plant. For these reasons studies on leaf morphology require measurement of multiple parameters from numerous leaves, which is best done by semi-automated phenomics tools5,6
. Canopy shade is an important environmental cue that affects plant architecture and life history; the suite of responses is collectively called the shade avoidance syndrome (SAS)7
. Among SAS responses, shade induced leaf petiole elongation and changes in blade area are particularly useful as indices8
. To date, leaf shape programs (e.g.
) can measure leaf outlines and categorize leaf shapes, but can not output petiole length. Lack of large-scale measurement systems of leaf petioles has inhibited phenomics approaches to SAS research. In this paper, we describe a newly developed ImageJ plugin, called LeafJ, which can rapidly measure petiole length and leaf blade parameters of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana
. For the occasional leaf that required manual correction of the petiole/leaf blade boundary we used a touch-screen tablet. Further, leaf cell shape and leaf cell numbers are important determinants of leaf size13
. Separate from LeafJ we also present a protocol for using a touch-screen tablet for measuring cell shape, area, and size. Our leaf trait measurement system is not limited to shade-avoidance research and will accelerate leaf phenotyping of many mutants and screening plants by leaf phenotyping.
Plant Biology, Issue 71, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Computer Science, Arabidopsis, Arabidopsis thaliana, leaf shape, shade avoidance, ImageJ, LeafJ, petiole, touch-screen tablet, phenotyping, phenomics
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut