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The PLOS ONE synthetic biology collection: six years and counting.
Since it was launched in 2006, PLOS ONE has published over fifty articles illustrating the many facets of the emerging field of synthetic biology. This article reviews these publications by organizing them into broad categories focused on DNA synthesis and assembly techniques, the development of libraries of biological parts, the use of synthetic biology in protein engineering applications, and the engineering of gene regulatory networks and metabolic pathways. Finally, we review articles that describe enabling technologies such as software and modeling, along with new instrumentation. In order to increase the visibility of this body of work, the papers have been assembled into the PLOS ONE Synthetic Biology Collection ( Many of the innovative features of the PLOS ONE web site will help make this collection a resource that will support a lively dialogue between readers and authors of PLOS ONE synthetic biology papers. The content of the collection will be updated periodically by including relevant articles as they are published by the journal. Thus, we hope that this collection will continue to meet the publishing needs of the synthetic biology community.
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Published: 09-16-2013
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."
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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Identifying Targets of Human microRNAs with the LightSwitch Luciferase Assay System using 3'UTR-reporter Constructs and a microRNA Mimic in Adherent Cells
Authors: Shelley Force Aldred, Patrick Collins, Nathan Trinklein.
Institutions: SwitchGear Genomics.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators of gene expression and play a role in many biological processes. More than 700 human miRNAs have been identified so far with each having up to hundreds of unique target mRNAs. Computational tools, expression and proteomics assays, and chromatin-immunoprecipitation-based techniques provide important clues for identifying mRNAs that are direct targets of a particular miRNA. In addition, 3'UTR-reporter assays have become an important component of thorough miRNA target studies because they provide functional evidence for and quantitate the effects of specific miRNA-3'UTR interactions in a cell-based system. To enable more researchers to leverage 3'UTR-reporter assays and to support the scale-up of such assays to high-throughput levels, we have created a genome-wide collection of human 3'UTR luciferase reporters in the highly-optimized LightSwitch Luciferase Assay System. The system also includes synthetic miRNA target reporter constructs for use as positive controls, various endogenous 3'UTR reporter constructs, and a series of standardized experimental protocols. Here we describe a method for co-transfection of individual 3'UTR-reporter constructs along with a miRNA mimic that is efficient, reproducible, and amenable to high-throughput analysis.
Genetics, Issue 55, MicroRNA, miRNA, mimic, Clone, 3' UTR, Assay, vector, LightSwitch, luciferase, co-transfection, 3'UTR REPORTER, mirna target, microrna target, reporter, GoClone, Reporter construct
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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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Measuring Growth and Gene Expression Dynamics of Tumor-Targeted S. Typhimurium Bacteria
Authors: Tal Danino, Arthur Prindle, Jeff Hasty, Sangeeta Bhatia.
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, San Diego , University of California, San Diego , University of California, San Diego , Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The goal of these experiments is to generate quantitative time-course data on the growth and gene expression dynamics of attenuated S. typhimurium bacterial colonies growing inside tumors. We generated model xenograft tumors in mice by subcutaneous injection of a human ovarian cancer cell line, OVCAR-8 (NCI DCTD Tumor Repository, Frederick, MD). We transformed attenuated strains of S. typhimurium bacteria (ELH430:SL1344 phoPQ- 1) with a constitutively expressed luciferase (luxCDABE) plasmid for visualization2. These strains specifically colonize tumors while remaining essentially non-virulent to the mouse1. Once measurable tumors were established, bacteria were injected intravenously via the tail vein with varying dosage. Tumor-localized, bacterial gene expression was monitored in real time over the course of 60 hours using an in vivo imaging system (IVIS). At each time point, tumors were excised, homogenized, and plated to quantitate bacterial colonies for correlation with gene expression data. Together, this data yields a quantitative measure of the in vivo growth and gene expression dynamics of bacteria growing inside tumors.
Infection, Issue 77, Cancer Biology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Bacteria, Synthetic Biology, Biological Agents, Time-Lapse Imaging, Synthetic Biology, dynamics (physics), Synthetic Biology, cancer therapy, bacteria population dynamics, in-vivo imaging, cell, imaging
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High-throughput Protein Expression Generator Using a Microfluidic Platform
Authors: Yair Glick, Dorit Avrahami, Efrat Michaely, Doron Gerber.
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University.
Rapidly increasing fields, such as systems biology, require the development and implementation of new technologies, enabling high-throughput and high-fidelity measurements of large systems. Microfluidics promises to fulfill many of these requirements, such as performing high-throughput screening experiments on-chip, encompassing biochemical, biophysical, and cell-based assays1. Since the early days of microfluidics devices, this field has drastically evolved, leading to the development of microfluidic large-scale integration2,3. This technology allows for the integration of thousands of micromechanical valves on a single device with a postage-sized footprint (Figure 1). We have developed a high-throughput microfluidic platform for generating in vitro expression of protein arrays (Figure 2) named PING (Protein Interaction Network Generator). These arrays can serve as a template for many experiments such as protein-protein 4, protein-RNA5 or protein-DNA6 interactions. The device consist of thousands of reaction chambers, which are individually programmed using a microarrayer. Aligning of these printed microarrays to microfluidics devices programs each chamber with a single spot eliminating potential contamination or cross-reactivity Moreover, generating microarrays using standard microarray spotting techniques is also very modular, allowing for the arraying of proteins7, DNA8, small molecules, and even colloidal suspensions. The potential impact of microfluidics on biological sciences is significant. A number of microfluidics based assays have already provided novel insights into the structure and function of biological systems, and the field of microfluidics will continue to impact biology.
Bioengineering, Issue 66, Genetics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology, In vitro protein expression, microfluidics, protein microarray, systems biology, high-throughput, screening
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Transient Gene Expression in Tobacco using Gibson Assembly and the Gene Gun
Authors: Matthew D. Mattozzi, Mathias J. Voges, Pamela A. Silver, Jeffrey C. Way.
Institutions: Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Delft University of Technology.
In order to target a single protein to multiple subcellular organelles, plants typically duplicate the relevant genes, and express each gene separately using complex regulatory strategies including differential promoters and/or signal sequences. Metabolic engineers and synthetic biologists interested in targeting enzymes to a particular organelle are faced with a challenge: For a protein that is to be localized to more than one organelle, the engineer must clone the same gene multiple times. This work presents a solution to this strategy: harnessing alternative splicing of mRNA. This technology takes advantage of established chloroplast and peroxisome targeting sequences and combines them into a single mRNA that is alternatively spliced. Some splice variants are sent to the chloroplast, some to the peroxisome, and some to the cytosol. Here the system is designed for multiple-organelle targeting with alternative splicing. In this work, GFP was expected to be expressed in the chloroplast, cytosol, and peroxisome by a series of rationally designed 5’ mRNA tags. These tags have the potential to reduce the amount of cloning required when heterologous genes need to be expressed in multiple subcellular organelles. The constructs were designed in previous work11, and were cloned using Gibson assembly, a ligation independent cloning method that does not require restriction enzymes. The resultant plasmids were introduced into Nicotiana benthamiana epidermal leaf cells with a modified Gene Gun protocol. Finally, transformed leaves were observed with confocal microscopy.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Plant Leaves, Synthetic Biology, Plants, Genetically Modified, DNA, Plant, RNA, Gene Targeting, Plant Physiological Processes, Genes, Gene gun, Gibson assembly, Nicotiana benthamiana, Alternative splicing, confocal microscopy, chloroplast, peroxisome
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A Multiplexed Luciferase-based Screening Platform for Interrogating Cancer-associated Signal Transduction in Cultured Cells
Authors: Ozlem Kulak, Lawrence Lum.
Institutions: UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Genome-scale interrogation of gene function using RNA interference (RNAi) holds tremendous promise for the rapid identification of chemically tractable cancer cell vulnerabilities. Limiting the potential of this technology is the inability to rapidly delineate the mechanistic basis of phenotypic outcomes and thus inform the development of molecularly targeted therapeutic strategies. We outline here methods to deconstruct cellular phenotypes induced by RNAi-mediated gene targeting using multiplexed reporter systems that allow monitoring of key cancer cell-associated processes. This high-content screening methodology is versatile and can be readily adapted for the screening of other types of large molecular libraries.
Cancer Biology, Issue 77, Medicine, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Cancer Biology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Drug Discovery, RNA Interference, Cell Biology, Neoplasms, luciferase reporters, functional genomics, chemical biology, high-throughput screening technology, signal transduction, PCR, transfection, assay
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Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Authors: Melissa N. Patterson, Patrick H. Maxwell.
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
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High Yield Purification of Plasmodium falciparum Merozoites For Use in Opsonizing Antibody Assays
Authors: Danika L. Hill, Emily M. Eriksson, Louis Schofield.
Institutions: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, University of Melbourne.
Plasmodium falciparum merozoite antigens are under development as potential malaria vaccines. One aspect of immunity against malaria is the removal of free merozoites from the blood by phagocytic cells. However assessing the functional efficacy of merozoite specific opsonizing antibodies is challenging due to the short half-life of merozoites and the variability of primary phagocytic cells. Described in detail herein is a method for generating viable merozoites using the E64 protease inhibitor, and an assay of merozoite opsonin-dependent phagocytosis using the pro-monocytic cell line THP-1. E64 prevents schizont rupture while allowing the development of merozoites which are released by filtration of treated schizonts.  Ethidium bromide labelled merozoites are opsonized with human plasma samples and added to THP-1 cells. Phagocytosis is assessed by a standardized high throughput protocol. Viable merozoites are a valuable resource for assessing numerous aspects of P. falciparum biology, including assessment of immune function. Antibody levels measured by this assay are associated with clinical immunity to malaria in naturally exposed individuals. The assay may also be of use for assessing vaccine induced antibodies.  
Immunology, Issue 89, Parasitic Diseases, malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, hemozoin, antibody, Fc Receptor, opsonization, merozoite, phagocytosis, THP-1
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Selection of Aptamers for Amyloid β-Protein, the Causative Agent of Alzheimer's Disease
Authors: Farid Rahimi, Gal Bitan.
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive, age-dependent, neurodegenerative disorder with an insidious course that renders its presymptomatic diagnosis difficult1. Definite AD diagnosis is achieved only postmortem, thus establishing presymptomatic, early diagnosis of AD is crucial for developing and administering effective therapies2,3. Amyloid β-protein (Aβ) is central to AD pathogenesis. Soluble, oligomeric Aβ assemblies are believed to affect neurotoxicity underlying synaptic dysfunction and neuron loss in AD4,5. Various forms of soluble Aβ assemblies have been described, however, their interrelationships and relevance to AD etiology and pathogenesis are complex and not well understood6. Specific molecular recognition tools may unravel the relationships amongst Aβ assemblies and facilitate detection and characterization of these assemblies early in the disease course before symptoms emerge. Molecular recognition commonly relies on antibodies. However, an alternative class of molecular recognition tools, aptamers, offers important advantages relative to antibodies7,8. Aptamers are oligonucleotides generated by in-vitro selection: systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment (SELEX)9,10. SELEX is an iterative process that, similar to Darwinian evolution, allows selection, amplification, enrichment, and perpetuation of a property, e.g., avid, specific, ligand binding (aptamers) or catalytic activity (ribozymes and DNAzymes). Despite emergence of aptamers as tools in modern biotechnology and medicine11, they have been underutilized in the amyloid field. Few RNA or ssDNA aptamers have been selected against various forms of prion proteins (PrP)12-16. An RNA aptamer generated against recombinant bovine PrP was shown to recognize bovine PrP-β17, a soluble, oligomeric, β-sheet-rich conformational variant of full-length PrP that forms amyloid fibrils18. Aptamers generated using monomeric and several forms of fibrillar β2-microglobulin (β2m) were found to bind fibrils of certain other amyloidogenic proteins besides β2m fibrils19. Ylera et al. described RNA aptamers selected against immobilized monomeric Aβ4020. Unexpectedly, these aptamers bound fibrillar Aβ40. Altogether, these data raise several important questions. Why did aptamers selected against monomeric proteins recognize their polymeric forms? Could aptamers against monomeric and/or oligomeric forms of amyloidogenic proteins be obtained? To address these questions, we attempted to select aptamers for covalently-stabilized oligomeric Aβ4021 generated using photo-induced cross-linking of unmodified proteins (PICUP)22,23. Similar to previous findings17,19,20, these aptamers reacted with fibrils of Aβ and several other amyloidogenic proteins likely recognizing a potentially common amyloid structural aptatope21. Here, we present the SELEX methodology used in production of these aptamers21.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, Cellular Biology, Aptamer, RNA, amyloid β-protein, oligomer, amyloid fibrils, protein assembly
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A high-throughput method to globally study the organelle morphology in S. cerevisiae
Authors: Shabnam Tavassoli, Jesse Tzu-Cheng Chao, Christopher Loewen.
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
High-throughput methods to examine protein localization or organelle morphology is an effective tool for studying protein interactions and can help achieve an comprehensive understanding of molecular pathways. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, with the development of the non-essential gene deletion array, we can globally study the morphology of different organelles like the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the mitochondria using GFP (or variant)-markers in different gene backgrounds. However, incorporating GFP markers in each single mutant individually is a labor-intensive process. Here, we describe a procedure that is routinely used in our laboratory. By using a robotic system to handle high-density yeast arrays and drug selection techniques, we can significantly shorten the time required and improve reproducibility. In brief, we cross a GFP-tagged mitochondrial marker (Apc1-GFP) to a high-density array of 4,672 nonessential gene deletion mutants by robotic replica pinning. Through diploid selection, sporulation, germination and dual marker selection, we recover both alleles. As a result, each haploid single mutant contains Apc1-GFP incorporated at its genomic locus. Now, we can study the morphology of mitochondria in all non-essential mutant background. Using this high-throughput approach, we can conveniently study and delineate the pathways and genes involved in the inheritance and the formation of organelles in a genome-wide setting.
Microbiology, Issue 25, High throughput, confocal microscopy, Acp1, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
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Synthetic, Multi-Layer, Self-Oscillating Vocal Fold Model Fabrication
Authors: Preston R. Murray, Scott L. Thomson.
Institutions: Brigham Young University.
Sound for the human voice is produced via flow-induced vocal fold vibration. The vocal folds consist of several layers of tissue, each with differing material properties 1. Normal voice production relies on healthy tissue and vocal folds, and occurs as a result of complex coupling between aerodynamic, structural dynamic, and acoustic physical phenomena. Voice disorders affect up to 7.5 million annually in the United States alone 2 and often result in significant financial, social, and other quality-of-life difficulties. Understanding the physics of voice production has the potential to significantly benefit voice care, including clinical prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of voice disorders. Existing methods for studying voice production include in vivo experimentation using human and animal subjects, in vitro experimentation using excised larynges and synthetic models, and computational modeling. Owing to hazardous and difficult instrument access, in vivo experiments are severely limited in scope. Excised larynx experiments have the benefit of anatomical and some physiological realism, but parametric studies involving geometric and material property variables are limited. Further, they are typically only able to be vibrated for relatively short periods of time (typically on the order of minutes). Overcoming some of the limitations of excised larynx experiments, synthetic vocal fold models are emerging as a complementary tool for studying voice production. Synthetic models can be fabricated with systematic changes to geometry and material properties, allowing for the study of healthy and unhealthy human phonatory aerodynamics, structural dynamics, and acoustics. For example, they have been used to study left-right vocal fold asymmetry 3,4, clinical instrument development 5, laryngeal aerodynamics 6-9, vocal fold contact pressure 10, and subglottal acoustics 11 (a more comprehensive list can be found in Kniesburges et al. 12) Existing synthetic vocal fold models, however, have either been homogenous (one-layer models) or have been fabricated using two materials of differing stiffness (two-layer models). This approach does not allow for representation of the actual multi-layer structure of the human vocal folds 1 that plays a central role in governing vocal fold flow-induced vibratory response. Consequently, one- and two-layer synthetic vocal fold models have exhibited disadvantages 3,6,8 such as higher onset pressures than what are typical for human phonation (onset pressure is the minimum lung pressure required to initiate vibration), unnaturally large inferior-superior motion, and lack of a "mucosal wave" (a vertically-traveling wave that is characteristic of healthy human vocal fold vibration). In this paper, fabrication of a model with multiple layers of differing material properties is described. The model layers simulate the multi-layer structure of the human vocal folds, including epithelium, superficial lamina propria (SLP), intermediate and deep lamina propria (i.e., ligament; a fiber is included for anterior-posterior stiffness), and muscle (i.e., body) layers 1. Results are included that show that the model exhibits improved vibratory characteristics over prior one- and two-layer synthetic models, including onset pressure closer to human onset pressure, reduced inferior-superior motion, and evidence of a mucosal wave.
Bioengineering, Issue 58, Vocal folds, larynx, voice, speech, artificial biomechanical models
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Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g. protein-protein) and functional (e.g. gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10. Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format. Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g. the 'Keio' collection11) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e. alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e. slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2 as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9.
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
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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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Flat Mount Preparation for Observation and Analysis of Zebrafish Embryo Specimens Stained by Whole Mount In situ Hybridization
Authors: Christina N. Cheng, Yue Li, Amanda N. Marra, Valerie Verdun, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish embryo is now commonly used for basic and biomedical research to investigate the genetic control of developmental processes and to model congenital abnormalities. During the first day of life, the zebrafish embryo progresses through many developmental stages including fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, segmentation, and the organogenesis of structures such as the kidney, heart, and central nervous system. The anatomy of a young zebrafish embryo presents several challenges for the visualization and analysis of the tissues involved in many of these events because the embryo develops in association with a round yolk mass. Thus, for accurate analysis and imaging of experimental phenotypes in fixed embryonic specimens between the tailbud and 20 somite stage (10 and 19 hours post fertilization (hpf), respectively), such as those stained using whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), it is often desirable to remove the embryo from the yolk ball and to position it flat on a glass slide. However, performing a flat mount procedure can be tedious. Therefore, successful and efficient flat mount preparation is greatly facilitated through the visual demonstration of the dissection technique, and also helped by using reagents that assist in optimal tissue handling. Here, we provide our WISH protocol for one or two-color detection of gene expression in the zebrafish embryo, and demonstrate how the flat mounting procedure can be performed on this example of a stained fixed specimen. This flat mounting protocol is broadly applicable to the study of many embryonic structures that emerge during early zebrafish development, and can be implemented in conjunction with other staining methods performed on fixed embryo samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, animals, vertebrates, fishes, zebrafish, growth and development, morphogenesis, embryonic and fetal development, organogenesis, natural science disciplines, embryo, whole mount in situ hybridization, flat mount, deyolking, imaging
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High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Authors: Subarna Bhattacharya, Paul W. Burridge, Erin M. Kropp, Sandra L. Chuppa, Wai-Meng Kwok, Joseph C. Wu, Kenneth R. Boheler, Rebekah L. Gundry.
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
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Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Authors: Amy H. Van Hove, Brandon D. Wilson, Danielle S. W. Benoit.
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g. primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
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Utilization of Microscale Silicon Cantilevers to Assess Cellular Contractile Function In Vitro
Authors: Alec S.T. Smith, Christopher J. Long, Christopher McAleer, Nathaniel Bobbitt, Balaji Srinivasan, James J. Hickman.
Institutions: University of Central Florida.
The development of more predictive and biologically relevant in vitro assays is predicated on the advancement of versatile cell culture systems which facilitate the functional assessment of the seeded cells. To that end, microscale cantilever technology offers a platform with which to measure the contractile functionality of a range of cell types, including skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle cells, through assessment of contraction induced substrate bending. Application of multiplexed cantilever arrays provides the means to develop moderate to high-throughput protocols for assessing drug efficacy and toxicity, disease phenotype and progression, as well as neuromuscular and other cell-cell interactions. This manuscript provides the details for fabricating reliable cantilever arrays for this purpose, and the methods required to successfully culture cells on these surfaces. Further description is provided on the steps necessary to perform functional analysis of contractile cell types maintained on such arrays using a novel laser and photo-detector system. The representative data provided highlights the precision and reproducible nature of the analysis of contractile function possible using this system, as well as the wide range of studies to which such technology can be applied. Successful widespread adoption of this system could provide investigators with the means to perform rapid, low cost functional studies in vitro, leading to more accurate predictions of tissue performance, disease development and response to novel therapeutic treatment.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cantilever, in vitro, contraction, skeletal muscle, NMJ, cardiomyocytes, functional
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An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Authors: Justen Manasa, Siva Danaviah, Sureshnee Pillay, Prevashinee Padayachee, Hloniphile Mthiyane, Charity Mkhize, Richard John Lessells, Christopher Seebregts, Tobias F. Rinke de Wit, Johannes Viljoen, David Katzenstein, Tulio De Oliveira.
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
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A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Eric K. Donahue, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
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An Injury Paradigm to Investigate Central Nervous System Repair in Drosophila
Authors: Kentaro Kato, Alicia Hidalgo.
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
An experimental method has been developed to investigate the cellular responses to central nervous system (CNS) injury using the fruit-fly Drosophila. Understanding repair and regeneration in animals is a key question in biology. The damaged human CNS does not regenerate, and understanding how to promote the regeneration is one of main goals of medical neuroscience. The powerful genetic toolkit of Drosophila can be used to tackle the problem of CNS regeneration. A lesion to the CNS ventral nerve cord (VNC, equivalent to the vertebrate spinal cord) is applied manually with a tungsten needle. The VNC can subsequently be filmed in time-lapse using laser scanning confocal microscopy for up to 24 hr to follow the development of the lesion over time. Alternatively, it can be cultured, then fixed and stained using immunofluorescence to visualize neuron and glial cells with confocal microscopy. Using appropriate markers, changes in cell morphology and cell state as a result of injury can be visualized. With ImageJ and purposely developed plug-ins, quantitative and statistical analyses can be carried out to measure changes in wound size over time and the effects of injury in cell proliferation and cell death. These methods allow the analysis of large sample sizes. They can be combined with the powerful genetics of Drosophila to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying CNS regeneration and repair.
Neurobiology, Issue 73, Developmental Biology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Central Nervous System, Neuroglia, Drosophila, fruit fly, animal models, Wounds and Injuries, Cell Physiological Phenomena, Genetic Phenomena, injury, repair, regeneration, central nervous system, ventral nerve cord, larva, live imaging, cell counting, Repo, GS2, glia, neurons, nerves, CNS, animal model
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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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Determining 3D Flow Fields via Multi-camera Light Field Imaging
Authors: Tadd T. Truscott, Jesse Belden, Joseph R. Nielson, David J. Daily, Scott L. Thomson.
Institutions: Brigham Young University, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Newport, RI.
In the field of fluid mechanics, the resolution of computational schemes has outpaced experimental methods and widened the gap between predicted and observed phenomena in fluid flows. Thus, a need exists for an accessible method capable of resolving three-dimensional (3D) data sets for a range of problems. We present a novel technique for performing quantitative 3D imaging of many types of flow fields. The 3D technique enables investigation of complicated velocity fields and bubbly flows. Measurements of these types present a variety of challenges to the instrument. For instance, optically dense bubbly multiphase flows cannot be readily imaged by traditional, non-invasive flow measurement techniques due to the bubbles occluding optical access to the interior regions of the volume of interest. By using Light Field Imaging we are able to reparameterize images captured by an array of cameras to reconstruct a 3D volumetric map for every time instance, despite partial occlusions in the volume. The technique makes use of an algorithm known as synthetic aperture (SA) refocusing, whereby a 3D focal stack is generated by combining images from several cameras post-capture 1. Light Field Imaging allows for the capture of angular as well as spatial information about the light rays, and hence enables 3D scene reconstruction. Quantitative information can then be extracted from the 3D reconstructions using a variety of processing algorithms. In particular, we have developed measurement methods based on Light Field Imaging for performing 3D particle image velocimetry (PIV), extracting bubbles in a 3D field and tracking the boundary of a flickering flame. We present the fundamentals of the Light Field Imaging methodology in the context of our setup for performing 3DPIV of the airflow passing over a set of synthetic vocal folds, and show representative results from application of the technique to a bubble-entraining plunging jet.
Physics, Issue 73, Mechanical Engineering, Fluid Mechanics, Engineering, synthetic aperture imaging, light field, camera array, particle image velocimetry, three dimensional, vector fields, image processing, auto calibration, vocal chords, bubbles, flow, fluids
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