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Eugene--a domain specific language for specifying and constraining synthetic biological parts, devices, and systems.
PUBLISHED: 03-24-2011
Synthetic biological systems are currently created by an ad-hoc, iterative process of specification, design, and assembly. These systems would greatly benefit from a more formalized and rigorous specification of the desired system components as well as constraints on their composition. Therefore, the creation of robust and efficient design flows and tools is imperative. We present a human readable language (Eugene) that allows for the specification of synthetic biological designs based on biological parts, as well as provides a very expressive constraint system to drive the automatic creation of composite Parts (Devices) from a collection of individual Parts.
Authors: Philip Chung, J. Alex Heller, Mozziyar Etemadi, Paige E. Ottoson, Jonathan A. Liu, Larry Rand, Shuvo Roy.
Published: 06-27-2014
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.
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Micro-drive Array for Chronic in vivo Recording: Drive Fabrication
Authors: Fabian Kloosterman, Thomas J. Davidson, Stephen N. Gomperts, Stuart P. Layton, Gregory Hale, David P. Nguyen, Matthew A. Wilson.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Chronic recording of large populations of neurons is a valuable technique for studying the function of neuronal circuits in awake behaving rats. Lightweight recording devices carrying a high density array of tetrodes allow for the simultaneous monitoring of the activity of tens to hundreds of individual neurons. Here we describe a protocol for the fabrication of a micro-drive array with twenty one independently movable micro-drives. This device has been used successfully to record from hippocampal and cortical neurons in our lab. We show how to prepare a custom designed, 3-D printed plastic base that will hold the micro-drives. We demonstrate how to construct the individual micro-drives and how to assemble the complete micro-drive array. Further preparation of the drive array for surgical implantation, such as the fabrication of tetrodes, loading of tetrodes into the drive array and gold-plating, is covered in a subsequent video article.
Neuroscience, Issue 26, fabrication, micro-drive array, tetrode, electrophysiology, multiple neuronal recordings, in vivo recording, systems neuroscience, hippocampus, cortex, rat brain
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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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High Speed Droplet-based Delivery System for Passive Pumping in Microfluidic Devices
Authors: Pedro J. Resto, Brian Mogen, Fan Wu, Erwin Berthier, David Beebe, Justin Williams.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A novel microfluidic system has been developed that uses the phenomenon of passive pumping along with a user controlled droplet based fluid delivery system. Passive pumping is the phenomenon by which surface tension induced pressure differences drive fluid movement in closed channels. The automated fluid delivery system consists of a set of voltage controlled valves with micro-nozzles connected to a fluid reservoir and a control system. These voltage controlled valves offer a volumetrically precise way to deliver fluid droplets to the inlet of a microfluidic device in a high frequency manner. Based on the dimensions demonstrated in the current study example, the system is capable of flowing 4 milliliters per minute (through a 2.2mm by 260um cross-sectional channel). Based on these same channel dimensions, fluid exchange of a point inside the channel can be achieved in as little as eight milliseconds. It is observed that there is interplay between momentum of the system (imparted by a combination of the droplets created by the valves and the fluid velocity in the channel), and the surface tension of the liquid. Where momentum provides velocity to the fluid flow (or vice-versa), equilibration of surface tension at the inlet provides a sudden stop to any flow. This sudden stop allows the user to control the flow characteristics of the channel and opens the door for a variety of biological applications, ranging anywhere from reagent delivery to drug-cell studies. It is also observed that when nozzles are aimed at the inlet at shallow angles, the droplet momentum can cause additional interesting fluid phenomena, such as mixing of multiple droplets in the inlet.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 31, automated, passive pumping, microfluidic device, high speed, high flow rate
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An Analytical Tool that Quantifies Cellular Morphology Changes from Three-dimensional Fluorescence Images
Authors: Carolina L. Haass-Koffler, Mohammad Naeemuddin, Selena E. Bartlett.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco , University of California, San Francisco , Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.
The most common software analysis tools available for measuring fluorescence images are for two-dimensional (2D) data that rely on manual settings for inclusion and exclusion of data points, and computer-aided pattern recognition to support the interpretation and findings of the analysis. It has become increasingly important to be able to measure fluorescence images constructed from three-dimensional (3D) datasets in order to be able to capture the complexity of cellular dynamics and understand the basis of cellular plasticity within biological systems. Sophisticated microscopy instruments have permitted the visualization of 3D fluorescence images through the acquisition of multispectral fluorescence images and powerful analytical software that reconstructs the images from confocal stacks that then provide a 3D representation of the collected 2D images. Advanced design-based stereology methods have progressed from the approximation and assumptions of the original model-based stereology1 even in complex tissue sections2. Despite these scientific advances in microscopy, a need remains for an automated analytic method that fully exploits the intrinsic 3D data to allow for the analysis and quantification of the complex changes in cell morphology, protein localization and receptor trafficking. Current techniques available to quantify fluorescence images include Meta-Morph (Molecular Devices, Sunnyvale, CA) and Image J (NIH) which provide manual analysis. Imaris (Andor Technology, Belfast, Northern Ireland) software provides the feature MeasurementPro, which allows the manual creation of measurement points that can be placed in a volume image or drawn on a series of 2D slices to create a 3D object. This method is useful for single-click point measurements to measure a line distance between two objects or to create a polygon that encloses a region of interest, but it is difficult to apply to complex cellular network structures. Filament Tracer (Andor) allows automatic detection of the 3D neuronal filament-like however, this module has been developed to measure defined structures such as neurons, which are comprised of dendrites, axons and spines (tree-like structure). This module has been ingeniously utilized to make morphological measurements to non-neuronal cells3, however, the output data provide information of an extended cellular network by using a software that depends on a defined cell shape rather than being an amorphous-shaped cellular model. To overcome the issue of analyzing amorphous-shaped cells and making the software more suitable to a biological application, Imaris developed Imaris Cell. This was a scientific project with the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, which has been developed to calculate the relationship between cells and organelles. While the software enables the detection of biological constraints, by forcing one nucleus per cell and using cell membranes to segment cells, it cannot be utilized to analyze fluorescence data that are not continuous because ideally it builds cell surface without void spaces. To our knowledge, at present no user-modifiable automated approach that provides morphometric information from 3D fluorescence images has been developed that achieves cellular spatial information of an undefined shape (Figure 1). We have developed an analytical platform using the Imaris core software module and Imaris XT interfaced to MATLAB (Mat Works, Inc.). These tools allow the 3D measurement of cells without a pre-defined shape and with inconsistent fluorescence network components. Furthermore, this method will allow researchers who have extended expertise in biological systems, but not familiarity to computer applications, to perform quantification of morphological changes in cell dynamics.
Cellular Biology, Issue 66, 3-dimensional, microscopy, quantification, morphometric, single-cell, cell dynamics
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Design and Fabrication of Ultralight Weight, Adjustable Multi-electrode Probes for Electrophysiological Recordings in Mice
Authors: Philip M. Brunetti, Ralf D. Wimmer, Li Liang, Joshua H. Siegle, Jakob Voigts, Matthew Wilson, Michael M. Halassa.
Institutions: New York University Langone Medical Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The number of physiological investigations in the mouse, mus musculus, has experienced a recent surge, paralleling the growth in methods of genetic targeting for microcircuit dissection and disease modeling. The introduction of optogenetics, for example, has allowed for bidirectional manipulation of genetically-identified neurons, at an unprecedented temporal resolution. To capitalize on these tools and gain insight into dynamic interactions among brain microcircuits, it is essential that one has the ability to record from ensembles of neurons deep within the brain of this small rodent, in both head-fixed and freely behaving preparations. To record from deep structures and distinct cell layers requires a preparation that allows precise advancement of electrodes towards desired brain regions. To record neural ensembles, it is necessary that each electrode be independently movable, allowing the experimenter to resolve individual cells while leaving neighboring electrodes undisturbed. To do both in a freely behaving mouse requires an electrode drive that is lightweight, resilient, and highly customizable for targeting specific brain structures. A technique for designing and fabricating miniature, ultralight weight, microdrive electrode arrays that are individually customizable and easily assembled from commercially available parts is presented. These devices are easily scalable and can be customized to the structure being targeted; it has been used successfully to record from thalamic and cortical regions in a freely behaving animal during natural behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, multi-electrode, micro-drives, electrophysiology, single units, brain circuit recording, deep brain structure
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Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Authors: Pelagia Deriziotis, Sarah A. Graham, Sara B. Estruch, Simon E. Fisher.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
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Flat Mount Preparation for Observation and Analysis of Zebrafish Embryo Specimens Stained by Whole Mount In situ Hybridization
Authors: Christina N. Cheng, Yue Li, Amanda N. Marra, Valerie Verdun, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish embryo is now commonly used for basic and biomedical research to investigate the genetic control of developmental processes and to model congenital abnormalities. During the first day of life, the zebrafish embryo progresses through many developmental stages including fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, segmentation, and the organogenesis of structures such as the kidney, heart, and central nervous system. The anatomy of a young zebrafish embryo presents several challenges for the visualization and analysis of the tissues involved in many of these events because the embryo develops in association with a round yolk mass. Thus, for accurate analysis and imaging of experimental phenotypes in fixed embryonic specimens between the tailbud and 20 somite stage (10 and 19 hours post fertilization (hpf), respectively), such as those stained using whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), it is often desirable to remove the embryo from the yolk ball and to position it flat on a glass slide. However, performing a flat mount procedure can be tedious. Therefore, successful and efficient flat mount preparation is greatly facilitated through the visual demonstration of the dissection technique, and also helped by using reagents that assist in optimal tissue handling. Here, we provide our WISH protocol for one or two-color detection of gene expression in the zebrafish embryo, and demonstrate how the flat mounting procedure can be performed on this example of a stained fixed specimen. This flat mounting protocol is broadly applicable to the study of many embryonic structures that emerge during early zebrafish development, and can be implemented in conjunction with other staining methods performed on fixed embryo samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, animals, vertebrates, fishes, zebrafish, growth and development, morphogenesis, embryonic and fetal development, organogenesis, natural science disciplines, embryo, whole mount in situ hybridization, flat mount, deyolking, imaging
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Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Authors: Karin Hauffen, Eugene Bart, Mark Brady, Daniel Kersten, Jay Hegdé.
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes) with such properties2. Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6 (also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings. First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints. Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases. Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms. Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper. We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have. Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
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Rapid Synthesis and Screening of Chemically Activated Transcription Factors with GFP-based Reporters
Authors: R. Scott McIsaac, Benjamin L. Oakes, David Botstein, Marcus B. Noyes.
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University, California Institute of Technology.
Synthetic biology aims to rationally design and build synthetic circuits with desired quantitative properties, as well as provide tools to interrogate the structure of native control circuits. In both cases, the ability to program gene expression in a rapid and tunable fashion, with no off-target effects, can be useful. We have constructed yeast strains containing the ACT1 promoter upstream of a URA3 cassette followed by the ligand-binding domain of the human estrogen receptor and VP16. By transforming this strain with a linear PCR product containing a DNA binding domain and selecting against the presence of URA3, a constitutively expressed artificial transcription factor (ATF) can be generated by homologous recombination. ATFs engineered in this fashion can activate a unique target gene in the presence of inducer, thereby eliminating both the off-target activation and nonphysiological growth conditions found with commonly used conditional gene expression systems. A simple method for the rapid construction of GFP reporter plasmids that respond specifically to a native or artificial transcription factor of interest is also provided.
Genetics, Issue 81, transcription, transcription factors, artificial transcription factors, zinc fingers, Zif268, synthetic biology
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Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Authors: Jan Lipfert, Mina Lee, Orkide Ordu, Jacob W. J. Kerssemakers, Nynke H. Dekker.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
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High Throughput Microfluidic Rapid and Low Cost Prototyping Packaging Methods
Authors: Amine Miled, Mohamad Sawan.
Institutions: Polytechnique Montreal.
In this work, 3 different packaging and assembly techniques are presented. They can be classified into two categories: one-time use and reusable packaging techniques. The one-time use packaging technique employs UV-based and temperature curing epoxies to connect microtubes to access holes, wire-bonding for integrated circuit connections, and silver epoxy for electrical connections. This method is based on a robust assembly technique that can support relatively high pressure close to 1 psi and does not need any support to strengthen the microfluidic architecture. Reusable packaging techniques consist of PDMS-based microtube interconnectors and anisotropic adhesive films for electrical connections. These devices are more sensitive and fragile. Consequently, Plexiglas support is added to the microfluidic structure to improve the electrical contact when anisotropic adhesive films are used, and also to strengthen the microfluidic architecture. In addition, a micromanipulator is needed to maintain tubes while using a thin PDMS layer to connect them to the access holes. Different PDMS layer thicknesses, ranging from 0.45-3 mm, are tested to compare the best adherence versus injection rates. Applied injection rates are varied from 50-300 μl/hr for 0.45-3 mm PDMS layers, respectively. These techniques are mainly applicable for low-pressure applications. However, they can be extended for high-pressure ones through plasma-oxygen process to permanently seal the PDMS to glass substrates. The main advantage of this technique, besides the fact that it is reusable, consists of keeping the device observable when the microchannel length is very short (in the range of 3 mm or lower).
Bioengineering, Issue 82, Microfluidics, PDMS, Lab-on-chip, Rapid-Prototyping, Microfabrication
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Using Eye Movements to Evaluate the Cognitive Processes Involved in Text Comprehension
Authors: Gary E. Raney, Spencer J. Campbell, Joanna C. Bovee.
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
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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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Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Authors: Xiao Hu, Solomon Duki, Joseph Forys, Jeffrey Hettinger, Justin Buchicchio, Tabbetha Dobbins, Catherine Yang.
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
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.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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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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Adjustable Stiffness, External Fixator for the Rat Femur Osteotomy and Segmental Bone Defect Models
Authors: Vaida Glatt, Romano Matthys.
Institutions: Queensland University of Technology, RISystem AG.
The mechanical environment around the healing of broken bone is very important as it determines the way the fracture will heal. Over the past decade there has been great clinical interest in improving bone healing by altering the mechanical environment through the fixation stability around the lesion. One constraint of preclinical animal research in this area is the lack of experimental control over the local mechanical environment within a large segmental defect as well as osteotomies as they heal. In this paper we report on the design and use of an external fixator to study the healing of large segmental bone defects or osteotomies. This device not only allows for controlled axial stiffness on the bone lesion as it heals, but it also enables the change of stiffness during the healing process in vivo. The conducted experiments have shown that the fixators were able to maintain a 5 mm femoral defect gap in rats in vivo during unrestricted cage activity for at least 8 weeks. Likewise, we observed no distortion or infections, including pin infections during the entire healing period. These results demonstrate that our newly developed external fixator was able to achieve reproducible and standardized stabilization, and the alteration of the mechanical environment of in vivo rat large bone defects and various size osteotomies. This confirms that the external fixation device is well suited for preclinical research investigations using a rat model in the field of bone regeneration and repair.
Medicine, Issue 92, external fixator, bone healing, small animal model, large bone defect and osteotomy model, rat model, mechanical environment, mechanobiology.
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Measuring Material Microstructure Under Flow Using 1-2 Plane Flow-Small Angle Neutron Scattering
Authors: A. Kate Gurnon, P. Douglas Godfrin, Norman J. Wagner, Aaron P. R. Eberle, Paul Butler, Lionel Porcar.
Institutions: University of Delaware, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Institut Laue-Langevin.
A new small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) sample environment optimized for studying the microstructure of complex fluids under simple shear flow is presented. The SANS shear cell consists of a concentric cylinder Couette geometry that is sealed and rotating about a horizontal axis so that the vorticity direction of the flow field is aligned with the neutron beam enabling scattering from the 1-2 plane of shear (velocity-velocity gradient, respectively). This approach is an advance over previous shear cell sample environments as there is a strong coupling between the bulk rheology and microstructural features in the 1-2 plane of shear. Flow-instabilities, such as shear banding, can also be studied by spatially resolved measurements. This is accomplished in this sample environment by using a narrow aperture for the neutron beam and scanning along the velocity gradient direction. Time resolved experiments, such as flow start-ups and large amplitude oscillatory shear flow are also possible by synchronization of the shear motion and time-resolved detection of scattered neutrons. Representative results using the methods outlined here demonstrate the useful nature of spatial resolution for measuring the microstructure of a wormlike micelle solution that exhibits shear banding, a phenomenon that can only be investigated by resolving the structure along the velocity gradient direction. Finally, potential improvements to the current design are discussed along with suggestions for supplementary experiments as motivation for future experiments on a broad range of complex fluids in a variety of shear motions.
Physics, Issue 84, Surfactants, Rheology, Shear Banding, Nanostructure, Neutron Scattering, Complex Fluids, Flow-induced Structure
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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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High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Authors: Subarna Bhattacharya, Paul W. Burridge, Erin M. Kropp, Sandra L. Chuppa, Wai-Meng Kwok, Joseph C. Wu, Kenneth R. Boheler, Rebekah L. Gundry.
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
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Designing a Bio-responsive Robot from DNA Origami
Authors: Eldad Ben-Ishay, Almogit Abu-Horowitz, Ido Bachelet.
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University.
Nucleic acids are astonishingly versatile. In addition to their natural role as storage medium for biological information1, they can be utilized in parallel computing2,3 , recognize and bind molecular or cellular targets4,5 , catalyze chemical reactions6,7 , and generate calculated responses in a biological system8,9. Importantly, nucleic acids can be programmed to self-assemble into 2D and 3D structures10-12, enabling the integration of all these remarkable features in a single robot linking the sensing of biological cues to a preset response in order to exert a desired effect. Creating shapes from nucleic acids was first proposed by Seeman13, and several variations on this theme have since been realized using various techniques11,12,14,15 . However, the most significant is perhaps the one proposed by Rothemund, termed scaffolded DNA origami16. In this technique, the folding of a long (>7,000 bases) single-stranded DNA 'scaffold' is directed to a desired shape by hundreds of short complementary strands termed 'staples'. Folding is carried out by temperature annealing ramp. This technique was successfully demonstrated in the creation of a diverse array of 2D shapes with remarkable precision and robustness. DNA origami was later extended to 3D as well17,18 . The current paper will focus on the caDNAno 2.0 software19 developed by Douglas and colleagues. caDNAno is a robust, user-friendly CAD tool enabling the design of 2D and 3D DNA origami shapes with versatile features. The design process relies on a systematic and accurate abstraction scheme for DNA structures, making it relatively straightforward and efficient. In this paper we demonstrate the design of a DNA origami nanorobot that has been recently described20. This robot is 'robotic' in the sense that it links sensing to actuation, in order to perform a task. We explain how various sensing schemes can be integrated into the structure, and how this can be relayed to a desired effect. Finally we use Cando21 to simulate the mechanical properties of the designed shape. The concept we discuss can be adapted to multiple tasks and settings.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Genomics, Nanotechnology, Nanomedicine, DNA origami, nanorobot, caDNAno, DNA, DNA Origami, nucleic acids, DNA structures, CAD, sequencing
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Preventing the Spread of Malaria and Dengue Fever Using Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
Authors: Anthony A. James.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
In this candid interview, Anthony A. James explains how mosquito genetics can be exploited to control malaria and dengue transmission. Population replacement strategy, the idea that transgenic mosquitoes can be released into the wild to control disease transmission, is introduced, as well as the concept of genetic drive and the design criterion for an effective genetic drive system. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically-modified organisms into the wild are also discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, dengue fever, genetics, infectious disease, Translational Research
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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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Propagation of Human Embryonic Stem (ES) Cells
Authors: Laurence Daheron.
Institutions: MGH - Massachusetts General Hospital.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, ES, embryonic stem cells, tissue culture
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Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Authors: Frank Buchholz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells. We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
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