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.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
Institutions: The University of Mississippi.
Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological and Environmental Processes, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, extracellular enzymes, freshwater microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial activity, enzyme activity
GC-based Detection of Aldononitrile Acetate Derivatized Glucosamine and Muramic Acid for Microbial Residue Determination in Soil
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, Madison, University of Wisconsin, Madison, University of Florida .
Quantitative approaches to characterizing microorganisms are crucial for a broader understanding of the microbial status and function within ecosystems. Current strategies for microbial analysis include both traditional laboratory culture-dependent techniques and those based on direct extraction and determination of certain biomarkers1, 2
. Few among the diversity of microbial species inhabiting soil can be cultured, so culture-dependent methods introduce significant biases, a limitation absent in biomarker analysis.
The glucosamine, mannosamine, galactosamine and muramic acid have been well served as measures of both the living and dead microbial mass, of these the glucosamine (most abundant) and muramic acid (uniquely from bacterial cell) are most important constituents in the soil systems3, 4
. However, the lack of knowledge on the analysis restricts the wide popularization among scientific peers. Among all existing analytical methods, derivatization to aldononitrile acetates followed by GC-based analysis has emerged as a good option with respect to optimally balancing precision, sensitivity, simplicity, good chromatographic separation, and stability upon sample storage5
Here, we present a detailed protocol for a reliable and relatively simple analysis of glucosamine and muramic acid from soil after their conversion to aldononitrile acetates. The protocol mainly comprises four steps: acid digestion, sample purification, derivatization and GC determination. The step-by-step procedure is modified according to former publications6, 7
. In addition, we present a strategy to structurally validate the molecular ion of the derivative and its ion fragments formed upon electron ionization. We applied GC-EI-MS-SIM, LC-ESI-TOF-MS and isotopically labeled reagents to determine the molecular weight of aldononitrile acetate derivatized glucosamine and muramic acid; we used the mass shift of isotope-labeled derivatives in the ion spectrum to investigate ion fragments of each derivatives8
. In addition to the theoretical elucidation, the validation of molecular ion of the derivative and its ion fragments will be useful to researchers using δ13
C or ion fragments of these biomarkers in biogeochemical studies9, 10
Molecular Biology, Issue 63, Glucosamine, muramic acid, microbial residue, aldononitrile acetate derivatization, isotope incorporation, ion structure, electron ionization, GC, MS
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Agar-Block Microcosms for Controlled Plant Tissue Decomposition by Aerobic Fungi
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The two principal methods for studying fungal biodegradation of lignocellulosic plant tissues were developed for wood preservative testing (soil-block; agar-block). It is well-accepted that soil-block microcosms yield higher decay rates, fewer moisture issues, lower variability among studies, and higher thresholds of preservative toxicity. Soil-block testing is thus the more utilized technique and has been standardized by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) (method D 1413-07). The soil-block design has drawbacks, however, using locally-variable soil sources and in limiting the control of nutrients external (exogenous) to the decaying tissues. These drawbacks have emerged as a problem in applying this method to other, increasingly popular research aims. These modern aims include degrading lignocellulosics for bioenergy research, testing bioremediation of co-metabolized toxics, evaluating oxidative mechanisms, and tracking translocated elements along hyphal networks. Soil-blocks do not lend enough control in these applications. A refined agar-block approach is necessary.
Here, we use the brown rot wood-degrading fungus Serpula lacrymans
to degrade wood in agar-block microcosms, using deep Petri dishes with low-calcium agar. We test the role of exogenous gypsum on decay in a time-series, to demonstrate the utility and expected variability. Blocks from a single board rip (longitudinal cut) are conditioned, weighed, autoclaved, and introduced aseptically atop plastic mesh. Fungal inoculations are at each block face, with exogenous gypsum added at interfaces. Harvests are aseptic until the final destructive harvest. These microcosms are designed to avoid block contact with agar or Petri dish walls. Condensation is minimized during plate pours and during incubation. Finally, inoculum/gypsum/wood spacing is minimized but without allowing contact. These less technical aspects of agar-block design are also the most common causes of failure and the key source of variability among studies. Video publication is therefore useful in this case, and we demonstrate low-variability, high-quality results.
Plant Biology, Issue 48, Lignocellulose, biomass, wood, fungi, filamentous, biodegradation, petri, microcosm
Soil Sampling and Isolation of Entomopathogenic Nematodes (Steinernematidae, Heterorhabditidae)
Institutions: University of Arizona.
Entomopathogenic nematodes (a.k.a. EPN) represent a group of soil-inhabiting nematodes that parasitize a wide range of insects. These nematodes belong to two families: Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae. Until now, more than 70 species have been described in the Steinernematidae and there are about 20 species in the Heterorhabditidae. The nematodes have a mutualistic partnership with Enterobacteriaceae bacteria and together they act as a potent insecticidal complex that kills a wide range of insect species.
Herein, we focus on the most common techniques considered for collecting EPN from soil. The second part of this presentation focuses on the insect-baiting technique, a widely used approach for the isolation of EPN from soil samples, and the modified White trap technique which is used for the recovery of these nematodes from infected insects. These methods and techniques are key steps for the successful establishment of EPN cultures in the laboratory and also form the basis for other bioassays that consider these nematodes as model organisms for research in other biological disciplines. The techniques shown in this presentation correspond to those performed and/or designed by members of S. P. Stock laboratory as well as those described by various authors.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, Entomology, Nematology, Steinernema, Heterorhabditis, nematodes, soil sampling, insect-bait, modified White-trap
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
Use of a High-throughput In Vitro Microfluidic System to Develop Oral Multi-species Biofilms
Institutions: The University of Michigan, Newcastle University.
There are few high-throughput in vitro
systems which facilitate the development of multi-species biofilms that contain numerous species commonly detected within in vivo
oral biofilms. Furthermore, a system that uses natural human saliva as the nutrient source, instead of artificial media, is particularly desirable in order to support the expression of cellular and biofilm-specific properties that mimic the in vivo
communities. We describe a method for the development of multi-species oral biofilms that are comparable, with respect to species composition, to supragingival dental plaque, under conditions similar to the human oral cavity. Specifically, this methods article will describe how a commercially available microfluidic system can be adapted to facilitate the development of multi-species oral biofilms derived from and grown within pooled saliva. Furthermore, a description of how the system can be used in conjunction with a confocal laser scanning microscope to generate 3-D biofilm reconstructions for architectural and viability analyses will be presented. Given the broad diversity of microorganisms that grow within biofilms in the microfluidic system (including Streptococcus
, and Porphyromonas
), a protocol will also be presented describing how to harvest the biofilm cells for further subculture or DNA extraction and analysis. The limits of both the microfluidic biofilm system and the current state-of-the-art data analyses will be addressed. Ultimately, it is envisioned that this article will provide a baseline technique that will improve the study of oral biofilms and aid in the development of additional technologies that can be integrated with the microfluidic platform.
Bioengineering, Issue 94, Dental plaque, biofilm, confocal laser scanning microscopy, three-dimensional structure, pyrosequencing, image analysis, image reconstruction, saliva, modeling, COMSTAT, IMARIS, IMAGEJ, multi-species biofilm communities.
High-Throughput Measurement and Classification of Organic P in Environmental Samples
Institutions: University of Vermont.
Many types of organic phosphorus (P) molecules exist in environmental samples1
. Traditional P measurements do not detect these organic P compounds since they do not react with colorimetric reagents2,3
. Enzymatic hydrolysis (EH) is an emerging method for accurately characterizing organic P forms in environmental samples4,5
. This method is only trumped in accuracy by Phosphorus-31 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (31
P-NMR) -a method that is expensive and requires specialized technical training6
. We have adapted an enzymatic hydrolysis method capable of measuring three classes of phosphorus (monoester P, diester P and inorganic P) to a microplate reader system7
. This method provides researchers with a fast, accurate, affordable and user-friendly means to measure P species in soils, sediments, manures and, if concentrated, aquatic samples. This is the only high-throughput method for measuring the forms and enzyme-lability of organic P that can be performed in a standard laboratory. The resulting data provides insight to scientists studying system nutrient content and eutrophication potential.
Microbiology, Issue 52, phosphorus, enzymatic-hydrolysis, soil, manure, phosphatase, phytic acid, NaOH-EDTA, organophosphates, molybdate, organic P
Assay for Adhesion and Agar Invasion in S. cerevisiae
Institutions: Princeton University.
Yeasts are found in natural biofilms, where many microorganisms colonize surfaces. In artificial environments, such as surfaces of man-made objects, biofilms can reduce industrial productivity, destroy structures, and threaten human life. 1-3 On the other hand, harnessing the power of biofilms can help clean the environment and generate sustainable energy. 4-8
The ability of S. cerevisiae to colonize surfaces and participate in complex biofilms was mostly ignored until the rediscovery of the differentiation programs triggered by various signaling pathways and environmental cues in this organism. 9, 10 The continuing interest in using S. cerevisiae as a model organism to understand the interaction and convergence of signaling pathways, such as the Ras-PKA, Kss1 MAPK, and Hog1 osmolarity pathways, quickly placed S. cerevisiae in the junction of biofilm biology and signal transduction research. 11-20 To this end, differentiation of yeast cells into long, adhesive, pseudohyphal filaments became a convenient readout for the activation of signal transduction pathways upon various environmental changes. However, filamentation is a complex collection of phenotypes, which makes assaying for it as if it were a simple phenotype misleading. In the past decade, several assays were successfully adopted from bacterial biofilm studies to yeast research, such as MAT formation assays to measure colony spread on soft agar and crystal violet staining to quantitatively measure cell-surface adherence. 12, 21 However, there has been some confusion in assays developed to qualitatively assess the adhesive and invasive phenotypes of yeast in agar.
Here, we present a simple and reliable method for assessing the adhesive and invasive quality of yeast strains with easy-to-understand steps to isolate the adhesion assessment from invasion assessment. Our method, adopted from previous studies, 10, 16 involves growing cells in liquid media and plating on differential nutrient conditions for growth of large spots, which we then wash with water to assess adhesion and rub cells completely off the agar surface to assess invasion into the agar. We eliminate the need for streaking cells onto agar, which affects the invasion of cells into the agar. In general, we observed that haploid strains that invade agar are always adhesive, yet not all adhesive strains can invade agar medium. Our approach can be used in conjunction with other assays to carefully dissect the differentiation steps and requirements of yeast signal transduction, differentiation, quorum sensing, and biofilm formation.
Microbiology, Issue 1, Yeast, Adhesion, Invasion
Use of Image Cytometry for Quantification of Pathogenic Fungi in Association with Host Cells
Institutions: Merrimack College, Merrimack College, Nexcelom Bioscience LLC.
Studies of the cellular pathogenesis mechanisms of pathogenic yeasts such as Candida albicans
, Histoplasma capsulatum
, and Cryptococcus neoformans
commonly employ infection of mammalian hosts or host cells (i.e.
macrophages) followed by yeast quantification using colony forming unit analysis or flow cytometry. While colony forming unit enumeration has been the most commonly used method in the field, this technique has disadvantages and limitations, including slow growth of some fungal species on solid media and low and/or variable plating efficiencies, which is of particular concern when comparing growth of wild-type and mutant strains. Flow cytometry can provide rapid quantitative information regarding yeast viability, however, adoption of flow cytometric detection for pathogenic yeasts has been limited for a number of practical reasons including its high cost and biosafety considerations. Here, we demonstrate an image-based cytometric methodology using the Cellometer Vision (Nexcelom Bioscience, LLC) for the quantification of viable pathogenic yeasts in co-culture with macrophages. Our studies focus on detection of two human fungal pathogens: Histoplasma capsulatum
and Candida albicans
. H. capsulatum
colonizes alveolar macrophages by replicating within the macrophage phagosome, and here, we quantitatively assess the growth of H. capsulatum
yeasts in RAW 264.7 macrophages using acridine orange/propidium iodide staining in combination with image cytometry. Our method faithfully recapitulates growth trends as measured by traditional colony forming unit enumeration, but with significantly increased sensitivity. Additionally, we directly assess infection of live macrophages with a GFP-expressing strain of C. albicans
. Our methodology offers a rapid, accurate, and economical means for detection and quantification of important human fungal pathogens in association with host cells.
Infection, Issue 76, Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Medicine, Immunology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Pathology, Mycology, Bacteria, Macrophages, Fungi, Candida, Candida albicans, yeast, Histoplasma, Image cytometry, macrophage, fungus, propidium iodide, acridine orange, Cellometer Vision, cell, imaging, cell culture
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ
degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g.
fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
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
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e.
biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc
.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not
expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis
; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2
facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2
field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4
, and Ca2+
had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
A Protocol for Conducting Rainfall Simulation to Study Soil Runoff
Institutions: University of Maryland Eastern Shore, USDA - Agricultural Research Service, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Rainfall is a driving force for the transport of environmental contaminants from agricultural soils to surficial water bodies via surface runoff. The objective of this study was to characterize the effects of antecedent soil moisture content on the fate and transport of surface applied commercial urea, a common form of nitrogen (N) fertilizer, following a rainfall event that occurs within 24 hr after fertilizer application. Although urea is assumed to be readily hydrolyzed to ammonium and therefore not often available for transport, recent studies suggest that urea can be transported from agricultural soils to coastal waters where it is implicated in harmful algal blooms. A rainfall simulator was used to apply a consistent rate of uniform rainfall across packed soil boxes that had been prewetted to different soil moisture contents. By controlling rainfall and soil physical characteristics, the effects of antecedent soil moisture on urea loss were isolated. Wetter soils exhibited shorter time from rainfall initiation to runoff initiation, greater total volume of runoff, higher urea concentrations in runoff, and greater mass loadings of urea in runoff. These results also demonstrate the importance of controlling for antecedent soil moisture content in studies designed to isolate other variables, such as soil physical or chemical characteristics, slope, soil cover, management, or rainfall characteristics. Because rainfall simulators are designed to deliver raindrops of similar size and velocity as natural rainfall, studies conducted under a standardized protocol can yield valuable data that, in turn, can be used to develop models for predicting the fate and transport of pollutants in runoff.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Agriculture, Water Pollution, Water Quality, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Rainfall Simulator, Artificial Rainfall, Runoff, Packed Soil Boxes, Nonpoint Source, Urea
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e.
helping in insect reproduction1
, boosting the immune response2
, pheromone production3
, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4,
Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms.
To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo
C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5
. The incorporation of 13
C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12
C) one. In the end, the 13
C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12
C-unlabeled similar one6
. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species.
Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis
). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13
C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria