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Biomass production from electricity using ammonia as an electron carrier in a reverse microbial fuel cell.
The storage of renewable electrical energy within chemical bonds of biofuels and other chemicals is a route to decreasing petroleum usage. A critical challenge is the efficient transfer of electrons into a biological host that can covert this energy into high energy organic compounds. In this paper, we describe an approach whereby biomass is grown using energy obtained from a soluble mediator that is regenerated electrochemically. The net result is a separate-stage reverse microbial fuel cell (rMFC) that fixes CO? into biomass using electrical energy. We selected ammonia as a low cost, abundant, safe, and soluble redox mediator that facilitated energy transfer to biomass. Nitrosomonas europaea, a chemolithoautotroph, was used as the biocatalyst due to its inherent capability to utilize ammonia as its sole energy source for growth. An electrochemical reactor was designed for the regeneration of ammonia from nitrite, and current efficiencies of 100% were achieved. Calculations indicated that overall bioproduction efficiency could approach 2.7±0.2% under optimal electrolysis conditions. The application of chemolithoautotrophy for industrial bioproduction has been largely unexplored, and results suggest that this and related rMFC platforms may enable biofuel and related biochemical production.
Authors: M. Toufiq Reza, Maja Werner, Marcel Pohl, Jan Mumme.
Published: 06-15-2014
Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4/kgVS (VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4/kgVS at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Authors: Mackenzie J. Denyes, Michèle A. Parisien, Allison Rutter, Barbara A. Zeeb.
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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Lignin Down-regulation of Zea mays via dsRNAi and Klason Lignin Analysis
Authors: Sang-Hyuck Park, Rebecca Garlock Ong, Chuansheng Mei, Mariam Sticklen.
Institutions: University of Arizona, Michigan State University, The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Michigan State University.
To facilitate the use of lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative bioenergy resource, during biological conversion processes, a pretreatment step is needed to open up the structure of the plant cell wall, increasing the accessibility of the cell wall carbohydrates. Lignin, a polyphenolic material present in many cell wall types, is known to be a significant hindrance to enzyme access. Reduction in lignin content to a level that does not interfere with the structural integrity and defense system of the plant might be a valuable step to reduce the costs of bioethanol production. In this study, we have genetically down-regulated one of the lignin biosynthesis-related genes, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (ZmCCR1) via a double stranded RNA interference technique. The ZmCCR1_RNAi construct was integrated into the maize genome using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic maize plants grew normally as compared to the wild-type control plants without interfering with biomass growth or defense mechanisms, with the exception of displaying of brown-coloration in transgenic plants leaf mid-ribs, husks, and stems. The microscopic analyses, in conjunction with the histological assay, revealed that the leaf sclerenchyma fibers were thinned but the structure and size of other major vascular system components was not altered. The lignin content in the transgenic maize was reduced by 7-8.7%, the crystalline cellulose content was increased in response to lignin reduction, and hemicelluloses remained unchanged. The analyses may indicate that carbon flow might have been shifted from lignin biosynthesis to cellulose biosynthesis. This article delineates the procedures used to down-regulate the lignin content in maize via RNAi technology, and the cell wall compositional analyses used to verify the effect of the modifications on the cell wall structure.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Zea mays, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), dsRNAi, Klason lignin measurement, cell wall carbohydrate analysis, gas chromatography (GC)
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In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Authors: Grant E. Johnson, K. Don Dasitha Gunaratne, Julia Laskin.
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3]2+ (bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
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Methods for Facilitating Microbial Growth on Pulp Mill Waste Streams and Characterization of the Biodegradation Potential of Cultured Microbes
Authors: Stephanie L. Mathews, Ali S. Ayoub, Joel Pawlak, Amy M. Grunden.
Institutions: North Carolina State University, North Carolina State University.
The kraft process is applied to wood chips for separation of lignin from the polysaccharides within lignocellulose for pulp that will produce a high quality paper. Black liquor is a pulping waste generated by the kraft process that has potential for downstream bioconversion. However, the recalcitrant nature of the lignocellulose resources, its chemical derivatives that constitute the majority of available organic carbon within black liquor, and its basic pH present challenges to microbial biodegradation of this waste material. Methods for the collection and modification of black liquor for microbial growth are aimed at utilization of this pulp waste to convert the lignin, organic acids, and polysaccharide degradation byproducts into valuable chemicals. The lignocellulose extraction techniques presented provide a reproducible method for preparation of lignocellulose growth substrates for understanding metabolic capacities of cultured microorganisms. Use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry enables the identification and quantification of the fermentation products resulting from the growth of microorganisms on pulping waste. These methods when used together can facilitate the determination of the metabolic activity of microorganisms with potential to produce fermentation products that would provide greater value to the pulping system and reduce effluent waste, thereby increasing potential paper milling profits and offering additional uses for black liquor.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, biodegradation (bacterial degradation), pulp mill waste, black liquor, kraft process, lignocellulose extraction, microorganisms, fermentation products, GC-MS
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Transcript and Metabolite Profiling for the Evaluation of Tobacco Tree and Poplar as Feedstock for the Bio-based Industry
Authors: Colin Ruprecht, Takayuki Tohge, Alisdair Fernie, Cara L. Mortimer, Amanda Kozlo, Paul D. Fraser, Norma Funke, Igor Cesarino, Ruben Vanholme, Wout Boerjan, Kris Morreel, Ingo Burgert, Notburga Gierlinger, Vincent Bulone, Vera Schneider, Andrea Stockero, Juan Navarro-Aviñó, Frank Pudel, Bart Tambuyser, James Hygate, Jon Bumstead, Louis Notley, Staffan Persson.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, Royal Holloway, University of London, VIB, UGhent, ETH Zurich, EMPA, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), European Research and Project Office GmbH, ABBA Gaia S.L., Pflanzenöltechnologie, Capax Environmental Services, Green Fuels, Neutral Consulting Ltd, University of Melbourne.
The global demand for food, feed, energy, and water poses extraordinary challenges for future generations. It is evident that robust platforms for the exploration of renewable resources are necessary to overcome these challenges. Within the multinational framework MultiBioPro we are developing biorefinery pipelines to maximize the use of plant biomass. More specifically, we use poplar and tobacco tree (Nicotiana glauca) as target crop species for improving saccharification, isoprenoid, long chain hydrocarbon contents, fiber quality, and suberin and lignin contents. The methods used to obtain these outputs include GC-MS, LC-MS and RNA sequencing platforms. The metabolite pipelines are well established tools to generate these types of data, but also have the limitations in that only well characterized metabolites can be used. The deep sequencing will allow us to include all transcripts present during the developmental stages of the tobacco tree leaf, but has to be mapped back to the sequence of Nicotiana tabacum. With these set-ups, we aim at a basic understanding for underlying processes and at establishing an industrial framework to exploit the outcomes. In a more long term perspective, we believe that data generated here will provide means for a sustainable biorefinery process using poplar and tobacco tree as raw material. To date the basal level of metabolites in the samples have been analyzed and the protocols utilized are provided in this article.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, botany, plants, Biorefining, Poplar, Tobacco tree, Arabidopsis, suberin, lignin, cell walls, biomass, long-chain hydrocarbons, isoprenoids, Nicotiana glauca, systems biology
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A Simple and Rapid Protocol for Measuring Neutral Lipids in Algal Cells Using Fluorescence
Authors: Zachary J. Storms, Elliot Cameron, Hector de la Hoz Siegler, William C. McCaffrey.
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Calgary.
Algae are considered excellent candidates for renewable fuel sources due to their natural lipid storage capabilities. Robust monitoring of algal fermentation processes and screening for new oil-rich strains requires a fast and reliable protocol for determination of intracellular lipid content. Current practices rely largely on gravimetric methods to determine oil content, techniques developed decades ago that are time consuming and require large sample volumes. In this paper, Nile Red, a fluorescent dye that has been used to identify the presence of lipid bodies in numerous types of organisms, is incorporated into a simple, fast, and reliable protocol for measuring the neutral lipid content of Auxenochlorella protothecoides, a green alga. The method uses ethanol, a relatively mild solvent, to permeabilize the cell membrane before staining and a 96 well micro-plate to increase sample capacity during fluorescence intensity measurements. It has been designed with the specific application of monitoring bioprocess performance. Previously dried samples or live samples from a growing culture can be used in the assay.
Chemistry, Issue 87, engineering (general), microbiology, bioengineering (general), Eukaryota Algae, Nile Red, Fluorescence, Oil Content, Oil Extraction, Oil Quantification, Neutral Lipids, Optical Microscope, biomass
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Preparation and Use of Photocatalytically Active Segmented Ag|ZnO and Coaxial TiO2-Ag Nanowires Made by Templated Electrodeposition
Authors: A. Wouter Maijenburg, Eddy J.B. Rodijk, Michiel G. Maas, Johan E. ten Elshof.
Institutions: University of Twente.
Photocatalytically active nanostructures require a large specific surface area with the presence of many catalytically active sites for the oxidation and reduction half reactions, and fast electron (hole) diffusion and charge separation. Nanowires present suitable architectures to meet these requirements. Axially segmented Ag|ZnO and radially segmented (coaxial) TiO2-Ag nanowires with a diameter of 200 nm and a length of 6-20 µm were made by templated electrodeposition within the pores of polycarbonate track-etched (PCTE) or anodized aluminum oxide (AAO) membranes, respectively. In the photocatalytic experiments, the ZnO and TiO2 phases acted as photoanodes, and Ag as cathode. No external circuit is needed to connect both electrodes, which is a key advantage over conventional photo-electrochemical cells. For making segmented Ag|ZnO nanowires, the Ag salt electrolyte was replaced after formation of the Ag segment to form a ZnO segment attached to the Ag segment. For making coaxial TiO2-Ag nanowires, a TiO2 gel was first formed by the electrochemically induced sol-gel method. Drying and thermal annealing of the as-formed TiO2 gel resulted in the formation of crystalline TiO2 nanotubes. A subsequent Ag electrodeposition step inside the TiO2 nanotubes resulted in formation of coaxial TiO2-Ag nanowires. Due to the combination of an n-type semiconductor (ZnO or TiO2) and a metal (Ag) within the same nanowire, a Schottky barrier was created at the interface between the phases. To demonstrate the photocatalytic activity of these nanowires, the Ag|ZnO nanowires were used in a photocatalytic experiment in which H2 gas was detected upon UV illumination of the nanowires dispersed in a methanol/water mixture. After 17 min of illumination, approximately 0.2 vol% H2 gas was detected from a suspension of ~0.1 g of Ag|ZnO nanowires in a 50 ml 80 vol% aqueous methanol solution.
Physics, Issue 87, Multicomponent nanowires, electrochemistry, sol-gel processes, photocatalysis, photochemistry, H2 evolution
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A Step Beyond BRET: Fluorescence by Unbound Excitation from Luminescence (FUEL)
Authors: Joseph Dragavon, Carolyn Sinow, Alexandra D. Holland, Abdessalem Rekiki, Ioanna Theodorou, Chelsea Samson, Samantha Blazquez, Kelly L. Rogers, Régis Tournebize, Spencer L. Shorte.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur, Stanford School of Medicine, Institut d'Imagerie Biomédicale, Vanderbilt School of Medicine, The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Institut Pasteur, Institut Pasteur.
Fluorescence by Unbound Excitation from Luminescence (FUEL) is a radiative excitation-emission process that produces increased signal and contrast enhancement in vitro and in vivo. FUEL shares many of the same underlying principles as Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET), yet greatly differs in the acceptable working distances between the luminescent source and the fluorescent entity. While BRET is effectively limited to a maximum of 2 times the Förster radius, commonly less than 14 nm, FUEL can occur at distances up to µm or even cm in the absence of an optical absorber. Here we expand upon the foundation and applicability of FUEL by reviewing the relevant principles behind the phenomenon and demonstrate its compatibility with a wide variety of fluorophores and fluorescent nanoparticles. Further, the utility of antibody-targeted FUEL is explored. The examples shown here provide evidence that FUEL can be utilized for applications where BRET is not possible, filling the spatial void that exists between BRET and traditional whole animal imaging.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, Biochemical Phenomena, Biochemical Processes, Energy Transfer, Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET), FUEL, BRET, CRET, Förster, bioluminescence, In vivo
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Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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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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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Waste Water Derived Electroactive Microbial Biofilms: Growth, Maintenance, and Basic Characterization
Authors: Carla Gimkiewicz, Falk Harnisch.
Institutions: UFZ - Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research.
The growth of anodic electroactive microbial biofilms from waste water inocula in a fed-batch reactor is demonstrated using a three-electrode setup controlled by a potentiostat. Thereby the use of potentiostats allows an exact adjustment of the electrode potential and ensures reproducible microbial culturing conditions. During growth the current production is monitored using chronoamperometry (CA). Based on these data the maximum current density (jmax) and the coulombic efficiency (CE) are discussed as measures for characterization of the bioelectrocatalytic performance. Cyclic voltammetry (CV), a nondestructive, i.e. noninvasive, method, is used to study the extracellular electron transfer (EET) of electroactive bacteria. CV measurements are performed on anodic biofilm electrodes in the presence of the microbial substrate, i.e. turnover conditions, and in the absence of the substrate, i.e. nonturnover conditions, using different scan rates. Subsequently, data analysis is exemplified and fundamental thermodynamic parameters of the microbial EET are derived and explained: peak potential (Ep), peak current density (jp), formal potential (Ef) and peak separation (ΔEp). Additionally the limits of the method and the state-of the art data analysis are addressed. Thereby this video-article shall provide a guide for the basic experimental steps and the fundamental data analysis.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, Electrochemistry, Microbial fuel cell, microbial bioelectrochemical system, cyclic voltammetry, electroactive bacteria, microbial bioelectrochemistry, bioelectrocatalysis
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Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part I: Lignin
Authors: Cliff E. Foster, Tina M. Martin, Markus Pauly.
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), Michigan State University (MSU).
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation1 and other products such as biocomposite materials7. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses (matrix polysaccharides, and the polyphenol lignin6 and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls provide tensile strength to cells and the entire plants, ward off pathogens, and allow water to be transported throughout the plant; in the case of trees up to more the 100 m above ground level. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerization by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis. In this first part we focus on the analysis of the polyphenol lignin (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its lignin content by acetylbromide solubilization3, and its lignin composition in terms of its syringyl, guaiacyl- and p-hydroxyphenyl units5. The protocol for analyzing the carbohydrates in lignocellulosic biomass including cellulose content and matrix polysaccharide composition is discussed in Part II2.
Plant Biology, Issue 37, cell walls, lignin, GC-MS, biomass, compositional analysis
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Label-free in situ Imaging of Lignification in Plant Cell Walls
Authors: Martin Schmidt, Pradeep Perera, Adam M. Schwartzberg, Paul D. Adams, P. James Schuck.
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Meeting growing energy demands safely and efficiently is a pressing global challenge. Therefore, research into biofuels production that seeks to find cost-effective and sustainable solutions has become a topical and critical task. Lignocellulosic biomass is poised to become the primary source of biomass for the conversion to liquid biofuels1-6. However, the recalcitrance of these plant cell wall materials to cost-effective and efficient degradation presents a major impediment for their use in the production of biofuels and chemicals4. In particular, lignin, a complex and irregular poly-phenylpropanoid heteropolymer, becomes problematic to the postharvest deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass. For example in biomass conversion for biofuels, it inhibits saccharification in processes aimed at producing simple sugars for fermentation7. The effective use of plant biomass for industrial purposes is in fact largely dependent on the extent to which the plant cell wall is lignified. The removal of lignin is a costly and limiting factor8 and lignin has therefore become a key plant breeding and genetic engineering target in order to improve cell wall conversion. Analytical tools that permit the accurate rapid characterization of lignification of plant cell walls become increasingly important for evaluating a large number of breeding populations. Extractive procedures for the isolation of native components such as lignin are inevitably destructive, bringing about significant chemical and structural modifications9-11. Analytical chemical in situ methods are thus invaluable tools for the compositional and structural characterization of lignocellulosic materials. Raman microscopy is a technique that relies on inelastic or Raman scattering of monochromatic light, like that from a laser, where the shift in energy of the laser photons is related to molecular vibrations and presents an intrinsic label-free molecular "fingerprint" of the sample. Raman microscopy can afford non-destructive and comparatively inexpensive measurements with minimal sample preparation, giving insights into chemical composition and molecular structure in a close to native state. Chemical imaging by confocal Raman microscopy has been previously used for the visualization of the spatial distribution of cellulose and lignin in wood cell walls12-14. Based on these earlier results, we have recently adopted this method to compare lignification in wild type and lignin-deficient transgenic Populus trichocarpa (black cottonwood) stem wood15. Analyzing the lignin Raman bands16,17 in the spectral region between 1,600 and 1,700 cm-1, lignin signal intensity and localization were mapped in situ. Our approach visualized differences in lignin content, localization, and chemical composition. Most recently, we demonstrated Raman imaging of cell wall polymers in Arabidopsis thaliana with lateral resolution that is sub-μm18. Here, this method is presented affording visualization of lignin in plant cell walls and comparison of lignification in different tissues, samples or species without staining or labeling of the tissues.
Plant Biology, Issue 45, Raman microscopy, lignin, poplar wood, Arabidopsis thaliana
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GENPLAT: an Automated Platform for Biomass Enzyme Discovery and Cocktail Optimization
Authors: Jonathan Walton, Goutami Banerjee, Suzana Car.
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
The high cost of enzymes for biomass deconstruction is a major impediment to the economic conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol. We have developed an integrated high throughput platform, called GENPLAT, for the discovery and development of novel enzymes and enzyme cocktails for the release of sugars from diverse pretreatment/biomass combinations. GENPLAT comprises four elements: individual pure enzymes, statistical design of experiments, robotic pipeting of biomass slurries and enzymes, and automated colorimeteric determination of released Glc and Xyl. Individual enzymes are produced by expression in Pichia pastoris or Trichoderma reesei, or by chromatographic purification from commercial cocktails or from extracts of novel microorganisms. Simplex lattice (fractional factorial) mixture models are designed using commercial Design of Experiment statistical software. Enzyme mixtures of high complexity are constructed using robotic pipeting into a 96-well format. The measurement of released Glc and Xyl is automated using enzyme-linked colorimetric assays. Optimized enzyme mixtures containing as many as 16 components have been tested on a variety of feedstock and pretreatment combinations. GENPLAT is adaptable to mixtures of pure enzymes, mixtures of commercial products (e.g., Accellerase 1000 and Novozyme 188), extracts of novel microbes, or combinations thereof. To make and test mixtures of ˜10 pure enzymes requires less than 100 μg of each protein and fewer than 100 total reactions, when operated at a final total loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan. We use enzymes from several sources. Enzymes can be purified from natural sources such as fungal cultures (e.g., Aspergillus niger, Cochliobolus carbonum, and Galerina marginata), or they can be made by expression of the encoding genes (obtained from the increasing number of microbial genome sequences) in hosts such as E. coli, Pichia pastoris, or a filamentous fungus such as T. reesei. Proteins can also be purified from commercial enzyme cocktails (e.g., Multifect Xylanase, Novozyme 188). An increasing number of pure enzymes, including glycosyl hydrolases, cell wall-active esterases, proteases, and lyases, are available from commercial sources, e.g., Megazyme, Inc. (, NZYTech (, and PROZOMIX ( Design-Expert software (Stat-Ease, Inc.) is used to create simplex-lattice designs and to analyze responses (in this case, Glc and Xyl release). Mixtures contain 4-20 components, which can vary in proportion between 0 and 100%. Assay points typically include the extreme vertices with a sufficient number of intervening points to generate a valid model. In the terminology of experimental design, most of our studies are "mixture" experiments, meaning that the sum of all components adds to a total fixed protein loading (expressed as mg/g glucan). The number of mixtures in the simplex-lattice depends on both the number of components in the mixture and the degree of polynomial (quadratic or cubic). For example, a 6-component experiment will entail 63 separate reactions with an augmented special cubic model, which can detect three-way interactions, whereas only 23 individual reactions are necessary with an augmented quadratic model. For mixtures containing more than eight components, a quadratic experimental design is more practical, and in our experience such models are usually statistically valid. All enzyme loadings are expressed as a percentage of the final total loading (which for our experiments is typically 15 mg protein/g glucan). For "core" enzymes, the lower percentage limit is set to 5%. This limit was derived from our experience in which yields of Glc and/or Xyl were very low if any core enzyme was present at 0%. Poor models result from too many samples showing very low Glc or Xyl yields. Setting a lower limit in turn determines an upper limit. That is, for a six-component experiment, if the lower limit for each single component is set to 5%, then the upper limit of each single component will be 75%. The lower limits of all other enzymes considered as "accessory" are set to 0%. "Core" and "accessory" are somewhat arbitrary designations and will differ depending on the substrate, but in our studies the core enzymes for release of Glc from corn stover comprise the following enzymes from T. reesei: CBH1 (also known as Cel7A), CBH2 (Cel6A), EG1(Cel7B), BG (β-glucosidase), EX3 (endo-β1,4-xylanase, GH10), and BX (β-xylosidase).
Bioengineering, Issue 56, cellulase, cellobiohydrolase, glucanase, xylanase, hemicellulase, experimental design, biomass, bioenergy, corn stover, glycosyl hydrolase
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Metabolic Pathway Confirmation and Discovery Through 13C-labeling of Proteinogenic Amino Acids
Authors: Le You, Lawrence Page, Xueyang Feng, Bert Berla, Himadri B. Pakrasi, Yinjie J. Tang.
Institutions: Washington University, Washington University, Washington University.
Microbes have complex metabolic pathways that can be investigated using biochemistry and functional genomics methods. One important technique to examine cell central metabolism and discover new enzymes is 13C-assisted metabolism analysis 1. This technique is based on isotopic labeling, whereby microbes are fed with a 13C labeled substrates. By tracing the atom transition paths between metabolites in the biochemical network, we can determine functional pathways and discover new enzymes. As a complementary method to transcriptomics and proteomics, approaches for isotopomer-assisted analysis of metabolic pathways contain three major steps 2. First, we grow cells with 13C labeled substrates. In this step, the composition of the medium and the selection of labeled substrates are two key factors. To avoid measurement noises from non-labeled carbon in nutrient supplements, a minimal medium with a sole carbon source is required. Further, the choice of a labeled substrate is based on how effectively it will elucidate the pathway being analyzed. Because novel enzymes often involve different reaction stereochemistry or intermediate products, in general, singly labeled carbon substrates are more informative for detection of novel pathways than uniformly labeled ones for detection of novel pathways3, 4. Second, we analyze amino acid labeling patterns using GC-MS. Amino acids are abundant in protein and thus can be obtained from biomass hydrolysis. Amino acids can be derivatized by N-(tert-butyldimethylsilyl)-N-methyltrifluoroacetamide (TBDMS) before GC separation. TBDMS derivatized amino acids can be fragmented by MS and result in different arrays of fragments. Based on the mass to charge (m/z) ratio of fragmented and unfragmented amino acids, we can deduce the possible labeled patterns of the central metabolites that are precursors of the amino acids. Third, we trace 13C carbon transitions in the proposed pathways and, based on the isotopomer data, confirm whether these pathways are active 2. Measurement of amino acids provides isotopic labeling information about eight crucial precursor metabolites in the central metabolism. These metabolic key nodes can reflect the functions of associated central pathways. 13C-assisted metabolism analysis via proteinogenic amino acids can be widely used for functional characterization of poorly-characterized microbial metabolism1. In this protocol, we will use Cyanothece 51142 as the model strain to demonstrate the use of labeled carbon substrates for discovering new enzymatic functions.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, GC-MS, novel pathway, metabolism, labeling, phototrophic microorganism
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Continuously-stirred Anaerobic Digester to Convert Organic Wastes into Biogas: System Setup and Basic Operation
Authors: Joseph G. Usack, Catherine M. Spirito, Largus T. Angenent.
Institutions: Cornell University.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a bioprocess that is commonly used to convert complex organic wastes into a useful biogas with methane as the energy carrier 1-3. Increasingly, AD is being used in industrial, agricultural, and municipal waste(water) treatment applications 4,5. The use of AD technology allows plant operators to reduce waste disposal costs and offset energy utility expenses. In addition to treating organic wastes, energy crops are being converted into the energy carrier methane 6,7. As the application of AD technology broadens for the treatment of new substrates and co-substrate mixtures 8, so does the demand for a reliable testing methodology at the pilot- and laboratory-scale. Anaerobic digestion systems have a variety of configurations, including the continuously stirred tank reactor (CSTR), plug flow (PF), and anaerobic sequencing batch reactor (ASBR) configurations 9. The CSTR is frequently used in research due to its simplicity in design and operation, but also for its advantages in experimentation. Compared to other configurations, the CSTR provides greater uniformity of system parameters, such as temperature, mixing, chemical concentration, and substrate concentration. Ultimately, when designing a full-scale reactor, the optimum reactor configuration will depend on the character of a given substrate among many other nontechnical considerations. However, all configurations share fundamental design features and operating parameters that render the CSTR appropriate for most preliminary assessments. If researchers and engineers use an influent stream with relatively high concentrations of solids, then lab-scale bioreactor configurations cannot be fed continuously due to plugging problems of lab-scale pumps with solids or settling of solids in tubing. For that scenario with continuous mixing requirements, lab-scale bioreactors are fed periodically and we refer to such configurations as continuously stirred anaerobic digesters (CSADs). This article presents a general methodology for constructing, inoculating, operating, and monitoring a CSAD system for the purpose of testing the suitability of a given organic substrate for long-term anaerobic digestion. The construction section of this article will cover building the lab-scale reactor system. The inoculation section will explain how to create an anaerobic environment suitable for seeding with an active methanogenic inoculum. The operating section will cover operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. The monitoring section will introduce testing protocols using standard analyses. The use of these measures is necessary for reliable experimental assessments of substrate suitability for AD. This protocol should provide greater protection against a common mistake made in AD studies, which is to conclude that reactor failure was caused by the substrate in use, when really it was improper user operation 10.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Environmental Engineering, Chemistry, Anaerobic Digestion, Bioenergy, Biogas, Methane, Organic Waste, Methanogenesis, Energy Crops
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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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Optimize Flue Gas Settings to Promote Microalgae Growth in Photobioreactors via Computer Simulations
Authors: Lian He, Amelia B Chen, Yi Yu, Leah Kucera, Yinjie Tang.
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Wuhan University of China, Washington University in St. Louis.
Flue gas from power plants can promote algal cultivation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions1. Microalgae not only capture solar energy more efficiently than plants3, but also synthesize advanced biofuels2-4. Generally, atmospheric CO2 is not a sufficient source for supporting maximal algal growth5. On the other hand, the high concentrations of CO2 in industrial exhaust gases have adverse effects on algal physiology. Consequently, both cultivation conditions (such as nutrients and light) and the control of the flue gas flow into the photo-bioreactors are important to develop an efficient “flue gas to algae” system. Researchers have proposed different photobioreactor configurations4,6 and cultivation strategies7,8 with flue gas. Here, we present a protocol that demonstrates how to use models to predict the microalgal growth in response to flue gas settings. We perform both experimental illustration and model simulations to determine the favorable conditions for algal growth with flue gas. We develop a Monod-based model coupled with mass transfer and light intensity equations to simulate the microalgal growth in a homogenous photo-bioreactor. The model simulation compares algal growth and flue gas consumptions under different flue-gas settings. The model illustrates: 1) how algal growth is influenced by different volumetric mass transfer coefficients of CO2; 2) how we can find optimal CO2 concentration for algal growth via the dynamic optimization approach (DOA); 3) how we can design a rectangular on-off flue gas pulse to promote algal biomass growth and to reduce the usage of flue gas. On the experimental side, we present a protocol for growing Chlorella under the flue gas (generated by natural gas combustion). The experimental results qualitatively validate the model predictions that the high frequency flue gas pulses can significantly improve algal cultivation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Marine Biology, Primary Cell Culture, Chlorella, CO2, mass transfer, Monod model, On-off pulse, Simulink
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Seawater Sampling and Collection
Authors: Elena Zaikova, Alyse Hawley, David A. Walsh, Steven J. Hallam.
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
This video documents methods for collecting coastal marine water samples and processing them for various downstream applications including biomass concentration, nucleic acid purification, cell abundance, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For today's demonstration samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. An A-frame derrick, with a multi-purpose winch and cable system, is used in combination with Niskin or Go-Flo water sampling bottles. Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) sensors are also used to sample the underlying water mass. To minimize outgassing, trace gas samples are collected first. Then, nutrients, water chemistry, and cell counts are determined. Finally, waters are collected for biomass filtration. The set-up and collection time for a single cast is ~1.5 hours at a maximum depth of 215 meters. Therefore, a total of 6 hours is generally needed to complete the collection series described here.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbial biomass, nucleic acids, nutrients, trace gas, ammonia, sulfide, seawater, fjord, hypoxic, Saanich Inlet
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Laser Capture Microdissection of Mammalian Tissue
Authors: Robert A Edwards.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Laser capture microscopy, also known as laser microdissection (LMD), enables the user to isolate small numbers of cells or tissues from frozen or formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue sections. LMD techniques rely on a thermo labile membrane placed either on top of, or underneath, the tissue section. In one method, focused laser energy is used to melt the membrane onto the underlying cells, which can then be lifted out of the tissue section. In the other, the laser energy vaporizes the foil along a path "drawn" on the tissue, allowing the selected cells to fall into a collection device. Each technique allows the selection of cells with a minimum resolution of several microns. DNA, RNA, protein, and lipid samples may be isolated and analyzed from micro-dissected samples. In this video, we demonstrate the use of the Leica AS-LMD laser microdissection instrument in seven segments, including an introduction to the principles of LMD, initializing the instrument for use, general considerations for sample preparation, mounting the specimen and setting up capture tubes, aligning the microscope, adjusting the capture controls, and capturing tissue specimens. Laser-capture micro-dissection enables the investigator to isolate samples of pure cell populations as small as a few cell-equivalents. This allows the analysis of cells of interest that are free of neighboring contaminants, which may confound experimental results.
Issue 8, Basic Protocols, Laser Capture Microdissection, Microdissection Techniques, Leica
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Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
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