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Factors that affect large subunit ribosomal DNA amplicon sequencing studies of fungal communities: classification method, primer choice, and error.
Nuclear large subunit ribosomal DNA is widely used in fungal phylogenetics and to an increasing extent also amplicon-based environmental sequencing. The relatively short reads produced by next-generation sequencing, however, makes primer choice and sequence error important variables for obtaining accurate taxonomic classifications. In this simulation study we tested the performance of three classification methods: 1) a similarity-based method (BLAST + Metagenomic Analyzer, MEGAN); 2) a composition-based method (Ribosomal Database Project naïve bayesian classifier, NBC); and, 3) a phylogeny-based method (Statistical Assignment Package, SAP). We also tested the effects of sequence length, primer choice, and sequence error on classification accuracy and perceived community composition. Using a leave-one-out cross validation approach, results for classifications to the genus rank were as follows: BLAST + MEGAN had the lowest error rate and was particularly robust to sequence error; SAP accuracy was highest when long LSU query sequences were classified; and, NBC runs significantly faster than the other tested methods. All methods performed poorly with the shortest 50-100 bp sequences. Increasing simulated sequence error reduced classification accuracy. Community shifts were detected due to sequence error and primer selection even though there was no change in the underlying community composition. Short read datasets from individual primers, as well as pooled datasets, appear to only approximate the true community composition. We hope this work informs investigators of some of the factors that affect the quality and interpretation of their environmental gene surveys.
Authors: Sylvie Sanschagrin, Etienne Yergeau.
Published: 08-29-2014
One of the major questions in microbial ecology is “who is there?” This question can be answered using various tools, but one of the long-lasting gold standards is to sequence 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene amplicons generated by domain-level PCR reactions amplifying from genomic DNA. Traditionally, this was performed by cloning and Sanger (capillary electrophoresis) sequencing of PCR amplicons. The advent of next-generation sequencing has tremendously simplified and increased the sequencing depth for 16S rRNA gene sequencing. The introduction of benchtop sequencers now allows small labs to perform their 16S rRNA sequencing in-house in a matter of days. Here, an approach for 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing using a benchtop next-generation sequencer is detailed. The environmental DNA is first amplified by PCR using primers that contain sequencing adapters and barcodes. They are then coupled to spherical particles via emulsion PCR. The particles are loaded on a disposable chip and the chip is inserted in the sequencing machine after which the sequencing is performed. The sequences are retrieved in fastq format, filtered and the barcodes are used to establish the sample membership of the reads. The filtered and binned reads are then further analyzed using publically available tools. An example analysis where the reads were classified with a taxonomy-finding algorithm within the software package Mothur is given. The method outlined here is simple, inexpensive and straightforward and should help smaller labs to take advantage from the ongoing genomic revolution.
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Detection of Rare Genomic Variants from Pooled Sequencing Using SPLINTER
Authors: Francesco Vallania, Enrique Ramos, Sharon Cresci, Robi D. Mitra, Todd E. Druley.
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
As DNA sequencing technology has markedly advanced in recent years2, it has become increasingly evident that the amount of genetic variation between any two individuals is greater than previously thought3. In contrast, array-based genotyping has failed to identify a significant contribution of common sequence variants to the phenotypic variability of common disease4,5. Taken together, these observations have led to the evolution of the Common Disease / Rare Variant hypothesis suggesting that the majority of the "missing heritability" in common and complex phenotypes is instead due to an individual's personal profile of rare or private DNA variants6-8. However, characterizing how rare variation impacts complex phenotypes requires the analysis of many affected individuals at many genomic loci, and is ideally compared to a similar survey in an unaffected cohort. Despite the sequencing power offered by today's platforms, a population-based survey of many genomic loci and the subsequent computational analysis required remains prohibitive for many investigators. To address this need, we have developed a pooled sequencing approach1,9 and a novel software package1 for highly accurate rare variant detection from the resulting data. The ability to pool genomes from entire populations of affected individuals and survey the degree of genetic variation at multiple targeted regions in a single sequencing library provides excellent cost and time savings to traditional single-sample sequencing methodology. With a mean sequencing coverage per allele of 25-fold, our custom algorithm, SPLINTER, uses an internal variant calling control strategy to call insertions, deletions and substitutions up to four base pairs in length with high sensitivity and specificity from pools of up to 1 mutant allele in 500 individuals. Here we describe the method for preparing the pooled sequencing library followed by step-by-step instructions on how to use the SPLINTER package for pooled sequencing analysis ( We show a comparison between pooled sequencing of 947 individuals, all of whom also underwent genome-wide array, at over 20kb of sequencing per person. Concordance between genotyping of tagged and novel variants called in the pooled sample were excellent. This method can be easily scaled up to any number of genomic loci and any number of individuals. By incorporating the internal positive and negative amplicon controls at ratios that mimic the population under study, the algorithm can be calibrated for optimal performance. This strategy can also be modified for use with hybridization capture or individual-specific barcodes and can be applied to the sequencing of naturally heterogeneous samples, such as tumor DNA.
Genetics, Issue 64, Genomics, Cancer Biology, Bioinformatics, Pooled DNA sequencing, SPLINTER, rare genetic variants, genetic screening, phenotype, high throughput, computational analysis, DNA, PCR, primers
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Genome-wide Gene Deletions in Streptococcus sanguinis by High Throughput PCR
Authors: Xiuchun Ge, Ping Xu.
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University.
Transposon mutagenesis and single-gene deletion are two methods applied in genome-wide gene knockout in bacteria 1,2. Although transposon mutagenesis is less time consuming, less costly, and does not require completed genome information, there are two weaknesses in this method: (1) the possibility of a disparate mutants in the mixed mutant library that counter-selects mutants with decreased competition; and (2) the possibility of partial gene inactivation whereby genes do not entirely lose their function following the insertion of a transposon. Single-gene deletion analysis may compensate for the drawbacks associated with transposon mutagenesis. To improve the efficiency of genome-wide single gene deletion, we attempt to establish a high-throughput technique for genome-wide single gene deletion using Streptococcus sanguinis as a model organism. Each gene deletion construct in S. sanguinis genome is designed to comprise 1-kb upstream of the targeted gene, the aphA-3 gene, encoding kanamycin resistance protein, and 1-kb downstream of the targeted gene. Three sets of primers F1/R1, F2/R2, and F3/R3, respectively, are designed and synthesized in a 96-well plate format for PCR-amplifications of those three components of each deletion construct. Primers R1 and F3 contain 25-bp sequences that are complementary to regions of the aphA-3 gene at their 5' end. A large scale PCR amplification of the aphA-3 gene is performed once for creating all single-gene deletion constructs. The promoter of aphA-3 gene is initially excluded to minimize the potential polar effect of kanamycin cassette. To create the gene deletion constructs, high-throughput PCR amplification and purification are performed in a 96-well plate format. A linear recombinant PCR amplicon for each gene deletion will be made up through four PCR reactions using high-fidelity DNA polymerase. The initial exponential growth phase of S. sanguinis cultured in Todd Hewitt broth supplemented with 2.5% inactivated horse serum is used to increase competence for the transformation of PCR-recombinant constructs. Under this condition, up to 20% of S. sanguinis cells can be transformed using ~50 ng of DNA. Based on this approach, 2,048 mutants with single-gene deletion were ultimately obtained from the 2,270 genes in S. sanguinis excluding four gene ORFs contained entirely within other ORFs in S. sanguinis SK36 and 218 potential essential genes. The technique on creating gene deletion constructs is high throughput and could be easy to use in genome-wide single gene deletions for any transformable bacteria.
Genetics, Issue 69, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Genomics, Streptococcus sanguinis, Streptococcus, Genome-wide gene deletions, genes, High-throughput, PCR
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Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Authors: Yongqi Shao, Erika M Arias-Cordero, Wilhelm Boland.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e. helping in insect reproduction1, boosting the immune response2, pheromone production3, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4, among others.     Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms. To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo employing 13C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5. The incorporation of 13C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12C) one. In the end, the 13C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12C-unlabeled similar one6. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species. Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
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Depletion of Ribosomal RNA for Mosquito Gut Metagenomic RNA-seq
Authors: Phanidhar Kukutla, Matthew Steritz, Jiannong Xu.
Institutions: New Mexico State University.
The mosquito gut accommodates dynamic microbial communities across different stages of the insect's life cycle. Characterization of the genetic capacity and functionality of the gut community will provide insight into the effects of gut microbiota on mosquito life traits. Metagenomic RNA-Seq has become an important tool to analyze transcriptomes from various microbes present in a microbial community. Messenger RNA usually comprises only 1-3% of total RNA, while rRNA constitutes approximately 90%. It is challenging to enrich messenger RNA from a metagenomic microbial RNA sample because most prokaryotic mRNA species lack stable poly(A) tails. This prevents oligo d(T) mediated mRNA isolation. Here, we describe a protocol that employs sample derived rRNA capture probes to remove rRNA from a metagenomic total RNA sample. To begin, both mosquito and microbial small and large subunit rRNA fragments are amplified from a metagenomic community DNA sample. Then, the community specific biotinylated antisense ribosomal RNA probes are synthesized in vitro using T7 RNA polymerase. The biotinylated rRNA probes are hybridized to the total RNA. The hybrids are captured by streptavidin-coated beads and removed from the total RNA. This subtraction-based protocol efficiently removes both mosquito and microbial rRNA from the total RNA sample. The mRNA enriched sample is further processed for RNA amplification and RNA-Seq.
Genetics, Issue 74, Infection, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Genomics, biology (general), genetics (animal and plant), life sciences, Eukaryota, Bacteria, metagenomics, metatranscriptome, RNA-seq, rRNA depletion, mRNA enrichment, mosquito gut microbiome, RNA, DNA, sequencing
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A Novel Bayesian Change-point Algorithm for Genome-wide Analysis of Diverse ChIPseq Data Types
Authors: Haipeng Xing, Willey Liao, Yifan Mo, Michael Q. Zhang.
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Texas at Dallas.
ChIPseq is a widely used technique for investigating protein-DNA interactions. Read density profiles are generated by using next-sequencing of protein-bound DNA and aligning the short reads to a reference genome. Enriched regions are revealed as peaks, which often differ dramatically in shape, depending on the target protein1. For example, transcription factors often bind in a site- and sequence-specific manner and tend to produce punctate peaks, while histone modifications are more pervasive and are characterized by broad, diffuse islands of enrichment2. Reliably identifying these regions was the focus of our work. Algorithms for analyzing ChIPseq data have employed various methodologies, from heuristics3-5 to more rigorous statistical models, e.g. Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)6-8. We sought a solution that minimized the necessity for difficult-to-define, ad hoc parameters that often compromise resolution and lessen the intuitive usability of the tool. With respect to HMM-based methods, we aimed to curtail parameter estimation procedures and simple, finite state classifications that are often utilized. Additionally, conventional ChIPseq data analysis involves categorization of the expected read density profiles as either punctate or diffuse followed by subsequent application of the appropriate tool. We further aimed to replace the need for these two distinct models with a single, more versatile model, which can capably address the entire spectrum of data types. To meet these objectives, we first constructed a statistical framework that naturally modeled ChIPseq data structures using a cutting edge advance in HMMs9, which utilizes only explicit formulas-an innovation crucial to its performance advantages. More sophisticated then heuristic models, our HMM accommodates infinite hidden states through a Bayesian model. We applied it to identifying reasonable change points in read density, which further define segments of enrichment. Our analysis revealed how our Bayesian Change Point (BCP) algorithm had a reduced computational complexity-evidenced by an abridged run time and memory footprint. The BCP algorithm was successfully applied to both punctate peak and diffuse island identification with robust accuracy and limited user-defined parameters. This illustrated both its versatility and ease of use. Consequently, we believe it can be implemented readily across broad ranges of data types and end users in a manner that is easily compared and contrasted, making it a great tool for ChIPseq data analysis that can aid in collaboration and corroboration between research groups. Here, we demonstrate the application of BCP to existing transcription factor10,11 and epigenetic data12 to illustrate its usefulness.
Genetics, Issue 70, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Immunology, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP-Seq, histone modifications, segmentation, Bayesian, Hidden Markov Models, epigenetics
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Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Authors: Ashwin Prakash, Jason Bechtel, Alexei Fedorov.
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al. 2009). Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al. 2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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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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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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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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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
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.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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Competitive Genomic Screens of Barcoded Yeast Libraries
Authors: Andrew M. Smith, Tanja Durbic, Julia Oh, Malene Urbanus, Michael Proctor, Lawrence E. Heisler, Guri Giaever, Corey Nislow.
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Toronto, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH, Stanford University , University of Toronto.
By virtue of advances in next generation sequencing technologies, we have access to new genome sequences almost daily. The tempo of these advances is accelerating, promising greater depth and breadth. In light of these extraordinary advances, the need for fast, parallel methods to define gene function becomes ever more important. Collections of genome-wide deletion mutants in yeasts and E. coli have served as workhorses for functional characterization of gene function, but this approach is not scalable, current gene-deletion approaches require each of the thousands of genes that comprise a genome to be deleted and verified. Only after this work is complete can we pursue high-throughput phenotyping. Over the past decade, our laboratory has refined a portfolio of competitive, miniaturized, high-throughput genome-wide assays that can be performed in parallel. This parallelization is possible because of the inclusion of DNA 'tags', or 'barcodes,' into each mutant, with the barcode serving as a proxy for the mutation and one can measure the barcode abundance to assess mutant fitness. In this study, we seek to fill the gap between DNA sequence and barcoded mutant collections. To accomplish this we introduce a combined transposon disruption-barcoding approach that opens up parallel barcode assays to newly sequenced, but poorly characterized microbes. To illustrate this approach we present a new Candida albicans barcoded disruption collection and describe how both microarray-based and next generation sequencing-based platforms can be used to collect 10,000 - 1,000,000 gene-gene and drug-gene interactions in a single experiment.
Biochemistry, Issue 54, chemical biology, chemogenomics, chemical probes, barcode microarray, next generation sequencing
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Pyrosequencing for Microbial Identification and Characterization
Authors: Patrick J. Cummings, Ray Ahmed, Jeffrey A. Durocher, Adam Jessen, Tamar Vardi, Kristina M. Obom.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University, Qiagen Sciences, Inc..
Pyrosequencing is a versatile technique that facilitates microbial genome sequencing that can be used to identify bacterial species, discriminate bacterial strains and detect genetic mutations that confer resistance to anti-microbial agents. The advantages of pyrosequencing for microbiology applications include rapid and reliable high-throughput screening and accurate identification of microbes and microbial genome mutations. Pyrosequencing involves sequencing of DNA by synthesizing the complementary strand a single base at a time, while determining the specific nucleotide being incorporated during the synthesis reaction. The reaction occurs on immobilized single stranded template DNA where the four deoxyribonucleotides (dNTP) are added sequentially and the unincorporated dNTPs are enzymatically degraded before addition of the next dNTP to the synthesis reaction. Detection of the specific base incorporated into the template is monitored by generation of chemiluminescent signals. The order of dNTPs that produce the chemiluminescent signals determines the DNA sequence of the template. The real-time sequencing capability of pyrosequencing technology enables rapid microbial identification in a single assay. In addition, the pyrosequencing instrument, can analyze the full genetic diversity of anti-microbial drug resistance, including typing of SNPs, point mutations, insertions, and deletions, as well as quantification of multiple gene copies that may occur in some anti-microbial resistance patterns.
Microbiology, Issue 78, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Basic Protocols, Genomics, Eukaryota, Bacteria, Viruses, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Virus Diseases, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Equipment and Supplies, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Life Sciences (General), Pyrosequencing, DNA, Microbe, PCR, primers, Next-Generation, high-throughput, sequencing
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
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Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Authors: Frank Buchholz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells. We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
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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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