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SAS-Pro: simultaneous residue assignment and structure superposition for protein structure alignment.
Protein structure alignment is the problem of determining an assignment between the amino-acid residues of two given proteins in a way that maximizes a measure of similarity between the two superimposed protein structures. By identifying geometric similarities, structure alignment algorithms provide critical insights into protein functional similarities. Existing structure alignment tools adopt a two-stage approach to structure alignment by decoupling and iterating between the assignment evaluation and structure superposition problems. We introduce a novel approach, SAS-Pro, which addresses the assignment evaluation and structure superposition simultaneously by formulating the alignment problem as a single bilevel optimization problem. The new formulation does not require the sequentiality constraints, thus generalizing the scope of the alignment methodology to include non-sequential protein alignments. We employ derivative-free optimization methodologies for searching for the global optimum of the highly nonlinear and non-differentiable RMSD function encountered in the proposed model. Alignments obtained with SAS-Pro have better RMSD values and larger lengths than those obtained from other alignment tools. For non-sequential alignment problems, SAS-Pro leads to alignments with high degree of similarity with known reference alignments. The source code of SAS-Pro is available for download at
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Published: 11-03-2011
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
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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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Structure and Coordination Determination of Peptide-metal Complexes Using 1D and 2D 1H NMR
Authors: Michal S. Shoshan, Edit Y. Tshuva, Deborah E. Shalev.
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Copper (I) binding by metallochaperone transport proteins prevents copper oxidation and release of the toxic ions that may participate in harmful redox reactions. The Cu (I) complex of the peptide model of a Cu (I) binding metallochaperone protein, which includes the sequence MTCSGCSRPG (underlined is conserved), was determined in solution under inert conditions by NMR spectroscopy. NMR is a widely accepted technique for the determination of solution structures of proteins and peptides. Due to difficulty in crystallization to provide single crystals suitable for X-ray crystallography, the NMR technique is extremely valuable, especially as it provides information on the solution state rather than the solid state. Herein we describe all steps that are required for full three-dimensional structure determinations by NMR. The protocol includes sample preparation in an NMR tube, 1D and 2D data collection and processing, peak assignment and integration, molecular mechanics calculations, and structure analysis. Importantly, the analysis was first conducted without any preset metal-ligand bonds, to assure a reliable structure determination in an unbiased manner.
Chemistry, Issue 82, solution structure determination, NMR, peptide models, copper-binding proteins, copper complexes
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Electrospinning Fundamentals: Optimizing Solution and Apparatus Parameters
Authors: Michelle K. Leach, Zhang-Qi Feng, Samuel J. Tuck, Joseph M. Corey.
Institutions: University of Michigan, Southeast University, University of Michigan, Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare Center.
Electrospun nanofiber scaffolds have been shown to accelerate the maturation, improve the growth, and direct the migration of cells in vitro. Electrospinning is a process in which a charged polymer jet is collected on a grounded collector; a rapidly rotating collector results in aligned nanofibers while stationary collectors result in randomly oriented fiber mats. The polymer jet is formed when an applied electrostatic charge overcomes the surface tension of the solution. There is a minimum concentration for a given polymer, termed the critical entanglement concentration, below which a stable jet cannot be achieved and no nanofibers will form - although nanoparticles may be achieved (electrospray). A stable jet has two domains, a streaming segment and a whipping segment. While the whipping jet is usually invisible to the naked eye, the streaming segment is often visible under appropriate lighting conditions. Observing the length, thickness, consistency and movement of the stream is useful to predict the alignment and morphology of the nanofibers being formed. A short, non-uniform, inconsistent, and/or oscillating stream is indicative of a variety of problems, including poor fiber alignment, beading, splattering, and curlicue or wavy patterns. The stream can be optimized by adjusting the composition of the solution and the configuration of the electrospinning apparatus, thus optimizing the alignment and morphology of the fibers being produced. In this protocol, we present a procedure for setting up a basic electrospinning apparatus, empirically approximating the critical entanglement concentration of a polymer solution and optimizing the electrospinning process. In addition, we discuss some common problems and troubleshooting techniques.
Bioengineering, Issue 47, electrospinning, nanofibers, scaffold, alignment
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Structure of HIV-1 Capsid Assemblies by Cryo-electron Microscopy and Iterative Helical Real-space Reconstruction
Authors: Xin Meng, Gongpu Zhao, Peijun Zhang.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), combined with image processing, is an increasingly powerful tool for structure determination of macromolecular protein complexes and assemblies. In fact, single particle electron microscopy1 and two-dimensional (2D) electron crystallography2 have become relatively routine methodologies and a large number of structures have been solved using these methods. At the same time, image processing and three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of helical objects has rapidly developed, especially, the iterative helical real-space reconstruction (IHRSR) method3, which uses single particle analysis tools in conjunction with helical symmetry. Many biological entities function in filamentous or helical forms, including actin filaments4, microtubules5, amyloid fibers6, tobacco mosaic viruses7, and bacteria flagella8, and, because a 3D density map of a helical entity can be attained from a single projection image, compared to the many images required for 3D reconstruction of a non-helical object, with the IHRSR method, structural analysis of such flexible and disordered helical assemblies is now attainable. In this video article, we provide detailed protocols for obtaining a 3D density map of a helical protein assembly (HIV-1 capsid9 is our example), including protocols for cryo-EM specimen preparation, low dose data collection by cryo-EM, indexing of helical diffraction patterns, and image processing and 3D reconstruction using IHRSR. Compared to other techniques, cryo-EM offers optimal specimen preservation under near native conditions. Samples are embedded in a thin layer of vitreous ice, by rapid freezing, and imaged in electron microscopes at liquid nitrogen temperature, under low dose conditions to minimize the radiation damage. Sample images are obtained under near native conditions at the expense of low signal and low contrast in the recorded micrographs. Fortunately, the process of helical reconstruction has largely been automated, with the exception of indexing the helical diffraction pattern. Here, we describe an approach to index helical structure and determine helical symmetries (helical parameters) from digitized micrographs, an essential step for 3D helical reconstruction. Briefly, we obtain an initial 3D density map by applying the IHRSR method. This initial map is then iteratively refined by introducing constraints for the alignment parameters of each segment, thus controlling their degrees of freedom. Further improvement is achieved by correcting for the contrast transfer function (CTF) of the electron microscope (amplitude and phase correction) and by optimizing the helical symmetry of the assembly.
Immunology, Issue 54, cryo-electron microscopy, helical indexing, helical real-space reconstruction, tubular assemblies, HIV-1 capsid
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Determination of Molecular Structures of HIV Envelope Glycoproteins using Cryo-Electron Tomography and Automated Sub-tomogram Averaging
Authors: Joel R. Meyerson, Tommi A. White, Donald Bliss, Amy Moran, Alberto Bartesaghi, Mario J. Borgnia, M. Jason V. de la Cruz, David Schauder, Lisa M. Hartnell, Rachna Nandwani, Moez Dawood, Brianna Kim, Jun Hong Kim, John Sununu, Lisa Yang, Siddhant Bhatia, Carolyn Subramaniam, Darrell E. Hurt, Laurent Gaudreault, Sriram Subramaniam.
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, University of Cambridge , National Institutes of Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, William Fremd High School, University of Virginia , Duke University , Yale University, University of Notre Dame , Washington University in St. Louis , National Institutes of Health, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Since its discovery nearly 30 years ago, more than 60 million people have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) ( The virus infects and destroys CD4+ T-cells thereby crippling the immune system, and causing an acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) 2. Infection begins when the HIV Envelope glycoprotein "spike" makes contact with the CD4 receptor on the surface of the CD4+ T-cell. This interaction induces a conformational change in the spike, which promotes interaction with a second cell surface co-receptor 5,9. The significance of these protein interactions in the HIV infection pathway makes them of profound importance in fundamental HIV research, and in the pursuit of an HIV vaccine. The need to better understand the molecular-scale interactions of HIV cell contact and neutralization motivated the development of a technique to determine the structures of the HIV spike interacting with cell surface receptor proteins and molecules that block infection. Using cryo-electron tomography and 3D image processing, we recently demonstrated the ability to determine such structures on the surface of native virus, at ˜20 Å resolution 9,14. This approach is not limited to resolving HIV Envelope structures, and can be extended to other viral membrane proteins and proteins reconstituted on a liposome. In this protocol, we describe how to obtain structures of HIV envelope glycoproteins starting from purified HIV virions and proceeding stepwise through preparing vitrified samples, collecting, cryo-electron microscopy data, reconstituting and processing 3D data volumes, averaging and classifying 3D protein subvolumes, and interpreting results to produce a protein model. The computational aspects of our approach were adapted into modules that can be accessed and executed remotely using the Biowulf GNU/Linux parallel processing cluster at the NIH ( This remote access, combined with low-cost computer hardware and high-speed network access, has made possible the involvement of researchers and students working from school or home.
Immunology, Issue 58, HIV, Envelope glycoprotein, membrane protein, vaccine design, cryo-electron tomography, transmission electron microscopy, structural biology, high school science, scientific outreach, scientific visualization, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, National Library of Medicine
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Methods to Identify the NMR Resonances of the 13C-Dimethyl N-terminal Amine on Reductively Methylated Proteins
Authors: Kevin J. Roberson, Pamlea N. Brady, Michelle M. Sweeney, Megan A. Macnaughtan.
Institutions: Louisiana State University.
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is a proven technique for protein structure and dynamic studies. To study proteins with NMR, stable magnetic isotopes are typically incorporated metabolically to improve the sensitivity and allow for sequential resonance assignment. Reductive 13C-methylation is an alternative labeling method for proteins that are not amenable to bacterial host over-expression, the most common method of isotope incorporation. Reductive 13C-methylation is a chemical reaction performed under mild conditions that modifies a protein's primary amino groups (lysine ε-amino groups and the N-terminal α-amino group) to 13C-dimethylamino groups. The structure and function of most proteins are not altered by the modification, making it a viable alternative to metabolic labeling. Because reductive 13C-methylation adds sparse, isotopic labels, traditional methods of assigning the NMR signals are not applicable. An alternative assignment method using mass spectrometry (MS) to aid in the assignment of protein 13C-dimethylamine NMR signals has been developed. The method relies on partial and different amounts of 13C-labeling at each primary amino group. One limitation of the method arises when the protein's N-terminal residue is a lysine because the α- and ε-dimethylamino groups of Lys1 cannot be individually measured with MS. To circumvent this limitation, two methods are described to identify the NMR resonance of the 13C-dimethylamines associated with both the N-terminal α-amine and the side chain ε-amine. The NMR signals of the N-terminal α-dimethylamine and the side chain ε-dimethylamine of hen egg white lysozyme, Lys1, are identified in 1H-13C heteronuclear single-quantum coherence spectra.
Chemistry, Issue 82, Boranes, Formaldehyde, Dimethylamines, Tandem Mass Spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance, MALDI-TOF, Reductive methylation, lysozyme, dimethyllysine, mass spectrometry, NMR
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Multi-target Parallel Processing Approach for Gene-to-structure Determination of the Influenza Polymerase PB2 Subunit
Authors: Brianna L. Armour, Steve R. Barnes, Spencer O. Moen, Eric Smith, Amy C. Raymond, James W. Fairman, Lance J. Stewart, Bart L. Staker, Darren W. Begley, Thomas E. Edwards, Donald D. Lorimer.
Institutions: Emerald Bio, Emerald Bio, Emerald Bio, Emerald Bio, Emerald Bio, Emerald Bio, Emerald Bio, Emerald Bio, Emerald Bio.
Pandemic outbreaks of highly virulent influenza strains can cause widespread morbidity and mortality in human populations worldwide. In the United States alone, an average of 41,400 deaths and 1.86 million hospitalizations are caused by influenza virus infection each year 1. Point mutations in the polymerase basic protein 2 subunit (PB2) have been linked to the adaptation of the viral infection in humans 2. Findings from such studies have revealed the biological significance of PB2 as a virulence factor, thus highlighting its potential as an antiviral drug target. The structural genomics program put forth by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) provides funding to Emerald Bio and three other Pacific Northwest institutions that together make up the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease (SSGCID). The SSGCID is dedicated to providing the scientific community with three-dimensional protein structures of NIAID category A-C pathogens. Making such structural information available to the scientific community serves to accelerate structure-based drug design. Structure-based drug design plays an important role in drug development. Pursuing multiple targets in parallel greatly increases the chance of success for new lead discovery by targeting a pathway or an entire protein family. Emerald Bio has developed a high-throughput, multi-target parallel processing pipeline (MTPP) for gene-to-structure determination to support the consortium. Here we describe the protocols used to determine the structure of the PB2 subunit from four different influenza A strains.
Infection, Issue 76, Structural Biology, Virology, Genetics, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology, Genomics, high throughput, multi-targeting, structural genomics, protein crystallization, purification, protein production, X-ray crystallography, Gene Composer, Protein Maker, expression, E. coli, fermentation, influenza, virus, vector, plasmid, cell, cell culture, PCR, sequencing
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Averaging of Viral Envelope Glycoprotein Spikes from Electron Cryotomography Reconstructions using Jsubtomo
Authors: Juha T. Huiskonen, Marie-Laure Parsy, Sai Li, David Bitto, Max Renner, Thomas A. Bowden.
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Enveloped viruses utilize membrane glycoproteins on their surface to mediate entry into host cells. Three-dimensional structural analysis of these glycoprotein ‘spikes’ is often technically challenging but important for understanding viral pathogenesis and in drug design. Here, a protocol is presented for viral spike structure determination through computational averaging of electron cryo-tomography data. Electron cryo-tomography is a technique in electron microscopy used to derive three-dimensional tomographic volume reconstructions, or tomograms, of pleomorphic biological specimens such as membrane viruses in a near-native, frozen-hydrated state. These tomograms reveal structures of interest in three dimensions, albeit at low resolution. Computational averaging of sub-volumes, or sub-tomograms, is necessary to obtain higher resolution detail of repeating structural motifs, such as viral glycoprotein spikes. A detailed computational approach for aligning and averaging sub-tomograms using the Jsubtomo software package is outlined. This approach enables visualization of the structure of viral glycoprotein spikes to a resolution in the range of 20-40 Å and study of the study of higher order spike-to-spike interactions on the virion membrane. Typical results are presented for Bunyamwera virus, an enveloped virus from the family Bunyaviridae. This family is a structurally diverse group of pathogens posing a threat to human and animal health.
Immunology, Issue 92, electron cryo-microscopy, cryo-electron microscopy, electron cryo-tomography, cryo-electron tomography, glycoprotein spike, enveloped virus, membrane virus, structure, subtomogram, averaging
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Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Nikolai Hentze, Matthias P. Mayer.
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1H/2H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g. crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.   
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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Assembly, Loading, and Alignment of an Analytical Ultracentrifuge Sample Cell
Authors: Andrea Balbo, Huaying Zhao, Patrick H. Brown, Peter Schuck.
Institutions: Dynamics of Macromolecular Assembly, Laboratory of Bioengineering and Physical Science.
The analytical ultracentrifuge (AUC) is a powerful biophysical tool that allows us to record macromolecular sedimentation profiles during high speed centrifugation. When properly planned and executed, an AUC sedimentation velocity or sedimentation equilibrium experiment can reveal a great deal about a protein in regards to size and shape, sample purity, sedimentation coefficient, oligomerization states and protein-protein interactions. This technique, however, requires a rigorous level of technical attention. Sample cells hold a sectored center piece sandwiched between two window assemblies. They are sealed with a torque pressure of around 120-140 in/lbs. Reference buffer and sample are loaded into the centerpiece sectors and then after sealing, the cells are precisely aligned into a titanium rotor so that the optical detection systems scan both sample and reference buffer in the same radial path midline through each centerpiece sector while rotating at speeds of up to 60, 000 rpm and under very high vacuum Not only is proper sample cell assembly critical, sample cell components are very expensive and must be properly cared for to ensure they are in optimum working condition in order to avoid leaks and breakage during experiments. Handle windows carefully, for even the slightest crack or scratch can lead to breakage in the centrifuge. The contact between centerpiece and windows must be as tight as possible; i.e. no Newton s rings should be visible after torque pressure is applied. Dust, lint, scratches and oils on either the windows or the centerpiece all compromise this contact and can very easily lead to leaking of solutions from one sector to another or leaking out of the centerpiece all together. Not only are precious samples lost, leaking of solutions during an experiment will cause an imbalance of pressure in the cell that often leads to broken windows and centerpieces. In addition, plug gaskets and housing plugs must be securely in place to avoid solutions being pulled out of the centerpiece sector through the loading holes by the high vacuum in the centrifuge chamber. Window liners and gaskets must be free of breaks and cracks that could cause movement resulting in broken windows. This video will demonstrate our procedures of sample cell assembly, torque, loading and rotor alignment to help minimize component damage, solution leaking and breakage during the perfect AUC experiment.
Basic Protocols, Issue 33, analytical ultracentrifugation, sedimentation velocity, sedimentation equilibrium, protein characterization, sedimentation coefficient
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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 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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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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Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Authors: Matthew Rames, Yadong Yu, Gang Ren.
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3 . Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Authors: Jan Lipfert, Mina Lee, Orkide Ordu, Jacob W. J. Kerssemakers, Nynke H. Dekker.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
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Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Authors: Stéphanie Beaucourt, Antonio V. Bordería, Lark L. Coffey, Nina F. Gnädig, Marta Sanz-Ramos, Yasnee Beeharry, Marco Vignuzzi.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7.
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
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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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RNA Secondary Structure Prediction Using High-throughput SHAPE
Authors: Sabrina Lusvarghi, Joanna Sztuba-Solinska, Katarzyna J. Purzycka, Jason W. Rausch, Stuart F.J. Le Grice.
Institutions: Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.
Understanding the function of RNA involved in biological processes requires a thorough knowledge of RNA structure. Toward this end, the methodology dubbed "high-throughput selective 2' hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension", or SHAPE, allows prediction of RNA secondary structure with single nucleotide resolution. This approach utilizes chemical probing agents that preferentially acylate single stranded or flexible regions of RNA in aqueous solution. Sites of chemical modification are detected by reverse transcription of the modified RNA, and the products of this reaction are fractionated by automated capillary electrophoresis (CE). Since reverse transcriptase pauses at those RNA nucleotides modified by the SHAPE reagents, the resulting cDNA library indirectly maps those ribonucleotides that are single stranded in the context of the folded RNA. Using ShapeFinder software, the electropherograms produced by automated CE are processed and converted into nucleotide reactivity tables that are themselves converted into pseudo-energy constraints used in the RNAStructure (v5.3) prediction algorithm. The two-dimensional RNA structures obtained by combining SHAPE probing with in silico RNA secondary structure prediction have been found to be far more accurate than structures obtained using either method alone.
Genetics, Issue 75, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Virology, Cancer Biology, Medicine, Genomics, Nucleic Acid Probes, RNA Probes, RNA, High-throughput SHAPE, Capillary electrophoresis, RNA structure, RNA probing, RNA folding, secondary structure, DNA, nucleic acids, electropherogram, synthesis, transcription, high throughput, sequencing
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Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Authors: Andrew V. Colasanti, Xiang-Jun Lu, Wilma K. Olson.
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
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