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MACSE: Multiple Alignment of Coding SEquences accounting for frameshifts and stop codons.
PUBLISHED: 04-14-2011
Until now the most efficient solution to align nucleotide sequences containing open reading frames was to use indirect procedures that align amino acid translation before reporting the inferred gap positions at the codon level. There are two important pitfalls with this approach. Firstly, any premature stop codon impedes using such a strategy. Secondly, each sequence is translated with the same reading frame from beginning to end, so that the presence of a single additional nucleotide leads to both aberrant translation and alignment.We present an algorithm that has the same space and time complexity as the classical Needleman-Wunsch algorithm while accommodating sequencing errors and other biological deviations from the coding frame. The resulting pairwise coding sequence alignment method was extended to a multiple sequence alignment (MSA) algorithm implemented in a program called MACSE (Multiple Alignment of Coding SEquences accounting for frameshifts and stop codons). MACSE is the first automatic solution to align protein-coding gene datasets containing non-functional sequences (pseudogenes) without disrupting the underlying codon structure. It has also proved useful in detecting undocumented frameshifts in public database sequences and in aligning next-generation sequencing reads/contigs against a reference coding sequence.MACSE is distributed as an open-source java file executable with freely available source code and can be used via a web interface at:
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Published: 02-05-2014
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
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Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Authors: Stéphanie Beaucourt, Antonio V. Bordería, Lark L. Coffey, Nina F. Gnädig, Marta Sanz-Ramos, Yasnee Beeharry, Marco Vignuzzi.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7.
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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Isolation of Translating Ribosomes Containing Peptidyl-tRNAs for Functional and Structural Analyses
Authors: Nitin Shirole, Sreeram Balasubramanian, Charles Yanofsky, Luis Cruz-Vera.
Institutions: University of Alabama Huntsville, Stanford University .
Recently, structural and biochemical studies have detailed many of the molecular events that occur in the ribosome during inhibition of protein synthesis by antibiotics and during nascent polypeptide synthesis. Some of these antibiotics, and regulatory nascent polypeptides mostly in the form of peptidyl-tRNAs, inhibit either peptide bond formation or translation termination1-7. These inhibitory events can stop the movement of the ribosome, a phenomenon termed "translational arrest". Translation arrest induced by either an antibiotic or a nascent polypeptide has been shown to regulate the expression of genes involved in diverse cellular functions such as cell growth, antibiotic resistance, protein translocation and cell metabolism8-13. Knowledge of how antibiotics and regulatory nascent polypeptides alter ribosome function is essential if we are to understand the complete role of the ribosome in translation, in every organism. Here, we describe a simple methodology that can be used to purify, exclusively, for analysis, those ribosomes translating a specific mRNA and containing a specific peptidyl-tRNA14. This procedure is based on selective isolation of translating ribosomes bound to a biotin-labeled mRNA. These translational complexes are separated from other ribosomes in the same mixture, using streptavidin paramagnetic beads (SMB) and a magnetic field (MF). Biotin-labeled mRNAs are synthesized by run-off transcription assays using as templates PCR-generated DNA fragments that contain T7 transcriptional promoters. T7 RNA polymerase incorporates biotin-16-UMP from biotin-UTP; under our conditions approximately ten biotin-16-UMP molecules are incorporated in a 600 nt mRNA with a 25% UMP content. These biotin-labeled mRNAs are then isolated, and used in in vitro translation assays performed with release factor 2 (RF2)-depleted cell-free extracts obtained from Escherichia coli strains containing wild type or mutant ribosomes. Ribosomes translating the biotin-labeled mRNA sequences are stalled at the stop codon region, due to the absence of the RF2 protein, which normally accomplishes translation termination. Stalled ribosomes containing the newly synthesized peptidyl-tRNA are isolated and removed from the translation reactions using SMB and an MF. These beads only bind biotin-containing messages. The isolated, translational complexes, can be used to analyze the structural and functional features of wild type or mutant ribosomal components, or peptidyl-tRNA sequences, as well as determining ribosome interaction with antibiotics or other molecular factors 1,14-16. To examine the function of these isolated ribosome complexes, peptidyl-transferase assays can be performed in the presence of the antibiotic puromycin1. To study structural changes in translational complexes, well established procedures can be used, such as i) crosslinking to specific amino acids14 and/or ii) alkylation protection assays1,14,17.
Molecular Biology, Issue 48, Ribosome stalling, ribosome isolation, peptidyl-tRNA, in vitro translation, RNA chemical modification, puromycin, antibiotics.
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Isolation of Ribosome Bound Nascent Polypeptides in vitro to Identify Translational Pause Sites Along mRNA
Authors: Sujata S. Jha, Anton A. Komar.
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
The rate of translational elongation is non-uniform. mRNA secondary structure, codon usage and mRNA associated proteins may alter ribosome movement on the messagefor review see 1. However, it's now widely accepted that synonymous codon usage is the primary cause of non-uniform translational elongation rates1. Synonymous codons are not used with identical frequency. A bias exists in the use of synonymous codons with some codons used more frequently than others2. Codon bias is organism as well as tissue specific2,3. Moreover, frequency of codon usage is directly proportional to the concentrations of cognate tRNAs4. Thus, a frequently used codon will have higher multitude of corresponding tRNAs, which further implies that a frequent codon will be translated faster than an infrequent one. Thus, regions on mRNA enriched in rare codons (potential pause sites) will as a rule slow down ribosome movement on the message and cause accumulation of nascent peptides of the respective sizes5-8. These pause sites can have functional impact on the protein expression, mRNA stability and protein foldingfor review see 9. Indeed, it was shown that alleviation of such pause sites can alter ribosome movement on mRNA and subsequently may affect the efficiency of co-translational (in vivo) protein folding1,7,10,11. To understand the process of protein folding in vivo, in the cell, that is ultimately coupled to the process of protein synthesis it is essential to gain comprehensive insights into the impact of codon usage/tRNA content on the movement of ribosomes along mRNA during translational elongation. Here we describe a simple technique that can be used to locate major translation pause sites for a given mRNA translated in various cell-free systems6-8. This procedure is based on isolation of nascent polypeptides accumulating on ribosomes during in vitro translation of a target mRNA. The rationale is that at low-frequency codons, the increase in the residence time of the ribosomes results in increased amounts of nascent peptides of the corresponding sizes. In vitro transcribed mRNA is used for in vitro translational reactions in the presence of radioactively labeled amino acids to allow the detection of the nascent chains. In order to isolate ribosome bound nascent polypeptide complexes the translation reaction is layered on top of 30% glycerol solution followed by centrifugation. Nascent polypeptides in polysomal pellet are further treated with ribonuclease A and resolved by SDS PAGE. This technique can be potentially used for any protein and allows analysis of ribosome movement along mRNA and the detection of the major pause sites. Additionally, this protocol can be adapted to study factors and conditions that can alter ribosome movement and thus potentially can also alter the function/conformation of the protein.
Genetics, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Ribosome, Nascent polypeptide, Co-translational protein folding, Synonymous codon usage, gene regulation
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Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Authors: Philippe Pérot, Valérie Cheynet, Myriam Decaussin-Petrucci, Guy Oriol, Nathalie Mugnier, Claire Rodriguez-Lafrasse, Alain Ruffion, François Mallet.
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1​​. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2 or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g. PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6 and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1).
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Modeling The Lifecycle Of Ebola Virus Under Biosafety Level 2 Conditions With Virus-like Particles Containing Tetracistronic Minigenomes
Authors: Thomas Hoenen, Ari Watt, Anita Mora, Heinz Feldmann.
Institutions: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
Ebola viruses cause severe hemorrhagic fevers in humans and non-human primates, with case fatality rates as high as 90%. There are no approved vaccines or specific treatments for the disease caused by these viruses, and work with infectious Ebola viruses is restricted to biosafety level 4 laboratories, significantly limiting the research on these viruses. Lifecycle modeling systems model the virus lifecycle under biosafety level 2 conditions; however, until recently such systems have been limited to either individual aspects of the virus lifecycle, or a single infectious cycle. Tetracistronic minigenomes, which consist of Ebola virus non-coding regions, a reporter gene, and three Ebola virus genes involved in morphogenesis, budding, and entry (VP40, GP1,2, and VP24), can be used to produce replication and transcription-competent virus-like particles (trVLPs) containing these minigenomes. These trVLPs can continuously infect cells expressing the Ebola virus proteins responsible for genome replication and transcription, allowing us to safely model multiple infectious cycles under biosafety level 2 conditions. Importantly, the viral components of this systems are solely derived from Ebola virus and not from other viruses (as is, for example, the case in systems using pseudotyped viruses), and VP40, GP1,2 and VP24 are not overexpressed in this system, making it ideally suited for studying morphogenesis, budding and entry, although other aspects of the virus lifecycle such as genome replication and transcription can also be modeled with this system. Therefore, the tetracistronic trVLP assay represents the most comprehensive lifecycle modeling system available for Ebola viruses, and has tremendous potential for use in investigating the biology of Ebola viruses in future. Here, we provide detailed information on the use of this system, as well as on expected results.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 91, hemorrhagic Fevers, Viral, Mononegavirales Infections, Ebola virus, filovirus, lifecycle modeling system, minigenome, reverse genetics, virus-like particles, replication, transcription, budding, morphogenesis, entry
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Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Authors: Ashwin Prakash, Jason Bechtel, Alexei Fedorov.
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al. 2009). Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al. 2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
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Detecting Somatic Genetic Alterations in Tumor Specimens by Exon Capture and Massively Parallel Sequencing
Authors: Helen H Won, Sasinya N Scott, A. Rose Brannon, Ronak H Shah, Michael F Berger.
Institutions: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Efforts to detect and investigate key oncogenic mutations have proven valuable to facilitate the appropriate treatment for cancer patients. The establishment of high-throughput, massively parallel "next-generation" sequencing has aided the discovery of many such mutations. To enhance the clinical and translational utility of this technology, platforms must be high-throughput, cost-effective, and compatible with formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue samples that may yield small amounts of degraded or damaged DNA. Here, we describe the preparation of barcoded and multiplexed DNA libraries followed by hybridization-based capture of targeted exons for the detection of cancer-associated mutations in fresh frozen and FFPE tumors by massively parallel sequencing. This method enables the identification of sequence mutations, copy number alterations, and select structural rearrangements involving all targeted genes. Targeted exon sequencing offers the benefits of high throughput, low cost, and deep sequence coverage, thus conferring high sensitivity for detecting low frequency mutations.
Molecular Biology, Issue 80, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing, Genetics, Neoplasms, Diagnosis, Massively parallel sequencing, targeted exon sequencing, hybridization capture, cancer, FFPE, DNA mutations
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An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Authors: Justen Manasa, Siva Danaviah, Sureshnee Pillay, Prevashinee Padayachee, Hloniphile Mthiyane, Charity Mkhize, Richard John Lessells, Christopher Seebregts, Tobias F. Rinke de Wit, Johannes Viljoen, David Katzenstein, Tulio De Oliveira.
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
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Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Authors: Pelagia Deriziotis, Sarah A. Graham, Sara B. Estruch, Simon E. Fisher.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
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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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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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RNA Secondary Structure Prediction Using High-throughput SHAPE
Authors: Sabrina Lusvarghi, Joanna Sztuba-Solinska, Katarzyna J. Purzycka, Jason W. Rausch, Stuart F.J. Le Grice.
Institutions: Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.
Understanding the function of RNA involved in biological processes requires a thorough knowledge of RNA structure. Toward this end, the methodology dubbed "high-throughput selective 2' hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension", or SHAPE, allows prediction of RNA secondary structure with single nucleotide resolution. This approach utilizes chemical probing agents that preferentially acylate single stranded or flexible regions of RNA in aqueous solution. Sites of chemical modification are detected by reverse transcription of the modified RNA, and the products of this reaction are fractionated by automated capillary electrophoresis (CE). Since reverse transcriptase pauses at those RNA nucleotides modified by the SHAPE reagents, the resulting cDNA library indirectly maps those ribonucleotides that are single stranded in the context of the folded RNA. Using ShapeFinder software, the electropherograms produced by automated CE are processed and converted into nucleotide reactivity tables that are themselves converted into pseudo-energy constraints used in the RNAStructure (v5.3) prediction algorithm. The two-dimensional RNA structures obtained by combining SHAPE probing with in silico RNA secondary structure prediction have been found to be far more accurate than structures obtained using either method alone.
Genetics, Issue 75, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Virology, Cancer Biology, Medicine, Genomics, Nucleic Acid Probes, RNA Probes, RNA, High-throughput SHAPE, Capillary electrophoresis, RNA structure, RNA probing, RNA folding, secondary structure, DNA, nucleic acids, electropherogram, synthesis, transcription, high throughput, sequencing
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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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The Production of C. elegans Transgenes via Recombineering with the galK Selectable Marker
Authors: Yue Zhang, Luv Kashyap, Annabel A. Ferguson, Alfred L. Fisher.
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, University of Pittsburgh.
The creation of transgenic animals is widely utilized in C. elegans research including the use of GFP fusion proteins to study the regulation and expression pattern of genes of interest or generation of tandem affinity purification (TAP) tagged versions of specific genes to facilitate their purification. Typically transgenes are generated by placing a promoter upstream of a GFP reporter gene or cDNA of interest, and this often produces a representative expression pattern. However, critical elements of gene regulation, such as control elements in the 3' untranslated region or alternative promoters, could be missed by this approach. Further only a single splice variant can be usually studied by this means. In contrast, the use of worm genomic DNA carried by fosmid DNA clones likely includes most if not all elements involved in gene regulation in vivo which permits the greater ability to capture the genuine expression pattern and timing. To facilitate the generation of transgenes using fosmid DNA, we describe an E. coli based recombineering procedure to insert GFP, a TAP-tag, or other sequences of interest into any location in the gene. The procedure uses the galK gene as the selection marker for both the positive and negative selection steps in recombineering which results in obtaining the desired modification with high efficiency. Further, plasmids containing the galK gene flanked by homology arms to commonly used GFP and TAP fusion genes are available which reduce the cost of oligos by 50% when generating a GFP or TAP fusion protein. These plasmids use the R6K replication origin which precludes the need for extensive PCR product purification. Finally, we also demonstrate a technique to integrate the unc-119 marker on to the fosmid backbone which allows the fosmid to be directly injected or bombarded into worms to generate transgenic animals. This video demonstrates the procedures involved in generating a transgene via recombineering using this method.
Genetics, Issue 47, C. elegans, transgenes, fosmid clone, galK, recombineering, homologous recombination, E. coli
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Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Authors: Viktor Martyanov, Robert H. Gross.
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2 to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4 and has been used in other studies5-8. The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well. Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor. Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run. Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11.
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
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A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Authors: Gauthier Julie, Fadi F. Hamdan, Guy A. Rouleau.
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1 and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
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Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Authors: Frank Buchholz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells. We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
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