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The insect pathogen Serratia marcescens Db10 uses a hybrid non-ribosomal peptide synthetase-polyketide synthase to produce the antibiotic althiomycin.
There is a continuing need to discover new bioactive natural products, such as antibiotics, in genetically-amenable micro-organisms. We observed that the enteric insect pathogen, Serratia marcescens Db10, produced a diffusible compound that inhibited the growth of Bacillis subtilis and Staphyloccocus aureus. Mapping the genetic locus required for this activity revealed a putative natural product biosynthetic gene cluster, further defined to a six-gene operon named alb1-alb6. Bioinformatic analysis of the proteins encoded by alb1-6 predicted a hybrid non-ribosomal peptide synthetase-polyketide synthase (NRPS-PKS) assembly line (Alb4/5/6), tailoring enzymes (Alb2/3) and an export/resistance protein (Alb1), and suggested that the machinery assembled althiomycin or a related molecule. Althiomycin is a ribosome-inhibiting antibiotic whose biosynthetic machinery had been elusive for decades. Chromatographic and spectroscopic analyses confirmed that wild type S. marcescens produced althiomycin and that production was eliminated on disruption of the alb gene cluster. Construction of mutants with in-frame deletions of specific alb genes demonstrated that Alb2-Alb5 were essential for althiomycin production, whereas Alb6 was required for maximal production of the antibiotic. A phosphopantetheinyl transferase enzyme required for althiomycin biosynthesis was also identified. Expression of Alb1, a predicted major facilitator superfamily efflux pump, conferred althiomycin resistance on another, sensitive, strain of S. marcescens. This is the first report of althiomycin production outside of the Myxobacteria or Streptomyces and paves the way for future exploitation of the biosynthetic machinery, since S. marcescens represents a convenient and tractable producing organism.
The heterologous production of complex natural products is an approach designed to address current limitations and future possibilities. It is particularly useful for those compounds which possess therapeutic value but cannot be sufficiently produced or would benefit from an improved form of production. The experimental procedures involved can be subdivided into three components: 1) genetic transfer; 2) heterologous reconstitution; and 3) product analysis. Each experimental component is under continual optimization to meet the challenges and anticipate the opportunities associated with this emerging approach. Heterologous biosynthesis begins with the identification of a genetic sequence responsible for a valuable natural product. Transferring this sequence to a heterologous host is complicated by the biosynthetic pathway complexity responsible for product formation. The antibiotic erythromycin A is a good example. Twenty genes (totaling >50 kb) are required for eventual biosynthesis. In addition, three of these genes encode megasynthases, multi-domain enzymes each ~300 kDa in size. This genetic material must be designed and transferred to E. coli for reconstituted biosynthesis. The use of PCR isolation, operon construction, multi-cystronic plasmids, and electro-transformation will be described in transferring the erythromycin A genetic cluster to E. coli. Once transferred, the E. coli cell must support eventual biosynthesis. This process is also challenging given the substantial differences between E. coli and most original hosts responsible for complex natural product formation. The cell must provide necessary substrates to support biosynthesis and coordinately express the transferred genetic cluster to produce active enzymes. In the case of erythromycin A, the E. coli cell had to be engineered to provide the two precursors (propionyl-CoA and (2S)-methylmalonyl-CoA) required for biosynthesis. In addition, gene sequence modifications, plasmid copy number, chaperonin co-expression, post-translational enzymatic modification, and process temperature were also required to allow final erythromycin A formation. Finally, successful production must be assessed. For the erythromycin A case, we will present two methods. The first is liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to confirm and quantify production. The bioactivity of erythromycin A will also be confirmed through use of a bioassay in which the antibiotic activity is tested against Bacillus subtilis. The assessment assays establish erythromycin A biosynthesis from E. coli and set the stage for future engineering efforts to improve or diversify production and for the production of new complex natural compounds using this approach.
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Quantitative Measurement of the Immune Response and Sleep in Drosophila
Authors: Tzu-Hsing Kuo, Arun Handa, Julie A. Williams.
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
A complex interaction between the immune response and host behavior has been described in a wide range of species. Excess sleep, in particular, is known to occur as a response to infection in mammals 1 and has also recently been described in Drosophila melanogaster2. It is generally accepted that sleep is beneficial to the host during an infection and that it is important for the maintenance of a robust immune system3,4. However, experimental evidence that supports this hypothesis is limited4, and the function of excess sleep during an immune response remains unclear. We have used a multidisciplinary approach to address this complex problem, and have conducted studies in the simple genetic model system, the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster. We use a standard assay for measuring locomotor behavior and sleep in flies, and demonstrate how this assay is used to measure behavior in flies infected with a pathogenic strain of bacteria. This assay is also useful for monitoring the duration of survival in individual flies during an infection. Additional measures of immune function include the ability of flies to clear an infection and the activation of NFκB, a key transcription factor that is central to the innate immune response in Drosophila. Both survival outcome and bacterial clearance during infection together are indicators of resistance and tolerance to infection. Resistance refers to the ability of flies to clear an infection, while tolerance is defined as the ability of the host to limit damage from an infection and thereby survive despite high levels of pathogen within the system5. Real-time monitoring of NFκB activity during infection provides insight into a molecular mechanism of survival during infection. The use of Drosophila in these straightforward assays facilitates the genetic and molecular analyses of sleep and the immune response and how these two complex systems are reciprocally influenced.
Immunology, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Medicine, Physiology, Pathology, Microbiology, immune response, sleep, Drosophila, infection, bacteria, luciferase reporter assay, animal model
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Genome-wide Gene Deletions in Streptococcus sanguinis by High Throughput PCR
Authors: Xiuchun Ge, Ping Xu.
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University.
Transposon mutagenesis and single-gene deletion are two methods applied in genome-wide gene knockout in bacteria 1,2. Although transposon mutagenesis is less time consuming, less costly, and does not require completed genome information, there are two weaknesses in this method: (1) the possibility of a disparate mutants in the mixed mutant library that counter-selects mutants with decreased competition; and (2) the possibility of partial gene inactivation whereby genes do not entirely lose their function following the insertion of a transposon. Single-gene deletion analysis may compensate for the drawbacks associated with transposon mutagenesis. To improve the efficiency of genome-wide single gene deletion, we attempt to establish a high-throughput technique for genome-wide single gene deletion using Streptococcus sanguinis as a model organism. Each gene deletion construct in S. sanguinis genome is designed to comprise 1-kb upstream of the targeted gene, the aphA-3 gene, encoding kanamycin resistance protein, and 1-kb downstream of the targeted gene. Three sets of primers F1/R1, F2/R2, and F3/R3, respectively, are designed and synthesized in a 96-well plate format for PCR-amplifications of those three components of each deletion construct. Primers R1 and F3 contain 25-bp sequences that are complementary to regions of the aphA-3 gene at their 5' end. A large scale PCR amplification of the aphA-3 gene is performed once for creating all single-gene deletion constructs. The promoter of aphA-3 gene is initially excluded to minimize the potential polar effect of kanamycin cassette. To create the gene deletion constructs, high-throughput PCR amplification and purification are performed in a 96-well plate format. A linear recombinant PCR amplicon for each gene deletion will be made up through four PCR reactions using high-fidelity DNA polymerase. The initial exponential growth phase of S. sanguinis cultured in Todd Hewitt broth supplemented with 2.5% inactivated horse serum is used to increase competence for the transformation of PCR-recombinant constructs. Under this condition, up to 20% of S. sanguinis cells can be transformed using ~50 ng of DNA. Based on this approach, 2,048 mutants with single-gene deletion were ultimately obtained from the 2,270 genes in S. sanguinis excluding four gene ORFs contained entirely within other ORFs in S. sanguinis SK36 and 218 potential essential genes. The technique on creating gene deletion constructs is high throughput and could be easy to use in genome-wide single gene deletions for any transformable bacteria.
Genetics, Issue 69, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Genomics, Streptococcus sanguinis, Streptococcus, Genome-wide gene deletions, genes, High-throughput, PCR
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The Insect Galleria mellonella as a Powerful Infection Model to Investigate Bacterial Pathogenesis
Authors: Nalini Ramarao, Christina Nielsen-Leroux, Didier Lereclus.
Institutions: INRA, Micalis UMR1319, France.
The study of bacterial virulence often requires a suitable animal model. Mammalian models of infection are costly and may raise ethical issues. The use of insects as infection models provides a valuable alternative. Compared to other non-vertebrate model hosts such as nematodes, insects have a relatively advanced system of antimicrobial defenses and are thus more likely to produce information relevant to the mammalian infection process. Like mammals, insects possess a complex innate immune system1. Cells in the hemolymph are capable of phagocytosing or encapsulating microbial invaders, and humoral responses include the inducible production of lysozyme and small antibacterial peptides2,3. In addition, analogies are found between the epithelial cells of insect larval midguts and intestinal cells of mammalian digestive systems. Finally, several basic components essential for the bacterial infection process such as cell adhesion, resistance to antimicrobial peptides, tissue degradation and adaptation to oxidative stress are likely to be important in both insects and mammals1. Thus, insects are polyvalent tools for the identification and characterization of microbial virulence factors involved in mammalian infections. Larvae of the greater wax moth Galleria mellonella have been shown to provide a useful insight into the pathogenesis of a wide range of microbial infections including mammalian fungal (Fusarium oxysporum, Aspergillus fumigatus, Candida albicans) and bacterial pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Proteus vulgaris, Serratia marcescens Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Listeria monocytogenes or Enterococcus faecalis4-7. Regardless of the bacterial species, results obtained with Galleria larvae infected by direct injection through the cuticle consistently correlate with those of similar mammalian studies: bacterial strains that are attenuated in mammalian models demonstrate lower virulence in Galleria, and strains causing severe human infections are also highly virulent in the Galleria model8-11. Oral infection of Galleria is much less used and additional compounds, like specific toxins, are needed to reach mortality. G. mellonella larvae present several technical advantages: they are relatively large (last instar larvae before pupation are about 2 cm long and weight 250 mg), thus enabling the injection of defined doses of bacteria; they can be reared at various temperatures (20 °C to 30 °C) and infection studies can be conducted between 15 °C to above 37 °C12,13, allowing experiments that mimic a mammalian environment. In addition, insect rearing is easy and relatively cheap. Infection of the larvae allows monitoring bacterial virulence by several means, including calculation of LD5014, measurement of bacterial survival15,16 and examination of the infection process17. Here, we describe the rearing of the insects, covering all life stages of G. mellonella. We provide a detailed protocol of infection by two routes of inoculation: oral and intra haemocoelic. The bacterial model used in this protocol is Bacillus cereus, a Gram positive pathogen implicated in gastrointestinal as well as in other severe local or systemic opportunistic infections18,19.
Infection, Issue 70, Microbiology, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Bacteriology, Entomology, Bacteria, Galleria mellonella, greater wax moth, insect larvae, intra haemocoelic injection, ingestion, animal model, host pathogen interactions
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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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Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Authors: Leah M. Rommereim, Miryam A. Hortua Triana, Alejandra Falla, Kiah L. Sanders, Rebekah B. Guevara, David J. Bzik, Barbara A. Fox.
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination. Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2. The Δku80 strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro and in vivo and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80 strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4. Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80 strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium).
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
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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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Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Authors: Lorena Stannek, Richard Egelkamp, Katrin Gunka, Fabian M. Commichau.
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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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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Identification of Novel Genes Associated with Alginate Production in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Using Mini-himar1 Mariner Transposon-mediated Mutagenesis
Authors: T. Ryan Withers, Yeshi Yin, Hongwei D. Yu.
Institutions: Marshall University.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a Gram-negative, environmental bacterium with versatile metabolic capabilities. P. aeruginosa is an opportunistic bacterial pathogen which establishes chronic pulmonary infections in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). The overproduction of a capsular polysaccharide called alginate, also known as mucoidy, promotes the formation of mucoid biofilms which are more resistant than planktonic cells to antibiotic chemotherapy and host defenses. Additionally, the conversion from the nonmucoid to mucoid phenotype is a clinical marker for the onset of chronic infection in CF. Alginate overproduction by P. aeruginosa is an endergonic process which heavily taxes cellular energy. Therefore, alginate production is highly regulated in P. aeruginosa. To better understand alginate regulation, we describe a protocol using the mini-himar1 transposon mutagenesis for the identification of novel alginate regulators in a prototypic strain PAO1. The procedure consists of two basic steps. First, we transferred the mini-himar1 transposon (pFAC) from host E. coli SM10/λpir into recipient P. aeruginosa PAO1 via biparental conjugation to create a high-density insertion mutant library, which were selected on Pseudomonas isolation agar plates supplemented with gentamycin. Secondly, we screened and isolated the mucoid colonies to map the insertion site through inverse PCR using DNA primers pointing outward from the gentamycin cassette and DNA sequencing. Using this protocol, we have identified two novel alginate regulators, mucE (PA4033) and kinB (PA5484), in strain PAO1 with a wild-type mucA encoding the anti-sigma factor MucA for the master alginate regulator AlgU (AlgT, σ22). This high-throughput mutagenesis protocol can be modified for the identification of other virulence-related genes causing change in colony morphology.
Immunology, Issue 85, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, alginate, mucoidy, mutagenesis, mini-himar1 mariner transposon, pFAC
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Development of an IFN-γ ELISpot Assay to Assess Varicella-Zoster Virus-specific Cell-mediated Immunity Following Umbilical Cord Blood Transplantation
Authors: Insaf Salem Fourati, Anne-Julie Grenier, Élyse Jolette, Natacha Merindol, Philippe Ovetchkine, Hugo Soudeyns.
Institutions: Université de Montréal, Université de Montréal, Université de Montréal.
Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality following umbilical cord blood transplantation (UCBT). For this reason, antiherpetic prophylaxis is administrated systematically to pediatric UCBT recipients to prevent complications associated with VZV infection, but there is no strong, evidence based consensus that defines its optimal duration. Because T cell mediated immunity is responsible for the control of VZV infection, assessing the reconstitution of VZV specific T cell responses following UCBT could provide indications as to whether prophylaxis should be maintained or can be discontinued. To this end, a VZV specific gamma interferon (IFN-γ) enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISpot) assay was developed to characterize IFN-γ production by T lymphocytes in response to in vitro stimulation with irradiated live attenuated VZV vaccine. This assay provides a rapid, reproducible and sensitive measurement of VZV specific cell mediated immunity suitable for monitoring the reconstitution of VZV specific immunity in a clinical setting and assessing immune responsiveness to VZV antigens.  
Immunology, Issue 89, Varicella zoster virus, cell-mediated immunity, T cells, interferon gamma, ELISpot, umbilical cord blood transplantation
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Using the Overlay Assay to Qualitatively Measure Bacterial Production of and Sensitivity to Pneumococcal Bacteriocins
Authors: Natalie Maricic, Suzanne Dawid.
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Streptococcus pneumoniae colonizes the highly diverse polymicrobial community of the nasopharynx where it must compete with resident organisms. We have shown that bacterially produced antimicrobial peptides (bacteriocins) dictate the outcome of these competitive interactions. All fully-sequenced pneumococcal strains harbor a bacteriocin-like peptide (blp) locus. The blp locus encodes for a range of diverse bacteriocins and all of the highly conserved components needed for their regulation, processing, and secretion. The diversity of the bacteriocins found in the bacteriocin immunity region (BIR) of the locus is a major contributor of pneumococcal competition. Along with the bacteriocins, immunity genes are found in the BIR and are needed to protect the producer cell from the effects of its own bacteriocin. The overlay assay is a quick method for examining a large number of strains for competitive interactions mediated by bacteriocins. The overlay assay also allows for the characterization of bacteriocin-specific immunity, and detection of secreted quorum sensing peptides. The assay is performed by pre-inoculating an agar plate with a strain to be tested for bacteriocin production followed by application of a soft agar overlay containing a strain to be tested for bacteriocin sensitivity. A zone of clearance surrounding the stab indicates that the overlay strain is sensitive to the bacteriocins produced by the pre-inoculated strain. If no zone of clearance is observed, either the overlay strain is immune to the bacteriocins being produced or the pre-inoculated strain does not produce bacteriocins. To determine if the blp locus is functional in a given strain, the overlay assay can be adapted to evaluate for peptide pheromone secretion by the pre-inoculated strain. In this case, a series of four lacZ-reporter strains with different pheromone specificity are used in the overlay.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 91, bacteriocins, antimicrobial peptides, blp locus, bacterial competition, Streptococcus pneumoniae, overlay assay
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Visualizing Bacteria in Nematodes using Fluorescent Microscopy
Authors: Kristen E. Murfin, John Chaston, Heidi Goodrich-Blair.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Symbioses, the living together of two or more organisms, are widespread throughout all kingdoms of life. As two of the most ubiquitous organisms on earth, nematodes and bacteria form a wide array of symbiotic associations that range from beneficial to pathogenic 1-3. One such association is the mutually beneficial relationship between Xenorhabdus bacteria and Steinernema nematodes, which has emerged as a model system of symbiosis 4. Steinernema nematodes are entomopathogenic, using their bacterial symbiont to kill insects 5. For transmission between insect hosts, the bacteria colonize the intestine of the nematode's infective juvenile stage 6-8. Recently, several other nematode species have been shown to utilize bacteria to kill insects 9-13, and investigations have begun examining the interactions between the nematodes and bacteria in these systems 9. We describe a method for visualization of a bacterial symbiont within or on a nematode host, taking advantage of the optical transparency of nematodes when viewed by microscopy. The bacteria are engineered to express a fluorescent protein, allowing their visualization by fluorescence microscopy. Many plasmids are available that carry genes encoding proteins that fluoresce at different wavelengths (i.e. green or red), and conjugation of plasmids from a donor Escherichia coli strain into a recipient bacterial symbiont is successful for a broad range of bacteria. The methods described were developed to investigate the association between Steinernema carpocapsae and Xenorhabdus nematophila 14. Similar methods have been used to investigate other nematode-bacterium associations 9,15-18and the approach therefore is generally applicable. The method allows characterization of bacterial presence and localization within nematodes at different stages of development, providing insights into the nature of the association and the process of colonization 14,16,19. Microscopic analysis reveals both colonization frequency within a population and localization of bacteria to host tissues 14,16,19-21. This is an advantage over other methods of monitoring bacteria within nematode populations, such as sonication 22or grinding 23, which can provide average levels of colonization, but may not, for example, discriminate populations with a high frequency of low symbiont loads from populations with a low frequency of high symbiont loads. Discriminating the frequency and load of colonizing bacteria can be especially important when screening or characterizing bacterial mutants for colonization phenotypes 21,24. Indeed, fluorescence microscopy has been used in high throughput screening of bacterial mutants for defects in colonization 17,18, and is less laborious than other methods, including sonication 22,25-27and individual nematode dissection 28,29.
Microbiology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Bacteriology, Developmental Biology, Colonization, Xenorhabdus, Steinernema, symbiosis, nematode, bacteria, fluorescence microscopy
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Profiling of Methyltransferases and Other S-adenosyl-L-homocysteine-binding Proteins by Capture Compound Mass Spectrometry (CCMS)
Authors: Thomas Lenz, Peter Poot, Olivia Gräbner, Mirko Glinski, Elmar Weinhold, Mathias Dreger, Hubert Köster.
Institutions: caprotec bioanalytics GmbH, RWTH Aachen University.
There is a variety of approaches to reduce the complexity of the proteome on the basis of functional small molecule-protein interactions such as affinity chromatography 1 or Activity Based Protein Profiling 2. Trifunctional Capture Compounds (CCs, Figure 1A) 3 are the basis for a generic approach, in which the initial equilibrium-driven interaction between a small molecule probe (the selectivity function, here S-adenosyl-L-homocysteine, SAH, Figure 1A) and target proteins is irreversibly fixed upon photo-crosslinking between an independent photo-activable reactivity function (here a phenylazide) of the CC and the surface of the target proteins. The sorting function (here biotin) serves to isolate the CC - protein conjugates from complex biological mixtures with the help of a solid phase (here streptavidin magnetic beads). Two configurations of the experiments are possible: "off-bead" 4 or the presently described "on-bead" configuration (Figure 1B). The selectivity function may be virtually any small molecule of interest (substrates, inhibitors, drug molecules). S-Adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM, Figure 1A) is probably, second to ATP, the most widely used cofactor in nature 5, 6. It is used as the major methyl group donor in all living organisms with the chemical reaction being catalyzed by SAM-dependent methyltransferases (MTases), which methylate DNA 7, RNA 8, proteins 9, or small molecules 10. Given the crucial role of methylation reactions in diverse physiological scenarios (gene regulation, epigenetics, metabolism), the profiling of MTases can be expected to become of similar importance in functional proteomics as the profiling of kinases. Analytical tools for their profiling, however, have not been available. We recently introduced a CC with SAH as selectivity group to fill this technological gap (Figure 1A). SAH, the product of SAM after methyl transfer, is a known general MTase product inhibitor 11. For this reason and because the natural cofactor SAM is used by further enzymes transferring other parts of the cofactor or initiating radical reactions as well as because of its chemical instability 12, SAH is an ideal selectivity function for a CC to target MTases. Here, we report the utility of the SAH-CC and CCMS by profiling MTases and other SAH-binding proteins from the strain DH5α of Escherichia coli (E. coli), one of the best-characterized prokaryotes, which has served as the preferred model organism in countless biochemical, biological, and biotechnological studies. Photo-activated crosslinking enhances yield and sensitivity of the experiment, and the specificity can be readily tested for in competition experiments using an excess of free SAH.
Biochemistry, Issue 46, Capture Compound, photo-crosslink, small molecule-protein interaction, methyltransferase, S-adenosyl-l-homocysteine, SAH, S-adenosyl-l-methionine, SAM, functional proteomics, LC-MS/MS
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Isolation of Translating Ribosomes Containing Peptidyl-tRNAs for Functional and Structural Analyses
Authors: Nitin Shirole, Sreeram Balasubramanian, Charles Yanofsky, Luis Cruz-Vera.
Institutions: University of Alabama Huntsville, Stanford University .
Recently, structural and biochemical studies have detailed many of the molecular events that occur in the ribosome during inhibition of protein synthesis by antibiotics and during nascent polypeptide synthesis. Some of these antibiotics, and regulatory nascent polypeptides mostly in the form of peptidyl-tRNAs, inhibit either peptide bond formation or translation termination1-7. These inhibitory events can stop the movement of the ribosome, a phenomenon termed "translational arrest". Translation arrest induced by either an antibiotic or a nascent polypeptide has been shown to regulate the expression of genes involved in diverse cellular functions such as cell growth, antibiotic resistance, protein translocation and cell metabolism8-13. Knowledge of how antibiotics and regulatory nascent polypeptides alter ribosome function is essential if we are to understand the complete role of the ribosome in translation, in every organism. Here, we describe a simple methodology that can be used to purify, exclusively, for analysis, those ribosomes translating a specific mRNA and containing a specific peptidyl-tRNA14. This procedure is based on selective isolation of translating ribosomes bound to a biotin-labeled mRNA. These translational complexes are separated from other ribosomes in the same mixture, using streptavidin paramagnetic beads (SMB) and a magnetic field (MF). Biotin-labeled mRNAs are synthesized by run-off transcription assays using as templates PCR-generated DNA fragments that contain T7 transcriptional promoters. T7 RNA polymerase incorporates biotin-16-UMP from biotin-UTP; under our conditions approximately ten biotin-16-UMP molecules are incorporated in a 600 nt mRNA with a 25% UMP content. These biotin-labeled mRNAs are then isolated, and used in in vitro translation assays performed with release factor 2 (RF2)-depleted cell-free extracts obtained from Escherichia coli strains containing wild type or mutant ribosomes. Ribosomes translating the biotin-labeled mRNA sequences are stalled at the stop codon region, due to the absence of the RF2 protein, which normally accomplishes translation termination. Stalled ribosomes containing the newly synthesized peptidyl-tRNA are isolated and removed from the translation reactions using SMB and an MF. These beads only bind biotin-containing messages. The isolated, translational complexes, can be used to analyze the structural and functional features of wild type or mutant ribosomal components, or peptidyl-tRNA sequences, as well as determining ribosome interaction with antibiotics or other molecular factors 1,14-16. To examine the function of these isolated ribosome complexes, peptidyl-transferase assays can be performed in the presence of the antibiotic puromycin1. To study structural changes in translational complexes, well established procedures can be used, such as i) crosslinking to specific amino acids14 and/or ii) alkylation protection assays1,14,17.
Molecular Biology, Issue 48, Ribosome stalling, ribosome isolation, peptidyl-tRNA, in vitro translation, RNA chemical modification, puromycin, antibiotics.
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A Calcium Bioluminescence Assay for Functional Analysis of Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and Tick (Rhipicephalus microplus) G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Hsiao-Ling Lu, Cymon N. Kersch, Suparna Taneja-Bageshwar, Patricia V. Pietrantonio.
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Arthropod hormone receptors are potential targets for novel pesticides as they regulate many essential physiological and behavioral processes. The majority of them belong to the superfamily of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). We have focused on characterizing arthropod kinin receptors from the tick and mosquito. Arthropod kinins are multifunctional neuropeptides with myotropic, diuretic, and neurotransmitter function. Here, a method for systematic analyses of structure-activity relationships of insect kinins on two heterologous kinin receptor-expressing systems is described. We provide important information relevant to the development of biostable kinin analogs with the potential to disrupt the diuretic, myotropic, and/or digestive processes in ticks and mosquitoes. The kinin receptors from the southern cattle tick, Boophilus microplus (Canestrini), and the mosquito Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus), were stably expressed in the mammalian cell line CHO-K1. Functional analyses of these receptors were completed using a calcium bioluminescence plate assay that measures intracellular bioluminescence to determine cytoplasmic calcium levels upon peptide application to these recombinant cells. This method takes advantage of the aequorin protein, a photoprotein isolated from luminescent jellyfish. We transiently transfected the aequorin plasmid (mtAEQ/pcDNA1) in cell lines that stably expressed the kinin receptors. These cells were then treated with the cofactor coelenterazine, which complexes with intracellular aequorin. This bond breaks in the presence of calcium, emitting luminescence levels indicative of the calcium concentration. As the kinin receptor signals through the release of intracellular calcium, the intensity of the signal is related to the potency of the peptide. This protocol is a synthesis of several previously described protocols with modifications; it presents step-by-step instructions for the stable expression of GPCRs in a mammalian cell line through functional plate assays (Staubly et al., 2002 and Stables et al., 1997). Using this methodology, we were able to establish stable cell lines expressing the mosquito and the tick kinin receptors, compare the potency of three mosquito kinins, identify critical amino acid positions for the ligand-receptor interaction, and perform semi-throughput screening of a peptide library. Because insect kinins are susceptible to fast enzymatic degradation by endogenous peptidases, they are severely limited in use as tools for pest control or endocrinological studies. Therefore, we also tested kinin analogs containing amino isobutyric acid (Aib) to enhance their potency and biostability. This peptidase-resistant analog represents an important lead in the development of biostable insect kinin analogs and may aid in the development of neuropeptide-based arthropod control strategies.
Immunology, Issue 50, Aequorin calcium reporter, coelenterazine, G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), CHO-K1 cells, mammalian cell culture, neuropeptide SAR studies (SAR= structure-activity relationships), receptor-neuropeptide interaction, bioluminescence, drug discovery, semi-throughput screening in plates
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to: ● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media. ● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method. ● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria. ● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage. ● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure. ● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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Quantitative and Automated High-throughput Genome-wide RNAi Screens in C. elegans
Authors: Barbara Squiban, Jérôme Belougne, Jonathan Ewbank, Olivier Zugasti.
Institutions: Université de la Méditerranée.
RNA interference is a powerful method to understand gene function, especially when conducted at a whole-genome scale and in a quantitative context. In C. elegans, gene function can be knocked down simply and efficiently by feeding worms with bacteria expressing a dsRNA corresponding to a specific gene 1. While the creation of libraries of RNAi clones covering most of the C. elegans genome 2,3 opened the way for true functional genomic studies (see for example 4-7), most established methods are laborious. Moy and colleagues have developed semi-automated protocols that facilitate genome-wide screens 8. The approach relies on microscopic imaging and image analysis. Here we describe an alternative protocol for a high-throughput genome-wide screen, based on robotic handling of bacterial RNAi clones, quantitative analysis using the COPAS Biosort (Union Biometrica (UBI)), and an integrated software: the MBioLIMS (Laboratory Information Management System from Modul-Bio) a technology that provides increased throughput for data management and sample tracking. The method allows screens to be conducted on solid medium plates. This is particularly important for some studies, such as those addressing host-pathogen interactions in C. elegans, since certain microbes do not efficiently infect worms in liquid culture. We show how the method can be used to quantify the importance of genes in anti-fungal innate immunity in C. elegans. In this case, the approach relies on the use of a transgenic strain carrying an epidermal infection-inducible fluorescent reporter gene, with GFP under the control of the promoter of the antimicrobial peptide gene nlp 29 and a red fluorescent reporter that is expressed constitutively in the epidermis. The latter provides an internal control for the functional integrity of the epidermis and nonspecific transgene silencing9. When control worms are infected by the fungus they fluoresce green. Knocking down by RNAi a gene required for nlp 29 expression results in diminished fluorescence after infection. Currently, this protocol allows more than 3,000 RNAi clones to be tested and analyzed per week, opening the possibility of screening the entire genome in less than 2 months.
Molecular Biology, Issue 60, C. elegans, fluorescent reporter, Biosort, LIMS, innate immunity, Drechmeria coniospora
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TransFLP — A Method to Genetically Modify Vibrio cholerae Based on Natural Transformation and FLP-recombination
Authors: Melanie Blokesch.
Institutions: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).
Several methods are available to manipulate bacterial chromosomes1-3. Most of these protocols rely on the insertion of conditionally replicative plasmids (e.g. harboring pir-dependent or temperature-sensitive replicons1,2). These plasmids are integrated into bacterial chromosomes based on homology-mediated recombination. Such insertional mutants are often directly used in experimental settings. Alternatively, selection for plasmid excision followed by its loss can be performed, which for Gram-negative bacteria often relies on the counter-selectable levan sucrase enzyme encoded by the sacB gene4. The excision can either restore the pre-insertion genotype or result in an exchange between the chromosome and the plasmid-encoded copy of the modified gene. A disadvantage of this technique is that it is time-consuming. The plasmid has to be cloned first; it requires horizontal transfer into V. cholerae (most notably by mating with an E. coli donor strain) or artificial transformation of the latter; and the excision of the plasmid is random and can either restore the initial genotype or create the desired modification if no positive selection is exerted. Here, we present a method for rapid manipulation of the V. cholerae chromosome(s)5 (Figure 1). This TransFLP method is based on the recently discovered chitin-mediated induction of natural competence in this organism6 and other representative of the genus Vibrio such as V. fischeri7. Natural competence allows the uptake of free DNA including PCR-generated DNA fragments. Once taken up, the DNA recombines with the chromosome given the presence of a minimum of 250-500 bp of flanking homologous region8. Including a selection marker in-between these flanking regions allows easy detection of frequently occurring transformants. This method can be used for different genetic manipulations of V. cholerae and potentially also other naturally competent bacteria. We provide three novel examples on what can be accomplished by this method in addition to our previously published study on single gene deletions and the addition of affinity-tag sequences5. Several optimization steps concerning the initial protocol of chitin-induced natural transformation6 are incorporated in this TransFLP protocol. These include among others the replacement of crab shell fragments by commercially available chitin flakes8, the donation of PCR-derived DNA as transforming material9, and the addition of FLP-recombination target sites (FRT)5. FRT sites allow site-directed excision of the selection marker mediated by the Flp recombinase10.
Immunology, Issue 68, Microbiology, Genetics, natural transformation, DNA uptake, FLP recombination, chitin, Vibrio cholerae
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Single-cell Analysis of Bacillus subtilis Biofilms Using Fluorescence Microscopy and Flow Cytometry
Authors: Juan C. Garcia-Betancur, Ana Yepes, Johannes Schneider, Daniel Lopez.
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
Biofilm formation is a general attribute to almost all bacteria 1-6. When bacteria form biofilms, cells are encased in extracellular matrix that is mostly constituted by proteins and exopolysaccharides, among other factors 7-10. The microbial community encased within the biofilm often shows the differentiation of distinct subpopulation of specialized cells 11-17. These subpopulations coexist and often show spatial and temporal organization within the biofilm 18-21. Biofilm formation in the model organism Bacillus subtilis requires the differentiation of distinct subpopulations of specialized cells. Among them, the subpopulation of matrix producers, responsible to produce and secrete the extracellular matrix of the biofilm is essential for biofilm formation 11,19. Hence, differentiation of matrix producers is a hallmark of biofilm formation in B. subtilis. We have used fluorescent reporters to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers in biofilms of B. subtilis 15,19,22-24. Concretely, we have observed that the subpopulation of matrix producers differentiates in response to the presence of self-produced extracellular signal surfactin 25. Interestingly, surfactin is produced by a subpopulation of specialized cells different from the subpopulation of matrix producers 15. We have detailed in this report the technical approach necessary to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers and surfactin producers within the biofilms of B. subtilis. To do this, fluorescent reporters of genes required for matrix production and surfactin production are inserted into the chromosome of B. subtilis. Reporters are expressed only in a subpopulation of specialized cells. Then, the subpopulations can be monitored using fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry (See Fig 1). The fact that different subpopulations of specialized cells coexist within multicellular communities of bacteria gives us a different perspective about the regulation of gene expression in prokaryotes. This protocol addresses this phenomenon experimentally and it can be easily adapted to any other working model, to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypic heterogeneity within a microbial community.
Immunology, Issue 60, Bacillus subtilis, biofilm formation, gene expression, cell differentiation, single-cell analysis
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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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Engineering Adherent Bacteria by Creating a Single Synthetic Curli Operon
Authors: Benoît Drogue, Philippe Thomas, Laurent Balvay, Claire Prigent-Combaret, Corinne Dorel.
Institutions: Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon.
The method described here consists in redesigning E. coli adherence properties by assembling the minimum number of curli genes under the control of a strong and metal-overinducible promoter, and in visualizing and quantifying the resulting gain of bacterial adherence. This method applies appropriate engineering principles of abstraction and standardization of synthetic biology, and results in the BBa_K540000 Biobrick (Best new Biobrick device, engineered, iGEM 2011). The first step consists in the design of the synthetic operon devoted to curli overproduction in response to metal, and therefore in increasing the adherence abilities of the wild type strain. The original curli operon was modified in silico in order to optimize transcriptional and translational signals and escape the "natural" regulation of curli. This approach allowed to test with success our current understanding of curli production. Moreover, simplifying the curli regulation by switching the endogenous complex promoter (more than 10 transcriptional regulators identified) to a simple metal-regulated promoter makes adherence much easier to control. The second step includes qualitative and quantitative assessment of adherence abilities by implementation of simple methods. These methods are applicable to a large range of adherent bacteria regardless of biological structures involved in biofilm formation. Adherence test in 24-well polystyrene plates provides a quick preliminary visualization of the bacterial biofilm after crystal violet staining. This qualitative test can be sharpened by the quantification of the percentage of adherence. Such a method is very simple but more accurate than only crystal violet staining as described previously 1 with both a good repeatability and reproducibility. Visualization of GFP-tagged bacteria on glass slides by fluorescence or laser confocal microscopy allows to strengthen the results obtained with the 24-well plate test by direct observation of the phenomenon.
Bioengineering, Issue 69, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, curli, cobalt, biofilm, Escherichia coli, synthetic operon, synthetic biology, adherence assay, biofilm quantification, microscopy
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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Use of Arabidopsis eceriferum Mutants to Explore Plant Cuticle Biosynthesis
Authors: Lacey Samuels, Allan DeBono, Patricia Lam, Miao Wen, Reinhard Jetter, Ljerka Kunst.
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC, University of British Columbia - UBC.
The plant cuticle is a waxy outer covering on plants that has a primary role in water conservation, but is also an important barrier against the entry of pathogenic microorganisms. The cuticle is made up of a tough crosslinked polymer called "cutin" and a protective wax layer that seals the plant surface. The waxy layer of the cuticle is obvious on many plants, appearing as a shiny film on the ivy leaf or as a dusty outer covering on the surface of a grape or a cabbage leaf thanks to light scattering crystals present in the wax. Because the cuticle is an essential adaptation of plants to a terrestrial environment, understanding the genes involved in plant cuticle formation has applications in both agriculture and forestry. Today, we'll show the analysis of plant cuticle mutants identified by forward and reverse genetics approaches.
Plant Biology, Issue 16, Annual Review, Cuticle, Arabidopsis, Eceriferum Mutants, Cryso-SEM, Gas Chromatography
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