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Gentle masking of low-complexity sequences improves homology search.
PUBLISHED: 10-17-2011
Detection of sequences that are homologous, i.e. descended from a common ancestor, is a fundamental task in computational biology. This task is confounded by low-complexity tracts (such as atatatatatat), which arise frequently and independently, causing strong similarities that are not homologies. There has been much research on identifying low-complexity tracts, but little research on how to treat them during homology search. We propose to find homologies by aligning sequences with "gentle" masking of low-complexity tracts. Gentle masking means that the match score involving a masked letter is min(0,S), where S is the unmasked score. Gentle masking slightly but noticeably improves the sensitivity of homology search (compared to "harsh" masking), without harming specificity. We show examples in three useful homology search problems: detection of NUMTs (nuclear copies of mitochondrial DNA), recruitment of metagenomic DNA reads to reference genomes, and pseudogene detection. Gentle masking is currently the best way to treat low-complexity tracts during homology search.
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Published: 11-03-2011
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.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
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Bottom-up and Shotgun Proteomics to Identify a Comprehensive Cochlear Proteome
Authors: Lancia N.F. Darville, Bernd H.A. Sokolowski.
Institutions: University of South Florida.
Proteomics is a commonly used approach that can provide insights into complex biological systems. The cochlear sensory epithelium contains receptors that transduce the mechanical energy of sound into an electro-chemical energy processed by the peripheral and central nervous systems. Several proteomic techniques have been developed to study the cochlear inner ear, such as two-dimensional difference gel electrophoresis (2D-DIGE), antibody microarray, and mass spectrometry (MS). MS is the most comprehensive and versatile tool in proteomics and in conjunction with separation methods can provide an in-depth proteome of biological samples. Separation methods combined with MS has the ability to enrich protein samples, detect low molecular weight and hydrophobic proteins, and identify low abundant proteins by reducing the proteome dynamic range. Different digestion strategies can be applied to whole lysate or to fractionated protein lysate to enhance peptide and protein sequence coverage. Utilization of different separation techniques, including strong cation exchange (SCX), reversed-phase (RP), and gel-eluted liquid fraction entrapment electrophoresis (GELFrEE) can be applied to reduce sample complexity prior to MS analysis for protein identification.
Biochemistry, Issue 85, Cochlear, chromatography, LC-MS/MS, mass spectrometry, Proteomics, sensory epithelium
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Quantitation and Analysis of the Formation of HO-Endonuclease Stimulated Chromosomal Translocations by Single-Strand Annealing in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Authors: Lauren Liddell, Glenn Manthey, Nicholas Pannunzio, Adam Bailis.
Institutions: Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center and Beckman Research Institute, University of Southern California, Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Genetic variation is frequently mediated by genomic rearrangements that arise through interaction between dispersed repetitive elements present in every eukaryotic genome. This process is an important mechanism for generating diversity between and within organisms1-3. The human genome consists of approximately 40% repetitive sequence of retrotransposon origin, including a variety of LINEs and SINEs4. Exchange events between these repetitive elements can lead to genome rearrangements, including translocations, that can disrupt gene dosage and expression that can result in autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases5, as well as cancer in humans6-9. Exchange between repetitive elements occurs in a variety of ways. Exchange between sequences that share perfect (or near-perfect) homology occurs by a process called homologous recombination (HR). By contrast, non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) uses little-or-no sequence homology for exchange10,11. The primary purpose of HR, in mitotic cells, is to repair double-strand breaks (DSBs) generated endogenously by aberrant DNA replication and oxidative lesions, or by exposure to ionizing radiation (IR), and other exogenous DNA damaging agents. In the assay described here, DSBs are simultaneously created bordering recombination substrates at two different chromosomal loci in diploid cells by a galactose-inducible HO-endonuclease (Figure 1). The repair of the broken chromosomes generates chromosomal translocations by single strand annealing (SSA), a process where homologous sequences adjacent to the chromosome ends are covalently joined subsequent to annealing. One of the substrates, his3-Δ3', contains a 3' truncated HIS3 allele and is located on one copy of chromosome XV at the native HIS3 locus. The second substrate, his3-Δ5', is located at the LEU2 locus on one copy of chromosome III, and contains a 5' truncated HIS3 allele. Both substrates are flanked by a HO endonuclease recognition site that can be targeted for incision by HO-endonuclease. HO endonuclease recognition sites native to the MAT locus, on both copies of chromosome III, have been deleted in all strains. This prevents interaction between the recombination substrates and other broken chromosome ends from interfering in the assay. The KAN-MX-marked galactose-inducible HO endonuclease expression cassette is inserted at the TRP1 locus on chromosome IV. The substrates share 311 bp or 60 bp of the HIS3 coding sequence that can be used by the HR machinery for repair by SSA. Cells that use these substrates to repair broken chromosomes by HR form an intact HIS3 allele and a tXV::III chromosomal translocation that can be selected for by the ability to grow on medium lacking histidine (Figure 2A). Translocation frequency by HR is calculated by dividing the number of histidine prototrophic colonies that arise on selective medium by the total number of viable cells that arise after plating appropriate dilutions onto non-selective medium (Figure 2B). A variety of DNA repair mutants have been used to study the genetic control of translocation formation by SSA using this system12-14.
Genetics, Issue 55, translocation formation, HO-endonuclease, Genomic Southern blot, Chromosome blot, Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, Homologous recombination, DNA double-strand breaks, Single-strand annealing
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Genome Editing with CompoZr Custom Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs)
Authors: Keith Hansen, Matthew J. Coussens, Jack Sago, Shilpi Subramanian, Monika Gjoka, Dave Briner.
Institutions: Sigma Life Science.
Genome editing is a powerful technique that can be used to elucidate gene function and the genetic basis of disease. Traditional gene editing methods such as chemical-based mutagenesis or random integration of DNA sequences confer indiscriminate genetic changes in an overall inefficient manner and require incorporation of undesirable synthetic sequences or use of aberrant culture conditions, potentially confusing biological study. By contrast, transient ZFN expression in a cell can facilitate precise, heritable gene editing in a highly efficient manner without the need for administration of chemicals or integration of synthetic transgenes. Zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) are enzymes which bind and cut distinct sequences of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). A functional CompoZr ZFN unit consists of two individual monomeric proteins that bind a DNA "half-site" of approximately 15-18 nucleotides (see Figure 1). When two ZFN monomers "home" to their adjacent target sites the DNA-cleavage domains dimerize and create a double-strand break (DSB) in the DNA.1 Introduction of ZFN-mediated DSBs in the genome lays a foundation for highly efficient genome editing. Imperfect repair of DSBs in a cell via the non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) DNA repair pathway can result in small insertions and deletions (indels). Creation of indels within the gene coding sequence of a cell can result in frameshift and subsequent functional knockout of a gene locus at high efficiency.2 While this protocol describes the use of ZFNs to create a gene knockout, integration of transgenes may also be conducted via homology-directed repair at the ZFN cut site. The CompoZr Custom ZFN Service represents a systematic, comprehensive, and well-characterized approach to targeted gene editing for the scientific community with ZFN technology. Sigma scientists work closely with investigators to 1) perform due diligence analysis including analysis of relevant gene structure, biology, and model system pursuant to the project goals, 2) apply this knowledge to develop a sound targeting strategy, 3) then design, build, and functionally validate ZFNs for activity in a relevant cell line. The investigator receives positive control genomic DNA and primers, and ready-to-use ZFN reagents supplied in both plasmid DNA and in-vitro transcribed mRNA format. These reagents may then be delivered for transient expression in the investigator’s cell line or cell type of choice. Samples are then tested for gene editing at the locus of interest by standard molecular biology techniques including PCR amplification, enzymatic digest, and electrophoresis. After positive signal for gene editing is detected in the initial population, cells are single-cell cloned and genotyped for identification of mutant clones/alleles.
Genetics, Issue 64, Molecular Biology, Zinc Finger Nuclease, Genome Engineering, Genomic Editing, Gene Modification, Gene Knockout, Gene Integration, non-homologous end joining, homologous recombination, targeted genome editing
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Making Sense of Listening: The IMAP Test Battery
Authors: Johanna G. Barry, Melanie A. Ferguson, David R. Moore.
Institutions: MRC Institute of Hearing Research, National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing.
The ability to hear is only the first step towards making sense of the range of information contained in an auditory signal. Of equal importance are the abilities to extract and use the information encoded in the auditory signal. We refer to these as listening skills (or auditory processing AP). Deficits in these skills are associated with delayed language and literacy development, though the nature of the relevant deficits and their causal connection with these delays is hotly debated. When a child is referred to a health professional with normal hearing and unexplained difficulties in listening, or associated delays in language or literacy development, they should ideally be assessed with a combination of psychoacoustic (AP) tests, suitable for children and for use in a clinic, together with cognitive tests to measure attention, working memory, IQ, and language skills. Such a detailed examination needs to be relatively short and within the technical capability of any suitably qualified professional. Current tests for the presence of AP deficits tend to be poorly constructed and inadequately validated within the normal population. They have little or no reference to the presenting symptoms of the child, and typically include a linguistic component. Poor performance may thus reflect problems with language rather than with AP. To assist in the assessment of children with listening difficulties, pediatric audiologists need a single, standardized child-appropriate test battery based on the use of language-free stimuli. We present the IMAP test battery which was developed at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research to supplement tests currently used to investigate cases of suspected AP deficits. IMAP assesses a range of relevant auditory and cognitive skills and takes about one hour to complete. It has been standardized in 1500 normally-hearing children from across the UK, aged 6-11 years. Since its development, it has been successfully used in a number of large scale studies both in the UK and the USA. IMAP provides measures for separating out sensory from cognitive contributions to hearing. It further limits confounds due to procedural effects by presenting tests in a child-friendly game-format. Stimulus-generation, management of test protocols and control of test presentation is mediated by the IHR-STAR software platform. This provides a standardized methodology for a range of applications and ensures replicable procedures across testers. IHR-STAR provides a flexible, user-programmable environment that currently has additional applications for hearing screening, mapping cochlear implant electrodes, and academic research or teaching.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Listening skills, auditory processing, auditory psychophysics, clinical assessment, child-friendly testing
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A Novel Bayesian Change-point Algorithm for Genome-wide Analysis of Diverse ChIPseq Data Types
Authors: Haipeng Xing, Willey Liao, Yifan Mo, Michael Q. Zhang.
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Texas at Dallas.
ChIPseq is a widely used technique for investigating protein-DNA interactions. Read density profiles are generated by using next-sequencing of protein-bound DNA and aligning the short reads to a reference genome. Enriched regions are revealed as peaks, which often differ dramatically in shape, depending on the target protein1. For example, transcription factors often bind in a site- and sequence-specific manner and tend to produce punctate peaks, while histone modifications are more pervasive and are characterized by broad, diffuse islands of enrichment2. Reliably identifying these regions was the focus of our work. Algorithms for analyzing ChIPseq data have employed various methodologies, from heuristics3-5 to more rigorous statistical models, e.g. Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)6-8. We sought a solution that minimized the necessity for difficult-to-define, ad hoc parameters that often compromise resolution and lessen the intuitive usability of the tool. With respect to HMM-based methods, we aimed to curtail parameter estimation procedures and simple, finite state classifications that are often utilized. Additionally, conventional ChIPseq data analysis involves categorization of the expected read density profiles as either punctate or diffuse followed by subsequent application of the appropriate tool. We further aimed to replace the need for these two distinct models with a single, more versatile model, which can capably address the entire spectrum of data types. To meet these objectives, we first constructed a statistical framework that naturally modeled ChIPseq data structures using a cutting edge advance in HMMs9, which utilizes only explicit formulas-an innovation crucial to its performance advantages. More sophisticated then heuristic models, our HMM accommodates infinite hidden states through a Bayesian model. We applied it to identifying reasonable change points in read density, which further define segments of enrichment. Our analysis revealed how our Bayesian Change Point (BCP) algorithm had a reduced computational complexity-evidenced by an abridged run time and memory footprint. The BCP algorithm was successfully applied to both punctate peak and diffuse island identification with robust accuracy and limited user-defined parameters. This illustrated both its versatility and ease of use. Consequently, we believe it can be implemented readily across broad ranges of data types and end users in a manner that is easily compared and contrasted, making it a great tool for ChIPseq data analysis that can aid in collaboration and corroboration between research groups. Here, we demonstrate the application of BCP to existing transcription factor10,11 and epigenetic data12 to illustrate its usefulness.
Genetics, Issue 70, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Immunology, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP-Seq, histone modifications, segmentation, Bayesian, Hidden Markov Models, epigenetics
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Transient Gene Expression in Tobacco using Gibson Assembly and the Gene Gun
Authors: Matthew D. Mattozzi, Mathias J. Voges, Pamela A. Silver, Jeffrey C. Way.
Institutions: Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Delft University of Technology.
In order to target a single protein to multiple subcellular organelles, plants typically duplicate the relevant genes, and express each gene separately using complex regulatory strategies including differential promoters and/or signal sequences. Metabolic engineers and synthetic biologists interested in targeting enzymes to a particular organelle are faced with a challenge: For a protein that is to be localized to more than one organelle, the engineer must clone the same gene multiple times. This work presents a solution to this strategy: harnessing alternative splicing of mRNA. This technology takes advantage of established chloroplast and peroxisome targeting sequences and combines them into a single mRNA that is alternatively spliced. Some splice variants are sent to the chloroplast, some to the peroxisome, and some to the cytosol. Here the system is designed for multiple-organelle targeting with alternative splicing. In this work, GFP was expected to be expressed in the chloroplast, cytosol, and peroxisome by a series of rationally designed 5’ mRNA tags. These tags have the potential to reduce the amount of cloning required when heterologous genes need to be expressed in multiple subcellular organelles. The constructs were designed in previous work11, and were cloned using Gibson assembly, a ligation independent cloning method that does not require restriction enzymes. The resultant plasmids were introduced into Nicotiana benthamiana epidermal leaf cells with a modified Gene Gun protocol. Finally, transformed leaves were observed with confocal microscopy.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Plant Leaves, Synthetic Biology, Plants, Genetically Modified, DNA, Plant, RNA, Gene Targeting, Plant Physiological Processes, Genes, Gene gun, Gibson assembly, Nicotiana benthamiana, Alternative splicing, confocal microscopy, chloroplast, peroxisome
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
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.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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Setting Limits on Supersymmetry Using Simplified Models
Authors: Christian Gütschow, Zachary Marshall.
Institutions: University College London, CERN, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
Experimental limits on supersymmetry and similar theories are difficult to set because of the enormous available parameter space and difficult to generalize because of the complexity of single points. Therefore, more phenomenological, simplified models are becoming popular for setting experimental limits, as they have clearer physical interpretations. The use of these simplified model limits to set a real limit on a concrete theory has not, however, been demonstrated. This paper recasts simplified model limits into limits on a specific and complete supersymmetry model, minimal supergravity. Limits obtained under various physical assumptions are comparable to those produced by directed searches. A prescription is provided for calculating conservative and aggressive limits on additional theories. Using acceptance and efficiency tables along with the expected and observed numbers of events in various signal regions, LHC experimental results can be recast in this manner into almost any theoretical framework, including nonsupersymmetric theories with supersymmetry-like signatures.
Physics, Issue 81, high energy physics, particle physics, Supersymmetry, LHC, ATLAS, CMS, New Physics Limits, Simplified Models
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Identification of Disease-related Spatial Covariance Patterns using Neuroimaging Data
Authors: Phoebe Spetsieris, Yilong Ma, Shichun Peng, Ji Hyun Ko, Vijay Dhawan, Chris C. Tang, David Eidelberg.
Institutions: The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
The scaled subprofile model (SSM)1-4 is a multivariate PCA-based algorithm that identifies major sources of variation in patient and control group brain image data while rejecting lesser components (Figure 1). Applied directly to voxel-by-voxel covariance data of steady-state multimodality images, an entire group image set can be reduced to a few significant linearly independent covariance patterns and corresponding subject scores. Each pattern, termed a group invariant subprofile (GIS), is an orthogonal principal component that represents a spatially distributed network of functionally interrelated brain regions. Large global mean scalar effects that can obscure smaller network-specific contributions are removed by the inherent logarithmic conversion and mean centering of the data2,5,6. Subjects express each of these patterns to a variable degree represented by a simple scalar score that can correlate with independent clinical or psychometric descriptors7,8. Using logistic regression analysis of subject scores (i.e. pattern expression values), linear coefficients can be derived to combine multiple principal components into single disease-related spatial covariance patterns, i.e. composite networks with improved discrimination of patients from healthy control subjects5,6. Cross-validation within the derivation set can be performed using bootstrap resampling techniques9. Forward validation is easily confirmed by direct score evaluation of the derived patterns in prospective datasets10. Once validated, disease-related patterns can be used to score individual patients with respect to a fixed reference sample, often the set of healthy subjects that was used (with the disease group) in the original pattern derivation11. These standardized values can in turn be used to assist in differential diagnosis12,13 and to assess disease progression and treatment effects at the network level7,14-16. We present an example of the application of this methodology to FDG PET data of Parkinson's Disease patients and normal controls using our in-house software to derive a characteristic covariance pattern biomarker of disease.
Medicine, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Basal Ganglia Diseases, Parkinsonian Disorders, Parkinson Disease, Movement Disorders, Neurodegenerative Diseases, PCA, SSM, PET, imaging biomarkers, functional brain imaging, multivariate spatial covariance analysis, global normalization, differential diagnosis, PD, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
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Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g. protein-protein) and functional (e.g. gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10. Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format. Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g. the 'Keio' collection11) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e. alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e. slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2 as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9.
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
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Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Authors: Todd C. Lorenz.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, consequently the name Taq DNA polymerase. PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to: ● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment ● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment ● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template ● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
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How to Detect Amygdala Activity with Magnetoencephalography using Source Imaging
Authors: Nicholas L. Balderston, Douglas H. Schultz, Sylvain Baillet, Fred J. Helmstetter.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Medical College of Wisconsin .
In trace fear conditioning a conditional stimulus (CS) predicts the occurrence of the unconditional stimulus (UCS), which is presented after a brief stimulus free period (trace interval)1. Because the CS and UCS do not co-occur temporally, the subject must maintain a representation of that CS during the trace interval. In humans, this type of learning requires awareness of the stimulus contingencies in order to bridge the trace interval2-4. However when a face is used as a CS, subjects can implicitly learn to fear the face even in the absence of explicit awareness*. This suggests that there may be additional neural mechanisms capable of maintaining certain types of "biologically-relevant" stimuli during a brief trace interval. Given that the amygdala is involved in trace conditioning, and is sensitive to faces, it is possible that this structure can maintain a representation of a face CS during a brief trace interval. It is challenging to understand how the brain can associate an unperceived face with an aversive outcome, even though the two stimuli are separated in time. Furthermore investigations of this phenomenon are made difficult by two specific challenges. First, it is difficult to manipulate the subject's awareness of the visual stimuli. One common way to manipulate visual awareness is to use backward masking. In backward masking, a target stimulus is briefly presented (< 30 msec) and immediately followed by a presentation of an overlapping masking stimulus5. The presentation of the mask renders the target invisible6-8. Second, masking requires very rapid and precise timing making it difficult to investigate neural responses evoked by masked stimuli using many common approaches. Blood-oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses resolve at a timescale too slow for this type of methodology, and real time recording techniques like electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) have difficulties recovering signal from deep sources. However, there have been recent advances in the methods used to localize the neural sources of the MEG signal9-11. By collecting high-resolution MRI images of the subject's brain, it is possible to create a source model based on individual neural anatomy. Using this model to "image" the sources of the MEG signal, it is possible to recover signal from deep subcortical structures, like the amygdala and the hippocampus*.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Physiology, Anatomy, Psychology, Amygdala, Magnetoencephalography, Fear, awareness, masking, source imaging, conditional stimulus, unconditional stimulus, hippocampus, brain, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, fMRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Authors: Anna Karlgren, Jenny Carlsson, Niclas Gyllenstrand, Ulf Lagercrantz, Jens F. Sundström.
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies). Here we present a modified DIG in situ hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica napus. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3 and BnAP3 were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana and B. napus and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies. For P. abies the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film. Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study. Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at and Jens F. Sundström at
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
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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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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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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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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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Recombineering Homologous Recombination Constructs in Drosophila
Authors: Arnaldo Carreira-Rosario, Shane Scoggin, Nevine A. Shalaby, Nathan David Williams, P. Robin Hiesinger, Michael Buszczak.
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
The continued development of techniques for fast, large-scale manipulation of endogenous gene loci will broaden the use of Drosophila melanogaster as a genetic model organism for human-disease related research. Recent years have seen technical advancements like homologous recombination and recombineering. However, generating unequivocal null mutations or tagging endogenous proteins remains a substantial effort for most genes. Here, we describe and demonstrate techniques for using recombineering-based cloning methods to generate vectors that can be used to target and manipulate endogenous loci in vivo. Specifically, we have established a combination of three technologies: (1) BAC transgenesis/recombineering, (2) ends-out homologous recombination and (3) Gateway technology to provide a robust, efficient and flexible method for manipulating endogenous genomic loci. In this protocol, we provide step-by-step details about how to (1) design individual vectors, (2) how to clone large fragments of genomic DNA into the homologous recombination vector using gap repair, and (3) how to replace or tag genes of interest within these vectors using a second round of recombineering. Finally, we will also provide a protocol for how to mobilize these cassettes in vivo to generate a knockout, or a tagged gene via knock-in. These methods can easily be adopted for multiple targets in parallel and provide a means for manipulating the Drosophila genome in a timely and efficient manner.
Genetics, Issue 77, Bioengineering, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Physiology, Drosophila melanogaster, genetics (animal and plant), Recombineering, Drosophila, Homologous Recombination, Knock-out, recombination, genetic engineering, gene targeting, gene, genes, DNA, PCR, Primers, sequencing, animal model
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Perspectives on Neuroscience
Authors: Wolf Singer.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute (MPI).
Neuroscience, Issue 6, brain, neuron, complexity
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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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Quantitative Real-Time PCR using the Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Assay
Authors: Christy Ogrean, Ben Jackson, James Covino.
Institutions: Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Products.
The Solaris qPCR Gene Expression Assay is a novel type of primer/probe set, designed to simplify the qPCR process while maintaining the sensitivity and accuracy of the assay. These primer/probe sets are pre-designed to >98% of the human and mouse genomes and feature significant improvements from previously available technologies. These improvements were made possible by virtue of a novel design algorithm, developed by Thermo Scientific bioinformatics experts. Several convenient features have been incorporated into the Solaris qPCR Assay to streamline the process of performing quantitative real-time PCR. First, the protocol is similar to commonly employed alternatives, so the methods used during qPCR are likely to be familiar. Second, the master mix is blue, which makes setting the qPCR reactions easier to track. Third, the thermal cycling conditions are the same for all assays (genes), making it possible to run many samples at a time and reducing the potential for error. Finally, the probe and primer sequence information are provided, simplifying the publication process. Here, we demonstrate how to obtain the appropriate Solaris reagents using the GENEius product search feature found on the ordering web site ( and how to use the Solaris reagents for performing qPCR using the standard curve method.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, qPCR, probe, real-time PCR, molecular biology, Solaris, primer, gene expression assays
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