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Automatic design of synthetic gene circuits through mixed integer non-linear programming.
Automatic design of synthetic gene circuits poses a significant challenge to synthetic biology, primarily due to the complexity of biological systems, and the lack of rigorous optimization methods that can cope with the combinatorial explosion as the number of biological parts increases. Current optimization methods for synthetic gene design rely on heuristic algorithms that are usually not deterministic, deliver sub-optimal solutions, and provide no guaranties on convergence or error bounds. Here, we introduce an optimization framework for the problem of part selection in synthetic gene circuits that is based on mixed integer non-linear programming (MINLP), which is a deterministic method that finds the globally optimal solution and guarantees convergence in finite time. Given a synthetic gene circuit, a library of characterized parts, and user-defined constraints, our method can find the optimal selection of parts that satisfy the constraints and best approximates the objective function given by the user. We evaluated the proposed method in the design of three synthetic circuits (a toggle switch, a transcriptional cascade, and a band detector), with both experimentally constructed and synthetic promoter libraries. Scalability and robustness analysis shows that the proposed framework scales well with the library size and the solution space. The work described here is a step towards a unifying, realistic framework for the automated design of biological circuits.
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Published: 07-25-2013
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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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Rapid Synthesis and Screening of Chemically Activated Transcription Factors with GFP-based Reporters
Authors: R. Scott McIsaac, Benjamin L. Oakes, David Botstein, Marcus B. Noyes.
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University, California Institute of Technology.
Synthetic biology aims to rationally design and build synthetic circuits with desired quantitative properties, as well as provide tools to interrogate the structure of native control circuits. In both cases, the ability to program gene expression in a rapid and tunable fashion, with no off-target effects, can be useful. We have constructed yeast strains containing the ACT1 promoter upstream of a URA3 cassette followed by the ligand-binding domain of the human estrogen receptor and VP16. By transforming this strain with a linear PCR product containing a DNA binding domain and selecting against the presence of URA3, a constitutively expressed artificial transcription factor (ATF) can be generated by homologous recombination. ATFs engineered in this fashion can activate a unique target gene in the presence of inducer, thereby eliminating both the off-target activation and nonphysiological growth conditions found with commonly used conditional gene expression systems. A simple method for the rapid construction of GFP reporter plasmids that respond specifically to a native or artificial transcription factor of interest is also provided.
Genetics, Issue 81, transcription, transcription factors, artificial transcription factors, zinc fingers, Zif268, synthetic biology
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GENPLAT: an Automated Platform for Biomass Enzyme Discovery and Cocktail Optimization
Authors: Jonathan Walton, Goutami Banerjee, Suzana Car.
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
The high cost of enzymes for biomass deconstruction is a major impediment to the economic conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol. We have developed an integrated high throughput platform, called GENPLAT, for the discovery and development of novel enzymes and enzyme cocktails for the release of sugars from diverse pretreatment/biomass combinations. GENPLAT comprises four elements: individual pure enzymes, statistical design of experiments, robotic pipeting of biomass slurries and enzymes, and automated colorimeteric determination of released Glc and Xyl. Individual enzymes are produced by expression in Pichia pastoris or Trichoderma reesei, or by chromatographic purification from commercial cocktails or from extracts of novel microorganisms. Simplex lattice (fractional factorial) mixture models are designed using commercial Design of Experiment statistical software. Enzyme mixtures of high complexity are constructed using robotic pipeting into a 96-well format. The measurement of released Glc and Xyl is automated using enzyme-linked colorimetric assays. Optimized enzyme mixtures containing as many as 16 components have been tested on a variety of feedstock and pretreatment combinations. GENPLAT is adaptable to mixtures of pure enzymes, mixtures of commercial products (e.g., Accellerase 1000 and Novozyme 188), extracts of novel microbes, or combinations thereof. To make and test mixtures of ˜10 pure enzymes requires less than 100 μg of each protein and fewer than 100 total reactions, when operated at a final total loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan. We use enzymes from several sources. Enzymes can be purified from natural sources such as fungal cultures (e.g., Aspergillus niger, Cochliobolus carbonum, and Galerina marginata), or they can be made by expression of the encoding genes (obtained from the increasing number of microbial genome sequences) in hosts such as E. coli, Pichia pastoris, or a filamentous fungus such as T. reesei. Proteins can also be purified from commercial enzyme cocktails (e.g., Multifect Xylanase, Novozyme 188). An increasing number of pure enzymes, including glycosyl hydrolases, cell wall-active esterases, proteases, and lyases, are available from commercial sources, e.g., Megazyme, Inc. (, NZYTech (, and PROZOMIX ( Design-Expert software (Stat-Ease, Inc.) is used to create simplex-lattice designs and to analyze responses (in this case, Glc and Xyl release). Mixtures contain 4-20 components, which can vary in proportion between 0 and 100%. Assay points typically include the extreme vertices with a sufficient number of intervening points to generate a valid model. In the terminology of experimental design, most of our studies are "mixture" experiments, meaning that the sum of all components adds to a total fixed protein loading (expressed as mg/g glucan). The number of mixtures in the simplex-lattice depends on both the number of components in the mixture and the degree of polynomial (quadratic or cubic). For example, a 6-component experiment will entail 63 separate reactions with an augmented special cubic model, which can detect three-way interactions, whereas only 23 individual reactions are necessary with an augmented quadratic model. For mixtures containing more than eight components, a quadratic experimental design is more practical, and in our experience such models are usually statistically valid. All enzyme loadings are expressed as a percentage of the final total loading (which for our experiments is typically 15 mg protein/g glucan). For "core" enzymes, the lower percentage limit is set to 5%. This limit was derived from our experience in which yields of Glc and/or Xyl were very low if any core enzyme was present at 0%. Poor models result from too many samples showing very low Glc or Xyl yields. Setting a lower limit in turn determines an upper limit. That is, for a six-component experiment, if the lower limit for each single component is set to 5%, then the upper limit of each single component will be 75%. The lower limits of all other enzymes considered as "accessory" are set to 0%. "Core" and "accessory" are somewhat arbitrary designations and will differ depending on the substrate, but in our studies the core enzymes for release of Glc from corn stover comprise the following enzymes from T. reesei: CBH1 (also known as Cel7A), CBH2 (Cel6A), EG1(Cel7B), BG (β-glucosidase), EX3 (endo-β1,4-xylanase, GH10), and BX (β-xylosidase).
Bioengineering, Issue 56, cellulase, cellobiohydrolase, glucanase, xylanase, hemicellulase, experimental design, biomass, bioenergy, corn stover, glycosyl hydrolase
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Massively Parallel Reporter Assays in Cultured Mammalian Cells
Authors: Alexandre Melnikov, Xiaolan Zhang, Peter Rogov, Li Wang, Tarjei S. Mikkelsen.
Institutions: Broad Institute.
The genetic reporter assay is a well-established and powerful tool for dissecting the relationship between DNA sequences and their gene regulatory activities. The potential throughput of this assay has, however, been limited by the need to individually clone and assay the activity of each sequence on interest using protein fluorescence or enzymatic activity as a proxy for regulatory activity. Advances in high-throughput DNA synthesis and sequencing technologies have recently made it possible to overcome these limitations by multiplexing the construction and interrogation of large libraries of reporter constructs. This protocol describes implementation of a Massively Parallel Reporter Assay (MPRA) that allows direct comparison of hundreds of thousands of putative regulatory sequences in a single cell culture dish.
Genetics, Issue 90, gene regulation, transcriptional regulation, sequence-activity mapping, reporter assay, library cloning, transfection, tag sequencing, mammalian cells
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Combinatorial Synthesis of and High-throughput Protein Release from Polymer Film and Nanoparticle Libraries
Authors: Latrisha K. Petersen, Ana V. Chavez-Santoscoy, Balaji Narasimhan.
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Polyanhydrides are a class of biomaterials with excellent biocompatibility and drug delivery capabilities. While they have been studied extensively with conventional one-sample-at-a-time synthesis techniques, a more recent high-throughput approach has been developed enabling the synthesis and testing of large libraries of polyanhydrides1. This will facilitate more efficient optimization and design process of these biomaterials for drug and vaccine delivery applications. The method in this work describes the combinatorial synthesis of biodegradable polyanhydride film and nanoparticle libraries and the high-throughput detection of protein release from these libraries. In this robotically operated method (Figure 1), linear actuators and syringe pumps are controlled by LabVIEW, which enables a hands-free automated protocol, eliminating user error. Furthermore, this method enables the rapid fabrication of micro-scale polymer libraries, reducing the batch size while resulting in the creation of multivariant polymer systems. This combinatorial approach to polymer synthesis facilitates the synthesis of up to 15 different polymers in an equivalent amount of time it would take to synthesize one polymer conventionally. In addition, the combinatorial polymer library can be fabricated into blank or protein-loaded geometries including films or nanoparticles upon dissolution of the polymer library in a solvent and precipitation into a non-solvent (for nanoparticles) or by vacuum drying (for films). Upon loading a fluorochrome-conjugated protein into the polymer libraries, protein release kinetics can be assessed at high-throughput using a fluorescence-based detection method (Figures 2 and 3) as described previously1. This combinatorial platform has been validated with conventional methods2 and the polyanhydride film and nanoparticle libraries have been characterized with 1H NMR and FTIR. The libraries have been screened for protein release kinetics, stability and antigenicity; in vitro cellular toxicity, cytokine production, surface marker expression, adhesion, proliferation and differentiation; and in vivo biodistribution and mucoadhesion1-11. The combinatorial method developed herein enables high-throughput polymer synthesis and fabrication of protein-loaded nanoparticle and film libraries, which can, in turn, be screened in vitro and in vivo for optimization of biomaterial performance.
Bioengineering, Issue 67, combinatorial, high-throughput, polymer synthesis, polyanhydrides, nanoparticle fabrication, release kinetics, protein delivery
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Identifying Targets of Human microRNAs with the LightSwitch Luciferase Assay System using 3'UTR-reporter Constructs and a microRNA Mimic in Adherent Cells
Authors: Shelley Force Aldred, Patrick Collins, Nathan Trinklein.
Institutions: SwitchGear Genomics.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators of gene expression and play a role in many biological processes. More than 700 human miRNAs have been identified so far with each having up to hundreds of unique target mRNAs. Computational tools, expression and proteomics assays, and chromatin-immunoprecipitation-based techniques provide important clues for identifying mRNAs that are direct targets of a particular miRNA. In addition, 3'UTR-reporter assays have become an important component of thorough miRNA target studies because they provide functional evidence for and quantitate the effects of specific miRNA-3'UTR interactions in a cell-based system. To enable more researchers to leverage 3'UTR-reporter assays and to support the scale-up of such assays to high-throughput levels, we have created a genome-wide collection of human 3'UTR luciferase reporters in the highly-optimized LightSwitch Luciferase Assay System. The system also includes synthetic miRNA target reporter constructs for use as positive controls, various endogenous 3'UTR reporter constructs, and a series of standardized experimental protocols. Here we describe a method for co-transfection of individual 3'UTR-reporter constructs along with a miRNA mimic that is efficient, reproducible, and amenable to high-throughput analysis.
Genetics, Issue 55, MicroRNA, miRNA, mimic, Clone, 3' UTR, Assay, vector, LightSwitch, luciferase, co-transfection, 3'UTR REPORTER, mirna target, microrna target, reporter, GoClone, Reporter construct
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Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Authors: Olympia Colizoli, Jaap M. J. Murre, Romke Rouw.
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Authors: Xiao Hu, Solomon Duki, Joseph Forys, Jeffrey Hettinger, Justin Buchicchio, Tabbetha Dobbins, Catherine Yang.
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
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Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Authors: Amy H. Van Hove, Brandon D. Wilson, Danielle S. W. Benoit.
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g. primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
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Time Multiplexing Super Resolving Technique for Imaging from a Moving Platform
Authors: Asaf Ilovitsh, Shlomo Zach, Zeev Zalevsky.
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University, Kfar Saba, Israel.
We propose a method for increasing the resolution of an object and overcoming the diffraction limit of an optical system installed on top of a moving imaging system, such as an airborne platform or satellite. The resolution improvement is obtained in a two-step process. First, three low resolution differently defocused images are being captured and the optical phase is retrieved using an improved iterative Gerchberg-Saxton based algorithm. The phase retrieval allows to numerically back propagate the field to the aperture plane. Second, the imaging system is shifted and the first step is repeated. The obtained optical fields at the aperture plane are combined and a synthetically increased lens aperture is generated along the direction of movement, yielding higher imaging resolution. The method resembles a well-known approach from the microwave regime called the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in which the antenna size is synthetically increased along the platform propagation direction. The proposed method is demonstrated through laboratory experiment.
Physics, Issue 84, Superresolution, Fourier optics, Remote Sensing and Sensors, Digital Image Processing, optics, resolution
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Authors: Eva Wagner, Sören Brandenburg, Tobias Kohl, Stephan E. Lehnart.
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+ release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo cellular environment in a controlled in vitro platform.1 This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3 To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5 The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6 Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7 The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8 Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10 The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Measuring Growth and Gene Expression Dynamics of Tumor-Targeted S. Typhimurium Bacteria
Authors: Tal Danino, Arthur Prindle, Jeff Hasty, Sangeeta Bhatia.
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, San Diego , University of California, San Diego , University of California, San Diego , Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The goal of these experiments is to generate quantitative time-course data on the growth and gene expression dynamics of attenuated S. typhimurium bacterial colonies growing inside tumors. We generated model xenograft tumors in mice by subcutaneous injection of a human ovarian cancer cell line, OVCAR-8 (NCI DCTD Tumor Repository, Frederick, MD). We transformed attenuated strains of S. typhimurium bacteria (ELH430:SL1344 phoPQ- 1) with a constitutively expressed luciferase (luxCDABE) plasmid for visualization2. These strains specifically colonize tumors while remaining essentially non-virulent to the mouse1. Once measurable tumors were established, bacteria were injected intravenously via the tail vein with varying dosage. Tumor-localized, bacterial gene expression was monitored in real time over the course of 60 hours using an in vivo imaging system (IVIS). At each time point, tumors were excised, homogenized, and plated to quantitate bacterial colonies for correlation with gene expression data. Together, this data yields a quantitative measure of the in vivo growth and gene expression dynamics of bacteria growing inside tumors.
Infection, Issue 77, Cancer Biology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Bacteria, Synthetic Biology, Biological Agents, Time-Lapse Imaging, Synthetic Biology, dynamics (physics), Synthetic Biology, cancer therapy, bacteria population dynamics, in-vivo imaging, cell, imaging
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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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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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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Split-and-pool Synthesis and Characterization of Peptide Tertiary Amide Library
Authors: Yu Gao, Thomas Kodadek.
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute.
Peptidomimetics are great sources of protein ligands. The oligomeric nature of these compounds enables us to access large synthetic libraries on solid phase by using combinatorial chemistry. One of the most well studied classes of peptidomimetics is peptoids. Peptoids are easy to synthesize and have been shown to be proteolysis-resistant and cell-permeable. Over the past decade, many useful protein ligands have been identified through screening of peptoid libraries. However, most of the ligands identified from peptoid libraries do not display high affinity, with rare exceptions. This may be due, in part, to the lack of chiral centers and conformational constraints in peptoid molecules. Recently, we described a new synthetic route to access peptide tertiary amides (PTAs). PTAs are a superfamily of peptidomimetics that include but are not limited to peptides, peptoids and N-methylated peptides. With side chains on both α-carbon and main chain nitrogen atoms, the conformation of these molecules are greatly constrained by sterical hindrance and allylic 1,3 strain. (Figure 1) Our study suggests that these PTA molecules are highly structured in solution and can be used to identify protein ligands. We believe that these molecules can be a future source of high-affinity protein ligands. Here we describe the synthetic method combining the power of both split-and-pool and sub-monomer strategies to synthesize a sample one-bead one-compound (OBOC) library of PTAs.
Chemistry, Issue 88, Split-and-pool synthesis, peptide tertiary amide, PTA, peptoid, high-throughput screening, combinatorial library, solid phase, triphosgene (BTC), one-bead one-compound, OBOC
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Spatial Multiobjective Optimization of Agricultural Conservation Practices using a SWAT Model and an Evolutionary Algorithm
Authors: Sergey Rabotyagov, Todd Campbell, Adriana Valcu, Philip Gassman, Manoj Jha, Keith Schilling, Calvin Wolter, Catherine Kling.
Institutions: University of Washington, Iowa State University, North Carolina A&T University, Iowa Geological and Water Survey.
Finding the cost-efficient (i.e., lowest-cost) ways of targeting conservation practice investments for the achievement of specific water quality goals across the landscape is of primary importance in watershed management. Traditional economics methods of finding the lowest-cost solution in the watershed context (e.g.,5,12,20) assume that off-site impacts can be accurately described as a proportion of on-site pollution generated. Such approaches are unlikely to be representative of the actual pollution process in a watershed, where the impacts of polluting sources are often determined by complex biophysical processes. The use of modern physically-based, spatially distributed hydrologic simulation models allows for a greater degree of realism in terms of process representation but requires a development of a simulation-optimization framework where the model becomes an integral part of optimization. Evolutionary algorithms appear to be a particularly useful optimization tool, able to deal with the combinatorial nature of a watershed simulation-optimization problem and allowing the use of the full water quality model. Evolutionary algorithms treat a particular spatial allocation of conservation practices in a watershed as a candidate solution and utilize sets (populations) of candidate solutions iteratively applying stochastic operators of selection, recombination, and mutation to find improvements with respect to the optimization objectives. The optimization objectives in this case are to minimize nonpoint-source pollution in the watershed, simultaneously minimizing the cost of conservation practices. A recent and expanding set of research is attempting to use similar methods and integrates water quality models with broadly defined evolutionary optimization methods3,4,9,10,13-15,17-19,22,23,25. In this application, we demonstrate a program which follows Rabotyagov et al.'s approach and integrates a modern and commonly used SWAT water quality model7 with a multiobjective evolutionary algorithm SPEA226, and user-specified set of conservation practices and their costs to search for the complete tradeoff frontiers between costs of conservation practices and user-specified water quality objectives. The frontiers quantify the tradeoffs faced by the watershed managers by presenting the full range of costs associated with various water quality improvement goals. The program allows for a selection of watershed configurations achieving specified water quality improvement goals and a production of maps of optimized placement of conservation practices.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 70, Plant Biology, Civil Engineering, Forest Sciences, Water quality, multiobjective optimization, evolutionary algorithms, cost efficiency, agriculture, development
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A high-throughput method to globally study the organelle morphology in S. cerevisiae
Authors: Shabnam Tavassoli, Jesse Tzu-Cheng Chao, Christopher Loewen.
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
High-throughput methods to examine protein localization or organelle morphology is an effective tool for studying protein interactions and can help achieve an comprehensive understanding of molecular pathways. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, with the development of the non-essential gene deletion array, we can globally study the morphology of different organelles like the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the mitochondria using GFP (or variant)-markers in different gene backgrounds. However, incorporating GFP markers in each single mutant individually is a labor-intensive process. Here, we describe a procedure that is routinely used in our laboratory. By using a robotic system to handle high-density yeast arrays and drug selection techniques, we can significantly shorten the time required and improve reproducibility. In brief, we cross a GFP-tagged mitochondrial marker (Apc1-GFP) to a high-density array of 4,672 nonessential gene deletion mutants by robotic replica pinning. Through diploid selection, sporulation, germination and dual marker selection, we recover both alleles. As a result, each haploid single mutant contains Apc1-GFP incorporated at its genomic locus. Now, we can study the morphology of mitochondria in all non-essential mutant background. Using this high-throughput approach, we can conveniently study and delineate the pathways and genes involved in the inheritance and the formation of organelles in a genome-wide setting.
Microbiology, Issue 25, High throughput, confocal microscopy, Acp1, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
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