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Functional metagenomics unveils a multifunctional glycosyl hydrolase from the family 43 catalysing the breakdown of plant polymers in the calf rumen.
Microbial communities from cow rumen are known for their ability to degrade diverse plant polymers at high rates. In this work, we identified 15 hydrolases through an activity-centred metagenome analysis of a fibre-adherent microbial community from dairy cow rumen. Among them, 7 glycosyl hydrolases (GHs) and 1 feruloyl esterase were successfully cloned, expressed, purified and characterised. The most striking result was a protein of GH family 43 (GHF43), hereinafter designated as R_09-02, which had characteristics very distinct from the other proteins in this family with mono-functional ?-xylosidase, ?-xylanase, ?-L-arabinase and ?-L-arabinofuranosidase activities. R_09-02 is the first multifunctional enzyme to exhibit ?-1,4 xylosidase, ?-1,5 arabinofur(pyr)anosidase, ?-1,4 lactase, ?-1,6 raffinase, ?-1,6 stachyase, ?-galactosidase and ?-1,4 glucosidase activities. The R_09-02 protein appears to originate from the chromosome of a member of Clostridia, a class of phylum Firmicutes, members of which are highly abundant in ruminal environment. The evolution of R_09-02 is suggested to be driven from the xylose- and arabinose-specific activities, typical for GHF43 members, toward a broader specificity to the glucose- and galactose-containing components of lignocellulose. The apparent capability of enzymes from the GHF43 family to utilise xylose-, arabinose-, glucose- and galactose-containing oligosaccharides has thus far been neglected by, or could not be predicted from, genome and metagenome sequencing data analyses. Taking into account the abundance of GHF43-encoding gene sequences in the rumen (up to 7% of all GH-genes) and the multifunctional phenotype herein described, our findings suggest that the ecological role of this GH family in the digestion of ligno-cellulosic matter should be significantly reconsidered.
Authors: Jonathan Walton, Goutami Banerjee, Suzana Car.
Published: 10-24-2011
The high cost of enzymes for biomass deconstruction is a major impediment to the economic conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol. We have developed an integrated high throughput platform, called GENPLAT, for the discovery and development of novel enzymes and enzyme cocktails for the release of sugars from diverse pretreatment/biomass combinations. GENPLAT comprises four elements: individual pure enzymes, statistical design of experiments, robotic pipeting of biomass slurries and enzymes, and automated colorimeteric determination of released Glc and Xyl. Individual enzymes are produced by expression in Pichia pastoris or Trichoderma reesei, or by chromatographic purification from commercial cocktails or from extracts of novel microorganisms. Simplex lattice (fractional factorial) mixture models are designed using commercial Design of Experiment statistical software. Enzyme mixtures of high complexity are constructed using robotic pipeting into a 96-well format. The measurement of released Glc and Xyl is automated using enzyme-linked colorimetric assays. Optimized enzyme mixtures containing as many as 16 components have been tested on a variety of feedstock and pretreatment combinations. GENPLAT is adaptable to mixtures of pure enzymes, mixtures of commercial products (e.g., Accellerase 1000 and Novozyme 188), extracts of novel microbes, or combinations thereof. To make and test mixtures of ˜10 pure enzymes requires less than 100 μg of each protein and fewer than 100 total reactions, when operated at a final total loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan. We use enzymes from several sources. Enzymes can be purified from natural sources such as fungal cultures (e.g., Aspergillus niger, Cochliobolus carbonum, and Galerina marginata), or they can be made by expression of the encoding genes (obtained from the increasing number of microbial genome sequences) in hosts such as E. coli, Pichia pastoris, or a filamentous fungus such as T. reesei. Proteins can also be purified from commercial enzyme cocktails (e.g., Multifect Xylanase, Novozyme 188). An increasing number of pure enzymes, including glycosyl hydrolases, cell wall-active esterases, proteases, and lyases, are available from commercial sources, e.g., Megazyme, Inc. (, NZYTech (, and PROZOMIX ( Design-Expert software (Stat-Ease, Inc.) is used to create simplex-lattice designs and to analyze responses (in this case, Glc and Xyl release). Mixtures contain 4-20 components, which can vary in proportion between 0 and 100%. Assay points typically include the extreme vertices with a sufficient number of intervening points to generate a valid model. In the terminology of experimental design, most of our studies are "mixture" experiments, meaning that the sum of all components adds to a total fixed protein loading (expressed as mg/g glucan). The number of mixtures in the simplex-lattice depends on both the number of components in the mixture and the degree of polynomial (quadratic or cubic). For example, a 6-component experiment will entail 63 separate reactions with an augmented special cubic model, which can detect three-way interactions, whereas only 23 individual reactions are necessary with an augmented quadratic model. For mixtures containing more than eight components, a quadratic experimental design is more practical, and in our experience such models are usually statistically valid. All enzyme loadings are expressed as a percentage of the final total loading (which for our experiments is typically 15 mg protein/g glucan). For "core" enzymes, the lower percentage limit is set to 5%. This limit was derived from our experience in which yields of Glc and/or Xyl were very low if any core enzyme was present at 0%. Poor models result from too many samples showing very low Glc or Xyl yields. Setting a lower limit in turn determines an upper limit. That is, for a six-component experiment, if the lower limit for each single component is set to 5%, then the upper limit of each single component will be 75%. The lower limits of all other enzymes considered as "accessory" are set to 0%. "Core" and "accessory" are somewhat arbitrary designations and will differ depending on the substrate, but in our studies the core enzymes for release of Glc from corn stover comprise the following enzymes from T. reesei: CBH1 (also known as Cel7A), CBH2 (Cel6A), EG1(Cel7B), BG (β-glucosidase), EX3 (endo-β1,4-xylanase, GH10), and BX (β-xylosidase).
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Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part II: Carbohydrates
Authors: Cliff E. Foster, Tina M. Martin, Markus Pauly.
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), Michigan State University (MSU).
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation2 and other products such as biocomposite materials6. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses, and the polyphenol lignin5 and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls contribute extensively to the strength and structural integrity of the entire plant. Despite its necessary rigidity, the cell wall is a highly dynamic entity that is metabolically active and plays crucial roles in numerous cell activities such as plant growth and differentiation5. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerisation by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its monosaccharide composition of the hemicelluloses and other matrix polysaccharides1, and its content of crystalline cellulose7. The protocol for analyzing the lignin components in lignocellulosic biomass is discussed in Part I3.
Plant Biology, Issue 37, cell walls, polysaccharide, cellulose, hemicellulose, sugar composition, GC-MS
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OLIgo Mass Profiling (OLIMP) of Extracellular Polysaccharides
Authors: Markus Günl, Sascha Gille, Markus Pauly.
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Berkeley.
The direct contact of cells to the environment is mediated in many organisms by an extracellular matrix. One common aspect of extracellular matrices is that they contain complex sugar moieties in form of glycoproteins, proteoglycans, and/or polysaccharides. Examples include the extracellular matrix of humans and animal cells consisting mainly of fibrillar proteins and proteoglycans or the polysaccharide based cell walls of plants and fungi, and the proteoglycan/glycolipid based cell walls of bacteria. All these glycostructures play vital roles in cell-to-cell and cell-to-environment communication and signalling. An extraordinary complex example of an extracellular matrix is present in the walls of higher plant cells. Their wall is made almost entirely of sugars, up to 75% dry weight, and consists of the most abundant biopolymers present on this planet. Therefore, research is conducted how to utilize these materials best as a carbon-neutral renewable resource to replace petrochemicals derived from fossil fuel. The main challenge for fuel conversion remains the recalcitrance of walls to enzymatic or chemical degradation due to the unique glycostructures present in this unique biocomposite. Here, we present a method for the rapid and sensitive analysis of plant cell wall glycostructures. This method OLIgo Mass Profiling (OLIMP) is based the enzymatic release of oligosaccharides from wall materials facilitating specific glycosylhydrolases and subsequent analysis of the solubilized oligosaccharide mixtures using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF/MS)1 (Figure 1). OLIMP requires walls of only 5000 cells for a complete analysis, can be performed on the tissue itself2, and is amenable to high-throughput analyses3. While the absolute amount of the solubilized oligosaccharides cannot be determined by OLIMP the relative abundance of the various oligosaccharide ions can be delineated from the mass spectra giving insights about the substitution-pattern of the native polysaccharide present in the wall. OLIMP can be used to analyze a wide variety of wall polymers, limited only by the availability of specific enzymes4. For example, for the analysis of polymers present in the plant cell wall enzymes are available to analyse the hemicelluloses xyloglucan using a xyloglucanase5, 11, 12, 13, xylan using an endo-β-(1-4)-xylanase 6,7, or for pectic polysaccharides using a combination of a polygalacturonase and a methylesterase 8. Furthermore, using the same principles of OLIMP glycosylhydrolase and even glycosyltransferase activities can be monitored and determined 9.
Plant Biology, Issue 40, Extracellular matrix, cell walls, polysaccharides, glycosylhydrolase, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry
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High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Authors: Mary F. Farrow, Frances H. Arnold.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing. Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10 and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12. We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli. (Fig 1) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness. Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13 involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14 for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus and Penicillium decumbens (shown in Figure 2), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
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Next-generation Sequencing of 16S Ribosomal RNA Gene Amplicons
Authors: Sylvie Sanschagrin, Etienne Yergeau.
Institutions: National Research Council Canada.
One of the major questions in microbial ecology is “who is there?” This question can be answered using various tools, but one of the long-lasting gold standards is to sequence 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene amplicons generated by domain-level PCR reactions amplifying from genomic DNA. Traditionally, this was performed by cloning and Sanger (capillary electrophoresis) sequencing of PCR amplicons. The advent of next-generation sequencing has tremendously simplified and increased the sequencing depth for 16S rRNA gene sequencing. The introduction of benchtop sequencers now allows small labs to perform their 16S rRNA sequencing in-house in a matter of days. Here, an approach for 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing using a benchtop next-generation sequencer is detailed. The environmental DNA is first amplified by PCR using primers that contain sequencing adapters and barcodes. They are then coupled to spherical particles via emulsion PCR. The particles are loaded on a disposable chip and the chip is inserted in the sequencing machine after which the sequencing is performed. The sequences are retrieved in fastq format, filtered and the barcodes are used to establish the sample membership of the reads. The filtered and binned reads are then further analyzed using publically available tools. An example analysis where the reads were classified with a taxonomy-finding algorithm within the software package Mothur is given. The method outlined here is simple, inexpensive and straightforward and should help smaller labs to take advantage from the ongoing genomic revolution.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, Metagenomics, Bacteria, 16S ribosomal RNA gene, Amplicon sequencing, Next-generation sequencing, benchtop sequencers
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Expression of Recombinant Cellulase Cel5A from Trichoderma reesei in Tobacco Plants
Authors: Megan Garvey, Johannes Klinger, Holger Klose, Rainer Fischer, Ulrich Commandeur.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology.
Cellulose degrading enzymes, cellulases, are targets of both research and industrial interests. The preponderance of these enzymes in difficult-to-culture organisms, such as hyphae-building fungi and anaerobic bacteria, has hastened the use of recombinant technologies in this field. Plant expression methods are a desirable system for large-scale production of enzymes and other industrially useful proteins. Herein, methods for the transient expression of a fungal endoglucanase, Trichoderma reesei Cel5A, in Nicotiana tabacum are demonstrated. Successful protein expression is shown, monitored by fluorescence using an mCherry-enzyme fusion protein. Additionally, a set of basic tests are used to examine the activity of transiently expressed T. reesei Cel5A, including SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, zymography, as well as fluorescence and dye-based substrate degradation assays. The system described here can be used to produce an active cellulase in a short time period, so as to assess the potential for further production in plants through constitutive or inducible expression systems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, heterologous expression, endoplasmic reticulum, endoglucanase, cellulose, glycosyl-hydrolase, fluorescence, cellulase, Trichoderma reesei, tobacco plants
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Glycan Profiling of Plant Cell Wall Polymers using Microarrays
Authors: Isabel E. Moller, Filomena A. Pettolino, Charlie Hart, Edwin R. Lampugnani, William G.T. Willats, Antony Bacic.
Institutions: University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne, CSIRO Plant Industry, Black Mountain Laboratories, University of Copenhagen.
Plant cell walls are complex matrixes of heterogeneous glycans which play an important role in the physiology and development of plants and provide the raw materials for human societies (e.g. wood, paper, textile and biofuel industries)1,2. However, understanding the biosynthesis and function of these components remains challenging. Cell wall glycans are chemically and conformationally diverse due to the complexity of their building blocks, the glycosyl residues. These form linkages at multiple positions and differ in ring structure, isomeric or anomeric configuration, and in addition, are substituted with an array of non-sugar residues. Glycan composition varies in different cell and/or tissue types or even sub-domains of a single cell wall3. Furthermore, their composition is also modified during development1, or in response to environmental cues4. In excess of 2,000 genes have Plant cell walls are complex matrixes of heterogeneous glycans been predicted to be involved in cell wall glycan biosynthesis and modification in Arabidopsis5. However, relatively few of the biosynthetic genes have been functionally characterized 4,5. Reverse genetics approaches are difficult because the genes are often differentially expressed, often at low levels, between cell types6. Also, mutant studies are often hindered by gene redundancy or compensatory mechanisms to ensure appropriate cell wall function is maintained7. Thus novel approaches are needed to rapidly characterise the diverse range of glycan structures and to facilitate functional genomics approaches to understanding cell wall biosynthesis and modification. Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs)8,9 have emerged as an important tool for determining glycan structure and distribution in plants. These recognise distinct epitopes present within major classes of plant cell wall glycans, including pectins, xyloglucans, xylans, mannans, glucans and arabinogalactans. Recently their use has been extended to large-scale screening experiments to determine the relative abundance of glycans in a broad range of plant and tissue types simultaneously9,10,11. Here we present a microarray-based glycan screening method called Comprehensive Microarray Polymer Profiling (CoMPP) (Figures 1 & 2)10,11 that enables multiple samples (100 sec) to be screened using a miniaturised microarray platform with reduced reagent and sample volumes. The spot signals on the microarray can be formally quantified to give semi-quantitative data about glycan epitope occurrence. This approach is well suited to tracking glycan changes in complex biological systems12 and providing a global overview of cell wall composition particularly when prior knowledge of this is unavailable.
Plant Biology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Genomics, Proteomics, Proteins, Cell Walls, Polysaccharides, Monoclonal Antibodies, Microarrays, CoMPP, glycans, Arabidopsis, tissue collection
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Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Authors: Graham Bailes, Margaret Lind, Andrew Ely, Marianne Powell, Jennifer Moore-Kucera, Carol Miles, Debra Inglis, Marion Brodhagen.
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g. fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
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Towards Biomimicking Wood: Fabricated Free-standing Films of Nanocellulose, Lignin, and a Synthetic Polycation
Authors: Karthik Pillai, Fernando Navarro Arzate, Wei Zhang, Scott Renneckar.
Institutions: Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, Illinois Institute of Technology- Moffett Campus, University of Guadalajara, Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech.
Woody materials are comprised of plant cell walls that contain a layered secondary cell wall composed of structural polymers of polysaccharides and lignin. Layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly process which relies on the assembly of oppositely charged molecules from aqueous solutions was used to build a freestanding composite film of isolated wood polymers of lignin and oxidized nanofibril cellulose (NFC). To facilitate the assembly of these negatively charged polymers, a positively charged polyelectrolyte, poly(diallyldimethylammomium chloride) (PDDA), was used as a linking layer to create this simplified model cell wall. The layered adsorption process was studied quantitatively using quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring (QCM-D) and ellipsometry. The results showed that layer mass/thickness per adsorbed layer increased as a function of total number of layers. The surface coverage of the adsorbed layers was studied with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Complete coverage of the surface with lignin in all the deposition cycles was found for the system, however, surface coverage by NFC increased with the number of layers. The adsorption process was carried out for 250 cycles (500 bilayers) on a cellulose acetate (CA) substrate. Transparent free-standing LBL assembled nanocomposite films were obtained when the CA substrate was later dissolved in acetone. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the fractured cross-sections showed a lamellar structure, and the thickness per adsorption cycle (PDDA-Lignin-PDDA-NC) was estimated to be 17 nm for two different lignin types used in the study. The data indicates a film with highly controlled architecture where nanocellulose and lignin are spatially deposited on the nanoscale (a polymer-polymer nanocomposites), similar to what is observed in the native cell wall.
Plant Biology, Issue 88, nanocellulose, thin films, quartz crystal microbalance, layer-by-layer, LbL
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Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Authors: Xiao Hu, Solomon Duki, Joseph Forys, Jeffrey Hettinger, Justin Buchicchio, Tabbetha Dobbins, Catherine Yang.
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
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In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Authors: Alberto Natali, Laura M. Roy, Roberta Croce.
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g., pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g., protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro currently used in our laboratory, and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
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A High Throughput Screen for Biomining Cellulase Activity from Metagenomic Libraries
Authors: Keith Mewis, Marcus Taupp, Steven J. Hallam.
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
Cellulose, the most abundant source of organic carbon on the planet, has wide-ranging industrial applications with increasing emphasis on biofuel production 1. Chemical methods to modify or degrade cellulose typically require strong acids and high temperatures. As such, enzymatic methods have become prominent in the bioconversion process. While the identification of active cellulases from bacterial and fungal isolates has been somewhat effective, the vast majority of microbes in nature resist laboratory cultivation. Environmental genomic, also known as metagenomic, screening approaches have great promise in bridging the cultivation gap in the search for novel bioconversion enzymes. Metagenomic screening approaches have successfully recovered novel cellulases from environments as varied as soils 2, buffalo rumen 3 and the termite hind-gut 4 using carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) agar plates stained with congo red dye (based on the method of Teather and Wood 5). However, the CMC method is limited in throughput, is not quantitative and manifests a low signal to noise ratio 6. Other methods have been reported 7,8 but each use an agar plate-based assay, which is undesirable for high-throughput screening of large insert genomic libraries. Here we present a solution-based screen for cellulase activity using a chromogenic dinitrophenol (DNP)-cellobioside substrate 9. Our library was cloned into the pCC1 copy control fosmid to increase assay sensitivity through copy number induction 10. The method uses one-pot chemistry in 384-well microplates with the final readout provided as an absorbance measurement. This readout is quantitative, sensitive and automated with a throughput of up to 100X 384-well plates per day using a liquid handler and plate reader with attached stacking system.
Microbiology, Issue 48, Cellulase, cellulose, DNP-cellobioside, metagenomics, metagenome, environmental genomics, functional metagenomics
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Histochemical Staining of Arabidopsis thaliana Secondary Cell Wall Elements
Authors: Prajakta Pradhan Mitra, Dominique Loqué.
Institutions: Joint Bioenergy Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Arabidopsis thaliana is a model organism commonly used to understand and manipulate various cellular processes in plants, and it has been used extensively in the study of secondary cell wall formation. Secondary cell wall deposition occurs after the primary cell wall is laid down, a process carried out exclusively by specialized cells such as those forming vessel and fiber tissues. Most secondary cell walls are composed of cellulose (40–50%), hemicellulose (25–30%), and lignin (20–30%). Several mutations affecting secondary cell wall biosynthesis have been isolated, and the corresponding mutants may or may not exhibit obvious biochemical composition changes or visual phenotypes since these mutations could be masked by compensatory responses. Staining procedures have historically been used to show differences on a cellular basis. These methods are exclusively visual means of analysis; nevertheless their role in rapid and critical analysis is of great importance. Congo red and calcofluor white are stains used to detect polysaccharides, whereas Mäule and phloroglucinol are commonly used to determine differences in lignin, and toluidine blue O is used to differentially stain polysaccharides and lignin. The seemingly simple techniques of sectioning, staining, and imaging can be a challenge for beginners. Starting with sample preparation using the A. thaliana model, this study details the protocols of a variety of staining methodologies that can be easily implemented for observation of cell and tissue organization in secondary cell walls of plants.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Xylem, Fibers, Lignin, polysaccharides, Plant cell wall, Mäule staining, Phloroglucinol, Congo red, Toluidine blue O, Calcofluor white, Cell wall staining methods
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
Authors: Colin R. Jackson, Heather L. Tyler, Justin J. Millar.
Institutions: The University of Mississippi.
Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological and Environmental Processes, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, extracellular enzymes, freshwater microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial activity, enzyme activity
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Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Authors: Yongqi Shao, Erika M Arias-Cordero, Wilhelm Boland.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e. helping in insect reproduction1, boosting the immune response2, pheromone production3, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4, among others.     Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms. To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo employing 13C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5. The incorporation of 13C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12C) one. In the end, the 13C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12C-unlabeled similar one6. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species. Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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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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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to: ● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media. ● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method. ● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria. ● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage. ● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure. ● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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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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Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Authors: Edward F. DeLong.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome
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Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
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Biology of Microbial Communities - Interview
Authors: Roberto Kolter.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termit
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