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Dark or short nights: differential latitudinal constraints in nestling provisioning patterns of a nocturnally hunting bird species.
In diurnal bird species, individuals breeding at high latitudes have larger broods than at lower latitudes, which has been linked to differences in the daily time available for foraging. However, it remains unclear how latitude is linked with parental investment in nocturnal species. Here, we investigate nestling provisioning rates of male Tengmalms owls in two populations at different latitudes (Czech Republic 50 °N; Finland 63 °N) with the help of cameras integrated into nest boxes. Clutch sizes were smaller in the Czech population (CZ: 5.1 ± 0.1; FIN: 6.6 ± 0.1), but given the higher nestling mortality in the Finnish population, the number of fledglings did not differ between the two populations (CZ: 3.5 ± 0.3; FIN: 3.9 ± 0.2). Nestling provisioning patterns varied within days, over the reproductive season and between the two sites. Males delivered most food at dusk and dawn, having peak delivery rates at sun angles of -11° to -15° at both sites, and males increased the prey delivery rates with higher nestling requirements. Given the longer nights during summer in the Czech Republic compared to Finland, Czech males only showed a small shift in their delivery peak during the night from -17° in April to -14° in July. In contrast, Finnish males shifted their peak of prey delivery from -11° in April to -1° in July. Consequently, Czech males had a longer hunting time per night around midsummer when feeding young (360 min) than Finnish males (270 min). This suggests that nocturnal owl species in northern populations are constrained by the short nights during the breeding season, which can limit the number of young they can raise. Moreover, owls in northern populations are additionally constrained through the unpredictable changes in food availability between years, and both these factors are likely to influence the reproductive investment between populations.
Authors: Shu-Dan Yeh, Carolus Chan, José M. Ranz.
Published: 08-22-2013
Competition among conspecific males for fertilizing the ova is one of the mechanisms of sexual selection, i.e. selection that operates on maximizing the number of successful mating events rather than on maximizing survival and viability 1. Sperm competition represents the competition between males after copulating with the same female 2, in which their sperm are coincidental in time and space. This phenomenon has been reported in multiple species of plants and animals 3. For example, wild-caught D. melanogaster females usually contain sperm from 2-3 males 4. The sperm are stored in specialized organs with limited storage capacity, which might lead to the direct competition of the sperm from different males 2,5. Comparing sperm competitive ability of different males of interest (experimental male types) has been performed through controlled double-mating experiments in the laboratory 6,7. Briefly, a single female is exposed to two different males consecutively, one experimental male and one cross-mating reference male. The same mating scheme is then followed using other experimental male types thus facilitating the indirect comparison of the competitive ability of their sperm through a common reference. The fraction of individuals fathered by the experimental and reference males is identified using markers, which allows one to estimate sperm competitive ability using simple mathematical expressions 7,8. In addition, sperm competitive ability can be estimated in two different scenarios depending on whether the experimental male is second or first to mate (offense and defense assay, respectively) 9, which is assumed to be reflective of different competence attributes. Here, we describe an approach that helps to interrogate the role of different genetic factors that putatively underlie the phenomenon of sperm competitive ability in D. melanogaster.
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Nest Building as an Indicator of Health and Welfare in Laboratory Mice
Authors: Brianna N. Gaskill, Alicia Z. Karas, Joseph P. Garner, Kathleen R. Pritchett-Corning.
Institutions: Charles River, Tufts University, Stanford University, Stanford University.
The minimization and alleviation of suffering has moral and scientific implications. In order to mitigate this negative experience one must be able to identify when an animal is actually in distress. Pain, illness, or distress cannot be managed if unrecognized. Evaluation of pain or illness typically involves the measurement of physiologic and behavioral indicators which are either invasive or not suitable for large scale assessment. The observation of nesting behavior shows promise as the basis of a species appropriate cage-side assessment tool for recognizing distress in mice. Here we demonstrate the utility of nest building behavior in laboratory mice as an ethologically relevant indicator of welfare. The methods presented can be successfully used to identify thermal stressors, aggressive cages, sickness, and pain. Observation of nest building behavior in mouse colonies provides a refinement to health and well-being assessment on a day to day basis.
Behavior, Issue 82, Animal Structures, Surgical Procedures, Life Sciences (General), Behavioral Sciences, Mouse, Welfare assessment, Nest building
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Automated Interactive Video Playback for Studies of Animal Communication
Authors: Trisha Butkowski, Wei Yan, Aaron M. Gray, Rongfeng Cui, Machteld N. Verzijden, Gil G. Rosenthal.
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Video playback is a widely-used technique for the controlled manipulation and presentation of visual signals in animal communication. In particular, parameter-based computer animation offers the opportunity to independently manipulate any number of behavioral, morphological, or spectral characteristics in the context of realistic, moving images of animals on screen. A major limitation of conventional playback, however, is that the visual stimulus lacks the ability to interact with the live animal. Borrowing from video-game technology, we have created an automated, interactive system for video playback that controls animations in response to real-time signals from a video tracking system. We demonstrated this method by conducting mate-choice trials on female swordtail fish, Xiphophorus birchmanni. Females were given a simultaneous choice between a courting male conspecific and a courting male heterospecific (X. malinche) on opposite sides of an aquarium. The virtual male stimulus was programmed to track the horizontal position of the female, as courting males do in the wild. Mate-choice trials on wild-caught X. birchmanni females were used to validate the prototype's ability to effectively generate a realistic visual stimulus.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Computer animation, visual communication, mate choice, Xiphophorus birchmanni, tracking
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Recording and Analysis of Circadian Rhythms in Running-wheel Activity in Rodents
Authors: Michael Verwey, Barry Robinson, Shimon Amir.
Institutions: McGill University , Concordia University.
When rodents have free access to a running wheel in their home cage, voluntary use of this wheel will depend on the time of day1-5. Nocturnal rodents, including rats, hamsters, and mice, are active during the night and relatively inactive during the day. Many other behavioral and physiological measures also exhibit daily rhythms, but in rodents, running-wheel activity serves as a particularly reliable and convenient measure of the output of the master circadian clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. In general, through a process called entrainment, the daily pattern of running-wheel activity will naturally align with the environmental light-dark cycle (LD cycle; e.g. 12 hr-light:12 hr-dark). However circadian rhythms are endogenously generated patterns in behavior that exhibit a ~24 hr period, and persist in constant darkness. Thus, in the absence of an LD cycle, the recording and analysis of running-wheel activity can be used to determine the subjective time-of-day. Because these rhythms are directed by the circadian clock the subjective time-of-day is referred to as the circadian time (CT). In contrast, when an LD cycle is present, the time-of-day that is determined by the environmental LD cycle is called the zeitgeber time (ZT). Although circadian rhythms in running-wheel activity are typically linked to the SCN clock6-8, circadian oscillators in many other regions of the brain and body9-14 could also be involved in the regulation of daily activity rhythms. For instance, daily rhythms in food-anticipatory activity do not require the SCN15,16 and instead, are correlated with changes in the activity of extra-SCN oscillators17-20. Thus, running-wheel activity recordings can provide important behavioral information not only about the output of the master SCN clock, but also on the activity of extra-SCN oscillators. Below we describe the equipment and methods used to record, analyze and display circadian locomotor activity rhythms in laboratory rodents.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Medicine, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Psychology, Psychiatry, Behavior, Suprachiasmatic nucleus, locomotor activity, mouse, rat, hamster, light-dark cycle, free-running activity, entrainment, circadian period, circadian rhythm, phase shift, animal model
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Transmitting Plant Viruses Using Whiteflies
Authors: Jane E. Polston, H. Capobianco.
Institutions: University of Florida .
Whiteflies, Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae, Bemisia tabaci, a complex of morphologically indistinquishable species5, are vectors of many plant viruses. Several genera of these whitefly-transmitted plant viruses (Begomovirus, Carlavirus, Crinivirus, Ipomovirus, Torradovirus) include several hundred species of emerging and economically significant pathogens of important food and fiber crops (reviewed by9,10,16). These viruses do not replicate in their vector but nevertheless are moved readily from plant to plant by the adult whitefly by various means (reviewed by2,6,7,9,10,11,17). For most of these viruses whitefly feeding is required for acquisition and inoculation, while for others only probing is required. Many of these viruses are unable or cannot be easily transmitted by other means. Therefore maintenance of virus cultures, biological and molecular characterization (identification of host range and symptoms)3,13, ecology2,12, require that the viruses be transmitted to experimental hosts using the whitefly vector. In addition the development of new approaches to management, such as evaluation of new chemicals14 or compounds15, new cultural approaches1,4,19, or the selection and development of resistant cultivars7,8,18, requires the use of whiteflies for virus transmission. The use of whitefly transmission of plant viruses for the selection and development of resistant cultivars in breeding programs is particularly challenging7. Effective selection and screening for resistance employs large numbers of plants and there is a need for 100% of the plants to be inoculated in order to find the few genotypes which possess resistance genes. These studies use very large numbers of viruliferous whiteflies, often several times per year. Whitefly maintenance described here can generate hundreds or thousands of adult whiteflies on plants each week, year round, without the contamination of other plant viruses. Plants free of both whiteflies and virus must be produced to introduce into the whitefly colony each week. Whitefly cultures must be kept free of whitefly pathogens, parasites, and parasitoids that can reduce whitefly populations and/or reduce the transmission efficiency of the virus. Colonies produced in the manner described can be quickly scaled to increase or decrease population numbers as needed, and can be adjusted to accommodate the feeding preferences of the whitefly based on the plant host of the virus. There are two basic types of whitefly colonies that can be maintained: a nonviruliferous and a viruliferous whitefly colony. The nonviruliferous colony is composed of whiteflies reared on virus-free plants and allows the weekly availability of whiteflies which can be used to transmit viruses from different cultures. The viruliferous whitefly colony, composed of whiteflies reared on virus-infected plants, allows weekly availability of whiteflies which have acquired the virus thus omitting one step in the virus transmission process.
Plant Biology, Issue 81, Virology, Molecular Biology, Botany, Pathology, Infection, Plant viruses, Bemisia tabaci, Whiteflies, whitefly, insect transmission, Begomovirus, Carlavirus, Crinivirus, Ipomovirus, host pathogen interaction, virus, insect, plant
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Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Authors: Jennifer L Soong, Dan Reuss, Colin Pinney, Ty Boyack, Michelle L Haddix, Catherine E Stewart, M. Francesca Cotrufo.
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2 fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13C with 15N, 18O or 2H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13C and 15N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components. Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13C and 15N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13C and 6.7 atom%15N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13C and 0.56 atom%15N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13C-CO2 atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
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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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Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) with Auditory Stimulation in Songbirds
Authors: Lisbeth Van Ruijssevelt, Geert De Groof, Anne Van der Kant, Colline Poirier, Johan Van Audekerke, Marleen Verhoye, Annemie Van der Linden.
Institutions: University of Antwerp.
The neurobiology of birdsong, as a model for human speech, is a pronounced area of research in behavioral neuroscience. Whereas electrophysiology and molecular approaches allow the investigation of either different stimuli on few neurons, or one stimulus in large parts of the brain, blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) allows combining both advantages, i.e. compare the neural activation induced by different stimuli in the entire brain at once. fMRI in songbirds is challenging because of the small size of their brains and because their bones and especially their skull comprise numerous air cavities, inducing important susceptibility artifacts. Gradient-echo (GE) BOLD fMRI has been successfully applied to songbirds 1-5 (for a review, see 6). These studies focused on the primary and secondary auditory brain areas, which are regions free of susceptibility artifacts. However, because processes of interest may occur beyond these regions, whole brain BOLD fMRI is required using an MRI sequence less susceptible to these artifacts. This can be achieved by using spin-echo (SE) BOLD fMRI 7,8 . In this article, we describe how to use this technique in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), which are small songbirds with a bodyweight of 15-25 g extensively studied in behavioral neurosciences of birdsong. The main topic of fMRI studies on songbirds is song perception and song learning. The auditory nature of the stimuli combined with the weak BOLD sensitivity of SE (compared to GE) based fMRI sequences makes the implementation of this technique very challenging.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biophysics, Physiology, Anatomy, Functional MRI, fMRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, blood oxygenation level dependent fMRI, BOLD fMRI, Brain, Songbird, zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, Auditory Stimulation, stimuli, animal model, imaging
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Radio Frequency Identification and Motion-sensitive Video Efficiently Automate Recording of Unrewarded Choice Behavior by Bumblebees
Authors: Levente L. Orbán, Catherine M.S. Plowright.
Institutions: University of Ottawa.
We present two methods for observing bumblebee choice behavior in an enclosed testing space. The first method consists of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) readers built into artificial flowers that display various visual cues, and RFID tags (i.e., passive transponders) glued to the thorax of bumblebee workers. The novelty in our implementation is that RFID readers are built directly into artificial flowers that are capable of displaying several distinct visual properties such as color, pattern type, spatial frequency (i.e., “busyness” of the pattern), and symmetry (spatial frequency and symmetry were not manipulated in this experiment). Additionally, these visual displays in conjunction with the automated systems are capable of recording unrewarded and untrained choice behavior. The second method consists of recording choice behavior at artificial flowers using motion-sensitive high-definition camcorders. Bumblebees have number tags glued to their thoraces for unique identification. The advantage in this implementation over RFID is that in addition to observing landing behavior, alternate measures of preference such as hovering and antennation may also be observed. Both automation methods increase experimental control, and internal validity by allowing larger scale studies that take into account individual differences. External validity is also improved because bees can freely enter and exit the testing environment without constraints such as the availability of a research assistant on-site. Compared to human observation in real time, the automated methods are more cost-effective and possibly less error-prone.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, bumblebee, unlearned behaviors, floral choice, visual perception, Bombus spp, information processing, radio-frequency identification, motion-sensitive video
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A Lightweight, Headphones-based System for Manipulating Auditory Feedback in Songbirds
Authors: Lukas A. Hoffmann, Conor W. Kelly, David A. Nicholson, Samuel J. Sober.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University, Emory University.
Experimental manipulations of sensory feedback during complex behavior have provided valuable insights into the computations underlying motor control and sensorimotor plasticity1. Consistent sensory perturbations result in compensatory changes in motor output, reflecting changes in feedforward motor control that reduce the experienced feedback error. By quantifying how different sensory feedback errors affect human behavior, prior studies have explored how visual signals are used to recalibrate arm movements2,3 and auditory feedback is used to modify speech production4-7. The strength of this approach rests on the ability to mimic naturalistic errors in behavior, allowing the experimenter to observe how experienced errors in production are used to recalibrate motor output. Songbirds provide an excellent animal model for investigating the neural basis of sensorimotor control and plasticity8,9. The songbird brain provides a well-defined circuit in which the areas necessary for song learning are spatially separated from those required for song production, and neural recording and lesion studies have made significant advances in understanding how different brain areas contribute to vocal behavior9-12. However, the lack of a naturalistic error-correction paradigm - in which a known acoustic parameter is perturbed by the experimenter and then corrected by the songbird - has made it difficult to understand the computations underlying vocal learning or how different elements of the neural circuit contribute to the correction of vocal errors13. The technique described here gives the experimenter precise control over auditory feedback errors in singing birds, allowing the introduction of arbitrary sensory errors that can be used to drive vocal learning. Online sound-processing equipment is used to introduce a known perturbation to the acoustics of song, and a miniaturized headphones apparatus is used to replace a songbird's natural auditory feedback with the perturbed signal in real time. We have used this paradigm to perturb the fundamental frequency (pitch) of auditory feedback in adult songbirds, providing the first demonstration that adult birds maintain vocal performance using error correction14. The present protocol can be used to implement a wide range of sensory feedback perturbations (including but not limited to pitch shifts) to investigate the computational and neurophysiological basis of vocal learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Anatomy, Physiology, Zoology, Behavior, Songbird, psychophysics, auditory feedback, biology, sensorimotor learning
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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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Recording Single Neurons' Action Potentials from Freely Moving Pigeons Across Three Stages of Learning
Authors: Sarah Starosta, Maik C. Stüttgen, Onur Güntürkün.
Institutions: Ruhr-University Bochum.
While the subject of learning has attracted immense interest from both behavioral and neural scientists, only relatively few investigators have observed single-neuron activity while animals are acquiring an operantly conditioned response, or when that response is extinguished. But even in these cases, observation periods usually encompass only a single stage of learning, i.e. acquisition or extinction, but not both (exceptions include protocols employing reversal learning; see Bingman et al.1 for an example). However, acquisition and extinction entail different learning mechanisms and are therefore expected to be accompanied by different types and/or loci of neural plasticity. Accordingly, we developed a behavioral paradigm which institutes three stages of learning in a single behavioral session and which is well suited for the simultaneous recording of single neurons' action potentials. Animals are trained on a single-interval forced choice task which requires mapping each of two possible choice responses to the presentation of different novel visual stimuli (acquisition). After having reached a predefined performance criterion, one of the two choice responses is no longer reinforced (extinction). Following a certain decrement in performance level, correct responses are reinforced again (reacquisition). By using a new set of stimuli in every session, animals can undergo the acquisition-extinction-reacquisition process repeatedly. Because all three stages of learning occur in a single behavioral session, the paradigm is ideal for the simultaneous observation of the spiking output of multiple single neurons. We use pigeons as model systems, but the task can easily be adapted to any other species capable of conditioned discrimination learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, pigeon, single unit recording, learning, memory, extinction, spike sorting, operant conditioning, reward, electrophysiology, animal cognition, model species
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Isolation and In vitro Activation of Caenorhabditis elegans Sperm
Authors: Gunasekaran Singaravelu, Indrani Chatterjee, Matthew R. Marcello, Andrew Singson.
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Males and hermaphrodites are the two naturally found sexual forms in the nematode C. elegans. The amoeboid sperm are produced by both males and hermaphrodites. In the earlier phase of gametogenesis, the germ cells of hermaphrodites differentiate into limited number of sperm - around 300 - and are stored in a small 'bag' called the spermatheca. Later on, hermaphrodites continually produce oocytes1. In contrast, males produce exclusively sperm throughout their adulthood. The males produce so much sperm that it accounts for >50% of the total cells in a typical adult worm2. Therefore, isolating sperm from males is easier than from that of hermaphrodites. Only a small proportion of males are naturally generated due to spontaneous non-disjunction of X chromosome3. Crossing hermaphrodites with males or more conveniently, the introduction of mutations to give rise to Him (High Incidence of Males) phenotype are some of strategies through which one can enrich the male population3. Males can be easily distinguished from hermaphrodites by observing the tail morphology4. Hermaphrodite's tail is pointed, whereas male tail is rounded with mating structures. Cutting the tail releases vast number of spermatids stored inside the male reproductive tract. Dissection is performed under a stereo microscope using 27 gauge needles. Since spermatids are not physically connected with any other cells, hydraulic pressure expels internal contents of male body, including spermatids2. Males are directly dissected on a small drop of 'Sperm Medium'. Spermatids are sensitive to alteration in the pH. Hence, HEPES, a compound with good buffering capacity is used in sperm media. Glucose and other salts present in sperm media help maintain osmotic pressure to maintain the integrity of sperm. Post-meiotic differentiation of spermatids into spermatozoa is termed spermiogenesis or sperm activation. Shakes5, and Nelson6 previously showed that round spermatids can be induced to differentiate into spermatozoa by adding various activating compounds including Pronase E. Here we demonstrate in vitro spermiogenesis of C. elegans spermatids using Pronase E. Successful spermiogenesis is pre-requisite for fertility and hence the mutants defective in spermiogenesis are sterile. Hitherto several mutants have been shown to be defective specifically in spermiogenesis process7. Abnormality found during in vitro activation of novel Spe (Spermatogenesis defective) mutants would help us discover additional players participating in this event.
Developmental Biology, Issue 47, spermatid, spermatozoa, spermiogenesis, protease, pseudopod, nematode
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Low-stress Route Learning Using the Lashley III Maze in Mice
Authors: Amanda Bressler, David Blizard, Anne Andrews.
Institutions: Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Many behavior tests designed to assess learning and memory in rodents, particularly mice, rely on visual cues, food and/or water deprivation, or other aversive stimuli to motivate task acquisition. As animals age, sensory modalities deteriorate. For example, many strains of mice develop hearing deficits or cataracts. Changes in the sensory systems required to guide mice during task acquisition present potential confounds in interpreting learning changes in aging animals. Moreover, the use of aversive stimuli to motivate animals to learn tasks is potentially confounding when comparing mice with differential sensitivities to stress. To minimize these types of confounding effects, we have implemented a modified version of the Lashley III maze. This maze relies on route learning, whereby mice learn to navigate a maze via repeated exposure under low stress conditions, e.g. dark phase, no food/water deprivation, until they navigate a path from the start location to a pseudo-home cage with 0 or 1 error(s) on two consecutive trials. We classify this as a low-stress behavior test because it does not rely on aversive stimuli to encourage exploration of the maze and learning of the task. The apparatus consists of a modular start box, a 4-arm maze body, and a goal box. At the end of the goal box is a pseudo-home cage that contains bedding similar to that found in the animal’s home cage and is specific to each animal for the duration of maze testing. It has been demonstrated previously that this pseudo-home cage provides sufficient reward to motivate mice to learn to navigate the maze1. Here, we present the visualization of the Lashley III maze procedure in the context of evaluating age-related differences in learning and memory in mice along with a comparison of learning behavior in two different background strains of mice. We hope that other investigators interested in evaluating the effects of aging or stress vulnerability in mice will consider this maze an attractive alternative to behavioral tests that involve more stressful learning tasks and/or visual cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, mouse, behavior testing, learning, memory, neuroscience, phenotyping, aging
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Mass Production of Genetically Modified Aedes aegypti for Field Releases in Brazil
Authors: Danilo O. Carvalho, Derric Nimmo, Neil Naish, Andrew R. McKemey, Pam Gray, André B. B. Wilke, Mauro T. Marrelli, Jair F. Virginio, Luke Alphey, Margareth L. Capurro.
Institutions: Oxitec Ltd, Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade de São Paulo, Moscamed Brasil, University of Oxford, Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia em Entomologia Molecular (INCT-EM).
New techniques and methods are being sought to try to win the battle against mosquitoes. Recent advances in molecular techniques have led to the development of new and innovative methods of mosquito control based around the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT)1-3. A control method known as RIDL (Release of Insects carrying a Dominant Lethal)4, is based around SIT, but uses genetic methods to remove the need for radiation-sterilization5-8. A RIDL strain of Ae. aegypti was successfully tested in the field in Grand Cayman9,10; further field use is planned or in progress in other countries around the world. Mass rearing of insects has been established in several insect species and to levels of billions a week. However, in mosquitoes, rearing has generally been performed on a much smaller scale, with most large scale rearing being performed in the 1970s and 80s. For a RIDL program it is desirable to release as few females as possible as they bite and transmit disease. In a mass rearing program there are several stages to produce the males to be released: egg production, rearing eggs until pupation, and then sorting males from females before release. These males are then used for a RIDL control program, released as either pupae or adults11,12. To suppress a mosquito population using RIDL a large number of high quality male adults need to be reared13,14. The following describes the methods for the mass rearing of OX513A, a RIDL strain of Ae. aegypti 8, for release and covers the techniques required for the production of eggs and mass rearing RIDL males for a control program.
Basic Protocol, Issue 83, Aedes aegypti, mass rearing, population suppression, transgenic, insect, mosquito, dengue
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Who is Who? Non-invasive Methods to Individually Sex and Mark Altricial Chicks
Authors: Iris Adam, Constance Scharff, Mariam Honarmand.
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin.
Many experiments require early determination of offspring's sex as well as early marking of newborns for individual recognition. According to animal welfare guidelines, non-invasive techniques should be preferred whenever applicable. In our group, we work on different species of song birds in the lab and in the field, and we successfully apply non-invasive methods to sex and individually mark chicks. This paper presents a comprehensive non-invasive tool-box. Sexing birds prior to the expression of secondary sexual traits requires the collection of DNA-bearing material for PCR. We established a quick and easy method to sex birds of any age (post hatching) by extracting DNA from buccal swabs. Results can be obtained within 3 hours. For individual marking chick's down feathers are trimmed in specific patterns allowing fast identification within the hatching order. This set of methods is easily applicable in a standard equipped lab and especially suitable for working in the field as no special equipment is required for sampling and storage. Handling of chicks is minimized and marking and sexing techniques are non-invasive thereby supporting the RRR-principle of animal welfare guidelines.
Developmental Biology, Issue 87, songbird, molecular sexing, PCR, individual marking, down feather, DNA extraction, sample storage, zebra finch, buccal swabs, saliva, gender
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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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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g., food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides. We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Authors: Cheryl S. Rosenfeld, Sherry A. Ferguson.
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g. bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g. distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e. random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g. shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
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Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Authors: Melissa N. Patterson, Patrick H. Maxwell.
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
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Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Authors: Anna Karlgren, Jenny Carlsson, Niclas Gyllenstrand, Ulf Lagercrantz, Jens F. Sundström.
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies). Here we present a modified DIG in situ hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica napus. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3 and BnAP3 were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana and B. napus and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies. For P. abies the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film. Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study. Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at and Jens F. Sundström at
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
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Utero-tubal Embryo Transfer and Vasectomy in the Mouse Model
Authors: Pablo Bermejo-Alvarez, Ki-Eun Park, Bhanu P. Telugu.
Institutions: United States Department of Agriculture, University of Maryland.
The transfer of preimplantation embryos to a surrogate female is a required step for the production of genetically modified mice or to study the effects of epigenetic alterations originated during preimplantation development on subsequent fetal development and adult health. The use of an effective and consistent embryo transfer technique is crucial to enhance the generation of genetically modified animals and to determine the effect of different treatments on implantation rates and survival to term. Embryos at the blastocyst stage are usually transferred by uterine transfer, performing a puncture in the uterine wall to introduce the embryo manipulation pipette. The orifice performed in the uterus does not close after the pipette has been withdrawn, and the embryos can outflow to the abdominal cavity due to the positive pressure of the uterus. The puncture can also produce a hemorrhage that impairs implantation, blocks the transfer pipette and may affect embryo development, especially when embryos without zona are transferred. Consequently, this technique often results in very variable and overall low embryo survival rates. Avoiding these negative effects, utero-tubal embryo transfer take advantage of the utero-tubal junction as a natural barrier that impedes embryo outflow and avoid the puncture of the uterine wall. Vasectomized males are required for obtaining pseudopregnant recipients. A technique to perform vasectomy is described as a complement to the utero-tubal embryo transfer.
Basic Protocols, Issue 84, blastocyst, chimera, lentivirus, uterine transfer, oviductal transfer, utero-tubal transfer
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Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Authors: Jeremy D. Smith, Abbie E. Ferris, Gary D. Heise, Richard N. Hinrichs, Philip E. Martin.
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
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Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Authors: Jason Rasgon.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia
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Harvesting Sperm and Artificial Insemination of Mice
Authors: Amanda R. Duselis, Paul B. Vrana.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Rodents of the genus Peromyscus (deer mice) are the most prevalent native North American mammals. Peromyscus species are used in a wide range of research including toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, behavioral, and genetic studies. Here they provide a useful model for demonstrations of artificial insemination. Methods similar to those displayed here have previously been used in several deer mouse studies, yet no detailed protocol has been published. Here we demonstrate the basic method of artificial insemination. This method entails extracting the testes from the rodent, then isolating the sperm from the epididymis and vas deferens. The mature sperm, now in a milk mixture, are placed in the female’s reproductive tract at the time of ovulation. Fertilization is counted as day 0 for timing of embryo development. Embryos can then be retrieved at the desired time-point and manipulated. Artificial insemination can be used in a variety of rodent species where exact embryo timing is crucial or hard to obtain. This technique is vital for species or strains (including most Peromyscus) which may not mate immediately and/or where mating is hard to assess. In addition, artificial insemination provides exact timing for embryo development either in mapping developmental progress and/or transgenic work. Reduced numbers of animals can be used since fertilization is guaranteed. This method has been vital to furthering the Peromyscus system, and will hopefully benefit others as well.
Developmental Biology, Issue 3, sperm, mouse, artificial insemination, dissection
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