Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications. For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately. To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models. To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models. This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented. The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix. With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions. The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures. This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models. Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created. An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material. In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures. One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Sputter Growth and Characterization of Metamagnetic B2-ordered FeRh Epilayers
Institutions: University of Leeds, University of Leeds, University of Edinburgh, Northeastern University, Northeastern University.
Chemically ordered alloys are useful in a variety of magnetic nanotechnologies. They are most conveniently prepared at an industrial scale using sputtering techniques. Here we describe a method for preparing epitaxial thin films of B2-ordered FeRh by sputter deposition onto single crystal MgO substrates. Deposition at a slow rate onto a heated substrate allows time for the adatoms to both settle into a lattice with a well-defined epitaxial relationship with the substrate and also to find their proper places in the Fe and Rh sublattices of the B2 structure. The structure is conveniently characterized with X-ray reflectometry and diffraction and can be visualised directly using transmission electron micrograph cross-sections. B2-ordered FeRh exhibits an unusual metamagnetic phase transition: the ground state is antiferromagnetic but the alloy transforms into a ferromagnet on heating with a typical transition temperature of about 380 K. This is accompanied by a 1% volume expansion of the unit cell: isotropic in bulk, but laterally clamped in an epilayer. The presence of the antiferromagnetic ground state and the associated first order phase transition is very sensitive to the correct equiatomic stoichiometry and proper B2 ordering, and so is a convenient means to demonstrate the quality of the layers that can be deposited with this approach. We also give some examples of the various techniques by which the change in phase can be detected.
Physics, Issue 80, Sputtering, epitaxial growth, magnetism, ordered alloys
Construction and Characterization of External Cavity Diode Lasers for Atomic Physics
Institutions: The Australian National University.
Since their development in the late 1980s, cheap, reliable external cavity diode lasers (ECDLs) have replaced complex and expensive traditional dye and Titanium Sapphire lasers as the workhorse laser of atomic physics labs1,2
. Their versatility and prolific use throughout atomic physics in applications such as absorption spectroscopy and laser cooling1,2
makes it imperative for incoming students to gain a firm practical understanding of these lasers. This publication builds upon the seminal work by Wieman3
, updating components, and providing a video tutorial. The setup, frequency locking and performance characterization of an ECDL will be described. Discussion of component selection and proper mounting of both diodes and gratings, the factors affecting mode selection within the cavity, proper alignment for optimal external feedback, optics setup for coarse and fine frequency sensitive measurements, a brief overview of laser locking techniques, and laser linewidth measurements are included.
Physics, Issue 86, External Cavity Diode Laser, atomic spectroscopy, laser cooling, Bose-Einstein condensation, Zeeman modulation
High-pressure Sapphire Cell for Phase Equilibria Measurements of CO2/Organic/Water Systems
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology.
The high pressure sapphire cell apparatus was constructed to visually determine the composition of multiphase systems without physical sampling. Specifically, the sapphire cell enables visual data collection from multiple loadings to solve a set of material balances to precisely determine phase composition. Ternary phase diagrams can then be established to determine the proportion of each component in each phase at a given condition. In principle, any ternary system can be studied although ternary systems (gas-liquid-liquid) are the specific examples discussed herein. For instance, the ternary THF-Water-CO2
system was studied at 25 and 40 °C and is described herein. Of key importance, this technique does not require sampling. Circumventing the possible disturbance of the system equilibrium upon sampling, inherent measurement errors, and technical difficulties of physically sampling under pressure is a significant benefit of this technique. Perhaps as important, the sapphire cell also enables the direct visual observation of the phase behavior. In fact, as the CO2
pressure is increased, the homogeneous THF-Water solution phase splits at about 2 MPa. With this technique, it was possible to easily and clearly observe the cloud point and determine the composition of the newly formed phases as a function of pressure.
The data acquired with the sapphire cell technique can be used for many applications. In our case, we measured swelling and composition for tunable solvents, like gas-expanded liquids, gas-expanded ionic liquids and Organic Aqueous Tunable Systems (OATS)1-4
. For the latest system, OATS, the high-pressure sapphire cell enabled the study of (1) phase behavior as a function of pressure and temperature, (2) composition of each phase (gas-liquid-liquid) as a function of pressure and temperature and (3) catalyst partitioning in the two liquid phases as a function of pressure and composition. Finally, the sapphire cell is an especially effective tool to gather accurate and reproducible measurements in a timely fashion.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Phase equilibria, High-pressure, green chemistry, Green Engineering, Sapphire cell, cathetometer, ternary phase diagrams
Nanomanipulation of Single RNA Molecules by Optical Tweezers
Institutions: University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York.
A large portion of the human genome is transcribed but not translated. In this post genomic era, regulatory functions of RNA have been shown to be increasingly important. As RNA function often depends on its ability to adopt alternative structures, it is difficult to predict RNA three-dimensional structures directly from sequence. Single-molecule approaches show potentials to solve the problem of RNA structural polymorphism by monitoring molecular structures one molecule at a time. This work presents a method to precisely manipulate the folding and structure of single RNA molecules using optical tweezers. First, methods to synthesize molecules suitable for single-molecule mechanical work are described. Next, various calibration procedures to ensure the proper operations of the optical tweezers are discussed. Next, various experiments are explained. To demonstrate the utility of the technique, results of mechanically unfolding RNA hairpins and a single RNA kissing complex are used as evidence. In these examples, the nanomanipulation technique was used to study folding of each structural domain, including secondary and tertiary, independently. Lastly, the limitations and future applications of the method are discussed.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, RNA folding, single-molecule, optical tweezers, nanomanipulation, RNA secondary structure, RNA tertiary structure
Multi-parameter Measurement of the Permeability Transition Pore Opening in Isolated Mouse Heart Mitochondria
Institutions: University of Washington, Seattle.
The mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mtPTP) is a non specific channel that forms in the inner mitochondrial membrane to transport solutes with a molecular mass smaller than 1.5 kDa. Although the definitive molecular identity of the pore is still under debate, proteins such as cyclophilin D, VDAC and ANT contribute to mtPTP formation. While the involvement of mtPTP opening in cell death is well established1
, accumulating evidence indicates that the mtPTP serves a physiologic role during mitochondrial Ca2+
, bioenergetics and redox signaling 3
mtPTP opening is triggered by matrix Ca2+
but its activity can be modulated by several other factors such as oxidative stress, adenine nucleotide depletion, high concentrations of Pi, mitochondrial membrane depolarization or uncoupling, and long chain fatty acids4
. In vitro
, mtPTP opening can be achieved by increasing Ca2+
concentration inside the mitochondrial matrix through exogenous additions of Ca2+
(calcium retention capacity). When Ca2+
levels inside mitochondria reach a certain threshold, the mtPTP opens and facilitates Ca2+
release, dissipation of the proton motive force, membrane potential collapse and an increase in mitochondrial matrix volume (swelling) that ultimately leads to the rupture of the outer mitochondrial membrane and irreversible loss of organelle function.
Here we describe a fluorometric assay that allows for a comprehensive characterization of mtPTP opening in isolated mouse heart mitochondria. The assay involves the simultaneous measurement of 3 mitochondrial parameters that are altered when mtPTP opening occurs: mitochondrial Ca2+
handling (uptake and release, as measured by Ca2+
concentration in the assay medium), mitochondrial membrane potential, and mitochondrial volume. The dyes employed for Ca2+
measurement in the assay medium and mitochondrial membrane potential are Fura FF, a membrane impermeant, ratiometric indicator which undergoes a shift in the excitation wavelength in the presence of Ca2+
, and JC-1, a cationic, ratiometric indicator which forms green monomers or red aggregates at low and high membrane potential, respectively. Changes in mitochondrial volume are measured by recording light scattering by the mitochondrial suspension. Since high-quality, functional mitochondria are required for the mtPTP opening assay, we also describe the steps necessary to obtain intact, highly coupled and functional isolated heart mitochondria.
Cellular Biology, Issue 67, Mitochondria, respiration, mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP), membrane potential, swelling, calcium, spectrofluorometer
Characterization of Electrode Materials for Lithium Ion and Sodium Ion Batteries Using Synchrotron Radiation Techniques
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Haldor Topsøe A/S, PolyPlus Battery Company.
Intercalation compounds such as transition metal oxides or phosphates are the most commonly used electrode materials in Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. During insertion or removal of alkali metal ions, the redox states of transition metals in the compounds change and structural transformations such as phase transitions and/or lattice parameter increases or decreases occur. These behaviors in turn determine important characteristics of the batteries such as the potential profiles, rate capabilities, and cycle lives. The extremely bright and tunable x-rays produced by synchrotron radiation allow rapid acquisition of high-resolution data that provide information about these processes. Transformations in the bulk materials, such as phase transitions, can be directly observed using X-ray diffraction (XRD), while X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) gives information about the local electronic and geometric structures (e.g.
changes in redox states and bond lengths). In situ
experiments carried out on operating cells are particularly useful because they allow direct correlation between the electrochemical and structural properties of the materials. These experiments are time-consuming and can be challenging to design due to the reactivity and air-sensitivity of the alkali metal anodes used in the half-cell configurations, and/or the possibility of signal interference from other cell components and hardware. For these reasons, it is appropriate to carry out ex situ
on electrodes harvested from partially charged or cycled cells) in some cases. Here, we present detailed protocols for the preparation of both ex situ
and in situ
samples for experiments involving synchrotron radiation and demonstrate how these experiments are done.
Physics, Issue 81, X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, inorganic chemistry, electric batteries (applications), energy storage, Electrode materials, Li-ion battery, Na-ion battery, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD)
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
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
Cell Surface Marker Mediated Purification of iPS Cell Intermediates from a Reprogrammable Mouse Model
Institutions: Monash University, Monash University.
Mature cells can be reprogrammed to a pluripotent state. These so called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are able to give rise to all cell types of the body and consequently have vast potential for regenerative medicine applications. Traditionally iPS cells are generated by viral introduction of transcription factors Oct-4, Klf-4, Sox-2, and c-Myc (OKSM) into fibroblasts. However, reprogramming is an inefficient process with only 0.1-1% of cells reverting towards a pluripotent state, making it difficult to study the reprogramming mechanism. A proven methodology that has allowed the study of the reprogramming process is to separate the rare intermediates of the reaction from the refractory bulk population. In the case of mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs), we and others have previously shown that reprogramming cells undergo a distinct series of changes in the expression profile of cell surface markers which can be used for the separation of these cells. During the early stages of OKSM expression successfully reprogramming cells lose fibroblast identity marker Thy-1.2 and up-regulate pluripotency associated marker Ssea-1. The final transition of a subset of Ssea-1 positive cells towards the pluripotent state is marked by the expression of Epcam during the late stages of reprogramming. Here we provide a detailed description of the methodology used to isolate reprogramming intermediates from cultures of reprogramming MEFs. In order to increase experimental reproducibility we use a reprogrammable mouse strain that has been engineered to express a transcriptional transactivator (m2rtTA) under control of the Rosa26 locus and OKSM under control of a doxycycline responsive promoter. Cells isolated from these mice are isogenic and express OKSM homogenously upon addition of doxycycline. We describe in detail the establishment of the reprogrammable mice, the derivation of MEFs, and the subsequent isolation of intermediates during reprogramming into iPS cells via fluorescent activated cells sorting (FACS).
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 91, Induced pluripotent stem cells; reprogramming; intermediates; fluorescent activated cells sorting; cell surface marker; reprogrammable mouse model; derivation of mouse embryonic fibroblasts
Non-chromatographic Purification of Recombinant Elastin-like Polypeptides and their Fusions with Peptides and Proteins from Escherichia coli
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
Elastin-like polypeptides are repetitive biopolymers that exhibit a lower critical solution temperature phase transition behavior, existing as soluble unimers below a characteristic transition temperature and aggregating into micron-scale coacervates above their transition temperature. The design of elastin-like polypeptides at the genetic level permits precise control of their sequence and length, which dictates their thermal properties. Elastin-like polypeptides are used in a variety of applications including biosensing, tissue engineering, and drug delivery, where the transition temperature and biopolymer architecture of the ELP can be tuned for the specific application of interest. Furthermore, the lower critical solution temperature phase transition behavior of elastin-like polypeptides allows their purification by their thermal response, such that their selective coacervation and resolubilization allows the removal of both soluble and insoluble contaminants following expression in Escherichia coli
. This approach can be used for the purification of elastin-like polypeptides alone or as a purification tool for peptide or protein fusions where recombinant peptides or proteins genetically appended to elastin-like polypeptide tags can be purified without chromatography. This protocol describes the purification of elastin-like polypeptides and their peptide or protein fusions and discusses basic characterization techniques to assess the thermal behavior of pure elastin-like polypeptide products.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, elastin-like polypeptides, lower critical solution temperature, phase separation, inverse transition cycling, protein purification, batch purification
Induction and Analysis of Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition
Institutions: R&D Systems, Inc., R&D Systems, Inc..
Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is essential for proper morphogenesis during development. Misregulation of this process has been implicated as a key event in fibrosis and the progression of carcinomas to a metastatic state. Understanding the processes that underlie EMT is imperative for the early diagnosis and clinical control of these disease states. Reliable induction of EMT in vitro
is a useful tool for drug discovery as well as to identify common gene expression signatures for diagnostic purposes. Here we demonstrate a straightforward method for the induction of EMT in a variety of cell types. Methods for the analysis of cells pre- and post-EMT induction by immunocytochemistry are also included. Additionally, we demonstrate the effectiveness of this method through antibody-based array analysis and migration/invasion assays.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Stem Cell Biology, Cancer Biology, Medicine, Bioengineering, Anatomy, Physiology, biology (general), Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Wounds and Injuries, Neoplasms, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Epithelial to mesenchymal transition, EMT, cancer, metastasis, cancer stem cell, cell, assay, immunohistochemistry
Measuring the Kinetics of mRNA Transcription in Single Living Cells
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University.
The transcriptional activity of RNA polymerase II (Pol II) is a dynamic process and therefore measuring the kinetics of the transcriptional process in vivo
is of importance. Pol II kinetics have been measured using biochemical or molecular methods.1-3
In recent years, with the development of new visualization methods, it has become possible to follow transcription as it occurs in real time in single living cells.4
Herein we describe how to perform analysis of Pol II elongation kinetics on a specific gene in living cells.5, 6
Using a cell line in which a specific gene locus (DNA), its mRNA product, and the final protein product can be fluorescently labeled and visualized in vivo
, it is possible to detect the actual transcription of mRNAs on the gene of interest.7, 8
The mRNA is fluorescently tagged using the MS2 system for tagging mRNAs in vivo
, where the 3'UTR of the mRNA transcripts contain 24 MS2 stem-loop repeats, which provide highly specific binding sites for the YFP-MS2 coat protein that labels the mRNA as it is transcribed.9
To monitor the kinetics of transcription we use the Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) method. By photobleaching the YFP-MS2-tagged nascent transcripts at the site of transcription and then following the recovery of this signal over time, we obtain the synthesis rate of the newly made mRNAs.5
In other words, YFP-MS2 fluorescence recovery reflects the generation of new MS2 stem-loops in the nascent transcripts and their binding by fluorescent free YFP-MS2 molecules entering from the surrounding nucleoplasm. The FRAP recovery curves are then analyzed using mathematical mechanistic models formalized by a series of differential equations, in order to retrieve the kinetic time parameters of transcription.
Cell Biology, Issue 54, mRNA transcription, nucleus, live-cell imaging, cellular dynamics, FRAP
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
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
Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1
. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes
) with such properties2
Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6
(also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings.
First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10
, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints.
Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13
. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases.
Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms.
Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14
. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13
. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16
. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13
. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper.
We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have.
Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
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 (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), 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
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
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
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
The Use of Chemostats in Microbial Systems Biology
Institutions: New York University .
Cells regulate their rate of growth in response to signals from the external world. As the cell grows, diverse cellular processes must be coordinated including macromolecular synthesis, metabolism and ultimately, commitment to the cell division cycle. The chemostat, a method of experimentally controlling cell growth rate, provides a powerful means of systematically studying how growth rate impacts cellular processes - including gene expression and metabolism - and the regulatory networks that control the rate of cell growth. When maintained for hundreds of generations chemostats can be used to study adaptive evolution of microbes in environmental conditions that limit cell growth. We describe the principle of chemostat cultures, demonstrate their operation and provide examples of their various applications. Following a period of disuse after their introduction in the middle of the twentieth century, the convergence of genome-scale methodologies with a renewed interest in the regulation of cell growth and the molecular basis of adaptive evolution is stimulating a renaissance in the use of chemostats in biological research.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Molecular Biology, Computational Biology, Systems Biology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Environmental Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemostat, growth-rate, steady state, nutrient limitation, adaptive evolution
Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
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
) (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
Preparation of 2-dGuo-Treated Thymus Organ Cultures
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
In the thymus, interactions between developing T-cell precursors and stromal cells that include cortical and medullary epithelial cells are known to play a key role in the development of a functionally competent T-cell pool. However, the complexity of T-cell development in the thymus in vivo
can limit analysis of individual cellular components and particular stages of development. In vitro
culture systems provide a readily accessible means to study multiple complex cellular processes. Thymus organ culture systems represent a widely used approach to study intrathymic development of T-cells under defined conditions in vitro
. Here we describe a system in which mouse embryonic thymus lobes can be depleted of endogenous haemopoeitic elements by prior organ culture in 2-deoxyguanosine, a compound that is selectively toxic to haemopoeitic cells. As well as providing a readily accessible source of thymic stromal cells to investigate the role of thymic microenvironments in the development and selection of T-cells, this technique also underpins further experimental approaches that include the reconstitution of alymphoid thymus lobes in vitro
with defined haemopoietic elements, the transplantation of alymphoid thymuses into recipient mice, and the formation of reaggregate thymus organ cultures. (This article is based on work first reported Methods in Molecular Biology 2007, Vol. 380 pages 185-196).
Immunology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Thymus, 2-dGuo, Thymus Organ Cultures, Immune Tolerance, Positive and Negative Selection, Lymphoid Development
Designing and Implementing Nervous System Simulations on LEGO Robots
Institutions: Northeastern University, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
We present a method to use the commercially available LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics platform to test systems level neuroscience hypotheses. The first step of the method is to develop a nervous system simulation of specific reflexive behaviors of an appropriate model organism; here we use the American Lobster. Exteroceptive reflexes mediated by decussating (crossing) neural connections can explain an animal's taxis towards or away from a stimulus as described by Braitenberg and are particularly well suited for investigation using the NXT platform.1
The nervous system simulation is programmed using LabVIEW software on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. Once the nervous system is tuned properly, behavioral experiments are run on the robot and on the animal under identical environmental conditions. By controlling the sensory milieu experienced by the specimens, differences in behavioral outputs can be observed. These differences may point to specific deficiencies in the nervous system model and serve to inform the iteration of the model for the particular behavior under study. This method allows for the experimental manipulation of electronic nervous systems and serves as a way to explore neuroscience hypotheses specifically regarding the neurophysiological basis of simple innate reflexive behaviors. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit provides an affordable and efficient platform on which to test preliminary biomimetic robot control schemes. The approach is also well suited for the high school classroom to serve as the foundation for a hands-on inquiry-based biorobotics curriculum.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Bioengineering, Behavior, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Marine Biology, Biomimetics, Marine Science, Neurosciences, Synthetic Biology, Robotics, robots, Modeling, models, Sensory Fusion, nervous system, Educational Tools, programming, software, lobster, Homarus americanus, animal model
Interview: Glycolipid Antigen Presentation by CD1d and the Therapeutic Potential of NKT cell Activation
Institutions: La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
Natural Killer T cells (NKT) are critical determinants of the immune response to cancer, regulation of autioimmune disease, clearance of infectious agents, and the development of artheriosclerotic plaques. In this interview, Mitch Kronenberg discusses his laboratory's efforts to understand the mechanism through which NKT cells are activated by glycolipid antigens. Central to these studies is CD1d - the antigen presenting molecule that presents glycolipids to NKT cells. The advent of CD1d tetramer technology, a technique developed by the Kronenberg lab, is critical for the sorting and identification of subsets of specific glycolipid-reactive T cells. Mitch explains how glycolipid agonists are being used as therapeutic agents to activate NKT cells in cancer patients and how CD1d tetramers can be used to assess the state of the NKT cell population in vivo following glycolipid agonist therapy. Current status of ongoing clinical trials using these agonists are discussed as well as Mitch's prediction for areas in the field of immunology that will have emerging importance in the near future.
Immunology, Issue 10, Natural Killer T cells, NKT cells, CD1 Tetramers, antigen presentation, glycolipid antigens, CD1d, Mucosal Immunity, Translational Research
Reaggregate Thymus Cultures
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
Stromal cells within lymphoid tissues are organized into three-dimensional structures that provide a scaffold that is thought to control the migration and development of haemopoeitic cells. Importantly, the maintenance of this three-dimensional organization appears to be critical for normal stromal cell function, with two-dimensional monolayer cultures often being shown to be capable of supporting only individual fragments of lymphoid tissue function. In the thymus, complex networks of cortical and medullary epithelial cells act as a framework that controls the recruitment, proliferation, differentiation and survival of lymphoid progenitors as they undergo the multi-stage process of intrathymic T-cell development. Understanding the functional role of individual stromal compartments in the thymus is essential in determining how the thymus imposes self/non-self discrimination. Here we describe a technique in which we exploit the plasticity of fetal tissues to re-associate into intact three-dimensional structures in vitro
, following their enzymatic disaggregation. The dissociation of fetal thymus lobes into heterogeneous cellular mixtures, followed by their separation into individual cellular components, is then combined with the in vitro
re-association of these desired cell types into three-dimensional reaggregate structures at defined ratios, thereby providing an opportunity to investigate particular aspects of T-cell development under defined cellular conditions. (This article is based on work first reported Methods in Molecular Biology 2007, Vol. 380 pages 185-196).
Immunology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Thymus, 2-dGuo, Thymus Organ Cultures, Immune Tolerance, Positive and Negative Selection, Lymphoid Development
Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution