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Pubmed Article
Standard biological parts knowledgebase.
PUBLISHED: 01-19-2011
We have created the Knowledgebase of Standard Biological Parts (SBPkb) as a publically accessible Semantic Web resource for synthetic biology ( The SBPkb allows researchers to query and retrieve standard biological parts for research and use in synthetic biology. Its initial version includes all of the information about parts stored in the Registry of Standard Biological Parts ( SBPkb transforms this information so that it is computable, using our semantic framework for synthetic biology parts. This framework, known as SBOL-semantic, was built as part of the Synthetic Biology Open Language (SBOL), a project of the Synthetic Biology Data Exchange Group. SBOL-semantic represents commonly used synthetic biology entities, and its purpose is to improve the distribution and exchange of descriptions of biological parts. In this paper, we describe the data, our methods for transformation to SBPkb, and finally, we demonstrate the value of our knowledgebase with a set of sample queries. We use RDF technology and SPARQL queries to retrieve candidate "promoter" parts that are known to be both negatively and positively regulated. This method provides new web based data access to perform searches for parts that are not currently possible.
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Published: 10-02-2012
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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Generation of Comprehensive Thoracic Oncology Database - Tool for Translational Research
Authors: Mosmi Surati, Matthew Robinson, Suvobroto Nandi, Leonardo Faoro, Carley Demchuk, Rajani Kanteti, Benjamin Ferguson, Tara Gangadhar, Thomas Hensing, Rifat Hasina, Aliya Husain, Mark Ferguson, Theodore Karrison, Ravi Salgia.
Institutions: University of Chicago, University of Chicago, Northshore University Health Systems, University of Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Chicago.
The Thoracic Oncology Program Database Project was created to serve as a comprehensive, verified, and accessible repository for well-annotated cancer specimens and clinical data to be available to researchers within the Thoracic Oncology Research Program. This database also captures a large volume of genomic and proteomic data obtained from various tumor tissue studies. A team of clinical and basic science researchers, a biostatistician, and a bioinformatics expert was convened to design the database. Variables of interest were clearly defined and their descriptions were written within a standard operating manual to ensure consistency of data annotation. Using a protocol for prospective tissue banking and another protocol for retrospective banking, tumor and normal tissue samples from patients consented to these protocols were collected. Clinical information such as demographics, cancer characterization, and treatment plans for these patients were abstracted and entered into an Access database. Proteomic and genomic data have been included in the database and have been linked to clinical information for patients described within the database. The data from each table were linked using the relationships function in Microsoft Access to allow the database manager to connect clinical and laboratory information during a query. The queried data can then be exported for statistical analysis and hypothesis generation.
Medicine, Issue 47, Database, Thoracic oncology, Bioinformatics, Biorepository, Microsoft Access, Proteomics, Genomics
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Investigating the Effects of Antipsychotics and Schizotypy on the N400 Using Event-Related Potentials and Semantic Categorization
Authors: Vivian Gu, Ola Mohamed Ali, Katherine L'Abbée Lacas, J. Bruno Debruille.
Institutions: McGill University, McGill University, McGill University, McGill University.
Within the field of cognitive neuroscience, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a popular method of visualizing brain function. This is in part because of its excellent spatial resolution, which allows researchers to identify brain areas associated with specific cognitive processes. However, in the quest to localize brain functions, it is relevant to note that many cognitive, sensory, and motor processes have temporal distinctions that are imperative to capture, an aspect that is left unfulfilled by fMRI’s suboptimal temporal resolution. To better understand cognitive processes, it is thus advantageous to utilize event-related potential (ERP) recording as a method of gathering information about the brain. Some of its advantages include its fantastic temporal resolution, which gives researchers the ability to follow the activity of the brain down to the millisecond. It also directly indexes both excitatory and inhibitory post-synaptic potentials by which most brain computations are performed. This sits in contrast to fMRI, which captures an index of metabolic activity. Further, the non-invasive ERP method does not require a contrast condition: raw ERPs can be examined for just one experimental condition, a distinction from fMRI where control conditions must be subtracted from the experimental condition, leading to uncertainty in associating observations with experimental or contrast conditions. While it is limited by its poor spatial and subcortical activity resolution, ERP recordings’ utility, relative cost-effectiveness, and associated advantages offer strong rationale for its use in cognitive neuroscience to track rapid temporal changes in neural activity. In an effort to foster increase in its use as a research imaging method, and to ensure proper and accurate data collection, the present article will outline – in the framework of a paradigm using semantic categorization to examine the effects of antipsychotics and schizotypy on the N400 – the procedure and key aspects associated with ERP data acquisition.
Behavior, Issue 93, Electrical brain activity, Semantic categorization, Event-related brain potentials, Neuroscience, Cognition, Psychiatry, Antipsychotic medication, N400, Schizotypy, Schizophrenia.
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Time Multiplexing Super Resolving Technique for Imaging from a Moving Platform
Authors: Asaf Ilovitsh, Shlomo Zach, Zeev Zalevsky.
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University, Kfar Saba, Israel.
We propose a method for increasing the resolution of an object and overcoming the diffraction limit of an optical system installed on top of a moving imaging system, such as an airborne platform or satellite. The resolution improvement is obtained in a two-step process. First, three low resolution differently defocused images are being captured and the optical phase is retrieved using an improved iterative Gerchberg-Saxton based algorithm. The phase retrieval allows to numerically back propagate the field to the aperture plane. Second, the imaging system is shifted and the first step is repeated. The obtained optical fields at the aperture plane are combined and a synthetically increased lens aperture is generated along the direction of movement, yielding higher imaging resolution. The method resembles a well-known approach from the microwave regime called the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in which the antenna size is synthetically increased along the platform propagation direction. The proposed method is demonstrated through laboratory experiment.
Physics, Issue 84, Superresolution, Fourier optics, Remote Sensing and Sensors, Digital Image Processing, optics, resolution
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Dithranol as a Matrix for Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Imaging on a Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometer
Authors: Cuong H. Le, Jun Han, Christoph H. Borchers.
Institutions: University of Victoria, University of Victoria.
Mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) determines the spatial localization and distribution patterns of compounds on the surface of a tissue section, mainly using MALDI (matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization)-based analytical techniques. New matrices for small-molecule MSI, which can improve the analysis of low-molecular weight (MW) compounds, are needed. These matrices should provide increased analyte signals while decreasing MALDI background signals. In addition, the use of ultrahigh-resolution instruments, such as Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FTICR) mass spectrometers, has the ability to resolve analyte signals from matrix signals, and this can partially overcome many problems associated with the background originating from the MALDI matrix. The reduction in the intensities of the metastable matrix clusters by FTICR MS can also help to overcome some of the interferences associated with matrix peaks on other instruments. High-resolution instruments such as the FTICR mass spectrometers are advantageous as they can produce distribution patterns of many compounds simultaneously while still providing confidence in chemical identifications. Dithranol (DT; 1,8-dihydroxy-9,10-dihydroanthracen-9-one) has previously been reported as a MALDI matrix for tissue imaging. In this work, a protocol for the use of DT for MALDI imaging of endogenous lipids from the surfaces of mammalian tissue sections, by positive-ion MALDI-MS, on an ultrahigh-resolution hybrid quadrupole FTICR instrument has been provided.
Basic Protocol, Issue 81, eye, molecular imaging, chemistry technique, analytical, mass spectrometry, matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI), tandem mass spectrometry, lipid, tissue imaging, bovine lens, dithranol, matrix, FTICR (Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance)
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Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Authors: Rangaraj M. Rangayyan, Shantanu Banik, J.E. Leo Desautels.
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion. Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
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Preparation of DNA-crosslinked Polyacrylamide Hydrogels
Authors: Michelle L. Previtera, Noshir A. Langrana.
Institutions: JFK Medical Center, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Mechanobiology is an emerging scientific area that addresses the critical role of physical cues in directing cell morphology and function. For example, the effect of tissue elasticity on cell function is a major area of mechanobiology research because tissue stiffness modulates with disease, development, and injury. Static tissue-mimicking materials, or materials that cannot alter stiffness once cells are plated, are predominately used to investigate the effects of tissue stiffness on cell functions. While information gathered from static studies is valuable, these studies are not indicative of the dynamic nature of the cellular microenvironment in vivo. To better address the effects of dynamic stiffness on cell function, we developed a DNA-crosslinked polyacrylamide hydrogel system (DNA gels). Unlike other dynamic substrates, DNA gels have the ability to decrease or increase in stiffness after fabrication without stimuli. DNA gels consist of DNA crosslinks that are polymerized into a polyacrylamide backbone. Adding and removing crosslinks via delivery of single-stranded DNA allows temporal, spatial, and reversible control of gel elasticity. We have shown in previous reports that dynamic modulation of DNA gel elasticity influences fibroblast and neuron behavior. In this report and video, we provide a schematic that describes the DNA gel crosslinking mechanisms and step-by-step instructions on the preparation DNA gels.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, bioengineering (general), Elastic, viscoelastic, bis-acrylamide, substrate, stiffness, dynamic, static, neuron, fibroblast, compliance, ECM, mechanobiology, tunable
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Rapid and Low-cost Prototyping of Medical Devices Using 3D Printed Molds for Liquid Injection Molding
Authors: Philip Chung, J. Alex Heller, Mozziyar Etemadi, Paige E. Ottoson, Jonathan A. Liu, Larry Rand, Shuvo Roy.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of Southern California.
Biologically inert elastomers such as silicone are favorable materials for medical device fabrication, but forming and curing these elastomers using traditional liquid injection molding processes can be an expensive process due to tooling and equipment costs. As a result, it has traditionally been impractical to use liquid injection molding for low-cost, rapid prototyping applications. We have devised a method for rapid and low-cost production of liquid elastomer injection molded devices that utilizes fused deposition modeling 3D printers for mold design and a modified desiccator as an injection system. Low costs and rapid turnaround time in this technique lower the barrier to iteratively designing and prototyping complex elastomer devices. Furthermore, CAD models developed in this process can be later adapted for metal mold tooling design, enabling an easy transition to a traditional injection molding process. We have used this technique to manufacture intravaginal probes involving complex geometries, as well as overmolding over metal parts, using tools commonly available within an academic research laboratory. However, this technique can be easily adapted to create liquid injection molded devices for many other applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, liquid injection molding, reaction injection molding, molds, 3D printing, fused deposition modeling, rapid prototyping, medical devices, low cost, low volume, rapid turnaround time.
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A Novel Stretching Platform for Applications in Cell and Tissue Mechanobiology
Authors: Dominique Tremblay, Charles M. Cuerrier, Lukasz Andrzejewski, Edward R. O'Brien, Andrew E. Pelling.
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Tools that allow the application of mechanical forces to cells and tissues or that can quantify the mechanical properties of biological tissues have contributed dramatically to the understanding of basic mechanobiology. These techniques have been extensively used to demonstrate how the onset and progression of various diseases are heavily influenced by mechanical cues. This article presents a multi-functional biaxial stretching (BAXS) platform that can either mechanically stimulate single cells or quantify the mechanical stiffness of tissues. The BAXS platform consists of four voice coil motors that can be controlled independently. Single cells can be cultured on a flexible substrate that can be attached to the motors allowing one to expose the cells to complex, dynamic, and spatially varying strain fields. Conversely, by incorporating a force load cell, one can also quantify the mechanical properties of primary tissues as they are exposed to deformation cycles. In both cases, a proper set of clamps must be designed and mounted to the BAXS platform motors in order to firmly hold the flexible substrate or the tissue of interest. The BAXS platform can be mounted on an inverted microscope to perform simultaneous transmitted light and/or fluorescence imaging to examine the structural or biochemical response of the sample during stretching experiments. This article provides experimental details of the design and usage of the BAXS platform and presents results for single cell and whole tissue studies. The BAXS platform was used to measure the deformation of nuclei in single mouse myoblast cells in response to substrate strain and to measure the stiffness of isolated mouse aortas. The BAXS platform is a versatile tool that can be combined with various optical microscopies in order to provide novel mechanobiological insights at the sub-cellular, cellular and whole tissue levels.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cell stretching, tissue mechanics, nuclear mechanics, uniaxial, biaxial, anisotropic, mechanobiology
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Untargeted Metabolomics from Biological Sources Using Ultraperformance Liquid Chromatography-High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (UPLC-HRMS)
Authors: Nathaniel W. Snyder, Maya Khezam, Clementina A. Mesaros, Andrew Worth, Ian A. Blair.
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
Here we present a workflow to analyze the metabolic profiles for biological samples of interest including; cells, serum, or tissue. The sample is first separated into polar and non-polar fractions by a liquid-liquid phase extraction, and partially purified to facilitate downstream analysis. Both aqueous (polar metabolites) and organic (non-polar metabolites) phases of the initial extraction are processed to survey a broad range of metabolites. Metabolites are separated by different liquid chromatography methods based upon their partition properties. In this method, we present microflow ultra-performance (UP)LC methods, but the protocol is scalable to higher flows and lower pressures. Introduction into the mass spectrometer can be through either general or compound optimized source conditions. Detection of a broad range of ions is carried out in full scan mode in both positive and negative mode over a broad m/z range using high resolution on a recently calibrated instrument. Label-free differential analysis is carried out on bioinformatics platforms. Applications of this approach include metabolic pathway screening, biomarker discovery, and drug development.
Biochemistry, Issue 75, Chemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Medicine, Pharmacology, Genetics, Genomics, Mass Spectrometry, MS, Metabolism, Metabolomics, untargeted, extraction, lipids, accurate mass, liquid chromatography, ultraperformance liquid chromatography, UPLC, high resolution mass spectrometry, HRMS, spectrometry
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Synthetic, Multi-Layer, Self-Oscillating Vocal Fold Model Fabrication
Authors: Preston R. Murray, Scott L. Thomson.
Institutions: Brigham Young University.
Sound for the human voice is produced via flow-induced vocal fold vibration. The vocal folds consist of several layers of tissue, each with differing material properties 1. Normal voice production relies on healthy tissue and vocal folds, and occurs as a result of complex coupling between aerodynamic, structural dynamic, and acoustic physical phenomena. Voice disorders affect up to 7.5 million annually in the United States alone 2 and often result in significant financial, social, and other quality-of-life difficulties. Understanding the physics of voice production has the potential to significantly benefit voice care, including clinical prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of voice disorders. Existing methods for studying voice production include in vivo experimentation using human and animal subjects, in vitro experimentation using excised larynges and synthetic models, and computational modeling. Owing to hazardous and difficult instrument access, in vivo experiments are severely limited in scope. Excised larynx experiments have the benefit of anatomical and some physiological realism, but parametric studies involving geometric and material property variables are limited. Further, they are typically only able to be vibrated for relatively short periods of time (typically on the order of minutes). Overcoming some of the limitations of excised larynx experiments, synthetic vocal fold models are emerging as a complementary tool for studying voice production. Synthetic models can be fabricated with systematic changes to geometry and material properties, allowing for the study of healthy and unhealthy human phonatory aerodynamics, structural dynamics, and acoustics. For example, they have been used to study left-right vocal fold asymmetry 3,4, clinical instrument development 5, laryngeal aerodynamics 6-9, vocal fold contact pressure 10, and subglottal acoustics 11 (a more comprehensive list can be found in Kniesburges et al. 12) Existing synthetic vocal fold models, however, have either been homogenous (one-layer models) or have been fabricated using two materials of differing stiffness (two-layer models). This approach does not allow for representation of the actual multi-layer structure of the human vocal folds 1 that plays a central role in governing vocal fold flow-induced vibratory response. Consequently, one- and two-layer synthetic vocal fold models have exhibited disadvantages 3,6,8 such as higher onset pressures than what are typical for human phonation (onset pressure is the minimum lung pressure required to initiate vibration), unnaturally large inferior-superior motion, and lack of a "mucosal wave" (a vertically-traveling wave that is characteristic of healthy human vocal fold vibration). In this paper, fabrication of a model with multiple layers of differing material properties is described. The model layers simulate the multi-layer structure of the human vocal folds, including epithelium, superficial lamina propria (SLP), intermediate and deep lamina propria (i.e., ligament; a fiber is included for anterior-posterior stiffness), and muscle (i.e., body) layers 1. Results are included that show that the model exhibits improved vibratory characteristics over prior one- and two-layer synthetic models, including onset pressure closer to human onset pressure, reduced inferior-superior motion, and evidence of a mucosal wave.
Bioengineering, Issue 58, Vocal folds, larynx, voice, speech, artificial biomechanical models
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A high-throughput method to globally study the organelle morphology in S. cerevisiae
Authors: Shabnam Tavassoli, Jesse Tzu-Cheng Chao, Christopher Loewen.
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
High-throughput methods to examine protein localization or organelle morphology is an effective tool for studying protein interactions and can help achieve an comprehensive understanding of molecular pathways. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, with the development of the non-essential gene deletion array, we can globally study the morphology of different organelles like the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the mitochondria using GFP (or variant)-markers in different gene backgrounds. However, incorporating GFP markers in each single mutant individually is a labor-intensive process. Here, we describe a procedure that is routinely used in our laboratory. By using a robotic system to handle high-density yeast arrays and drug selection techniques, we can significantly shorten the time required and improve reproducibility. In brief, we cross a GFP-tagged mitochondrial marker (Apc1-GFP) to a high-density array of 4,672 nonessential gene deletion mutants by robotic replica pinning. Through diploid selection, sporulation, germination and dual marker selection, we recover both alleles. As a result, each haploid single mutant contains Apc1-GFP incorporated at its genomic locus. Now, we can study the morphology of mitochondria in all non-essential mutant background. Using this high-throughput approach, we can conveniently study and delineate the pathways and genes involved in the inheritance and the formation of organelles in a genome-wide setting.
Microbiology, Issue 25, High throughput, confocal microscopy, Acp1, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Authors: Eva Wagner, Sören Brandenburg, Tobias Kohl, Stephan E. Lehnart.
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+ release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo cellular environment in a controlled in vitro platform.1 This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3 To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5 The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6 Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7 The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8 Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10 The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g. protein-protein) and functional (e.g. gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10. Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format. Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g. the 'Keio' collection11) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e. alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e. slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2 as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9.
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Authors: Mackenzie J. Denyes, Michèle A. Parisien, Allison Rutter, Barbara A. Zeeb.
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Eric K. Donahue, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
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Design and Use of Multiplexed Chemostat Arrays
Authors: Aaron W. Miller, Corrie Befort, Emily O. Kerr, Maitreya J. Dunham.
Institutions: University of Washington.
Chemostats are continuous culture systems in which cells are grown in a tightly controlled, chemically constant environment where culture density is constrained by limiting specific nutrients.1,2 Data from chemostats are highly reproducible for the measurement of quantitative phenotypes as they provide a constant growth rate and environment at steady state. For these reasons, chemostats have become useful tools for fine-scale characterization of physiology through analysis of gene expression3-6 and other characteristics of cultures at steady-state equilibrium.7 Long-term experiments in chemostats can highlight specific trajectories that microbial populations adopt during adaptive evolution in a controlled environment. In fact, chemostats have been used for experimental evolution since their invention.8 A common result in evolution experiments is for each biological replicate to acquire a unique repertoire of mutations.9-13 This diversity suggests that there is much left to be discovered by performing evolution experiments with far greater throughput. We present here the design and operation of a relatively simple, low cost array of miniature chemostats—or ministats—and validate their use in determination of physiology and in evolution experiments with yeast. This approach entails growth of tens of chemostats run off a single multiplexed peristaltic pump. The cultures are maintained at a 20 ml working volume, which is practical for a variety of applications. It is our hope that increasing throughput, decreasing expense, and providing detailed building and operation instructions may also motivate research and industrial application of this design as a general platform for functionally characterizing large numbers of strains, species, and growth parameters, as well as genetic or drug libraries.
Genetics, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Basic Protocols, Genomics, Eukaryota, Bacteria, Biological Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Genetic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Life sciences, chemostat, evolution, experimental evolution, Ministat, yeast, E. coli., Physiology, Continuous culture, high throughput, arrays, cell culture
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BioMEMS: Forging New Collaborations Between Biologists and Engineers
Authors: Noo Li Jeon.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
This video describes the fabrication and use of a microfluidic device to culture central nervous system (CNS) neurons. This device is compatible with live-cell optical microscopy (DIC and phase contrast), as well as confocal and two photon microscopy approaches. This method uses precision-molded polymer parts to create miniature multi-compartment cell culture with fluidic isolation. The compartments are made of tiny channels with dimensions that are large enough to culture neurons in well-controlled fluidic microenvironments. Neurons can be cultured for 2-3 weeks within the device, after which they can be fixed and stained for immunocytochemistry. Axonal and somal compartments can be maintained fluidically isolated from each other by using a small hydrostatic pressure difference; this feature can be used to localize soluble insults to one compartment for up to 20 h after each medium change. Fluidic isolation enables collection of pure axonal fraction and biochemical analysis by PCR. The microfluidic device provides a highly adaptable platform for neuroscience research and may find applications in modeling CNS injury and neurodegeneration.
Neuroscience, Issue 9, Microfluidics, Bioengineering, Neuron
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Silicon Microchips for Manipulating Cell-cell Interaction
Authors: Elliot E Hui, Sangeeta N Bhatia.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The role of the cellular microenvironment is recognized as crucial in determining cell fate and function in virtually all mammalian tissues from development to malignant transformation.  In particular, interaction with neighboring stroma has been implicated in a plethora of biological phenomena; however, conventional techniques limit the ability to interrogate the spatial and dynamic elements of such interactions. In Micromechanical Reconfigurable Culture (RC), we employ a micromachined silicon substrate with moving parts to dynamically control cell-cell interactions through mechanical repositioning. Previously, this method has been applied to investigate intercellular communication in co-cultures of hepatocytes and non-parenchymal cells, demonstrating time-dependent interactions and a limited range for soluble signaling 1. Here, we describe in detail the preparation and use of the RC system. We begin by demonstrating the handling of the device parts using tweezers, including actuating between the gap and contact configurations (cell populations separated by a narrow 80-µm gap, or in direct intimate contact). Next, we detail the process of preparing the substrates for culture, and the multi-step cell seeding process required for obtaining confluent cell monolayers. Using live microscopy, we then illustrate real-time manipulation of cells between the different possible experimental configurations. Finally, we demonstrate the steps required in order to regenerate the device surface for reuse: toluene and piranha cleaning, polystyrene coating, and oxygen plasma treatment.
Issue 7, tissue engineering, MEMS, microfabrication, microenvironment, Bioengineering
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