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Bottom-up engineering of biological systems through standard bricks: a modularity study on basic parts and devices.
Modularity is a crucial issue in the engineering world, as it enables engineers to achieve predictable outcomes when different components are interconnected. Synthetic Biology aims to apply key concepts of engineering to design and construct new biological systems that exhibit a predictable behaviour. Even if physical and measurement standards have been recently proposed to facilitate the assembly and characterization of biological components, real modularity is still a major research issue. The success of the bottom-up approach strictly depends on the clear definition of the limits in which biological functions can be predictable.
Authors: Philip Chung, J. Alex Heller, Mozziyar Etemadi, Paige E. Ottoson, Jonathan A. Liu, Larry Rand, Shuvo Roy.
Published: 06-27-2014
Biologically inert elastomers such as silicone are favorable materials for medical device fabrication, but forming and curing these elastomers using traditional liquid injection molding processes can be an expensive process due to tooling and equipment costs. As a result, it has traditionally been impractical to use liquid injection molding for low-cost, rapid prototyping applications. We have devised a method for rapid and low-cost production of liquid elastomer injection molded devices that utilizes fused deposition modeling 3D printers for mold design and a modified desiccator as an injection system. Low costs and rapid turnaround time in this technique lower the barrier to iteratively designing and prototyping complex elastomer devices. Furthermore, CAD models developed in this process can be later adapted for metal mold tooling design, enabling an easy transition to a traditional injection molding process. We have used this technique to manufacture intravaginal probes involving complex geometries, as well as overmolding over metal parts, using tools commonly available within an academic research laboratory. However, this technique can be easily adapted to create liquid injection molded devices for many other applications.
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Determining the Contribution of the Energy Systems During Exercise
Authors: Guilherme G. Artioli, Rômulo C. Bertuzzi, Hamilton Roschel, Sandro H. Mendes, Antonio H. Lancha Jr., Emerson Franchini.
Institutions: University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo.
One of the most important aspects of the metabolic demand is the relative contribution of the energy systems to the total energy required for a given physical activity. Although some sports are relatively easy to be reproduced in a laboratory (e.g., running and cycling), a number of sports are much more difficult to be reproduced and studied in controlled situations. This method presents how to assess the differential contribution of the energy systems in sports that are difficult to mimic in controlled laboratory conditions. The concepts shown here can be adapted to virtually any sport. The following physiologic variables will be needed: rest oxygen consumption, exercise oxygen consumption, post-exercise oxygen consumption, rest plasma lactate concentration and post-exercise plasma peak lactate. To calculate the contribution of the aerobic metabolism, you will need the oxygen consumption at rest and during the exercise. By using the trapezoidal method, calculate the area under the curve of oxygen consumption during exercise, subtracting the area corresponding to the rest oxygen consumption. To calculate the contribution of the alactic anaerobic metabolism, the post-exercise oxygen consumption curve has to be adjusted to a mono or a bi-exponential model (chosen by the one that best fits). Then, use the terms of the fitted equation to calculate anaerobic alactic metabolism, as follows: ATP-CP metabolism = A1 (mL . s-1) x t1 (s). Finally, to calculate the contribution of the lactic anaerobic system, multiply peak plasma lactate by 3 and by the athlete’s body mass (the result in mL is then converted to L and into kJ). The method can be used for both continuous and intermittent exercise. This is a very interesting approach as it can be adapted to exercises and sports that are difficult to be mimicked in controlled environments. Also, this is the only available method capable of distinguishing the contribution of three different energy systems. Thus, the method allows the study of sports with great similarity to real situations, providing desirable ecological validity to the study.
Physiology, Issue 61, aerobic metabolism, anaerobic alactic metabolism, anaerobic lactic metabolism, exercise, athletes, mathematical model
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Lipid Bilayer Vesicle Generation Using Microfluidic Jetting
Authors: Christopher W. Coyne, Karan Patel, Johanna Heureaux, Jeanne Stachowiak, Daniel A. Fletcher, Allen P. Liu.
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, The University of Texas at Austin, University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Bottom-up synthetic biology presents a novel approach for investigating and reconstituting biochemical systems and, potentially, minimal organisms. This emerging field engages engineers, chemists, biologists, and physicists to design and assemble basic biological components into complex, functioning systems from the bottom up. Such bottom-up systems could lead to the development of artificial cells for fundamental biological inquiries and innovative therapies1,2. Giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) can serve as a model platform for synthetic biology due to their cell-like membrane structure and size. Microfluidic jetting, or microjetting, is a technique that allows for the generation of GUVs with controlled size, membrane composition, transmembrane protein incorporation, and encapsulation3. The basic principle of this method is the use of multiple, high-frequency fluid pulses generated by a piezo-actuated inkjet device to deform a suspended lipid bilayer into a GUV. The process is akin to blowing soap bubbles from a soap film. By varying the composition of the jetted solution, the composition of the encompassing solution, and/or the components included in the bilayer, researchers can apply this technique to create customized vesicles. This paper describes the procedure to generate simple vesicles from a droplet interface bilayer by microjetting.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Microfluidic jetting, synthetic biology, vesicle encapsulation, lipid bilayer, biochemical reconstitution, giant unilamellar vesicles
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The Encapsulation of Cell-free Transcription and Translation Machinery in Vesicles for the Construction of Cellular Mimics
Authors: Amy C. Spencer, Paola Torre, Sheref S. Mansy.
Institutions: University of Trento.
As interest shifts from individual molecules to systems of molecules, an increasing number of laboratories have sought to build from the bottom up cellular mimics that better represent the complexity of cellular life. To date there are a number of paths that could be taken to build compartmentalized cellular mimics, including the exploitation of water-in-oil emulsions, microfluidic devices, and vesicles. Each of the available options has specific advantages and disadvantages. For example, water-in-oil emulsions give high encapsulation efficiency but do not mimic well the permeability barrier of living cells. The primary advantage of the methods described herein is that they are all easy and cheap to implement. Transcription-translation machinery is encapsulated inside of phospholipid vesicles through a process that exploits common instrumentation, such as a centrifugal evaporator and an extruder. Reactions are monitored by fluorescence spectroscopy. The protocols can be adapted for recombinant protein expression, the construction of cellular mimics, the exploration of the minimum requirements for cellular life, or the assembly of genetic circuitry.
Bioengineering, Issue 80, synthetic biology, minimal cell, protocell, artificial cell, cell-free, in vitro transcription-translation, liposome, vesicle
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A Novel Stretching Platform for Applications in Cell and Tissue Mechanobiology
Authors: Dominique Tremblay, Charles M. Cuerrier, Lukasz Andrzejewski, Edward R. O'Brien, Andrew E. Pelling.
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Tools that allow the application of mechanical forces to cells and tissues or that can quantify the mechanical properties of biological tissues have contributed dramatically to the understanding of basic mechanobiology. These techniques have been extensively used to demonstrate how the onset and progression of various diseases are heavily influenced by mechanical cues. This article presents a multi-functional biaxial stretching (BAXS) platform that can either mechanically stimulate single cells or quantify the mechanical stiffness of tissues. The BAXS platform consists of four voice coil motors that can be controlled independently. Single cells can be cultured on a flexible substrate that can be attached to the motors allowing one to expose the cells to complex, dynamic, and spatially varying strain fields. Conversely, by incorporating a force load cell, one can also quantify the mechanical properties of primary tissues as they are exposed to deformation cycles. In both cases, a proper set of clamps must be designed and mounted to the BAXS platform motors in order to firmly hold the flexible substrate or the tissue of interest. The BAXS platform can be mounted on an inverted microscope to perform simultaneous transmitted light and/or fluorescence imaging to examine the structural or biochemical response of the sample during stretching experiments. This article provides experimental details of the design and usage of the BAXS platform and presents results for single cell and whole tissue studies. The BAXS platform was used to measure the deformation of nuclei in single mouse myoblast cells in response to substrate strain and to measure the stiffness of isolated mouse aortas. The BAXS platform is a versatile tool that can be combined with various optical microscopies in order to provide novel mechanobiological insights at the sub-cellular, cellular and whole tissue levels.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cell stretching, tissue mechanics, nuclear mechanics, uniaxial, biaxial, anisotropic, mechanobiology
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Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo cellular environment in a controlled in vitro platform.1 This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3 To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5 The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6 Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7 The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8 Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10 The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
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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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A Microfluidic-based Electrochemical Biochip for Label-free DNA Hybridization Analysis
Authors: Hadar Ben-Yoav, Peter H. Dykstra, Tanya Gordonov, William E. Bentley, Reza Ghodssi.
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
Miniaturization of analytical benchtop procedures into the micro-scale provides significant advantages in regards to reaction time, cost, and integration of pre-processing steps. Utilizing these devices towards the analysis of DNA hybridization events is important because it offers a technology for real time assessment of biomarkers at the point-of-care for various diseases. However, when the device footprint decreases the dominance of various physical phenomena increases. These phenomena influence the fabrication precision and operation reliability of the device. Therefore, there is a great need to accurately fabricate and operate these devices in a reproducible manner in order to improve the overall performance. Here, we describe the protocols and the methods used for the fabrication and the operation of a microfluidic-based electrochemical biochip for accurate analysis of DNA hybridization events. The biochip is composed of two parts: a microfluidic chip with three parallel micro-channels made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), and a 3 x 3 arrayed electrochemical micro-chip. The DNA hybridization events are detected using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) analysis. The EIS analysis enables monitoring variations of the properties of the electrochemical system that are dominant at these length scales. With the ability to monitor changes of both charge transfer and diffusional resistance with the biosensor, we demonstrate the selectivity to complementary ssDNA targets, a calculated detection limit of 3.8 nM, and a 13% cross-reactivity with other non-complementary ssDNA following 20 min of incubation. This methodology can improve the performance of miniaturized devices by elucidating on the behavior of diffusion at the micro-scale regime and by enabling the study of DNA hybridization events.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, DNA hybridization, biosensor, biochip, microfluidics, label-free detection, restricted diffusion, microfabrication
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Parallel-plate Flow Chamber and Continuous Flow Circuit to Evaluate Endothelial Progenitor Cells under Laminar Flow Shear Stress
Authors: Whitney O. Lane, Alexandra E. Jantzen, Tim A. Carlon, Ryan M. Jamiolkowski, Justin E. Grenet, Melissa M. Ley, Justin M. Haseltine, Lauren J. Galinat, Fu-Hsiung Lin, Jason D. Allen, George A. Truskey, Hardean E. Achneck.
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University , University of Pennsylvania , Duke University Medical Center.
The overall goal of this method is to describe a technique to subject adherent cells to laminar flow conditions and evaluate their response to well quantifiable fluid shear stresses1. Our flow chamber design and flow circuit (Fig. 1) contains a transparent viewing region that enables testing of cell adhesion and imaging of cell morphology immediately before flow (Fig. 11A, B), at various time points during flow (Fig. 11C), and after flow (Fig. 11D). These experiments are illustrated with human umbilical cord blood-derived endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) and porcine EPCs2,3. This method is also applicable to other adherent cell types, e.g. smooth muscle cells (SMCs) or fibroblasts. The chamber and all parts of the circuit are easily sterilized with steam autoclaving. In contrast to other chambers, e.g. microfluidic chambers, large numbers of cells (> 1 million depending on cell size) can be recovered after the flow experiment under sterile conditions for cell culture or other experiments, e.g. DNA or RNA extraction, or immunohistochemistry (Fig. 11E), or scanning electron microscopy5. The shear stress can be adjusted by varying the flow rate of the perfusate, the fluid viscosity, or the channel height and width. The latter can reduce fluid volume or cell needs while ensuring that one-dimensional flow is maintained. It is not necessary to measure chamber height between experiments, since the chamber height does not depend on the use of gaskets, which greatly increases the ease of multiple experiments. Furthermore, the circuit design easily enables the collection of perfusate samples for analysis and/or quantification of metabolites secreted by cells under fluid shear stress exposure, e.g. nitric oxide (Fig. 12)6.
Bioengineering, Issue 59, Fluid Shear Stress, Shear Stress, Shear Force, Endothelium, Endothelial Progenitor Cells, Flow Chamber, Laminar Flow, Flow Circuit, Continuous Flow, Cell Adhesion
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Microfluidic Picoliter Bioreactor for Microbial Single-cell Analysis: Fabrication, System Setup, and Operation
Authors: Alexander Gruenberger, Christopher Probst, Antonia Heyer, Wolfgang Wiechert, Julia Frunzke, Dietrich Kohlheyer.
Institutions: Forschungszentrum Juelich GmbH.
In this protocol the fabrication, experimental setup and basic operation of the recently introduced microfluidic picoliter bioreactor (PLBR) is described in detail. The PLBR can be utilized for the analysis of single bacteria and microcolonies to investigate biotechnological and microbiological related questions concerning, e.g. cell growth, morphology, stress response, and metabolite or protein production on single-cell level. The device features continuous media flow enabling constant environmental conditions for perturbation studies, but in addition allows fast medium changes as well as oscillating conditions to mimic any desired environmental situation. To fabricate the single use devices, a silicon wafer containing sub micrometer sized SU-8 structures served as the replication mold for rapid polydimethylsiloxane casting. Chips were cut, assembled, connected, and set up onto a high resolution and fully automated microscope suited for time-lapse imaging, a powerful tool for spatio-temporal cell analysis. Here, the biotechnological platform organism Corynebacterium glutamicum was seeded into the PLBR and cell growth and intracellular fluorescence were followed over several hours unraveling time dependent population heterogeneity on single-cell level, not possible with conventional analysis methods such as flow cytometry. Besides insights into device fabrication, furthermore, the preparation of the preculture, loading, trapping of bacteria, and the PLBR cultivation of single cells and colonies is demonstrated. These devices will add a new dimension in microbiological research to analyze time dependent phenomena of single bacteria under tight environmental control. Due to the simple and relatively short fabrication process the technology can be easily adapted at any microfluidics lab and simply tailored towards specific needs.
Bioengineering, Issue 82, Soft lithography, SU-8 lithography, Picoliter bioreactor, Single-cell analysis, Polydimethylsiloxane, Corynebacterium glutamicum, Escherichia coli, Microfluidics, Lab-on-a-chip
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Authors: Rangaraj M. Rangayyan, Shantanu Banik, J.E. Leo Desautels.
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion. Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
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Reduced-gravity Environment Hardware Demonstrations of a Prototype Miniaturized Flow Cytometer and Companion Microfluidic Mixing Technology
Authors: William S. Phipps, Zhizhong Yin, Candice Bae, Julia Z. Sharpe, Andrew M. Bishara, Emily S. Nelson, Aaron S. Weaver, Daniel Brown, Terri L. McKay, DeVon Griffin, Eugene Y. Chan.
Institutions: DNA Medicine Institute, Harvard Medical School, NASA Glenn Research Center, ZIN Technologies.
Until recently, astronaut blood samples were collected in-flight, transported to earth on the Space Shuttle, and analyzed in terrestrial laboratories. If humans are to travel beyond low Earth orbit, a transition towards space-ready, point-of-care (POC) testing is required. Such testing needs to be comprehensive, easy to perform in a reduced-gravity environment, and unaffected by the stresses of launch and spaceflight. Countless POC devices have been developed to mimic laboratory scale counterparts, but most have narrow applications and few have demonstrable use in an in-flight, reduced-gravity environment. In fact, demonstrations of biomedical diagnostics in reduced gravity are limited altogether, making component choice and certain logistical challenges difficult to approach when seeking to test new technology. To help fill the void, we are presenting a modular method for the construction and operation of a prototype blood diagnostic device and its associated parabolic flight test rig that meet the standards for flight-testing onboard a parabolic flight, reduced-gravity aircraft. The method first focuses on rig assembly for in-flight, reduced-gravity testing of a flow cytometer and a companion microfluidic mixing chip. Components are adaptable to other designs and some custom components, such as a microvolume sample loader and the micromixer may be of particular interest. The method then shifts focus to flight preparation, by offering guidelines and suggestions to prepare for a successful flight test with regard to user training, development of a standard operating procedure (SOP), and other issues. Finally, in-flight experimental procedures specific to our demonstrations are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Point-of-care, prototype, diagnostics, spaceflight, reduced gravity, parabolic flight, flow cytometry, fluorescence, cell counting, micromixing, spiral-vortex, blood mixing
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Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Authors: Eva Wagner, Sören Brandenburg, Tobias Kohl, Stephan E. Lehnart.
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+ release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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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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High Throughput Microfluidic Rapid and Low Cost Prototyping Packaging Methods
Authors: Amine Miled, Mohamad Sawan.
Institutions: Polytechnique Montreal.
In this work, 3 different packaging and assembly techniques are presented. They can be classified into two categories: one-time use and reusable packaging techniques. The one-time use packaging technique employs UV-based and temperature curing epoxies to connect microtubes to access holes, wire-bonding for integrated circuit connections, and silver epoxy for electrical connections. This method is based on a robust assembly technique that can support relatively high pressure close to 1 psi and does not need any support to strengthen the microfluidic architecture. Reusable packaging techniques consist of PDMS-based microtube interconnectors and anisotropic adhesive films for electrical connections. These devices are more sensitive and fragile. Consequently, Plexiglas support is added to the microfluidic structure to improve the electrical contact when anisotropic adhesive films are used, and also to strengthen the microfluidic architecture. In addition, a micromanipulator is needed to maintain tubes while using a thin PDMS layer to connect them to the access holes. Different PDMS layer thicknesses, ranging from 0.45-3 mm, are tested to compare the best adherence versus injection rates. Applied injection rates are varied from 50-300 μl/hr for 0.45-3 mm PDMS layers, respectively. These techniques are mainly applicable for low-pressure applications. However, they can be extended for high-pressure ones through plasma-oxygen process to permanently seal the PDMS to glass substrates. The main advantage of this technique, besides the fact that it is reusable, consists of keeping the device observable when the microchannel length is very short (in the range of 3 mm or lower).
Bioengineering, Issue 82, Microfluidics, PDMS, Lab-on-chip, Rapid-Prototyping, Microfabrication
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Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Authors: Daniel E. Bradford, Katherine P. Magruder, Rachel A. Korhumel, John J. Curtin.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e., “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g., neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91, Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
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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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Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Authors: Mackenzie J. Denyes, Michèle A. Parisien, Allison Rutter, Barbara A. Zeeb.
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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Using Learning Outcome Measures to assess Doctoral Nursing Education
Authors: Glenn H. Raup, Jeff King, Romana J. Hughes, Natasha Faidley.
Institutions: Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Texas Christian University.
Education programs at all levels must be able to demonstrate successful program outcomes. Grades alone do not represent a comprehensive measurement methodology for assessing student learning outcomes at either the course or program level. The development and application of assessment rubrics provides an unequivocal measurement methodology to ensure a quality learning experience by providing a foundation for improvement based on qualitative and quantitatively measurable, aggregate course and program outcomes. Learning outcomes are the embodiment of the total learning experience and should incorporate assessment of both qualitative and quantitative program outcomes. The assessment of qualitative measures represents a challenge for educators in any level of a learning program. Nursing provides a unique challenge and opportunity as it is the application of science through the art of caring. Quantification of desired student learning outcomes may be enhanced through the development of assessment rubrics designed to measure quantitative and qualitative aspects of the nursing education and learning process. They provide a mechanism for uniform assessment by nursing faculty of concepts and constructs that are otherwise difficult to describe and measure. A protocol is presented and applied to a doctoral nursing education program with recommendations for application and transformation of the assessment rubric to other education programs. Through application of these specially designed rubrics, all aspects of an education program can be adequately assessed to provide information for program assessment that facilitates the closure of the gap between desired and actual student learning outcomes for any desired educational competency.
Medicine, Issue 40, learning, outcomes, measurement, program, assessment, rubric
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Experimental Approaches to Tissue Engineering
Authors: Ali Khademhosseini.
Institutions: Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Issue 7, Cell Biology, tissue engineering, microfluidics, stem cells
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BioMEMS: Forging New Collaborations Between Biologists and Engineers
Authors: Noo Li Jeon.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
This video describes the fabrication and use of a microfluidic device to culture central nervous system (CNS) neurons. This device is compatible with live-cell optical microscopy (DIC and phase contrast), as well as confocal and two photon microscopy approaches. This method uses precision-molded polymer parts to create miniature multi-compartment cell culture with fluidic isolation. The compartments are made of tiny channels with dimensions that are large enough to culture neurons in well-controlled fluidic microenvironments. Neurons can be cultured for 2-3 weeks within the device, after which they can be fixed and stained for immunocytochemistry. Axonal and somal compartments can be maintained fluidically isolated from each other by using a small hydrostatic pressure difference; this feature can be used to localize soluble insults to one compartment for up to 20 h after each medium change. Fluidic isolation enables collection of pure axonal fraction and biochemical analysis by PCR. The microfluidic device provides a highly adaptable platform for neuroscience research and may find applications in modeling CNS injury and neurodegeneration.
Neuroscience, Issue 9, Microfluidics, Bioengineering, Neuron
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Micro-scale Engineering for Cell Biology
Authors: Joel Voldman.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Cellular Biology, Issue 8, stem cells, tissue engineering, bioengineering
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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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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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