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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Electrophysiology of Scorpion Peg Sensilla
Institutions: University of Oklahoma.
We describe a modification of an existing tip-recording technique1,2
for electrophysiologically investigating short, peg-like sensory sensilla3,4
. On the mid-ventral surface of all scorpions are two appendages called pectines, which have dense fields of mechano- and chemosensory peg sensilla5,6
. One method for assessing chemoresponsiveness of these sensilla uses a tungsten electrode for extracellularly recording neural activity within a sensillum as a volatile odorant is introduced to the sensory field5,7
. The limitations of this method include slow data collection and uncontrolled stimulant introduction to, and removal from, the peg field. To overcome these limitations, we developed a new tip-recording technique that uses nonpolar mineral oil as a medium through which to deliver water-based tastants to individual peg sensilla8,9
. We have successfully applied this method to obtain sensillar chemoresponses to citric acid, ethanol, and salt. Here we describe the experimental protocol for such a study9
. We think this new method may be useful for studying the response properties of other arthropod chemosensory systems, including those of insects10, 11
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Electrophysiology, sensory neurobiology, extracellular, tip-recording, mineral oil, Scorpion, Peg Sensilla
Diagnosis of Ecto- and Endoparasites in Laboratory Rats and Mice
Institutions: Charles River, Charles River, University of Washington.
Internal and external parasites remain a significant concern in laboratory rodent facilities, and many research facilities harbor some parasitized animals. Before embarking on an examination of animals for parasites, two things should be considered. One: what use will be made of the information collected, and two: which test is the most appropriate. Knowing that animals are parasitized may be something that the facility accepts, but there is often a need to treat animals and then to determine the efficacy of treatment. Parasites may be detected in animals through various techniques, including samples taken from live or euthanized animals. Historically, the tests with the greatest diagnostic sensitivity required euthanasia of the animal, although PCR has allowed high-sensitivity testing for several types of parasite. This article demonstrates procedures for the detection of endo- and ectoparasites in mice and rats. The same procedures are applicable to other rodents, although the species of parasites found will differ.
Immunology, Issue 55, rat, mouse, endoparasite, ectoparasite, diagnostics, mites, pinworm, helminths, protozoa, health monitoring
Application of a Mouse Ligated Peyer’s Patch Intestinal Loop Assay to Evaluate Bacterial Uptake by M cells
Institutions: RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology.
The inside of our gut is inhabited with enormous number of commensal bacteria. The mucosal surface of the gastrointestinal tract is continuously exposed to them and occasionally to pathogens. The gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) play a key role for induction of the mucosal immune response to these microbes1, 2
. To initiate the mucosal immune response, the mucosal antigens must be transported from the gut lumen across the epithelial barrier into organized lymphoid follicles such as Peyer's patches. This antigen transcytosis is mediated by specialized epithelial M cells3, 4
. M cells are atypical epithelial cells that actively phagocytose macromolecules and microbes. Unlike dendritic cells (DCs) and macrophages, which target antigens to lysosomes for degradation, M cells mainly transcytose the internalized antigens. This vigorous macromolecular transcytosis through M cells delivers antigen to the underlying organized lymphoid follicles and is believed to be essential for initiating antigen-specific mucosal immune responses. However, the molecular mechanisms promoting this antigen uptake by M cells are largely unknown. We have previously reported that glycoprotein 2 (Gp2), specifically expressed on the apical plasma membrane of M cells among enterocytes, serves as a transcytotic receptor for a subset of commensal and pathogenic enterobacteria, including Escherichia coli
and Salmonella enterica
serovar Typhimurium (S.
Typhimurium), by recognizing FimH, a component of type I pili on the bacterial outer membrane 5
. Here, we present a method for the application of a mouse Peyer's patch intestinal loop assay to evaluate bacterial uptake by M cells. This method is an improved version of the mouse intestinal loop assay previously described 6, 7
. The improved points are as follows: 1. Isoflurane was used as an anesthetic agent. 2. Approximately 1 cm ligated intestinal loop including Peyer's patch was set up. 3. Bacteria taken up by M cells were fluorescently labeled by fluorescence labeling reagent or by overexpressing fluorescent protein such as green fluorescent protein (GFP). 4. M cells in the follicle-associated epithelium covering Peyer's patch were detected by whole-mount immunostainig with anti Gp2 antibody. 5. Fluorescent bacterial transcytosis by M cells were observed by confocal microscopic analysis. The mouse Peyer's patch intestinal loop assay could supply the answer what kind of commensal or pathogenic bacteria transcytosed by M cells, and may lead us to understand the molecular mechanism of how to stimulate mucosal immune system through M cells.
Neuroscience, Issue 58, M cell, Peyer's patch, bacteria, immunosurveillance, confocal microscopy, Glycoprotein 2
Single Oocyte Bisulfite Mutagenesis
Institutions: Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, Children's Health Research Institute.
Epigenetics encompasses all heritable and reversible modifications to chromatin that alter gene accessibility, and thus are the primary mechanisms for regulating gene transcription1
. DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification that acts predominantly as a repressive mark. Through the covalent addition of a methyl group onto cytosines in CpG dinucleotides, it can recruit additional repressive proteins and histone modifications to initiate processes involved in condensing chromatin and silencing genes2
. DNA methylation is essential for normal development as it plays a critical role in developmental programming, cell differentiation, repression of retroviral elements, X-chromosome inactivation and genomic imprinting.
One of the most powerful methods for DNA methylation analysis is bisulfite mutagenesis. Sodium bisulfite is a DNA mutagen that deaminates cytosines into uracils. Following PCR amplification and sequencing, these conversion events are detected as thymines. Methylated cytosines are protected from deamination and thus remain as cytosines, enabling identification of DNA methylation at the individual nucleotide level3
. Development of the bisulfite mutagenesis assay has advanced from those originally reported4-6
towards ones that are more sensitive and reproducible7
. One key advancement was embedding smaller amounts of DNA in an agarose bead, thereby protecting DNA from the harsh bisulfite treatment8
. This enabled methylation analysis to be performed on pools of oocytes and blastocyst-stage embryos9
. The most sophisticated bisulfite mutagenesis protocol to date is for individual blastocyst-stage embryos10
. However, since blastocysts have on average 64 cells (containing 120-720 pg of genomic DNA), this method is not efficacious for methylation studies on individual oocytes or cleavage-stage embryos.
Taking clues from agarose embedding of minute DNA amounts including oocytes11
, here we present a method whereby oocytes are directly embedded in an agarose and lysis solution bead immediately following retrieval and removal of the zona pellucida from the oocyte. This enables us to bypass the two main challenges of single oocyte bisulfite mutagenesis: protecting a minute amount of DNA from degradation, and subsequent loss during the numerous protocol steps. Importantly, as data are obtained from single oocytes, the issue of PCR bias within pools is eliminated. Furthermore, inadvertent cumulus cell contamination is detectable by this method since any sample with more than one methylation pattern may be excluded from analysis12
. This protocol provides an improved method for successful and reproducible analyses of DNA methylation at the single-cell level and is ideally suited for individual oocytes as well as cleavage-stage embryos.
Genetics, Issue 64, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Bisulfite mutagenesis, DNA methylation, individual oocyte, individual embryo, mouse model, PCR, epigenetics
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
Depletion of Ribosomal RNA for Mosquito Gut Metagenomic RNA-seq
Institutions: New Mexico State University.
The mosquito gut accommodates dynamic microbial communities across different stages of the insect's life cycle. Characterization of the genetic capacity and functionality of the gut community will provide insight into the effects of gut microbiota on mosquito life traits. Metagenomic RNA-Seq has become an important tool to analyze transcriptomes from various microbes present in a microbial community. Messenger RNA usually comprises only 1-3% of total RNA, while rRNA constitutes approximately 90%. It is challenging to enrich messenger RNA from a metagenomic microbial RNA sample because most prokaryotic mRNA species lack stable poly(A) tails. This prevents oligo d(T) mediated mRNA isolation. Here, we describe a protocol that employs sample derived rRNA capture probes to remove rRNA from a metagenomic total RNA sample. To begin, both mosquito and microbial small and large subunit rRNA fragments are amplified from a metagenomic community DNA sample. Then, the community specific biotinylated antisense ribosomal RNA probes are synthesized in vitro
using T7 RNA polymerase. The biotinylated rRNA probes are hybridized to the total RNA. The hybrids are captured by streptavidin-coated beads and removed from the total RNA. This subtraction-based protocol efficiently removes both mosquito and microbial rRNA from the total RNA sample. The mRNA enriched sample is further processed for RNA amplification and RNA-Seq.
Genetics, Issue 74, Infection, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Genomics, biology (general), genetics (animal and plant), life sciences, Eukaryota, Bacteria, metagenomics, metatranscriptome, RNA-seq, rRNA depletion, mRNA enrichment, mosquito gut microbiome, RNA, DNA, sequencing
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
A Hybrid DNA Extraction Method for the Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment of Bacterial Communities from Poultry Production Samples
Institutions: USDA-Agricultural Research Service, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Oregon State University, University of Georgia, Northern Arizona University.
The efficacy of DNA extraction protocols can be highly dependent upon both the type of sample being investigated and the types of downstream analyses performed. Considering that the use of new bacterial community analysis techniques (e.g.,
microbiomics, metagenomics) is becoming more prevalent in the agricultural and environmental sciences and many environmental samples within these disciplines can be physiochemically and microbiologically unique (e.g.,
fecal and litter/bedding samples from the poultry production spectrum), appropriate and effective DNA extraction methods need to be carefully chosen. Therefore, a novel semi-automated hybrid DNA extraction method was developed specifically for use with environmental poultry production samples. This method is a combination of the two major types of DNA extraction: mechanical and enzymatic. A two-step intense mechanical homogenization step (using bead-beating specifically formulated for environmental samples) was added to the beginning of the “gold standard” enzymatic DNA extraction method for fecal samples to enhance the removal of bacteria and DNA from the sample matrix and improve the recovery of Gram-positive bacterial community members. Once the enzymatic extraction portion of the hybrid method was initiated, the remaining purification process was automated using a robotic workstation to increase sample throughput and decrease sample processing error. In comparison to the strict mechanical and enzymatic DNA extraction methods, this novel hybrid method provided the best overall combined performance when considering quantitative (using 16S rRNA qPCR) and qualitative (using microbiomics) estimates of the total bacterial communities when processing poultry feces and litter samples.
Molecular Biology, Issue 94, DNA extraction, poultry, environmental, feces, litter, semi-automated, microbiomics, qPCR
Large-scale Gene Knockdown in C. elegans Using dsRNA Feeding Libraries to Generate Robust Loss-of-function Phenotypes
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
RNA interference by feeding worms bacteria expressing dsRNAs has been a useful tool to assess gene function in C. elegans
. While this strategy works well when a small number of genes are targeted for knockdown, large scale feeding screens show variable knockdown efficiencies, which limits their utility. We have deconstructed previously published RNAi knockdown protocols and found that the primary source of the reduced knockdown can be attributed to the loss of dsRNA-encoding plasmids from the bacteria fed to the animals. Based on these observations, we have developed a dsRNA feeding protocol that greatly reduces or eliminates plasmid loss to achieve efficient, high throughput knockdown. We demonstrate that this protocol will produce robust, reproducible knock down of C. elegans
genes in multiple tissue types, including neurons, and will permit efficient knockdown in large scale screens. This protocol uses a commercially available dsRNA feeding library and describes all steps needed to duplicate the library and perform dsRNA screens. The protocol does not require the use of any sophisticated equipment, and can therefore be performed by any C. elegans
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), Gene Knockdown Techniques, C. elegans, dsRNA interference, gene knockdown, large scale feeding screen
Extracting DNA from the Gut Microbes of the Termite (Zootermopsis Angusticollis) and Visualizing Gut Microbes
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Termites are among the few animals known to have the capacity to subsist solely by consuming wood. The termite gut tract contains a dense and species-rich microbial population that assists in the degradation of lignocellulose predominantly into acetate, the key nutrient fueling termite metabolism (Odelson & Breznak, 1983). Within these microbial populations are bacteria, methanogenic archaea and, in some ("lower") termites, eukaryotic protozoa. Thus, termites are excellent research subjects for studying the interactions among microbial species and the numerous biochemical functions they perform to the benefit of their host. The species composition of microbial populations in termite guts as well as key genes involved in various biochemical processes has been explored using molecular techniques (Kudo et al., 1998; Schmit-Wagner et al., 2003; Salmassi & Leadbetter, 2003). These techniques depend on the extraction and purification of high-quality nucleic acids from the termite gut environment. The extraction technique described in this video is a modified compilation of protocols developed for extraction and purification of nucleic acids from environmental samples (Mor et al., 1994; Berthelet et al., 1996; Purdy et al., 1996; Salmassi & Leadbetter, 2003; Ottesen et al. 2006) and it produces DNA from termite hindgut material suitable for use as template for polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termite
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
Chemotactic Response of Marine Micro-Organisms to Micro-Scale Nutrient Layers
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The degree to which planktonic microbes can exploit microscale resource patches will have considerable implications for oceanic trophodynamics and biogeochemical flux. However, to take advantage of nutrient patches in the ocean, swimming microbes must overcome the influences of physical forces including molecular diffusion and turbulent shear, which will limit the availability of patches and the ability of bacteria to locate them. Until recently, methodological limitations have precluded direct examinations of microbial behaviour within patchy habitats and realistic small-scale flow conditions. Hence, much of our current knowledge regarding microbial behaviour in the ocean has been procured from theoretical predictions. To obtain new information on microbial foraging behaviour in the ocean we have applied soft lithographic fabrication techniques to develop 2 microfluidic devices, which we have used to create (i) microscale nutrient patches with dimensions and diffusive characteristics relevant to oceanic processes and (ii) microscale vortices, with shear rates corresponding to those expected in the ocean. These microfluidic devices have permitted a first direct examination of microbial swimming and chemotactic behaviour within a heterogeneous and dynamic seascape. The combined use of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy allow direct examinations of the physical dimensions and diffusive characteristics of nutrient patches, while observing the population-level aggregative response, in addition to the swimming behaviour of individual microbes. These experiments have revealed that some species of phytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and phagotrophic protists are adept at locating and exploiting diffusing microscale resource patches within very short time frames. We have also shown that up to moderate shear rates, marine bacteria are able to fight the flow and swim through their environment at their own accord. However, beyond a threshold high shear level, bacteria are aligned in the shear flow and are less capable of swimming without disturbance from the flow. Microfluidics represents a novel and inexpensive approach for studying aquatic microbial ecology, and due to its suitability for accurately creating realistic flow fields and substrate gradients at the microscale, is ideally applicable to examinations of microbial behaviour at the smallest scales of interaction. We therefore suggest that microfluidics represents a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of the ecology of microorganisms in the ocean.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
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
Microgavage of Zebrafish Larvae
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
The zebrafish has emerged as a powerful model organism for studying intestinal development1-5
, and host-microbe interactions17-25
. Experimental approaches for studying intestinal biology often require the in vivo
introduction of selected materials into the lumen of the intestine. In the larval zebrafish model, this is typically accomplished by immersing fish in a solution of the selected material, or by injection through the abdominal wall. Using the immersion method, it is difficult to accurately monitor or control the route or timing of material delivery to the intestine. For this reason, immersion exposure can cause unintended toxicity and other effects on extraintestinal tissues, limiting the potential range of material amounts that can be delivered into the intestine. Also, the amount of material ingested during immersion exposure can vary significantly between individual larvae26
. Although these problems are not encountered during direct injection through the abdominal wall, proper injection is difficult and causes tissue damage which could influence experimental results.
We introduce a method for microgavage of zebrafish larvae. The goal of this method is to provide a safe, effective, and consistent way to deliver material directly to the lumen of the anterior intestine in larval zebrafish with controlled timing. Microgavage utilizes standard embryo microinjection and stereomicroscopy equipment common to most laboratories that perform zebrafish research. Once fish are properly positioned in methylcellulose, gavage can be performed quickly at a rate of approximately 7-10 fish/ min, and post-gavage survival approaches 100% depending on the gavaged material. We also show that microgavage can permit loading of the intestinal lumen with high concentrations of materials that are lethal to fish when exposed by immersion. To demonstrate the utility of this method, we present a fluorescent dextran microgavage assay that can be used to quantify transit from the intestinal lumen to extraintestinal spaces. This test can be used to verify proper execution of the microgavage procedure, and also provides a novel zebrafish assay to examine intestinal epithelial barrier integrity under different experimental conditions (e.g.
genetic manipulation, drug treatment, or exposure to environmental factors). Furthermore, we show how gavage can be used to evaluate intestinal motility by gavaging fluorescent microspheres and monitoring their subsequent transit. Microgavage can be applied to deliver diverse materials such as live microorganisms, secreted microbial factors/toxins, pharmacological agents, and physiological probes. With these capabilities, the larval zebrafish microgavage method has the potential to enhance a broad range of research fields using the zebrafish model system.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Basic Protocols, Surgery, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, intestine, lumen, larvae, gavage, microgavage, epithelium, barrier function, gut motility, microsurgery, microscopy, animal model
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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
Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ
measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration.
Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release.
The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
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
Measuring Fluxes of Mineral Nutrients and Toxicants in Plants with Radioactive Tracers
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Unidirectional influx and efflux of nutrients and toxicants, and their resultant net fluxes, are central to the nutrition and toxicology of plants. Radioisotope tracing is a major technique used to measure such fluxes, both within plants, and between plants and their environments. Flux data obtained with radiotracer protocols can help elucidate the capacity, mechanism, regulation, and energetics of transport systems for specific mineral nutrients or toxicants, and can provide insight into compartmentation and turnover rates of subcellular mineral and metabolite pools. Here, we describe two major radioisotope protocols used in plant biology: direct influx (DI) and compartmental analysis by tracer efflux (CATE). We focus on flux measurement of potassium (K+
) as a nutrient, and ammonia/ammonium (NH3
) as a toxicant, in intact seedlings of the model species barley (Hordeum vulgare
L.). These protocols can be readily adapted to other experimental systems (e.g.
, different species, excised plant material, and other nutrients/toxicants). Advantages and limitations of these protocols are discussed.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90,
influx, efflux, net flux, compartmental analysis, radiotracers, potassium, ammonia, ammonium
In vitro Coculture Assay to Assess Pathogen Induced Neutrophil Trans-epithelial Migration
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, MGH for Children, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Mucosal surfaces serve as protective barriers against pathogenic organisms. Innate immune responses are activated upon sensing pathogen leading to the infiltration of tissues with migrating inflammatory cells, primarily neutrophils. This process has the potential to be destructive to tissues if excessive or held in an unresolved state. Cocultured in vitro
models can be utilized to study the unique molecular mechanisms involved in pathogen induced neutrophil trans-epithelial migration. This type of model provides versatility in experimental design with opportunity for controlled manipulation of the pathogen, epithelial barrier, or neutrophil. Pathogenic infection of the apical surface of polarized epithelial monolayers grown on permeable transwell filters instigates physiologically relevant basolateral to apical trans-epithelial migration of neutrophils applied to the basolateral surface. The in vitro
model described herein demonstrates the multiple steps necessary for demonstrating neutrophil migration across a polarized lung epithelial monolayer that has been infected with pathogenic P. aeruginosa
(PAO1). Seeding and culturing of permeable transwells with human derived lung epithelial cells is described, along with isolation of neutrophils from whole human blood and culturing of PAO1 and nonpathogenic K12 E. coli
(MC1000). The emigrational process and quantitative analysis of successfully migrated neutrophils that have been mobilized in response to pathogenic infection is shown with representative data, including positive and negative controls. This in vitro
model system can be manipulated and applied to other mucosal surfaces. Inflammatory responses that involve excessive neutrophil infiltration can be destructive to host tissues and can occur in the absence of pathogenic infections. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that promote neutrophil trans-epithelial migration through experimental manipulation of the in vitro
coculture assay system described herein has significant potential to identify novel therapeutic targets for a range of mucosal infectious as well as inflammatory diseases.
Infection, Issue 83, Cellular Biology, Epithelium, Neutrophils, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Respiratory Tract Diseases, Neutrophils, epithelial barriers, pathogens, transmigration
Use of Galleria mellonella as a Model Organism to Study Legionella pneumophila Infection
Institutions: Imperial College London.
, the causative agent of a severe pneumonia named Legionnaires' disease, is an important human pathogen that infects and replicates within alveolar macrophages. Its virulence depends on the Dot/Icm type IV secretion system (T4SS), which is essential to establish a replication permissive vacuole known as the Legionella
containing vacuole (LCV). L. pneumophila
infection can be modeled in mice however most mouse strains are not permissive, leading to the search for novel infection models. We have recently shown that the larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella
are suitable for investigation of L. pneumophila
infection. G. mellonella
is increasingly used as an infection model for human pathogens and a good correlation exists between virulence of several bacterial species in the insect and in mammalian models. A key component of the larvae's immune defenses are hemocytes, professional phagocytes, which take up and destroy invaders. L. pneumophila
is able to infect, form a LCV and replicate within these cells. Here we demonstrate protocols for analyzing L. pneumophila
virulence in the G. mellonella
model, including how to grow infectious L. pneumophila
, pretreat the larvae with inhibitors, infect the larvae and how to extract infected cells for quantification and immunofluorescence microscopy. We also describe how to quantify bacterial replication and fitness in competition assays. These approaches allow for the rapid screening of mutants to determine factors important in L. pneumophila
virulence, describing a new tool to aid our understanding of this complex pathogen.
Infection, Issue 81, Bacterial Infections, Infection, Disease Models, Animal, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Galleria mellonella, Legionella pneumophila, insect model, bacterial infection, Legionnaires' disease, haemocytes
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity