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Assessing coral reefs on a Pacific-wide scale using the microbialization score.
The majority of the worlds coral reefs are in various stages of decline. While a suite of disturbances (overfishing, eutrophication, and global climate change) have been identified, the mechanism(s) of reef system decline remain elusive. Increased microbial and viral loading with higher percentages of opportunistic and specific microbial pathogens have been identified as potentially unifying features of coral reefs in decline. Due to their relative size and high per cell activity, a small change in microbial biomass may signal a large reallocation of available energy in an ecosystem; that is the microbialization of the coral reef. Our hypothesis was that human activities alter the energy budget of the reef system, specifically by altering the allocation of metabolic energy between microbes and macrobes. To determine if this is occurring on a regional scale, we calculated the basal metabolic rates for the fish and microbial communities at 99 sites on twenty-nine coral islands throughout the Pacific Ocean using previously established scaling relationships. From these metabolic rate predictions, we derived a new metric for assessing and comparing reef health called the microbialization score. The microbialization score represents the percentage of the combined fish and microbial predicted metabolic rate that is microbial. Our results demonstrate a strong positive correlation between reef microbialization scores and human impact. In contrast, microbialization scores did not significantly correlate with ocean net primary production, local chla concentrations, or the combined metabolic rate of the fish and microbial communities. These findings support the hypothesis that human activities are shifting energy to the microbes, at the expense of the macrobes. Regardless of oceanographic context, the microbialization score is a powerful metric for assessing the level of human impact a reef system is experiencing.
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Published: 11-05-2014
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.
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Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Authors: Mayandi Sivaguru, Glenn A. Fried, Carly A. H. Miller, Bruce W. Fouke.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis and M. faveolata. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis and M. faveolata contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis and M. faveolata exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
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Identification of Disease-related Spatial Covariance Patterns using Neuroimaging Data
Authors: Phoebe Spetsieris, Yilong Ma, Shichun Peng, Ji Hyun Ko, Vijay Dhawan, Chris C. Tang, David Eidelberg.
Institutions: The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
The scaled subprofile model (SSM)1-4 is a multivariate PCA-based algorithm that identifies major sources of variation in patient and control group brain image data while rejecting lesser components (Figure 1). Applied directly to voxel-by-voxel covariance data of steady-state multimodality images, an entire group image set can be reduced to a few significant linearly independent covariance patterns and corresponding subject scores. Each pattern, termed a group invariant subprofile (GIS), is an orthogonal principal component that represents a spatially distributed network of functionally interrelated brain regions. Large global mean scalar effects that can obscure smaller network-specific contributions are removed by the inherent logarithmic conversion and mean centering of the data2,5,6. Subjects express each of these patterns to a variable degree represented by a simple scalar score that can correlate with independent clinical or psychometric descriptors7,8. Using logistic regression analysis of subject scores (i.e. pattern expression values), linear coefficients can be derived to combine multiple principal components into single disease-related spatial covariance patterns, i.e. composite networks with improved discrimination of patients from healthy control subjects5,6. Cross-validation within the derivation set can be performed using bootstrap resampling techniques9. Forward validation is easily confirmed by direct score evaluation of the derived patterns in prospective datasets10. Once validated, disease-related patterns can be used to score individual patients with respect to a fixed reference sample, often the set of healthy subjects that was used (with the disease group) in the original pattern derivation11. These standardized values can in turn be used to assist in differential diagnosis12,13 and to assess disease progression and treatment effects at the network level7,14-16. We present an example of the application of this methodology to FDG PET data of Parkinson's Disease patients and normal controls using our in-house software to derive a characteristic covariance pattern biomarker of disease.
Medicine, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Basal Ganglia Diseases, Parkinsonian Disorders, Parkinson Disease, Movement Disorders, Neurodegenerative Diseases, PCA, SSM, PET, imaging biomarkers, functional brain imaging, multivariate spatial covariance analysis, global normalization, differential diagnosis, PD, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
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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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A Rapid and Efficient Method for Assessing Pathogenicity of Ustilago maydis on Maize and Teosinte Lines
Authors: Suchitra Chavan, Shavannor M. Smith.
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Maize is a major cereal crop worldwide. However, susceptibility to biotrophic pathogens is the primary constraint to increasing productivity. U. maydis is a biotrophic fungal pathogen and the causal agent of corn smut on maize. This disease is responsible for significant yield losses of approximately $1.0 billion annually in the U.S.1 Several methods including crop rotation, fungicide application and seed treatments are currently used to control corn smut2. However, host resistance is the only practical method for managing corn smut. Identification of crop plants including maize, wheat, and rice that are resistant to various biotrophic pathogens has significantly decreased yield losses annually3-5. Therefore, the use of a pathogen inoculation method that efficiently and reproducibly delivers the pathogen in between the plant leaves, would facilitate the rapid identification of maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis. As, a first step toward indentifying maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis, a needle injection inoculation method and a resistance reaction screening method was utilized to inoculate maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines with a U. maydis strain and to select resistant plants. Maize, teosinte and maize x teosinte introgression lines, consisting of about 700 plants, were planted, inoculated with a strain of U. maydis, and screened for resistance. The inoculation and screening methods successfully identified three teosinte lines resistant to U. maydis. Here a detailed needle injection inoculation and resistance reaction screening protocol for maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines is presented. This study demonstrates that needle injection inoculation is an invaluable tool in agriculture that can efficiently deliver U. maydis in between the plant leaves and has provided plant lines that are resistant to U. maydis that can now be combined and tested in breeding programs for improved disease resistance.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, Bacterial Infections, Signs and Symptoms, Eukaryota, Plant Physiological Phenomena, Ustilago maydis, needle injection inoculation, disease rating scale, plant-pathogen interactions
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Waste Water Derived Electroactive Microbial Biofilms: Growth, Maintenance, and Basic Characterization
Authors: Carla Gimkiewicz, Falk Harnisch.
Institutions: UFZ - Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research.
The growth of anodic electroactive microbial biofilms from waste water inocula in a fed-batch reactor is demonstrated using a three-electrode setup controlled by a potentiostat. Thereby the use of potentiostats allows an exact adjustment of the electrode potential and ensures reproducible microbial culturing conditions. During growth the current production is monitored using chronoamperometry (CA). Based on these data the maximum current density (jmax) and the coulombic efficiency (CE) are discussed as measures for characterization of the bioelectrocatalytic performance. Cyclic voltammetry (CV), a nondestructive, i.e. noninvasive, method, is used to study the extracellular electron transfer (EET) of electroactive bacteria. CV measurements are performed on anodic biofilm electrodes in the presence of the microbial substrate, i.e. turnover conditions, and in the absence of the substrate, i.e. nonturnover conditions, using different scan rates. Subsequently, data analysis is exemplified and fundamental thermodynamic parameters of the microbial EET are derived and explained: peak potential (Ep), peak current density (jp), formal potential (Ef) and peak separation (ΔEp). Additionally the limits of the method and the state-of the art data analysis are addressed. Thereby this video-article shall provide a guide for the basic experimental steps and the fundamental data analysis.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, Electrochemistry, Microbial fuel cell, microbial bioelectrochemical system, cyclic voltammetry, electroactive bacteria, microbial bioelectrochemistry, bioelectrocatalysis
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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Computerized Dynamic Posturography for Postural Control Assessment in Patients with Intermittent Claudication
Authors: Natalie Vanicek, Stephanie A. King, Risha Gohil, Ian C. Chetter, Patrick A Coughlin.
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Hull, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals, Addenbrookes Hospital.
Computerized dynamic posturography with the EquiTest is an objective technique for measuring postural strategies under challenging static and dynamic conditions. As part of a diagnostic assessment, the early detection of postural deficits is important so that appropriate and targeted interventions can be prescribed. The Sensory Organization Test (SOT) on the EquiTest determines an individual's use of the sensory systems (somatosensory, visual, and vestibular) that are responsible for postural control. Somatosensory and visual input are altered by the calibrated sway-referenced support surface and visual surround, which move in the anterior-posterior direction in response to the individual's postural sway. This creates a conflicting sensory experience. The Motor Control Test (MCT) challenges postural control by creating unexpected postural disturbances in the form of backwards and forwards translations. The translations are graded in magnitude and the time to recover from the perturbation is computed. Intermittent claudication, the most common symptom of peripheral arterial disease, is characterized by a cramping pain in the lower limbs and caused by muscle ischemia secondary to reduced blood flow to working muscles during physical exertion. Claudicants often display poor balance, making them susceptible to falls and activity avoidance. The Ankle Brachial Pressure Index (ABPI) is a noninvasive method for indicating the presence of peripheral arterial disease and intermittent claudication, a common symptom in the lower extremities. ABPI is measured as the highest systolic pressure from either the dorsalis pedis or posterior tibial artery divided by the highest brachial artery systolic pressure from either arm. This paper will focus on the use of computerized dynamic posturography in the assessment of balance in claudicants.
Medicine, Issue 82, Posture, Computerized dynamic posturography, Ankle brachial pressure index, Peripheral arterial disease, Intermittent claudication, Balance, Posture, EquiTest, Sensory Organization Test, Motor Control Test
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Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Authors: Jennifer L Soong, Dan Reuss, Colin Pinney, Ty Boyack, Michelle L Haddix, Catherine E Stewart, M. Francesca Cotrufo.
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2 fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13C with 15N, 18O or 2H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13C and 15N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components. Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13C and 15N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13C and 6.7 atom%15N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13C and 0.56 atom%15N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13C-CO2 atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Cryosectioning Yeast Communities for Examining Fluorescence Patterns
Authors: Babak Momeni, Wenying Shou.
Institutions: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Microbes typically live in communities. The spatial organization of cells within a community is believed to impact the survival and function of the community1. Optical sectioning techniques, including confocal and two-photon microscopy, have proven useful for observing spatial organization of bacterial and archaeal communities2,3. A combination of confocal imaging and physical sectioning of yeast colonies has revealed internal organization of cells4. However, direct optical sectioning using confocal or two-photon microscopy has been only able to reach a few cell layers deep into yeast colonies. This limitation is likely because of strong scattering of light from yeast cells4. Here, we present a method based on fixing and cryosectioning to obtain spatial distribution of fluorescent cells within Saccharomyces cerevisiae communities. We use methanol as the fixative agent to preserve the spatial distribution of cells. Fixed communities are infiltrated with OCT compound, frozen, and cryosectioned in a cryostat. Fluorescence imaging of the sections reveals the internal organization of fluorescent cells within the community. Examples of yeast communities consisting of strains expressing red and green fluorescent proteins demonstrate the potentials of the cryosectioning method to reveal the spatial distribution of fluorescent cells as well as that of gene expression within yeast colonies2,3. Even though our focus has been on Saccharomyces cerevisiae communities, the same method can potentially be applied to examine other microbial communities.
Microbiology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Basic Protocols, Yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Cytological Techniques, Environmental Microbiology, Investigative Techniques, Life Sciences, cryosectioning, sectioning, cryotome, fixing, microbial community, yeast colonies, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, community interactions
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Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Authors: Oswald J. Schmitz, Mark A. Bradford, Michael S. Strickland, Dror Hawlena.
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9 because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11. We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum),and a variety of grass and forb plants9.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
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Chemotactic Response of Marine Micro-Organisms to Micro-Scale Nutrient Layers
Authors: Justin R. Seymour, Marcos, Roman Stocker.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The degree to which planktonic microbes can exploit microscale resource patches will have considerable implications for oceanic trophodynamics and biogeochemical flux. However, to take advantage of nutrient patches in the ocean, swimming microbes must overcome the influences of physical forces including molecular diffusion and turbulent shear, which will limit the availability of patches and the ability of bacteria to locate them. Until recently, methodological limitations have precluded direct examinations of microbial behaviour within patchy habitats and realistic small-scale flow conditions. Hence, much of our current knowledge regarding microbial behaviour in the ocean has been procured from theoretical predictions. To obtain new information on microbial foraging behaviour in the ocean we have applied soft lithographic fabrication techniques to develop 2 microfluidic devices, which we have used to create (i) microscale nutrient patches with dimensions and diffusive characteristics relevant to oceanic processes and (ii) microscale vortices, with shear rates corresponding to those expected in the ocean. These microfluidic devices have permitted a first direct examination of microbial swimming and chemotactic behaviour within a heterogeneous and dynamic seascape. The combined use of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy allow direct examinations of the physical dimensions and diffusive characteristics of nutrient patches, while observing the population-level aggregative response, in addition to the swimming behaviour of individual microbes. These experiments have revealed that some species of phytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and phagotrophic protists are adept at locating and exploiting diffusing microscale resource patches within very short time frames. We have also shown that up to moderate shear rates, marine bacteria are able to fight the flow and swim through their environment at their own accord. However, beyond a threshold high shear level, bacteria are aligned in the shear flow and are less capable of swimming without disturbance from the flow. Microfluidics represents a novel and inexpensive approach for studying aquatic microbial ecology, and due to its suitability for accurately creating realistic flow fields and substrate gradients at the microscale, is ideally applicable to examinations of microbial behaviour at the smallest scales of interaction. We therefore suggest that microfluidics represents a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of the ecology of microorganisms in the ocean.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
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A Novel Method for Assessing Proximal and Distal Forelimb Function in the Rat: the Irvine, Beatties and Bresnahan (IBB) Forelimb Scale
Authors: Karen-Amanda Irvine, Adam R. Ferguson, Kathleen D. Mitchell, Stephanie B. Beattie, Michael S. Beattie, Jacqueline C. Bresnahan.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco.
Several experimental models of cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) have been developed recently to assess the consequences of damage to this level of the spinal cord (Pearse et al., 2005, Gensel et al., 2006, Anderson et al., 2009), as the majority of human SCI occur here (Young, 2010; Behavioral deficits include loss of forelimb function due to damage to the white matter affecting both descending motor and ascending sensory systems, and to the gray matter containing the segmental circuitry for processing sensory input and motor output for the forelimb. Additionally, a key priority for human patients with cervical SCI is restoration of hand/arm function (Anderson, 2004). Thus, outcome measures that assess both proximal and distal forelimb function are needed. Although there are several behavioral assays that are sensitive to different aspects of forelimb recovery in experimental models of cervical SCI (Girgis et al., 2007, Gensel et al., 2006, Ballerman et al., 2001, Metz and Whishaw, 2000, Bertelli and Mira, 1993, Montoya et al., 1991, Whishaw and Pellis, 1990), few techniques provide detailed information on the recovery of fine motor control and digit movement. The current measurement technique, the Irvine, Beatties and Bresnahan forelimb scale (IBB), can detect recovery of both proximal and distal forelimb function including digit movements during a naturally occurring behavior that does not require extensive training or deprivation to enhance motivation. The IBB was generated by observing recovery after a unilateral C6 SCI, and involves video recording of animals eating two differently shaped cereals (spherical and doughnut) of a consistent size. These videos were then used to assess features of forelimb use, such as joint position, object support, digit movement and grasping technique. The IBB, like other forelimb behavioral tasks, shows a consistent pattern of recovery that is sensitive to injury severity. Furthermore, the IBB scale could be used to assess recovery following other types of injury that impact normal forelimb function.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, spinal cord injury, recovery of function, forelimb function, neurological test, cervical injuries
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Quantitative Autonomic Testing
Authors: Peter Novak.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Disorders associated with dysfunction of autonomic nervous system are quite common yet frequently unrecognized. Quantitative autonomic testing can be invaluable tool for evaluation of these disorders, both in clinic and research. There are number of autonomic tests, however, only few were validated clinically or are quantitative. Here, fully quantitative and clinically validated protocol for testing of autonomic functions is presented. As a bare minimum the clinical autonomic laboratory should have a tilt table, ECG monitor, continuous noninvasive blood pressure monitor, respiratory monitor and a mean for evaluation of sudomotor domain. The software for recording and evaluation of autonomic tests is critical for correct evaluation of data. The presented protocol evaluates 3 major autonomic domains: cardiovagal, adrenergic and sudomotor. The tests include deep breathing, Valsalva maneuver, head-up tilt, and quantitative sudomotor axon test (QSART). The severity and distribution of dysautonomia is quantitated using Composite Autonomic Severity Scores (CASS). Detailed protocol is provided highlighting essential aspects of testing with emphasis on proper data acquisition, obtaining the relevant parameters and unbiased evaluation of autonomic signals. The normative data and CASS algorithm for interpretation of results are provided as well.
Medicine, Issue 53, Deep breathing, Valsalva maneuver, tilt test, sudomotor testing, Composite Autonomic Severity Score, CASS
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Concentration of Metabolites from Low-density Planktonic Communities for Environmental Metabolomics using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
Authors: R. Craig Everroad, Seiji Yoshida, Yuuri Tsuboi, Yasuhiro Date, Jun Kikuchi, Shigeharu Moriya.
Institutions: RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Yokohama City University, RIKEN Plant Science Center, Nagoya University.
Environmental metabolomics is an emerging field that is promoting new understanding in how organisms respond to and interact with the environment and each other at the biochemical level1. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is one of several technologies, including gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS), with considerable promise for such studies. Advantages of NMR are that it is suitable for untargeted analyses, provides structural information and spectra can be queried in quantitative and statistical manners against recently available databases of individual metabolite spectra2,3. In addition, NMR spectral data can be combined with data from other omics levels (e.g. transcriptomics, genomics) to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the physiological responses of taxa to each other and the environment4,5,6. However, NMR is less sensitive than other metabolomic techniques, making it difficult to apply to natural microbial systems where sample populations can be low-density and metabolite concentrations low compared to metabolites from well-defined and readily extractable sources such as whole tissues, biofluids or cell-cultures. Consequently, the few direct environmental metabolomic studies of microbes performed to date have been limited to culture-based or easily defined high-density ecosystems such as host-symbiont systems, constructed co-cultures or manipulations of the gut environment where stable isotope labeling can be additionally used to enhance NMR signals7,8,9,10,11,12. Methods that facilitate the concentration and collection of environmental metabolites at concentrations suitable for NMR are lacking. Since recent attention has been given to the environmental metabolomics of organisms within the aquatic environment, where much of the energy and material flow is mediated by the planktonic community13,14, we have developed a method for the concentration and extraction of whole-community metabolites from planktonic microbial systems by filtration. Commercially available hydrophilic poly-1,1-difluoroethene (PVDF) filters are specially treated to completely remove extractables, which can otherwise appear as contaminants in subsequent analyses. These treated filters are then used to filter environmental or experimental samples of interest. Filters containing the wet sample material are lyophilized and aqueous-soluble metabolites are extracted directly for conventional NMR spectroscopy using a standardized potassium phosphate extraction buffer2. Data derived from these methods can be analyzed statistically to identify meaningful patterns, or integrated with other omics levels for comprehensive understanding of community and ecosystem function.
Molecular Biology, Issue 62, environmental metabolomics, metabolic profiling, microbial ecology, plankton, NMR spectroscopy, PCA
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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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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Determination of the Gas-phase Acidities of Oligopeptides
Authors: Jianhua Ren, Ashish Sawhney, Yuan Tian, Bhupinder Padda, Patrick Batoon.
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Amino acid residues located at different positions in folded proteins often exhibit different degrees of acidities. For example, a cysteine residue located at or near the N-terminus of a helix is often more acidic than that at or near the C-terminus 1-6. Although extensive experimental studies on the acid-base properties of peptides have been carried out in the condensed phase, in particular in aqueous solutions 6-8, the results are often complicated by solvent effects 7. In fact, most of the active sites in proteins are located near the interior region where solvent effects have been minimized 9,10. In order to understand intrinsic acid-base properties of peptides and proteins, it is important to perform the studies in a solvent-free environment. We present a method to measure the acidities of oligopeptides in the gas-phase. We use a cysteine-containing oligopeptide, Ala3CysNH2 (A3CH), as the model compound. The measurements are based on the well-established extended Cooks kinetic method (Figure 1) 11-16. The experiments are carried out using a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer interfaced with an electrospray ionization (ESI) ion source (Figure 2). For each peptide sample, several reference acids are selected. The reference acids are structurally similar organic compounds with known gas-phase acidities. A solution of the mixture of the peptide and a reference acid is introduced into the mass spectrometer, and a gas-phase proton-bound anionic cluster of peptide-reference acid is formed. The proton-bound cluster is mass isolated and subsequently fragmented via collision-induced dissociation (CID) experiments. The resulting fragment ion abundances are analyzed using a relationship between the acidities and the cluster ion dissociation kinetics. The gas-phase acidity of the peptide is then obtained by linear regression of the thermo-kinetic plots 17,18. The method can be applied to a variety of molecular systems, including organic compounds, amino acids and their derivatives, oligonucleotides, and oligopeptides. By comparing the gas-phase acidities measured experimentally with those values calculated for different conformers, conformational effects on the acidities can be evaluated.
Chemistry, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Oligopeptide, gas-phase acidity, kinetic method, collision-induced dissociation, triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry, oligopeptides, peptides, mass spectrometry, MS
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Biology of Microbial Communities - Interview
Authors: Roberto Kolter.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termit
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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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Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
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Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
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