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Quantifying the effect of polymer blending through molecular modelling of cyanurate polymers.
Modification of polymer properties by blending is a common practice in the polymer industry. We report here a study of blends of cyanurate polymers by molecular modelling that shows that the final experimentally determined properties can be predicted from first principles modelling to a good degree of accuracy. There is always a compromise between simulation length, accuracy and speed of prediction. A comparison of simulation times shows that 125ps of molecular dynamics simulation at each temperature provides the optimum compromise for models of this size with current technology. This study opens up the possibility of computer aided design of polymer blends with desired physical and mechanical properties.
Authors: Xiao Hu, Solomon Duki, Joseph Forys, Jeffrey Hettinger, Justin Buchicchio, Tabbetha Dobbins, Catherine Yang.
Published: 08-13-2014
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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Microfluidic Fabrication of Polymeric and Biohybrid Fibers with Predesigned Size and Shape
Authors: Darryl A. Boyd, Andre A. Adams, Michael A. Daniele, Frances S. Ligler.
Institutions: US Naval Research Laboratory, North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A “sheath” fluid passing through a microfluidic channel at low Reynolds number can be directed around another “core” stream and used to dictate the shape as well as the diameter of a core stream. Grooves in the top and bottom of a microfluidic channel were designed to direct the sheath fluid and shape the core fluid. By matching the viscosity and hydrophilicity of the sheath and core fluids, the interfacial effects are minimized and complex fluid shapes can be formed. Controlling the relative flow rates of the sheath and core fluids determines the cross-sectional area of the core fluid. Fibers have been produced with sizes ranging from 300 nm to ~1 mm, and fiber cross-sections can be round, flat, square, or complex as in the case with double anchor fibers. Polymerization of the core fluid downstream from the shaping region solidifies the fibers. Photoinitiated click chemistries are well suited for rapid polymerization of the core fluid by irradiation with ultraviolet light. Fibers with a wide variety of shapes have been produced from a list of polymers including liquid crystals, poly(methylmethacrylate), thiol-ene and thiol-yne resins, polyethylene glycol, and hydrogel derivatives. Minimal shear during the shaping process and mild polymerization conditions also makes the fabrication process well suited for encapsulation of cells and other biological components.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, hydrodynamic focusing, polymer fiber, biohybrid, microfabrication, sheath flow, click chemistry
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Towards Biomimicking Wood: Fabricated Free-standing Films of Nanocellulose, Lignin, and a Synthetic Polycation
Authors: Karthik Pillai, Fernando Navarro Arzate, Wei Zhang, Scott Renneckar.
Institutions: Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, Illinois Institute of Technology- Moffett Campus, University of Guadalajara, Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech.
Woody materials are comprised of plant cell walls that contain a layered secondary cell wall composed of structural polymers of polysaccharides and lignin. Layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly process which relies on the assembly of oppositely charged molecules from aqueous solutions was used to build a freestanding composite film of isolated wood polymers of lignin and oxidized nanofibril cellulose (NFC). To facilitate the assembly of these negatively charged polymers, a positively charged polyelectrolyte, poly(diallyldimethylammomium chloride) (PDDA), was used as a linking layer to create this simplified model cell wall. The layered adsorption process was studied quantitatively using quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring (QCM-D) and ellipsometry. The results showed that layer mass/thickness per adsorbed layer increased as a function of total number of layers. The surface coverage of the adsorbed layers was studied with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Complete coverage of the surface with lignin in all the deposition cycles was found for the system, however, surface coverage by NFC increased with the number of layers. The adsorption process was carried out for 250 cycles (500 bilayers) on a cellulose acetate (CA) substrate. Transparent free-standing LBL assembled nanocomposite films were obtained when the CA substrate was later dissolved in acetone. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the fractured cross-sections showed a lamellar structure, and the thickness per adsorption cycle (PDDA-Lignin-PDDA-NC) was estimated to be 17 nm for two different lignin types used in the study. The data indicates a film with highly controlled architecture where nanocellulose and lignin are spatially deposited on the nanoscale (a polymer-polymer nanocomposites), similar to what is observed in the native cell wall.
Plant Biology, Issue 88, nanocellulose, thin films, quartz crystal microbalance, layer-by-layer, LbL
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Accuracy in Dental Medicine, A New Way to Measure Trueness and Precision
Authors: Andreas Ender, Albert Mehl.
Institutions: University of Zürich.
Reference scanners are used in dental medicine to verify a lot of procedures. The main interest is to verify impression methods as they serve as a base for dental restorations. The current limitation of many reference scanners is the lack of accuracy scanning large objects like full dental arches, or the limited possibility to assess detailed tooth surfaces. A new reference scanner, based on focus variation scanning technique, was evaluated with regards to highest local and general accuracy. A specific scanning protocol was tested to scan original tooth surface from dental impressions. Also, different model materials were verified. The results showed a high scanning accuracy of the reference scanner with a mean deviation of 5.3 ± 1.1 µm for trueness and 1.6 ± 0.6 µm for precision in case of full arch scans. Current dental impression methods showed much higher deviations (trueness: 20.4 ± 2.2 µm, precision: 12.5 ± 2.5 µm) than the internal scanning accuracy of the reference scanner. Smaller objects like single tooth surface can be scanned with an even higher accuracy, enabling the system to assess erosive and abrasive tooth surface loss. The reference scanner can be used to measure differences for a lot of dental research fields. The different magnification levels combined with a high local and general accuracy can be used to assess changes of single teeth or restorations up to full arch changes.
Medicine, Issue 86, Laboratories, Dental, Calibration, Technology, Dental impression, Accuracy, Trueness, Precision, Full arch scan, Abrasion
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Manufacturing Of Robust Natural Fiber Preforms Utilizing Bacterial Cellulose as Binder
Authors: Koon-Yang Lee, Siti Rosminah Shamsuddin, Marta Fortea-Verdejo, Alexander Bismarck.
Institutions: University of Vienna, University College London, Imperial College London.
A novel method of manufacturing rigid and robust natural fiber preforms is presented here. This method is based on a papermaking process, whereby loose and short sisal fibers are dispersed into a water suspension containing bacterial cellulose. The fiber and nanocellulose suspension is then filtered (using vacuum or gravity) and the wet filter cake pressed to squeeze out any excess water, followed by a drying step. This will result in the hornification of the bacterial cellulose network, holding the loose natural fibers together. Our method is specially suited for the manufacturing of rigid and robust preforms of hydrophilic fibers. The porous and hydrophilic nature of such fibers results in significant water uptake, drawing in the bacterial cellulose dispersed in the suspension. The bacterial cellulose will then be filtered against the surface of these fibers, forming a bacterial cellulose coating. When the loose fiber-bacterial cellulose suspension is filtered and dried, the adjacent bacterial cellulose forms a network and hornified to hold the otherwise loose fibers together. The introduction of bacterial cellulose into the preform resulted in a significant increase of the mechanical properties of the fiber preforms. This can be attributed to the high stiffness and strength of the bacterial cellulose network. With this preform, renewable high performance hierarchical composites can also be manufactured by using conventional composite production methods, such as resin film infusion (RFI) or resin transfer molding (RTM). Here, we also describe the manufacturing of renewable hierarchical composites using double bag vacuum assisted resin infusion.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, bacterial cellulose, natural fibers, preform, vacuum assisted resin infusion, hierarchical composites, binder
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Confocal Imaging of Confined Quiescent and Flowing Colloid-polymer Mixtures
Authors: Rahul Pandey, Melissa Spannuth, Jacinta C. Conrad.
Institutions: University of Houston.
The behavior of confined colloidal suspensions with attractive interparticle interactions is critical to the rational design of materials for directed assembly1-3, drug delivery4, improved hydrocarbon recovery5-7, and flowable electrodes for energy storage8. Suspensions containing fluorescent colloids and non-adsorbing polymers are appealing model systems, as the ratio of the polymer radius of gyration to the particle radius and concentration of polymer control the range and strength of the interparticle attraction, respectively. By tuning the polymer properties and the volume fraction of the colloids, colloid fluids, fluids of clusters, gels, crystals, and glasses can be obtained9. Confocal microscopy, a variant of fluorescence microscopy, allows an optically transparent and fluorescent sample to be imaged with high spatial and temporal resolution in three dimensions. In this technique, a small pinhole or slit blocks the emitted fluorescent light from regions of the sample that are outside the focal volume of the microscope optical system. As a result, only a thin section of the sample in the focal plane is imaged. This technique is particularly well suited to probe the structure and dynamics in dense colloidal suspensions at the single-particle scale: the particles are large enough to be resolved using visible light and diffuse slowly enough to be captured at typical scan speeds of commercial confocal systems10. Improvements in scan speeds and analysis algorithms have also enabled quantitative confocal imaging of flowing suspensions11-16,37. In this paper, we demonstrate confocal microscopy experiments to probe the confined phase behavior and flow properties of colloid-polymer mixtures. We first prepare colloid-polymer mixtures that are density- and refractive-index matched. Next, we report a standard protocol for imaging quiescent dense colloid-polymer mixtures under varying confinement in thin wedge-shaped cells. Finally, we demonstrate a protocol for imaging colloid-polymer mixtures during microchannel flow.
Chemistry, Issue 87, confocal microscopy, particle tracking, colloids, suspensions, confinement, gelation, microfluidics, image correlation, dynamics, suspension flow
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Manufacturing of Three-dimensionally Microstructured Nanocomposites through Microfluidic Infiltration
Authors: Rouhollah Dermanaki-Farahani, Louis Laberge Lebel, Daniel Therriault.
Institutions: École Polytechnique de Montréal.
Microstructured composite beams reinforced with complex three-dimensionally (3D) patterned nanocomposite microfilaments are fabricated via nanocomposite infiltration of 3D interconnected microfluidic networks. The manufacturing of the reinforced beams begins with the fabrication of microfluidic networks, which involves layer-by-layer deposition of fugitive ink filaments using a dispensing robot, filling the empty space between filaments using a low viscosity resin, curing the resin and finally removing the ink. Self-supported 3D structures with other geometries and many layers (e.g. a few hundreds layers) could be built using this method. The resulting tubular microfluidic networks are then infiltrated with thermosetting nanocomposite suspensions containing nanofillers (e.g. single-walled carbon nanotubes), and subsequently cured. The infiltration is done by applying a pressure gradient between two ends of the empty network (either by applying a vacuum or vacuum-assisted microinjection). Prior to the infiltration, the nanocomposite suspensions are prepared by dispersing nanofillers into polymer matrices using ultrasonication and three-roll mixing methods. The nanocomposites (i.e. materials infiltrated) are then solidified under UV exposure/heat cure, resulting in a 3D-reinforced composite structure. The technique presented here enables the design of functional nanocomposite macroscopic products for microengineering applications such as actuators and sensors.
Chemistry, Issue 85, Microstructures, Nanocomposites, 3D-patterning, Infiltration, Direct-write assembly, Microfluidic networks
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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Stabilizing Hepatocellular Phenotype Using Optimized Synthetic Surfaces
Authors: Baltasar Lucendo-Villarin, Kate Cameron, Dagmara Szkolnicka, Paul Travers, Ferdous Khan, Jeffrey G. Walton, John Iredale, Mark Bradley, David C. Hay.
Institutions: University of Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh.
Currently, one of the major limitations in cell biology is maintaining differentiated cell phenotype. Biological matrices are commonly used for culturing and maintaining primary and pluripotent stem cell derived hepatocytes. While biological matrices are useful, they permit short term culture of hepatocytes, limiting their widespread application. We have attempted to overcome the limitations using a synthetic polymer coating. Polymers represent one of the broadest classes of biomaterials and possess a wide range of mechanical, physical and chemical properties, which can be fine-tuned for purpose. Importantly, such materials can be scaled to quality assured standards and display batch-to-batch consistency. This is essential if cells are to be expanded for high through-put screening in the pharmaceutical testing industry or for cellular based therapy. Polyurethanes (PUs) are one group of materials that have shown promise in cell culture. Our recent progress in optimizing a polyurethane coated surface, for long-term culture of human hepatocytes displaying stable phenotype, is presented and discussed.
Chemistry, Issue 91, Pluripotent stem cell, polyurethane, polymer coating, p450 metabolism, stable phenotype, gamma irradiation, ultraviolet irradiation.
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Rapid and Low-cost Prototyping of Medical Devices Using 3D Printed Molds for Liquid Injection Molding
Authors: Philip Chung, J. Alex Heller, Mozziyar Etemadi, Paige E. Ottoson, Jonathan A. Liu, Larry Rand, Shuvo Roy.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of Southern California.
Biologically inert elastomers such as silicone are favorable materials for medical device fabrication, but forming and curing these elastomers using traditional liquid injection molding processes can be an expensive process due to tooling and equipment costs. As a result, it has traditionally been impractical to use liquid injection molding for low-cost, rapid prototyping applications. We have devised a method for rapid and low-cost production of liquid elastomer injection molded devices that utilizes fused deposition modeling 3D printers for mold design and a modified desiccator as an injection system. Low costs and rapid turnaround time in this technique lower the barrier to iteratively designing and prototyping complex elastomer devices. Furthermore, CAD models developed in this process can be later adapted for metal mold tooling design, enabling an easy transition to a traditional injection molding process. We have used this technique to manufacture intravaginal probes involving complex geometries, as well as overmolding over metal parts, using tools commonly available within an academic research laboratory. However, this technique can be easily adapted to create liquid injection molded devices for many other applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, liquid injection molding, reaction injection molding, molds, 3D printing, fused deposition modeling, rapid prototyping, medical devices, low cost, low volume, rapid turnaround time.
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Tri-layered Electrospinning to Mimic Native Arterial Architecture using Polycaprolactone, Elastin, and Collagen: A Preliminary Study
Authors: Michael J. McClure, Scott A. Sell, David G. Simpson, Beat H. Walpoth, Gary L. Bowlin.
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University, University Hospital of Geneva.
Throughout native artery, collagen and elastin play an important role, providing a mechanical backbone, preventing vessel rupture, and promoting recovery under pulsatile deformations. The goal of this study was to mimic the structure of native artery by fabricating a multi-layered electrospun conduit composed of poly(caprolactone) (PCL) with the addition of elastin and collagen with blends of 45-45-10, 55-35-10, and 65-25-10 PCL-ELAS-COL to demonstrate mechanical properties indicative of native arterial tissue, while remaining conducive to tissue regeneration. Whole grafts and individual layers were analyzed using uniaxial tensile testing, dynamic compliance, suture retention, and burst strength. Compliance results revealed that changes to the middle/medial layer changed overall graft behavior with whole graft compliance values ranging from 0.8 - 2.8 % / 100 mmHg, while uniaxial results demonstrated an average modulus range of 2.0 - 11.8 MPa. Both modulus and compliance data displayed values within the range of native artery. Mathematical modeling was implemented to show how changes in layer stiffness affect the overall circumferential wall stress, and as a design aid to achieve the best mechanical combination of materials. Overall, the results indicated that a graft can be designed to mimic a tri-layered structure by altering layer properties.
Bioengineering, Issue 47, Electrospinning, Vascular Graft, Multilayer, Polycaprolactone, Elastin
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Particles without a Box: Brush-first Synthesis of Photodegradable PEG Star Polymers under Ambient Conditions
Authors: Jenny Liu, Angela Xiaodi Gao, Jeremiah A. Johnson.
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Convenient methods for the rapid, parallel synthesis of diversely functionalized nanoparticles will enable discovery of novel formulations for drug delivery, biological imaging, and supported catalysis. In this report, we demonstrate parallel synthesis of brush-arm star polymer (BASP) nanoparticles by the "brush-first" method. In this method, a norbornene-terminated poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromonomer (PEG-MM) is first polymerized via ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP) to generate a living brush macroinitiator. Aliquots of this initiator stock solution are added to vials that contain varied amounts of a photodegradable bis-norbornene crosslinker. Exposure to crosslinker initiates a series of kinetically-controlled brush+brush and star+star coupling reactions that ultimately yields BASPs with cores comprised of the crosslinker and coronas comprised of PEG. The final BASP size depends on the amount of crosslinker added. We carry out the synthesis of three BASPs on the benchtop with no special precautions to remove air and moisture. The samples are characterized by gel permeation chromatography (GPC); results agreed closely with our previous report that utilized inert (glovebox) conditions. Key practical features, advantages, and potential disadvantages of the brush-first method are discussed.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Chemical Engineering, Nanoparticles, Polymers, Drug Delivery Systems, Polymerization, polymers, Biomedical and Dental Materials, brush first, polyethylene glycol, photodegradable, ring opening metathesis polymerization, brush polymer, star polymer, drug delivery, gel permeation chromatography, arm first, core functional, photocleavable
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The Generation of Higher-order Laguerre-Gauss Optical Beams for High-precision Interferometry
Authors: Ludovico Carbone, Paul Fulda, Charlotte Bond, Frank Brueckner, Daniel Brown, Mengyao Wang, Deepali Lodhia, Rebecca Palmer, Andreas Freise.
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Thermal noise in high-reflectivity mirrors is a major impediment for several types of high-precision interferometric experiments that aim to reach the standard quantum limit or to cool mechanical systems to their quantum ground state. This is for example the case of future gravitational wave observatories, whose sensitivity to gravitational wave signals is expected to be limited in the most sensitive frequency band, by atomic vibration of their mirror masses. One promising approach being pursued to overcome this limitation is to employ higher-order Laguerre-Gauss (LG) optical beams in place of the conventionally used fundamental mode. Owing to their more homogeneous light intensity distribution these beams average more effectively over the thermally driven fluctuations of the mirror surface, which in turn reduces the uncertainty in the mirror position sensed by the laser light. We demonstrate a promising method to generate higher-order LG beams by shaping a fundamental Gaussian beam with the help of diffractive optical elements. We show that with conventional sensing and control techniques that are known for stabilizing fundamental laser beams, higher-order LG modes can be purified and stabilized just as well at a comparably high level. A set of diagnostic tools allows us to control and tailor the properties of generated LG beams. This enabled us to produce an LG beam with the highest purity reported to date. The demonstrated compatibility of higher-order LG modes with standard interferometry techniques and with the use of standard spherical optics makes them an ideal candidate for application in a future generation of high-precision interferometry.
Physics, Issue 78, Optics, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Gravitational waves, Laser interferometry, Metrology, Thermal noise, Laguerre-Gauss modes, interferometry
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Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Authors: David Almond, Timothy Cardozo.
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2 used the ab initio algorithm 3 accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
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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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Formulation of Diblock Polymeric Nanoparticles through Nanoprecipitation Technique
Authors: Shrirang Karve, Michael E. Werner, Natalie D. Cummings, Rohit Sukumar, Edina C. Wang, Ying-Ao Zhang, Andrew Z. Wang.
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina .
Nanotechnology is a relatively new branch of science that involves harnessing the unique properties of particles that are nanometers in scale (nanoparticles). Nanoparticles can be engineered in a precise fashion where their size, composition and surface chemistry can be carefully controlled. This enables unprecedented freedom to modify some of the fundamental properties of their cargo, such as solubility, diffusivity, biodistribution, release characteristics and immunogenicity. Since their inception, nanoparticles have been utilized in many areas of science and medicine, including drug delivery, imaging, and cell biology1-4. However, it has not been fully utilized outside of "nanotechnology laboratories" due to perceived technical barrier. In this article, we describe a simple method to synthesize a polymer based nanoparticle platform that has a wide range of potential applications. The first step is to synthesize a diblock co-polymer that has both a hydrophobic domain and hydrophilic domain. Using PLGA and PEG as model polymers, we described a conjugation reaction using EDC/NHS chemistry5 (Fig 1). We also discuss the polymer purification process. The synthesized diblock co-polymer can self-assemble into nanoparticles in the nanoprecipitation process through hydrophobic-hydrophilic interactions. The described polymer nanoparticle is very versatile. The hydrophobic core of the nanoparticle can be utilized to carry poorly soluble drugs for drug delivery experiments6. Furthermore, the nanoparticles can overcome the problem of toxic solvents for poorly soluble molecular biology reagents, such as wortmannin, which requires a solvent like DMSO. However, DMSO can be toxic to cells and interfere with the experiment. These poorly soluble drugs and reagents can be effectively delivered using polymer nanoparticles with minimal toxicity. Polymer nanoparticles can also be loaded with fluorescent dye and utilized for intracellular trafficking studies. Lastly, these polymer nanoparticles can be conjugated to targeting ligands through surface PEG. Such targeted nanoparticles can be utilized to label specific epitopes on or in cells7-10.
Bioengineering, Issue 55, Nanoparticles, nanomedicine, drug delivery, polymeric micelles, polymeric nanoparticles, diblock co-polymers, nanoplatform, nanoparticle molecular imaging, polymer conjugation.
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Micropunching Lithography for Generating Micro- and Submicron-patterns on Polymer Substrates
Authors: Anirban Chakraborty, Xinchuan Liu, Cheng Luo.
Institutions: University of Texas at Arlington .
Conducting polymers have attracted great attention since the discovery of high conductivity in doped polyacetylene in 19771. They offer the advantages of low weight, easy tailoring of properties and a wide spectrum of applications2,3. Due to sensitivity of conducting polymers to environmental conditions (e.g., air, oxygen, moisture, high temperature and chemical solutions), lithographic techniques present significant technical challenges when working with these materials4. For example, current photolithographic methods, such as ultra-violet (UV), are unsuitable for patterning the conducting polymers due to the involvement of wet and/or dry etching processes in these methods. In addition, current micro/nanosystems mainly have a planar form5,6. One layer of structures is built on the top surfaces of another layer of fabricated features. Multiple layers of these structures are stacked together to form numerous devices on a common substrate. The sidewall surfaces of the microstructures have not been used in constructing devices. On the other hand, sidewall patterns could be used, for example, to build 3-D circuits, modify fluidic channels and direct horizontal growth of nanowires and nanotubes. A macropunching method has been applied in the manufacturing industry to create macropatterns in a sheet metal for over a hundred years. Motivated by this approach, we have developed a micropunching lithography method (MPL) to overcome the obstacles of patterning conducting polymers and generating sidewall patterns. Like the macropunching method, the MPL also includes two operations (Fig. 1): (i) cutting; and (ii) drawing. The "cutting" operation was applied to pattern three conducting polymers4, polypyrrole (PPy), Poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophen)-poly(4-styrenesulphonate) (PEDOT) and polyaniline (PANI). It was also employed to create Al microstructures7. The fabricated microstructures of conducting polymers have been used as humidity8, chemical8, and glucose sensors9. Combined microstructures of Al and conducting polymers have been employed to fabricate capacitors and various heterojunctions9,10,11. The "cutting" operation was also applied to generate submicron-patterns, such as 100- and 500-nm-wide PPy lines as well as 100-nm-wide Au wires. The "drawing" operation was employed for two applications: (i) produce Au sidewall patterns on high density polyethylene (HDPE) channels which could be used for building 3D microsystems12,13,14, and (ii) fabricate polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) micropillars on HDPE substrates to increase the contact angle of the channel15.
Mechanical Engineering, Issue 65, Physics, micropunching lithography, conducting polymers, nanowires, sidewall patterns, microlines
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Investigation of Early Plasma Evolution Induced by Ultrashort Laser Pulses
Authors: Wenqian Hu, Yung C. Shin, Galen B. King.
Institutions: Purdue University.
Early plasma is generated owing to high intensity laser irradiation of target and the subsequent target material ionization. Its dynamics plays a significant role in laser-material interaction, especially in the air environment1-11. Early plasma evolution has been captured through pump-probe shadowgraphy1-3 and interferometry1,4-7. However, the studied time frames and applied laser parameter ranges are limited. For example, direct examinations of plasma front locations and electron number densities within a delay time of 100 picosecond (ps) with respect to the laser pulse peak are still very few, especially for the ultrashort pulse of a duration around 100 femtosecond (fs) and a low power density around 1014 W/cm2. Early plasma generated under these conditions has only been captured recently with high temporal and spatial resolutions12. The detailed setup strategy and procedures of this high precision measurement will be illustrated in this paper. The rationale of the measurement is optical pump-probe shadowgraphy: one ultrashort laser pulse is split to a pump pulse and a probe pulse, while the delay time between them can be adjusted by changing their beam path lengths. The pump pulse ablates the target and generates the early plasma, and the probe pulse propagates through the plasma region and detects the non-uniformity of electron number density. In addition, animations are generated using the calculated results from the simulation model of Ref. 12 to illustrate the plasma formation and evolution with a very high resolution (0.04 ~ 1 ps). Both the experimental method and the simulation method can be applied to a broad range of time frames and laser parameters. These methods can be used to examine the early plasma generated not only from metals, but also from semiconductors and insulators.
Physics, Issue 65, Mechanical Engineering, Early plasma, air ionization, pump-probe shadowgraph, molecular dynamics, Monte Carlo, particle-in-cell
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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Evaluation of Polymeric Gene Delivery Nanoparticles by Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis and High-throughput Flow Cytometry
Authors: Ron B. Shmueli, Nupura S. Bhise, Jordan J. Green.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Non-viral gene delivery using polymeric nanoparticles has emerged as an attractive approach for gene therapy to treat genetic diseases1 and as a technology for regenerative medicine2. Unlike viruses, which have significant safety issues, polymeric nanoparticles can be designed to be non-toxic, non-immunogenic, non-mutagenic, easier to synthesize, chemically versatile, capable of carrying larger nucleic acid cargo and biodegradable and/or environmentally responsive. Cationic polymers self-assemble with negatively charged DNA via electrostatic interaction to form complexes on the order of 100 nm that are commonly termed polymeric nanoparticles. Examples of biomaterials used to form nanoscale polycationic gene delivery nanoparticles include polylysine, polyphosphoesters, poly(amidoamines)s and polyethylenimine (PEI), which is a non-degradable off-the-shelf cationic polymer commonly used for nucleic acid delivery1,3 . Poly(beta-amino ester)s (PBAEs) are a newer class of cationic polymers4 that are hydrolytically degradable5,6 and have been shown to be effective at gene delivery to hard-to-transfect cell types such as human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs)7, mouse mammary epithelial cells8, human brain cancer cells9 and macrovascular (human umbilical vein, HUVECs) endothelial cells10. A new protocol to characterize polymeric nanoparticles utilizing nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA) is described. In this approach, both the particle size distribution and the distribution of the number of plasmids per particle are obtained11. In addition, a high-throughput 96-well plate transfection assay for rapid screening of the transfection efficacy of polymeric nanoparticles is presented. In this protocol, poly(beta-amino ester)s (PBAEs) are used as model polymers and human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs) are used as model human cells. This protocol can be easily adapted to evaluate any polymeric nanoparticle and any cell type of interest in a multi-well plate format.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 73, Bioengineering, Tissue Engineering, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Genetics, Biocompatible Materials, Biopolymers, Drug Delivery Systems, Nanotechnology, bioengineering (general), Therapeutics, Nanoparticle, poly(beta-amino ester), high-throughput, transfection, nanoparticle tracking analysis, biomaterial, gene delivery, flow cytometry
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Concurrent Quantitative Conductivity and Mechanical Properties Measurements of Organic Photovoltaic Materials using AFM
Authors: Maxim P. Nikiforov, Seth B. Darling.
Institutions: Argonne National Laboratory, University of Chicago.
Organic photovoltaic (OPV) materials are inherently inhomogeneous at the nanometer scale. Nanoscale inhomogeneity of OPV materials affects performance of photovoltaic devices. Thus, understanding of spatial variations in composition as well as electrical properties of OPV materials is of paramount importance for moving PV technology forward.1,2 In this paper, we describe a protocol for quantitative measurements of electrical and mechanical properties of OPV materials with sub-100 nm resolution. Currently, materials properties measurements performed using commercially available AFM-based techniques (PeakForce, conductive AFM) generally provide only qualitative information. The values for resistance as well as Young's modulus measured using our method on the prototypical ITO/PEDOT:PSS/P3HT:PC61BM system correspond well with literature data. The P3HT:PC61BM blend separates onto PC61BM-rich and P3HT-rich domains. Mechanical properties of PC61BM-rich and P3HT-rich domains are different, which allows for domain attribution on the surface of the film. Importantly, combining mechanical and electrical data allows for correlation of the domain structure on the surface of the film with electrical properties variation measured through the thickness of the film.
Materials Science, Issue 71, Nanotechnology, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Physics, electrical transport properties in solids, condensed matter physics, thin films (theory, deposition and growth), conductivity (solid state), AFM, atomic force microscopy, electrical properties, mechanical properties, organic photovoltaics, microengineering, photovoltaics
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Cell Co-culture Patterning Using Aqueous Two-phase Systems
Authors: John P. Frampton, Joshua B. White, Abin T. Abraham, Shuichi Takayama.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Michigan .
Cell patterning technologies that are fast, easy to use and affordable will be required for the future development of high throughput cell assays, platforms for studying cell-cell interactions and tissue engineered systems. This detailed protocol describes a method for generating co-cultures of cells using biocompatible solutions of dextran (DEX) and polyethylene glycol (PEG) that phase-separate when combined above threshold concentrations. Cells can be patterned in a variety of configurations using this method. Cell exclusion patterning can be performed by printing droplets of DEX on a substrate and covering them with a solution of PEG containing cells. The interfacial tension formed between the two polymer solutions causes cells to fall around the outside of the DEX droplet and form a circular clearing that can be used for migration assays. Cell islands can be patterned by dispensing a cell-rich DEX phase into a PEG solution or by covering the DEX droplet with a solution of PEG. Co-cultures can be formed directly by combining cell exclusion with DEX island patterning. These methods are compatible with a variety of liquid handling approaches, including manual micropipetting, and can be used with virtually any adherent cell type.
Bioengineering, Issue 73, Biomedical Engineering, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Cell Migration Assays, Culture Techniques, bioengineering (general), Patterning, Aqueous Two-Phase System, Co-Culture, cell, Dextran, Polyethylene glycol, media, PEG, DEX, colonies, cell culture
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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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Molecular Entanglement and Electrospinnability of Biopolymers
Authors: Lingyan Kong, Gregory R. Ziegler.
Institutions: Pennsylvania State University.
Electrospinning is a fascinating technique to fabricate micro- to nano-scale fibers from a wide variety of materials. For biopolymers, molecular entanglement of the constituent polymers in the spinning dope was found to be an essential prerequisite for successful electrospinning. Rheology is a powerful tool to probe the molecular conformation and interaction of biopolymers. In this report, we demonstrate the protocol for utilizing rheology to evaluate the electrospinnability of two biopolymers, starch and pullulan, from their dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)/water dispersions. Well-formed starch and pullulan fibers with average diameters in the submicron to micron range were obtained. Electrospinnability was evaluated by visual and microscopic observation of the fibers formed. By correlating the rheological properties of the dispersions to their electrospinnability, we demonstrate that molecular conformation, molecular entanglement, and shear viscosity all affect electrospinning. Rheology is not only useful in solvent system selection and process optimization, but also in understanding the mechanism of fiber formation on a molecular level.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, electrospinning, rheology, molecular entanglement, fiber, nanofiber, biopolymer, polysaccharides, starch, pullulan
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