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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Quantifying Mixing using Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Institutions: University of California, Davis, Procter & Gamble Company.
Mixing is a unit operation that combines two or more components into a homogeneous mixture. This work involves mixing two viscous liquid streams using an in-line static mixer. The mixer is a split-and-recombine design that employs shear and extensional flow to increase the interfacial contact between the components. A prototype split-and-recombine (SAR) mixer was constructed by aligning a series of thin laser-cut Poly (methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) plates held in place in a PVC pipe. Mixing in this device is illustrated in the photograph in Fig. 1
. Red dye was added to a portion of the test fluid and used as the minor component being mixed into the major (undyed) component. At the inlet of the mixer, the injected layer of tracer fluid is split into two layers as it flows through the mixing section. On each subsequent mixing section, the number of horizontal layers is duplicated. Ultimately, the single stream of dye is uniformly dispersed throughout the cross section of the device.
Using a non-Newtonian test fluid of 0.2% Carbopol and a doped tracer fluid of similar composition, mixing in the unit is visualized using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a very powerful experimental probe of molecular chemical and physical environment as well as sample structure on the length scales from microns to centimeters. This sensitivity has resulted in broad application of these techniques to characterize physical, chemical and/or biological properties of materials ranging from humans to foods to porous media 1, 2
. The equipment and conditions used here are suitable for imaging liquids containing substantial amounts of NMR mobile 1
H such as ordinary water and organic liquids including oils. Traditionally MRI has utilized super conducting magnets which are not suitable for industrial environments and not portable within a laboratory (Fig. 2
). Recent advances in magnet technology have permitted the construction of large volume industrially compatible magnets suitable for imaging process flows. Here, MRI provides spatially resolved component concentrations at different axial locations during the mixing process. This work documents real-time mixing of highly viscous fluids via distributive mixing with an application to personal care products.
Biophysics, Issue 59, Magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, mixing, rheology, static mixer, split-and-recombine mix
Genome-wide Gene Deletions in Streptococcus sanguinis by High Throughput PCR
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
Flame Experiments at the Advanced Light Source: New Insights into Soot Formation Processes
Institutions: Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Universität Bielefeld.
The following experimental protocols and the accompanying video are concerned with the flame experiments that are performed at the Chemical Dynamics Beamline of the Advanced Light Source (ALS) of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory1-4
. This video demonstrates how the complex chemical structures of laboratory-based model flames are analyzed using flame-sampling mass spectrometry with tunable synchrotron-generated vacuum-ultraviolet (VUV) radiation. This experimental approach combines isomer-resolving capabilities with high sensitivity and a large dynamic range5,6
. The first part of the video describes experiments involving burner-stabilized, reduced-pressure (20-80 mbar) laminar premixed flames. A small hydrocarbon fuel was used for the selected flame to demonstrate the general experimental approach. It is shown how species’ profiles are acquired as a function of distance from the burner surface and how the tunability of the VUV photon energy is used advantageously to identify many combustion intermediates based on their ionization energies. For example, this technique has been used to study gas-phase aspects of the soot-formation processes, and the video shows how the resonance-stabilized radicals, such as C3
, and i-
, are identified as important intermediates7
. The work has been focused on soot formation processes, and, from the chemical point of view, this process is very intriguing because chemical structures containing millions of carbon atoms are assembled from a fuel molecule possessing only a few carbon atoms in just milliseconds. The second part of the video highlights a new experiment, in which an opposed-flow diffusion flame and synchrotron-based aerosol mass spectrometry are used to study the chemical composition of the combustion-generated soot particles4
. The experimental results indicate that the widely accepted H-abstraction-C2
-addition (HACA) mechanism is not the sole molecular growth process responsible for the formation of the observed large polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Physics, Issue 87, Combustion, Flame, Energy Conversion, Mass Spectrometry, Photoionization, Synchrotron, Hydrocarbon, Soot, Aerosol, Isomer
Microwave-assisted Intramolecular Dehydrogenative Diels-Alder Reactions for the Synthesis of Functionalized Naphthalenes/Solvatochromic Dyes
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh.
Functionalized naphthalenes have applications in a variety of research fields ranging from the synthesis of natural or biologically active molecules to the preparation of new organic dyes. Although numerous strategies have been reported to access naphthalene scaffolds, many procedures still present limitations in terms of incorporating functionality, which in turn narrows the range of available substrates. The development of versatile methods for direct access to substituted naphthalenes is therefore highly desirable.
The Diels-Alder (DA) cycloaddition reaction is a powerful and attractive method for the formation of saturated and unsaturated ring systems from readily available starting materials. A new microwave-assisted intramolecular dehydrogenative DA reaction of styrenyl derivatives described herein generates a variety of functionalized cyclopenta[b
]naphthalenes that could not be prepared using existing synthetic methods. When compared to conventional heating, microwave irradiation accelerates reaction rates, enhances yields, and limits the formation of undesired byproducts.
The utility of this protocol is further demonstrated by the conversion of a DA cycloadduct into a novel solvatochromic fluorescent dye via a Buchwald-Hartwig palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling reaction. Fluorescence spectroscopy, as an informative and sensitive analytical technique, plays a key role in research fields including environmental science, medicine, pharmacology, and cellular biology. Access to a variety of new organic fluorophores provided by the microwave-assisted dehydrogenative DA reaction allows for further advancement in these fields.
Chemistry, Issue 74, Chemical Engineering, Physical Chemistry, Microwave-assisted synthesis, dehydrogenative Diels-Alder reactions, naphthalenes, fluorescent dyes, solvatochromism, catalyst
Split-and-pool Synthesis and Characterization of Peptide Tertiary Amide Library
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute.
Peptidomimetics are great sources of protein ligands. The oligomeric nature of these compounds enables us to access large synthetic libraries on solid phase by using combinatorial chemistry. One of the most well studied classes of peptidomimetics is peptoids. Peptoids are easy to synthesize and have been shown to be proteolysis-resistant and cell-permeable. Over the past decade, many useful protein ligands have been identified through screening of peptoid libraries. However, most of the ligands identified from peptoid libraries do not display high affinity, with rare exceptions. This may be due, in part, to the lack of chiral centers and conformational constraints in peptoid molecules. Recently, we described a new synthetic route to access peptide tertiary amides (PTAs). PTAs are a superfamily of peptidomimetics that include but are not limited to peptides, peptoids and N-methylated peptides. With side chains on both α-carbon and main chain nitrogen atoms, the conformation of these molecules are greatly constrained by sterical hindrance and allylic 1,3 strain. (Figure 1
) Our study suggests that these PTA molecules are highly structured in solution and can be used to identify protein ligands. We believe that these molecules can be a future source of high-affinity protein ligands. Here we describe the synthetic method combining the power of both split-and-pool and sub-monomer strategies to synthesize a sample one-bead one-compound (OBOC) library of PTAs.
Chemistry, Issue 88, Split-and-pool synthesis, peptide tertiary amide, PTA, peptoid, high-throughput screening, combinatorial library, solid phase, triphosgene (BTC), one-bead one-compound, OBOC
Metabolomic Analysis of Rat Brain by High Resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy of Tissue Extracts
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-Marseille Université.
Studies of gene expression on the RNA and protein levels have long been used to explore biological processes underlying disease. More recently, genomics and proteomics have been complemented by comprehensive quantitative analysis of the metabolite pool present in biological systems. This strategy, termed metabolomics, strives to provide a global characterization of the small-molecule complement involved in metabolism. While the genome and the proteome define the tasks cells can perform, the metabolome is part of the actual phenotype. Among the methods currently used in metabolomics, spectroscopic techniques are of special interest because they allow one to simultaneously analyze a large number of metabolites without prior selection for specific biochemical pathways, thus enabling a broad unbiased approach. Here, an optimized experimental protocol for metabolomic analysis by high-resolution NMR spectroscopy is presented, which is the method of choice for efficient quantification of tissue metabolites. Important strengths of this method are (i) the use of crude extracts, without the need to purify the sample and/or separate metabolites; (ii) the intrinsically quantitative nature of NMR, permitting quantitation of all metabolites represented by an NMR spectrum with one reference compound only; and (iii) the nondestructive nature of NMR enabling repeated use of the same sample for multiple measurements. The dynamic range of metabolite concentrations that can be covered is considerable due to the linear response of NMR signals, although metabolites occurring at extremely low concentrations may be difficult to detect. For the least abundant compounds, the highly sensitive mass spectrometry method may be advantageous although this technique requires more intricate sample preparation and quantification procedures than NMR spectroscopy. We present here an NMR protocol adjusted to rat brain analysis; however, the same protocol can be applied to other tissues with minor modifications.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, metabolomics, brain tissue, rodents, neurochemistry, tissue extracts, NMR spectroscopy, quantitative metabolite analysis, cerebral metabolism, metabolic profile
A Three-dimensional Tissue Culture Model to Study Primary Human Bone Marrow and its Malignancies
Institutions: Purdue University, University of Alberta, Cross Cancer Institute.
Tissue culture has been an invaluable tool to study many aspects of cell function, from normal development to disease. Conventional cell culture methods rely on the ability of cells either to attach to a solid substratum of a tissue culture dish or to grow in suspension in liquid medium. Multiple immortal cell lines have been created and grown using such approaches, however, these methods frequently fail when primary cells need to be grown ex vivo
. Such failure has been attributed to the absence of the appropriate extracellular matrix components of the tissue microenvironment from the standard systems where tissue culture plastic is used as a surface for cell growth. Extracellular matrix is an integral component of the tissue microenvironment and its presence is crucial for the maintenance of physiological functions such as cell polarization, survival, and proliferation. Here we present a 3-dimensional tissue culture method where primary bone marrow cells are grown in extracellular matrix formulated to recapitulate the microenvironment of the human bone (rBM system). Embedded in the extracellular matrix, cells are supplied with nutrients through the medium supplemented with human plasma, thus providing a comprehensive system where cell survival and proliferation can be sustained for up to 30 days while maintaining the cellular composition of the primary tissue. Using the rBM system we have successfully grown primary bone marrow cells from normal donors and patients with amyloidosis, and various hematological malignancies. The rBM system allows for direct, in-matrix real time visualization of the cell behavior and evaluation of preclinical efficacy of novel therapeutics. Moreover, cells can be isolated from the rBM and subsequently used for in vivo
transplantation, cell sorting, flow cytometry, and nucleic acid and protein analysis. Taken together, the rBM method provides a reliable system for the growth of primary bone marrow cells under physiological conditions.
Medicine, Issue 85, extracellular matrix, 3D culture, bone marrow, hematological malignancies, primary cell culture, tumor microenvironment
Determination of the Gas-phase Acidities of Oligopeptides
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Amino acid residues located at different positions in folded proteins often exhibit different degrees of acidities. For example, a cysteine residue located at or near the N-terminus of a helix is often more acidic than that at or near the C-terminus 1-6
. Although extensive experimental studies on the acid-base properties of peptides have been carried out in the condensed phase, in particular in aqueous solutions 6-8
, the results are often complicated by solvent effects 7
. In fact, most of the active sites in proteins are located near the interior region where solvent effects have been minimized 9,10
. In order to understand intrinsic acid-base properties of peptides and proteins, it is important to perform the studies in a solvent-free environment.
We present a method to measure the acidities of oligopeptides in the gas-phase. We use a cysteine-containing oligopeptide, Ala3
CH), as the model compound. The measurements are based on the well-established extended Cooks kinetic method (Figure 1
. The experiments are carried out using a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer interfaced with an electrospray ionization (ESI) ion source (Figure 2
). For each peptide sample, several reference acids are selected. The reference acids are structurally similar organic compounds with known gas-phase acidities. A solution of the mixture of the peptide and a reference acid is introduced into the mass spectrometer, and a gas-phase proton-bound anionic cluster of peptide-reference acid is formed. The proton-bound cluster is mass isolated and subsequently fragmented via collision-induced dissociation (CID) experiments. The resulting fragment ion abundances are analyzed using a relationship between the acidities and the cluster ion dissociation kinetics. The gas-phase acidity of the peptide is then obtained by linear regression of the thermo-kinetic plots 17,18
The method can be applied to a variety of molecular systems, including organic compounds, amino acids and their derivatives, oligonucleotides, and oligopeptides. By comparing the gas-phase acidities measured experimentally with those values calculated for different conformers, conformational effects on the acidities can be evaluated.
Chemistry, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Oligopeptide, gas-phase acidity, kinetic method, collision-induced dissociation, triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry, oligopeptides, peptides, mass spectrometry, MS
TransFLP — A Method to Genetically Modify Vibrio cholerae Based on Natural Transformation and FLP-recombination
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
. 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
). 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
Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ
measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration.
Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release.
The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
Synthesis and Operation of Fluorescent-core Microcavities for Refractometric Sensing
Institutions: University of Alberta.
This paper discusses fluorescent core microcavity-based sensors that can operate in a microfluidic analysis setup. These structures are based on the formation of a fluorescent quantum-dot (QD) coating on the channel surface of a conventional microcapillary. Silicon QDs are especially attractive for this application, owing in part to their negligible toxicity compared to the II-VI and II-VI compound QDs, which are legislatively controlled substances in many countries. While the ensemble emission spectrum is broad and featureless, an Si-QD film on the channel wall of a capillary features a set of sharp, narrow peaks in the fluorescence spectrum, corresponding to the electromagnetic resonances for light trapped within the film. The peak wavelength of these resonances is sensitive to the external medium, thus permitting the device to function as a refractometric sensor in which the QDs never come into physical contact with the analyte. The experimental methods associated with the fabrication of the fluorescent-core microcapillaries are discussed in detail, as well as the analysis methods. Finally, a comparison is made between these structures and the more widely investigated liquid-core optical ring resonators, in terms of microfluidic sensing capabilities.
Physics, Issue 73, Microfluidics, Optics, Quantum Dots, Optics and Photonics, fluid flow sensors (general), luminescence (optics), optical waveguides, photonics, condensed matter physics, microcavities, whispering gallery modes, refractometric sensor, fluorescence, microcapillary, quantum dots
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
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
Next-generation Sequencing of 16S Ribosomal RNA Gene Amplicons
Institutions: National Research Council Canada.
One of the major questions in microbial ecology is “who is there?” This question can be answered using various tools, but one of the long-lasting gold standards is to sequence 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene amplicons generated by domain-level PCR reactions amplifying from genomic DNA. Traditionally, this was performed by cloning and Sanger (capillary electrophoresis) sequencing of PCR amplicons. The advent of next-generation sequencing has tremendously simplified and increased the sequencing depth for 16S rRNA gene sequencing. The introduction of benchtop sequencers now allows small labs to perform their 16S rRNA sequencing in-house in a matter of days. Here, an approach for 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing using a benchtop next-generation sequencer is detailed. The environmental DNA is first amplified by PCR using primers that contain sequencing adapters and barcodes. They are then coupled to spherical particles via emulsion PCR. The particles are loaded on a disposable chip and the chip is inserted in the sequencing machine after which the sequencing is performed. The sequences are retrieved in fastq format, filtered and the barcodes are used to establish the sample membership of the reads. The filtered and binned reads are then further analyzed using publically available tools. An example analysis where the reads were classified with a taxonomy-finding algorithm within the software package Mothur is given. The method outlined here is simple, inexpensive and straightforward and should help smaller labs to take advantage from the ongoing genomic revolution.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, Metagenomics, Bacteria, 16S ribosomal RNA gene, Amplicon sequencing, Next-generation sequencing, benchtop sequencers
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
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
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
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
A Microplate Assay to Assess Chemical Effects on RBL-2H3 Mast Cell Degranulation: Effects of Triclosan without Use of an Organic Solvent
Institutions: University of Maine, Orono, University of Maine, Orono.
Mast cells play important roles in allergic disease and immune defense against parasites. Once activated (e.g.
by an allergen), they degranulate, a process that results in the exocytosis of allergic mediators. Modulation of mast cell degranulation by drugs and toxicants may have positive or adverse effects on human health. Mast cell function has been dissected in detail with the use of rat basophilic leukemia mast cells (RBL-2H3), a widely accepted model of human mucosal mast cells3-5
. Mast cell granule component and the allergic mediator β-hexosaminidase, which is released linearly in tandem with histamine from mast cells6
, can easily and reliably be measured through reaction with a fluorogenic substrate, yielding measurable fluorescence intensity in a microplate assay that is amenable to high-throughput studies1
. Originally published by Naal et al.1
, we have adapted this degranulation assay for the screening of drugs and toxicants and demonstrate its use here.
Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent that is present in many consumer products and has been found to be a therapeutic aid in human allergic skin disease7-11
, although the mechanism for this effect is unknown. Here we demonstrate an assay for the effect of triclosan on mast cell degranulation. We recently showed that triclosan strongly affects mast cell function2
. In an effort to avoid use of an organic solvent, triclosan is dissolved directly into aqueous buffer with heat and stirring, and resultant concentration is confirmed using UV-Vis spectrophotometry (using ε280
= 4,200 L/M/cm)12
. This protocol has the potential to be used with a variety of chemicals to determine their effects on mast cell degranulation, and more broadly, their allergic potential.
Immunology, Issue 81, mast cell, basophil, degranulation, RBL-2H3, triclosan, irgasan, antibacterial, β-hexosaminidase, allergy, Asthma, toxicants, ionophore, antigen, fluorescence, microplate, UV-Vis
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
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
The Preparation of Drosophila Embryos for Live-Imaging Using the Hanging Drop Protocol
Institutions: University of Waterloo.
Green fluorescent protein (GFP)-based timelapse live-imaging is a powerful technique for studying the genetic regulation of dynamic processes such as tissue morphogenesis, cell-cell adhesion, or cell death. Drosophila embryos expressing GFP are readily imaged using either stereoscopic or confocal microscopy. A goal of any live-imaging protocol is to minimize detrimental effects such as dehydration and hypoxia. Previous protocols for preparing Drosophila embryos for live-imaging analysis have involved placing dechorionated embryos in halocarbon oil and sandwiching them between a halocarbon gas-permeable membrane and a coverslip1-3
. The introduction of compression through mounting embryos in this manner represents an undesirable complication for any biomechanical-based analysis of morphogenesis. Our method, which we call the hanging drop protocol, results in excellent viability of embryos during live imaging and does not require that embryos be compressed. Briefly, the hanging drop protocol involves the placement of embryos in a drop of halocarbon oil that is suspended from a coverslip, which is, in turn, fixed in position over a humid chamber. In addition to providing gas exchange and preventing dehydration, this arrangement takes advantage of the buoyancy of embryos in halocarbon oil to prevent them from drifting out of position during timelapse acquisition. This video describes in detail how to collect and prepare Drosophila embryos for live imaging using the hanging drop protocol. This protocol is suitable for imaging dechorionated embryos using stereomicroscopy or any upright compound fluorescence microscope.
Developmental Biology, Issue 25, Drosophila, embryos, live-imaging, GFP
Interview: Glycolipid Antigen Presentation by CD1d and the Therapeutic Potential of NKT cell Activation
Institutions: La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
Natural Killer T cells (NKT) are critical determinants of the immune response to cancer, regulation of autioimmune disease, clearance of infectious agents, and the development of artheriosclerotic plaques. In this interview, Mitch Kronenberg discusses his laboratory's efforts to understand the mechanism through which NKT cells are activated by glycolipid antigens. Central to these studies is CD1d - the antigen presenting molecule that presents glycolipids to NKT cells. The advent of CD1d tetramer technology, a technique developed by the Kronenberg lab, is critical for the sorting and identification of subsets of specific glycolipid-reactive T cells. Mitch explains how glycolipid agonists are being used as therapeutic agents to activate NKT cells in cancer patients and how CD1d tetramers can be used to assess the state of the NKT cell population in vivo following glycolipid agonist therapy. Current status of ongoing clinical trials using these agonists are discussed as well as Mitch's prediction for areas in the field of immunology that will have emerging importance in the near future.
Immunology, Issue 10, Natural Killer T cells, NKT cells, CD1 Tetramers, antigen presentation, glycolipid antigens, CD1d, Mucosal Immunity, Translational Research
The Resident-intruder Paradigm: A Standardized Test for Aggression, Violence and Social Stress
Institutions: University Groningen, Radboud University Nijmegen.
This video publication explains in detail the experimental protocol of the resident-intruder paradigm in rats. This test is a standardized method to measure offensive aggression and defensive behavior in a semi natural setting. The most important behavioral elements performed by the resident and the intruder are demonstrated in the video and illustrated using artistic drawings. The use of the resident intruder paradigm for acute and chronic social stress experiments is explained as well. Finally, some brief tests and criteria are presented to distinguish aggression from its more violent and pathological forms.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Basic Protocols, Psychology, offensive aggression, defensive behavior, aggressive behavior, pathological, violence, social stress, rat, Wistar rat, animal model
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
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