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A family-wide RT-PCR assay for detection of paramyxoviruses and application to a large-scale surveillance study.
Family-wide molecular diagnostic assays are valuable tools for initial identification of viruses during outbreaks and to limit costs of surveillance studies. Recent discoveries of paramyxoviruses have called for such assay that is able to detect all known and unknown paramyxoviruses in one round of PCR amplification. We have developed a RT-PCR assay consisting of a single degenerate primer set, able to detect all members of the Paramyxoviridae family including all virus genera within the subfamilies Paramyxovirinae and Pneumovirinae. Primers anneal to domain III of the polymerase gene, with the 3 end of the reverse primer annealing to the conserved motif GDNQ, which is proposed to be the active site for nucleotide polymerization. The assay was fully optimized and was shown to indeed detect all available paramyxoviruses tested. Clinical specimens from hospitalized patients that tested positive for known paramyxoviruses in conventional assays were also detected with the novel family-wide test. A high-throughput fluorescence-based RT-PCR version of the assay was developed for screening large numbers of specimens. A large number of samples collected from wild birds was tested, resulting in the detection of avian paramyxoviruses type 1 in both barnacle and white-fronted geese, and type 8 in barnacle geese. Avian metapneumovirus type C was found for the first time in Europe in mallards, greylag geese and common gulls. The single round family-wide RT-PCR assay described here is a useful tool for the detection of known and unknown paramyxoviruses, and screening of large sample collections from humans and animals.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
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MicroRNA Detection in Prostate Tumors by Quantitative Real-time PCR (qPCR)
Authors: Aida Gordanpour, Robert K. Nam, Linda Sugar, Stephanie Bacopulos, Arun Seth.
Institutions: University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, Sunnybrook Research Institute.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are single-stranded, 18–24 nucleotide long, non-coding RNA molecules. They are involved in virtually every cellular process including development1, apoptosis2, and cell cycle regulation3. MiRNAs are estimated to regulate the expression of 30% to 90% of human genes4 by binding to their target messenger RNAs (mRNAs)5. Widespread dysregulation of miRNAs has been reported in various diseases and cancer subtypes6. Due to their prevalence and unique structure, these small molecules are likely to be the next generation of biomarkers, therapeutic agents and/or targets. Methods used to investigate miRNA expression include SYBR green I dye- based as well as Taqman-probe based qPCR. If miRNAs are to be effectively used in the clinical setting, it is imperative that their detection in fresh and/or archived clinical samples be accurate, reproducible, and specific. qPCR has been widely used for validating expression of miRNAs in whole genome analyses such as microarray studies7. The samples used in this protocol were from patients who underwent radical prostatectomy for clinically localized prostate cancer; however other tissues and cell lines can be substituted in. Prostate specimens were snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen after resection. Clinical variables and follow-up information for each patient were collected for subsequent analysis8. Quantification of miRNA levels in prostate tumor samples. The main steps in qPCR analysis of tumors are: Total RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, and detection of qPCR products using miRNA-specific primers. Total RNA, which includes mRNA, miRNA, and other small RNAs were extracted from specimens using TRIzol reagent. Qiagen's miScript System was used to synthesize cDNA and perform qPCR (Figure 1). Endogenous miRNAs are not polyadenylated, therefore during the reverse transcription process, a poly(A) polymerase polyadenylates the miRNA. The miRNA is used as a template to synthesize cDNA using oligo-dT and Reverse Transcriptase. A universal tag sequence on the 5' end of oligo-dT primers facilitates the amplification of cDNA in the PCR step. PCR product amplification is detected by the level of fluorescence emitted by SYBR Green, a dye which intercalates into double stranded DNA. Specific miRNA primers, along with a Universal Primer that binds to the universal tag sequence will amplify specific miRNA sequences. The miScript Primer Assays are available for over a thousand human-specific miRNAs, and hundreds of murine-specific miRNAs. Relative quantification method was used here to quantify the expression of miRNAs. To correct for variability amongst different samples, expression levels of a target miRNA is normalized to the expression levels of a reference gene. The choice of a gene on which to normalize the expression of targets is critical in relative quantification method of analysis. Examples of reference genes typically used in this capacity are the small RNAs RNU6B, RNU44, and RNU48 as they are considered to be stably expressed across most samples. In this protocol, RNU6B is used as the reference gene.
Cancer Biology, Issue 63, Medicine, cancer, primer assay, Prostate, microRNA, tumor, qPCR
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Detection of Live Escherichia coli O157:H7 Cells by PMA-qPCR
Authors: Baoguang Li, Zonglin Hu, Christopher A. Elkins.
Institutions: Food and Drug Administration.
A unique open reading frame (ORF) Z3276 was identified as a specific genetic marker for E. coli O157:H7. A qPCR assay was developed for detection of E. coli O157:H7 by targeting ORF Z3276. With this assay, we can detect as low as a few copies of the genome of DNA of E. coli O157:H7. The sensitivity and specificity of the assay were confirmed by intensive validation tests with a large number of E. coli O157:H7 strains (n = 369) and non-O157 strains (n = 112). Furthermore, we have combined propidium monoazide (PMA) procedure with the newly developed qPCR protocol for selective detection of live cells from dead cells. Amplification of DNA from PMA-treated dead cells was almost completely inhibited in contrast to virtually unaffected amplification of DNA from PMA-treated live cells. Additionally, the protocol has been modified and adapted to a 96-well plate format for an easy and consistent handling of a large number of samples. This method is expected to have an impact on accurate microbiological and epidemiological monitoring of food safety and environmental source.
Microbiology, Issue 84, Propidium monoazide (PMA), real-time PCR, E. coli O157:H7, pathogen, selective detection, live cells
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Genotyping of Plant and Animal Samples without Prior DNA Purification
Authors: Pak Y. Chum, Josh D. Haimes, Chas P. André, Pia K. Kuusisto, Melissa L. Kelley.
Institutions: Thermo Fisher Scientific.
The Direct PCR approach facilitates PCR amplification directly from small amounts of unpurified samples, and is demonstrated here for several plant and animal tissues (Figure 1). Direct PCR is based on specially engineered Thermo Scientific Phusion and Phire DNA Polymerases, which include a double-stranded DNA binding domain that gives them unique properties such as high tolerance of inhibitors. PCR-based target DNA detection has numerous applications in plant research, including plant genotype analysis and verification of transgenes. PCR from plant tissues traditionally involves an initial DNA isolation step, which may require expensive or toxic reagents. The process is time consuming and increases the risk of cross contamination1, 2. Conversely, by using Thermo Scientific Phire Plant Direct PCR Kit the target DNA can be easily detected, without prior DNA extraction. In the model demonstrated here, an example of derived cleaved amplified polymorphic sequence analysis (dCAPS)3,4 is performed directly from Arabidopsis plant leaves. dCAPS genotyping assays can be used to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) by SNP allele-specific restriction endonuclease digestion3. Some plant samples tend to be more challenging when using Direct PCR methods as they contain components that interfere with PCR, such as phenolic compounds. In these cases, an additional step to remove the compounds is traditionally required2,5. Here, this problem is overcome by using a quick and easy dilution protocol followed by Direct PCR amplification (Figure 1). Fifteen year-old oak leaves are used as a model for challenging plants as the specimen contains high amounts of phenolic compounds including tannins. Gene transfer into mice is broadly used to study the roles of genes in development, physiology and human disease. The use of these animals requires screening for the presence of the transgene, usually with PCR. Traditionally, this involves a time consuming DNA isolation step, during which DNA for PCR analysis is purified from ear, tail or toe tissues6,7. However, with the Thermo Scientific Phire Animal Tissue Direct PCR Kit transgenic mice can be genotyped without prior DNA purification. In this protocol transgenic mouse genotyping is achieved directly from mouse ear tissues, as demonstrated here for a challenging example where only one primer set is used for amplification of two fragments differing greatly in size.
Genetics, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Plant Biology, Medicine, Direct PCR, DNA amplification, DNA purification, dCAPS, PCR-based target DNA detection, genotyping, Arabidopsis, oak, mouse tissues
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Multiplex PCR and Reverse Line Blot Hybridization Assay (mPCR/RLB)
Authors: Matthew V. N. O'Sullivan, Fei Zhou, Vitali Sintchenko, Fanrong Kong, Gwendolyn L. Gilbert.
Institutions: University of Sydney.
Multiplex PCR/Reverse Line Blot Hybridization assay allows the detection of up to 43 molecular targets in 43 samples using one multiplex PCR reaction followed by probe hybridization on a nylon membrane, which is re-usable. Probes are 5' amine modified to allow fixation to the membrane. Primers are 5' biotin modified which allows detection of hybridized PCR products using streptavidin-peroxidase and a chemiluminescent substrate via photosensitive film. With low setup and consumable costs, this technique is inexpensive (approximately US$2 per sample), high throughput (multiple membranes can be processed simultaneously) and has a short turnaround time (approximately 10 hours). The technique can be utilized in a number of ways. Multiple probes can be designed to detect sequence variation within a single amplified product, or multiple products can be amplified simultaneously, with one (or more) probes used for subsequent detection. A combination of both approaches can also be used within a single assay. The ability to include multiple probes for a single target sequence makes the assay highly specific. Published applications of mPCR/RLB include detection of antibiotic resistance genes1,2, typing of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus3-5 and Salmonella sp6, molecular serotyping of Streptococcus pneumoniae7,8, Streptococcus agalactiae9 and enteroviruses10,11, identification of Mycobacterium sp12, detection of genital13-15 and respiratory tract16 and other17 pathogens and detection and identification of mollicutes18. However, the versatility of the technique means the applications are virtually limitless and not restricted to molecular analysis of micro-organisms. The five steps in mPCR/RLB are a) Primer and Probe design, b) DNA extraction and PCR amplification c) Preparation of the membrane, d) Hybridization and detection, and e) Regeneration of the Membrane.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, Typing, MRSA, macroarray, molecular epidemiology
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Detection of Infectious Virus from Field-collected Mosquitoes by Vero Cell Culture Assay
Authors: Philip M. Armstrong, Theodore G. Andreadis, Shannon L. Finan, John J. Shepard, Michael C. Thomas.
Institutions: The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Mosquitoes transmit a number of distinct viruses including important human pathogens such as West Nile virus, dengue virus, and chickungunya virus. Many of these viruses have intensified in their endemic ranges and expanded to new territories, necessitating effective surveillance and control programs to respond to these threats. One strategy to monitor virus activity involves collecting large numbers of mosquitoes from endemic sites and testing them for viral infection. In this article, we describe how to handle, process, and screen field-collected mosquitoes for infectious virus by Vero cell culture assay. Mosquitoes are sorted by trap location and species, and grouped into pools containing ≤50 individuals. Pooled specimens are homogenized in buffered saline using a mixer-mill and the aqueous phase is inoculated onto confluent Vero cell cultures (Clone E6). Cell cultures are monitored for cytopathic effect from days 3-7 post-inoculation and any viruses grown in cell culture are identified by the appropriate diagnostic assays. By utilizing this approach, we have isolated 9 different viruses from mosquitoes collected in Connecticut, USA, and among these, 5 are known to cause human disease. Three of these viruses (West Nile virus, Potosi virus, and La Crosse virus) represent new records for North America or the New England region since 1999. The ability to detect a wide diversity of viruses is critical to monitoring both established and newly emerging viruses in the mosquito population.
Immunology, Issue 52, Mosquito-borne viruses, mosquitoes, cell culture, surveillance
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Optimized PCR-based Detection of Mycoplasma
Authors: Paige L. Dobrovolny, Dan Bess.
Institutions: Sigma-Aldrich.
The maintenance of contamination-free cell lines is essential to cell-based research. Among the biggest contaminant concerns are mycoplasma contamination. Although mycoplasma do not usually kill contaminated cells, they are difficult to detect and can cause a variety of effects on cultured cells, including altered metabolism, slowed proliferation and chromosomal aberrations. In short, mycoplasma contamination compromises the value of those cell lines in providing accurate data for life science research. The sources of mycoplasma contamination in the laboratory are very challenging to completely control. As certain mycoplasma species are found on human skin, they can be introduced through poor aseptic technique. Additionally, they can come from contaminated supplements such as fetal bovine serum, and most importantly from other contaminated cell cultures. Once mycoplasma contaminates a culture, it can quickly spread to contaminate other areas of the lab. Strict adherence to good laboratory practices such as good aseptic technique are key, and routine testing for mycoplasma is highly recommended for successful control of mycoplasma contamination. PCR-based detection of mycoplasma has become a very popular method for routine cell line maintenance. PCR-based detection methods are highly sensitive and can provide rapid results, which allows researchers to respond quickly to isolate and eliminate contamination once it is detected in comparison to the time required using microbiological techniques. The LookOut Mycoplasma PCR Detection Kit is highly sensitive, with a detection limit of only 2 genomes per μl. Taking advantage of the highly specific JumpStart Taq DNA Polymerase and a proprietary primer design, false positives are greatly reduced. The convenient 8-tube format, strips pre-coated with dNTPs, and associated primers helps increase the throughput to meet the needs of customers with larger collections of cell lines. Given the extreme sensitivity of the kit, great care must be taken to prevent inadvertent contamination of samples and reagents. The step-by-step protocol we demonstrate highlights the precautions and practices required for reliable mycoplasma detection. We also show and discuss typical results and their interpretation. Our goal is to ensure the success of researchers using the LookOut Mycoplasma PCR Detection Kit.
Microbiology, Issue 52, Mycoplasma detection, mycoplasma contamination, cell culture, sigma mycoplasma detection, acholeplasma contamination, polymerase chain reaction, PCR
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High-throughput Functional Screening using a Homemade Dual-glow Luciferase Assay
Authors: Jessica M. Baker, Frederick M. Boyce.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital.
We present a rapid and inexpensive high-throughput screening protocol to identify transcriptional regulators of alpha-synuclein, a gene associated with Parkinson's disease. 293T cells are transiently transfected with plasmids from an arrayed ORF expression library, together with luciferase reporter plasmids, in a one-gene-per-well microplate format. Firefly luciferase activity is assayed after 48 hr to determine the effects of each library gene upon alpha-synuclein transcription, normalized to expression from an internal control construct (a hCMV promoter directing Renilla luciferase). This protocol is facilitated by a bench-top robot enclosed in a biosafety cabinet, which performs aseptic liquid handling in 96-well format. Our automated transfection protocol is readily adaptable to high-throughput lentiviral library production or other functional screening protocols requiring triple-transfections of large numbers of unique library plasmids in conjunction with a common set of helper plasmids. We also present an inexpensive and validated alternative to commercially-available, dual luciferase reagents which employs PTC124, EDTA, and pyrophosphate to suppress firefly luciferase activity prior to measurement of Renilla luciferase. Using these methods, we screened 7,670 human genes and identified 68 regulators of alpha-synuclein. This protocol is easily modifiable to target other genes of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 88, Luciferases, Gene Transfer Techniques, Transfection, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Transfections, Robotics
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Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Authors: Philippe Pérot, Valérie Cheynet, Myriam Decaussin-Petrucci, Guy Oriol, Nathalie Mugnier, Claire Rodriguez-Lafrasse, Alain Ruffion, François Mallet.
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1​​. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2 or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g. PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6 and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1).
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
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Strategies for Study of Neuroprotection from Cold-preconditioning
Authors: Heidi M. Mitchell, David M. White, Richard P. Kraig.
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Neurological injury is a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality from general anesthesia and related surgical procedures that could be alleviated by development of effective, easy to administer and safe preconditioning treatments. We seek to define the neural immune signaling responsible for cold-preconditioning as means to identify novel targets for therapeutics development to protect brain before injury onset. Low-level pro-inflammatory mediator signaling changes over time are essential for cold-preconditioning neuroprotection. This signaling is consistent with the basic tenets of physiological conditioning hormesis, which require that irritative stimuli reach a threshold magnitude with sufficient time for adaptation to the stimuli for protection to become evident. Accordingly, delineation of the immune signaling involved in cold-preconditioning neuroprotection requires that biological systems and experimental manipulations plus technical capacities are highly reproducible and sensitive. Our approach is to use hippocampal slice cultures as an in vitro model that closely reflects their in vivo counterparts with multi-synaptic neural networks influenced by mature and quiescent macroglia / microglia. This glial state is particularly important for microglia since they are the principal source of cytokines, which are operative in the femtomolar range. Also, slice cultures can be maintained in vitro for several weeks, which is sufficient time to evoke activating stimuli and assess adaptive responses. Finally, environmental conditions can be accurately controlled using slice cultures so that cytokine signaling of cold-preconditioning can be measured, mimicked, and modulated to dissect the critical node aspects. Cytokine signaling system analyses require the use of sensitive and reproducible multiplexed techniques. We use quantitative PCR for TNF-α to screen for microglial activation followed by quantitative real-time qPCR array screening to assess tissue-wide cytokine changes. The latter is a most sensitive and reproducible means to measure multiple cytokine system signaling changes simultaneously. Significant changes are confirmed with targeted qPCR and then protein detection. We probe for tissue-based cytokine protein changes using multiplexed microsphere flow cytometric assays using Luminex technology. Cell-specific cytokine production is determined with double-label immunohistochemistry. Taken together, this brain tissue preparation and style of use, coupled to the suggested investigative strategies, may be an optimal approach for identifying potential targets for the development of novel therapeutics that could mimic the advantages of cold-preconditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, hippocampus, slice culture, immunohistochemistry, neural-immune, gene expression, real-time PCR
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Detection and Genogrouping of Noroviruses from Children's Stools By Taqman One-step RT-PCR
Authors: Sonia Apaza, Susan Espetia, Robert H. Gilman, Sonia Montenegro, Susana Pineda, Fanny Herhold, Romeo Pomari, Margaret Kosek, Nancy Vu, Mayuko Saito.
Institutions: Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Johns Hopkins University, University of Concepcion,Chile, University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
Noroviruses (NoVs) are the leading cause of outbreaks of sporadic acute gastroenteritis worldwide in humans of all ages. They are important cause of hospitalizations in children with a public health impact similar to that of Rotavirus. NoVs are RNA viruses of great genetic diversity and there is a continuous appearance of new strains. Five genogroups are recognized; GI and GII with their many genotypes and subtypes being the most important for human infection. However, the diagnosis of these two genotypes remains problematic, delaying diagnosis and treatment. 1, 2, 3 For RNA extraction from stool specimens the most commonly used method is the QIAmp Viral RNA commercial kit from Qiagen. This method combines the binding properties of a silica gel membrane, buffers that control RNases and provide optimum binding of the RNA to the column together with the speed of microspin. This method is simple, fast and reliable and is carried out in a few steps that are detailed in the description provided by the manufacturer. Norovirus is second only to rotavirus as the most common cause of diarrhea. Norovirus diagnosis should be available in all studies on pathogenesis of diarrhea as well as in outbreaks or individual diarrhea cases. At present however norovirus diagnosis is restricted to only a few centers due to the lack of simple methods of diagnosis. This delays diagnosis and treatment 1, 2, 3. In addition, due to costs and regulated transportation of corrosive buffers within and between countries use of these manufactured kits poses logistical problems. As a result, in this protocol we describe an alternative, economic, in-house method which is based on the original Boom et al. method4 which uses the nucleic acid binding properties of silica particles together with the anti-nuclease properties of guanidinium thiocyanate. For the detection and genogrouping (GI and GII) of NoVs isolates from stool specimens, several RT-PCR protocols utilizing different targets have been developed. The consensus is that an RT-PCR using TaqMan chemistry would be the best molecular technique for diagnosis, because it combines high sensitivity, specificity and reproducibility with high throughput and ease of use. Here we describe an assay targeting the open reading frame 1 (ORF1)-ORF2 junction region; the most conserved region of the NoV genome and hence most suitable for diagnosis. For further genetic analysis a conventional RT-PCR that targets the highly variable N-terminal-shell from the major protein of the capsid (Region C) using primers originally described by Kojima et al. 5 is detailed. Sequencing of the PCR product from the conventional PCR enables the differentiation of genotypes belonging to the GI and GII genogroups.
Virology, Issue 65, Medicine, Genetics, norovirus, gastroenteritis, RNA extraction, diarrhea, stool samples, PCR, RT-PCR, TaqMan, silica
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Avian Influenza Surveillance with FTA Cards: Field Methods, Biosafety, and Transportation Issues Solved
Authors: Robert H.S. Kraus, Pim van Hooft, Jonas Waldenström, Neus Latorre-Margalef, Ronald C. Ydenberg, Herbert H.T. Prins.
Institutions: Wageningen University, Linnaeus University, Simon Fraser University .
Avian Influenza Viruses (AIVs) infect many mammals, including humans1. These AIVs are diverse in their natural hosts, harboring almost all possible viral subtypes2. Human pandemics of flu originally stem from AIVs3. Many fatal human cases during the H5N1 outbreaks in recent years were reported. Lately, a new AIV related strain swept through the human population, causing the 'swine flu epidemic'4. Although human trading and transportation activity seems to be responsible for the spread of highly pathogenic strains5, dispersal can also partly be attributed to wild birds6, 7. However, the actual reservoir of all AIV strains is wild birds. In reaction to this and in face of severe commercial losses in the poultry industry, large surveillance programs have been implemented globally to collect information on the ecology of AIVs, and to install early warning systems to detect certain highly pathogenic strains8-12. Traditional virological methods require viruses to be intact and cultivated before analysis. This necessitates strict cold chains with deep freezers and heavy biosafety procedures to be in place during transport. Long-term surveillance is therefore usually restricted to a few field stations close to well equipped laboratories. Remote areas cannot be sampled unless logistically cumbersome procedures are implemented. These problems have been recognised13, 14 and the use of alternative storage and transport strategies investigated (alcohols or guanidine)15-17. Recently, Kraus et al.18 introduced a method to collect, store and transport AIV samples, based on a special filter paper. FTA cards19 preserve RNA on a dry storage basis20 and render pathogens inactive upon contact21. This study showed that FTA cards can be used to detect AIV RNA in reverse-transcription PCR and that the resulting cDNA could be sequenced and virus genes and determined. In the study of Kraus et al.18 a laboratory isolate of AIV was used, and samples were handled individually. In the extension presented here, faecal samples from wild birds from the duck trap at the Ottenby Bird Observatory (SE Sweden) were tested directly to illustrate the usefulness of the methods under field conditions. Catching of ducks and sample collection by cloacal swabs is demonstrated. The current protocol includes up-scaling of the work flow from single tube handling to a 96-well design. Although less sensitive than the traditional methods, the method of FTA cards provides an excellent supplement to large surveillance schemes. It allows collection and analysis of samples from anywhere in the world, without the need to maintaining a cool chain or safety regulations with respect to shipping of hazardous reagents, such as alcohol or guanidine.
Immunology, Issue 54, AI, Influenza A Virus, zoonoses, reverse transcription PCR, viral RNA, surveillance, duck trap, RNA preservation and storage, infection, mallard
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Using a Pan-Viral Microarray Assay (Virochip) to Screen Clinical Samples for Viral Pathogens
Authors: Eunice C. Chen, Steve A. Miller, Joseph L. DeRisi, Charles Y. Chiu.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco.
The diagnosis of viral causes of many infectious diseases is difficult due to the inherent sequence diversity of viruses as well as the ongoing emergence of novel viral pathogens, such as SARS coronavirus and 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus, that are not detectable by traditional methods. To address these challenges, we have previously developed and validated a pan-viral microarray platform called the Virochip with the capacity to detect all known viruses as well as novel variants on the basis of conserved sequence homology1. Using the Virochip, we have identified the full spectrum of viruses associated with respiratory infections, including cases of unexplained critical illness in hospitalized patients, with a sensitivity equivalent to or superior to conventional clinical testing2-5. The Virochip has also been used to identify novel viruses, including the SARS coronavirus6,7, a novel rhinovirus clade5, XMRV (a retrovirus linked to prostate cancer)8, avian bornavirus (the cause of a wasting disease in parrots)9, and a novel cardiovirus in children with respiratory and diarrheal illness10. The current version of the Virochip has been ported to an Agilent microarray platform and consists of ~36,000 probes derived from over ~1,500 viruses in GenBank as of December of 2009. Here we demonstrate the steps involved in processing a Virochip assay from start to finish (~24 hour turnaround time), including sample nucleic acid extraction, PCR amplification using random primers, fluorescent dye incorporation, and microarray hybridization, scanning, and analysis.
Immunology, Issue 50, virus, microarray, Virochip, viral detection, genomics, clinical diagnostics, viral discovery, metagenomics, novel pathogen discovery
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An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Authors: Justen Manasa, Siva Danaviah, Sureshnee Pillay, Prevashinee Padayachee, Hloniphile Mthiyane, Charity Mkhize, Richard John Lessells, Christopher Seebregts, Tobias F. Rinke de Wit, Johannes Viljoen, David Katzenstein, Tulio De Oliveira.
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
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Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Authors: Aya D. Pusic, Yelena Y. Grinberg, Heidi M. Mitchell, Richard P. Kraig.
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers. In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic and modulate SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
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Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Authors: F. Mark Dunning, Timothy M. Piazza, Füsûn N. Zeytin, Ward C. Tucker.
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Authors: Anne Katchy, Cecilia Williams.
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
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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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Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Authors: Stéphanie Beaucourt, Antonio V. Bordería, Lark L. Coffey, Nina F. Gnädig, Marta Sanz-Ramos, Yasnee Beeharry, Marco Vignuzzi.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7.
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
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An Allelotyping PCR for Identifying Salmonella enterica serovars Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, and Typhimurium
Authors: John J. Maurer, Margie D. Lee, Ying Cheng, Adriana Pedroso.
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Current commercial PCRs tests for identifying Salmonella target genes unique to this genus. However, there are two species, six subspecies, and over 2,500 different Salmonella serovars, and not all are equal in their significance to public health. For example, finding S. enterica subspecies IIIa Arizona on a table egg layer farm is insignificant compared to the isolation of S. enterica subspecies I serovar Enteritidis, the leading cause of salmonellosis linked to the consumption of table eggs. Serovars are identified based on antigenic differences in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)(O antigen) and flagellin (H1 and H2 antigens). These antigenic differences are the outward appearance of the diversity of genes and gene alleles associated with this phenotype. We have developed an allelotyping, multiplex PCR that keys on genetic differences between four major S. enterica subspecies I serovars found in poultry and associated with significant human disease in the US. The PCR primer pairs were targeted to key genes or sequences unique to a specific Salmonella serovar and designed to produce an amplicon with size specific for that gene or allele. Salmonella serovar is assigned to an isolate based on the combination of PCR test results for specific LPS and flagellin gene alleles. The multiplex PCRs described in this article are specific for the detection of S. enterica subspecies I serovars Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, and Typhimurium. Here we demonstrate how to use the multiplex PCRs to identify serovar for a Salmonella isolate.
Immunology, Issue 53, PCR, Salmonella, multiplex, Serovar
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A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Eric K. Donahue, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
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Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Authors: Mirella Vivoli, Halina R. Novak, Jennifer A. Littlechild, Nicholas J. Harmer.
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
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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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