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The evolution of enzyme specificity in the metabolic replicator model of prebiotic evolution.
PUBLISHED: 03-24-2011
The chemical machinery of life must have been catalytic from the outset. Models of the chemical origins have attempted to explain the ecological mechanisms maintaining a minimum necessary diversity of prebiotic replicator enzymes, but little attention has been paid so far to the evolutionary initiation of that diversity. We propose a possible first step in this direction: based on our previous model of a surface-bound metabolic replicator system we try to explain how the adaptive specialization of enzymatic replicator populations might have led to more diverse and more efficient communities of cooperating replicators with two different enzyme activities. The key assumptions of the model are that mutations in the replicator population can lead towards a) both of the two different enzyme specificities in separate replicators: efficient "specialists" or b) a "generalist" replicator type with both enzyme specificities working at less efficiency, or c) a fast-replicating, non-enzymatic "parasite". We show that under realistic trade-off constraints on the phenotypic effects of these mutations the evolved replicator community will be usually composed of both types of specialists and of a limited abundance of parasites, provided that the replicators can slowly migrate on the mineral surface. It is only at very weak trade-offs that generalists take over in a phase-transition-like manner. The parasites do not seriously harm the system but can freely mutate, therefore they can be considered as pre-adaptations to later, useful functions that the metabolic system can adopt to increase its own fitness.
RNA interference by feeding worms bacteria expressing dsRNAs has been a useful tool to assess gene function in C. elegans. While this strategy works well when a small number of genes are targeted for knockdown, large scale feeding screens show variable knockdown efficiencies, which limits their utility. We have deconstructed previously published RNAi knockdown protocols and found that the primary source of the reduced knockdown can be attributed to the loss of dsRNA-encoding plasmids from the bacteria fed to the animals. Based on these observations, we have developed a dsRNA feeding protocol that greatly reduces or eliminates plasmid loss to achieve efficient, high throughput knockdown. We demonstrate that this protocol will produce robust, reproducible knock down of C. elegans genes in multiple tissue types, including neurons, and will permit efficient knockdown in large scale screens. This protocol uses a commercially available dsRNA feeding library and describes all steps needed to duplicate the library and perform dsRNA screens. The protocol does not require the use of any sophisticated equipment, and can therefore be performed by any C. elegans lab.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Authors: Mary F. Farrow, Frances H. Arnold.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing. Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10 and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12. We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli. (Fig 1) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness. Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13 involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14 for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus and Penicillium decumbens (shown in Figure 2), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
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A Genetic Screen to Isolate Toxoplasma gondii Host-cell Egress Mutants
Authors: Bradley I. Coleman, Marc-Jan Gubbels.
Institutions: Boston College.
The widespread, obligate intracellular, protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii causes opportunistic disease in immuno-compromised patients and causes birth defects upon congenital infection. The lytic replication cycle is characterized by three stages: 1. active invasion of a nucleated host cell; 2. replication inside the host cell; 3. active egress from the host cell. The mechanism of egress is increasingly being appreciated as a unique, highly regulated process, which is still poorly understood at the molecular level. The signaling pathways underlying egress have been characterized through the use of pharmacological agents acting on different aspects of the pathways1-5. As such, several independent triggers of egress have been identified which all converge on the release of intracellular Ca2+, a signal that is also critical for host cell invasion6-8. This insight informed a candidate gene approach which led to the identification of plant like calcium dependent protein kinase (CDPK) involved in egress9. In addition, several recent breakthroughs in understanding egress have been made using (chemical) genetic approaches10-12. To combine the wealth of pharmacological information with the increasing genetic accessibility of Toxoplasma we recently established a screen permitting the enrichment for parasite mutants with a defect in host cell egress13. Although chemical mutagenesis using N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) or ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) has been used for decades in the study of Toxoplasma biology11,14,15, only recently has genetic mapping of mutations underlying the phenotypes become routine16-18. Furthermore, by generating temperature-sensitive mutants, essential processes can be dissected and the underlying genes directly identified. These mutants behave as wild-type under the permissive temperature (35 °C), but fail to proliferate at the restrictive temperature (40 °C) as a result of the mutation in question. Here we illustrate a new phenotypic screening method to isolate mutants with a temperature-sensitive egress phenotype13. The challenge for egress screens is to separate egressed from non-egressed parasites, which is complicated by fast re-invasion and general stickiness of the parasites to host cells. A previously established egress screen was based on a cumbersome series of biotinylation steps to separate intracellular from extracellular parasites11. This method also did not generate conditional mutants resulting in weak phenotypes. The method described here overcomes the strong attachment of egressing parasites by including a glycan competitor, dextran sulfate (DS), that prevents parasites from sticking to the host cell19. Moreover, extracellular parasites are specifically killed off by pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate (PDTC), which leaves intracellular parasites unharmed20. Therefore, with a new phenotypic screen to specifically isolate parasite mutants with defects in induced egress, the power of genetics can now be fully deployed to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying host cell egress.
Immunology, Issue 60, Genetics, Toxoplasma gondii, chemical mutagenesis, egress, genetic screen
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High-throughput Yeast Plasmid Overexpression Screen
Authors: Michael S. Fleming, Aaron D. Gitler.
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine , University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine .
The budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a powerful model system for defining fundamental mechanisms of many important cellular processes, including those with direct relevance to human disease. Because of its short generation time and well-characterized genome, a major experimental advantage of the yeast model system is the ability to perform genetic screens to identify genes and pathways that are involved in a given process. Over the last thirty years such genetic screens have been used to elucidate the cell cycle, secretory pathway, and many more highly conserved aspects of eukaryotic cell biology 1-5. In the last few years, several genomewide libraries of yeast strains and plasmids have been generated 6-10. These collections now allow for the systematic interrogation of gene function using gain- and loss-of-function approaches 11-16. Here we provide a detailed protocol for the use of a high-throughput yeast transformation protocol with a liquid handling robot to perform a plasmid overexpression screen, using an arrayed library of 5,500 yeast plasmids. We have been using these screens to identify genetic modifiers of toxicity associated with the accumulation of aggregation-prone human neurodegenerative disease proteins. The methods presented here are readily adaptable to the study of other cellular phenotypes of interest.
Cell Biology, Issue 53, Yeast, plasmid, transformation, PEG/LioAc, high-throughput screen
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Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments
Authors: Eric T. Parker, James H. Cleaves, Aaron S. Burton, Daniel P. Glavin, Jason P. Dworkin, Manshui Zhou, Jeffrey L. Bada, Facundo M. Fernández.
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Institute for Advanced Study, NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of California at San Diego.
In 1953, Stanley Miller reported the production of biomolecules from simple gaseous starting materials, using an apparatus constructed to simulate the primordial Earth's atmosphere-ocean system. Miller introduced 200 ml of water, 100 mmHg of H2, 200 mmHg of CH4, and 200 mmHg of NH3 into the apparatus, then subjected this mixture, under reflux, to an electric discharge for a week, while the water was simultaneously heated. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide the reader with a general experimental protocol that can be used to conduct a Miller-Urey type spark discharge experiment, using a simplified 3 L reaction flask. Since the experiment involves exposing inflammable gases to a high voltage electric discharge, it is worth highlighting important steps that reduce the risk of explosion. The general procedures described in this work can be extrapolated to design and conduct a wide variety of electric discharge experiments simulating primitive planetary environments.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Geosciences (General), Exobiology, Miller-Urey, Prebiotic chemistry, amino acids, spark discharge
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A New Screening Method for the Directed Evolution of Thermostable Bacteriolytic Enzymes
Authors: Ryan D. Heselpoth, Daniel C. Nelson.
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Directed evolution is defined as a method to harness natural selection in order to engineer proteins to acquire particular properties that are not associated with the protein in nature. Literature has provided numerous examples regarding the implementation of directed evolution to successfully alter molecular specificity and catalysis1. The primary advantage of utilizing directed evolution instead of more rational-based approaches for molecular engineering relates to the volume and diversity of variants that can be screened2. One possible application of directed evolution involves improving structural stability of bacteriolytic enzymes, such as endolysins. Bacteriophage encode and express endolysins to hydrolyze a critical covalent bond in the peptidoglycan (i.e. cell wall) of bacteria, resulting in host cell lysis and liberation of progeny virions. Notably, these enzymes possess the ability to extrinsically induce lysis to susceptible bacteria in the absence of phage and furthermore have been validated both in vitro and in vivo for their therapeutic potential3-5. The subject of our directed evolution study involves the PlyC endolysin, which is composed of PlyCA and PlyCB subunits6. When purified and added extrinsically, the PlyC holoenzyme lyses group A streptococci (GAS) as well as other streptococcal groups in a matter of seconds and furthermore has been validated in vivo against GAS7. Significantly, monitoring residual enzyme kinetics after elevated temperature incubation provides distinct evidence that PlyC loses lytic activity abruptly at 45 °C, suggesting a short therapeutic shelf life, which may limit additional development of this enzyme. Further studies reveal the lack of thermal stability is only observed for the PlyCA subunit, whereas the PlyCB subunit is stable up to ~90 °C (unpublished observation). In addition to PlyC, there are several examples in literature that describe the thermolabile nature of endolysins. For example, the Staphylococcus aureus endolysin LysK and Streptococcus pneumoniae endolysins Cpl-1 and Pal lose activity spontaneously at 42 °C, 43.5 °C and 50.2 °C, respectively8-10. According to the Arrhenius equation, which relates the rate of a chemical reaction to the temperature present in the particular system, an increase in thermostability will correlate with an increase in shelf life expectancy11. Toward this end, directed evolution has been shown to be a useful tool for altering the thermal activity of various molecules in nature, but never has this particular technology been exploited successfully for the study of bacteriolytic enzymes. Likewise, successful accounts of progressing the structural stability of this particular class of antimicrobials altogether are nonexistent. In this video, we employ a novel methodology that uses an error-prone DNA polymerase followed by an optimized screening process using a 96 well microtiter plate format to identify mutations to the PlyCA subunit of the PlyC streptococcal endolysin that correlate to an increase in enzyme kinetic stability (Figure 1). Results after just one round of random mutagenesis suggest the methodology is generating PlyC variants that retain more than twice the residual activity when compared to wild-type (WT) PlyC after elevated temperature treatment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, directed evolution, thermal behavior, thermostability, endolysin, enzybiotic, bacteriolytic, antimicrobial, therapeutic, PlyC
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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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The Use of Chemostats in Microbial Systems Biology
Authors: Naomi Ziv, Nathan J. Brandt, David Gresham.
Institutions: New York University .
Cells regulate their rate of growth in response to signals from the external world. As the cell grows, diverse cellular processes must be coordinated including macromolecular synthesis, metabolism and ultimately, commitment to the cell division cycle. The chemostat, a method of experimentally controlling cell growth rate, provides a powerful means of systematically studying how growth rate impacts cellular processes - including gene expression and metabolism - and the regulatory networks that control the rate of cell growth. When maintained for hundreds of generations chemostats can be used to study adaptive evolution of microbes in environmental conditions that limit cell growth. We describe the principle of chemostat cultures, demonstrate their operation and provide examples of their various applications. Following a period of disuse after their introduction in the middle of the twentieth century, the convergence of genome-scale methodologies with a renewed interest in the regulation of cell growth and the molecular basis of adaptive evolution is stimulating a renaissance in the use of chemostats in biological research.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Molecular Biology, Computational Biology, Systems Biology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Environmental Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemostat, growth-rate, steady state, nutrient limitation, adaptive evolution
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2D and 3D Chromosome Painting in Malaria Mosquitoes
Authors: Phillip George, Atashi Sharma, Igor V Sharakhov.
Institutions: Virginia Tech.
Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) of whole arm chromosome probes is a robust technique for mapping genomic regions of interest, detecting chromosomal rearrangements, and studying three-dimensional (3D) organization of chromosomes in the cell nucleus. The advent of laser capture microdissection (LCM) and whole genome amplification (WGA) allows obtaining large quantities of DNA from single cells. The increased sensitivity of WGA kits prompted us to develop chromosome paints and to use them for exploring chromosome organization and evolution in non-model organisms. Here, we present a simple method for isolating and amplifying the euchromatic segments of single polytene chromosome arms from ovarian nurse cells of the African malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae. This procedure provides an efficient platform for obtaining chromosome paints, while reducing the overall risk of introducing foreign DNA to the sample. The use of WGA allows for several rounds of re-amplification, resulting in high quantities of DNA that can be utilized for multiple experiments, including 2D and 3D FISH. We demonstrated that the developed chromosome paints can be successfully used to establish the correspondence between euchromatic portions of polytene and mitotic chromosome arms in An. gambiae. Overall, the union of LCM and single-chromosome WGA provides an efficient tool for creating significant amounts of target DNA for future cytogenetic and genomic studies.
Immunology, Issue 83, Microdissection, whole genome amplification, malaria mosquito, polytene chromosome, mitotic chromosomes, fluorescence in situ hybridization, chromosome painting
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In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Authors: William R. Brant, Siegbert Schmid, Guodong Du, Helen E. A. Brand, Wei Kong Pang, Vanessa K. Peterson, Zaiping Guo, Neeraj Sharma.
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2 However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3 This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries. We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ data.
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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Using the Overlay Assay to Qualitatively Measure Bacterial Production of and Sensitivity to Pneumococcal Bacteriocins
Authors: Natalie Maricic, Suzanne Dawid.
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Streptococcus pneumoniae colonizes the highly diverse polymicrobial community of the nasopharynx where it must compete with resident organisms. We have shown that bacterially produced antimicrobial peptides (bacteriocins) dictate the outcome of these competitive interactions. All fully-sequenced pneumococcal strains harbor a bacteriocin-like peptide (blp) locus. The blp locus encodes for a range of diverse bacteriocins and all of the highly conserved components needed for their regulation, processing, and secretion. The diversity of the bacteriocins found in the bacteriocin immunity region (BIR) of the locus is a major contributor of pneumococcal competition. Along with the bacteriocins, immunity genes are found in the BIR and are needed to protect the producer cell from the effects of its own bacteriocin. The overlay assay is a quick method for examining a large number of strains for competitive interactions mediated by bacteriocins. The overlay assay also allows for the characterization of bacteriocin-specific immunity, and detection of secreted quorum sensing peptides. The assay is performed by pre-inoculating an agar plate with a strain to be tested for bacteriocin production followed by application of a soft agar overlay containing a strain to be tested for bacteriocin sensitivity. A zone of clearance surrounding the stab indicates that the overlay strain is sensitive to the bacteriocins produced by the pre-inoculated strain. If no zone of clearance is observed, either the overlay strain is immune to the bacteriocins being produced or the pre-inoculated strain does not produce bacteriocins. To determine if the blp locus is functional in a given strain, the overlay assay can be adapted to evaluate for peptide pheromone secretion by the pre-inoculated strain. In this case, a series of four lacZ-reporter strains with different pheromone specificity are used in the overlay.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 91, bacteriocins, antimicrobial peptides, blp locus, bacterial competition, Streptococcus pneumoniae, overlay assay
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Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Authors: Melissa N. Patterson, Patrick H. Maxwell.
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
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3D Printing of Preclinical X-ray Computed Tomographic Data Sets
Authors: Evan Doney, Lauren A. Krumdick, Justin M. Diener, Connor A. Wathen, Sarah E. Chapman, Brian Stamile, Jeremiah E. Scott, Matthew J. Ravosa, Tony Van Avermaete, W. Matthew Leevy.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame , University of Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame , University of Notre Dame , MakerBot Industries LLC, University of Notre Dame , University of Notre Dame .
Three-dimensional printing allows for the production of highly detailed objects through a process known as additive manufacturing. Traditional, mold-injection methods to create models or parts have several limitations, the most important of which is a difficulty in making highly complex products in a timely, cost-effective manner.1 However, gradual improvements in three-dimensional printing technology have resulted in both high-end and economy instruments that are now available for the facile production of customized models.2 These printers have the ability to extrude high-resolution objects with enough detail to accurately represent in vivo images generated from a preclinical X-ray CT scanner. With proper data collection, surface rendering, and stereolithographic editing, it is now possible and inexpensive to rapidly produce detailed skeletal and soft tissue structures from X-ray CT data. Even in the early stages of development, the anatomical models produced by three-dimensional printing appeal to both educators and researchers who can utilize the technology to improve visualization proficiency. 3, 4 The real benefits of this method result from the tangible experience a researcher can have with data that cannot be adequately conveyed through a computer screen. The translation of pre-clinical 3D data to a physical object that is an exact copy of the test subject is a powerful tool for visualization and communication, especially for relating imaging research to students, or those in other fields. Here, we provide a detailed method for printing plastic models of bone and organ structures derived from X-ray CT scans utilizing an Albira X-ray CT system in conjunction with PMOD, ImageJ, Meshlab, Netfabb, and ReplicatorG software packages.
Medicine, Issue 73, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Materials Science, Engineering, Manufactured Materials, Technology, Animal Structures, Life Sciences (General), 3D printing, X-ray Computed Tomography, CT, CT scans, data extrusion, additive printing, in vivo imaging, clinical techniques, imaging
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Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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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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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Authors: Elizabeth C. Pino, Christopher M. Webster, Christopher E. Carr, Alexander A. Soukas.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans metabolic research.
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Authors: Leah M. Rommereim, Miryam A. Hortua Triana, Alejandra Falla, Kiah L. Sanders, Rebekah B. Guevara, David J. Bzik, Barbara A. Fox.
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination. Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2. The Δku80 strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro and in vivo and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80 strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4. Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80 strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium).
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
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Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Authors: Lorena Stannek, Richard Egelkamp, Katrin Gunka, Fabian M. Commichau.
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
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Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Authors: Jason Rasgon.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia
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Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Authors: John Marshall, Koji Morikawa, Nicholas Manoukis, Charles Taylor.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease
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