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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Large-scale Gene Knockdown in C. elegans Using dsRNA Feeding Libraries to Generate Robust Loss-of-function Phenotypes
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
RNA interference by feeding worms bacteria expressing dsRNAs has been a useful tool to assess gene function in C. elegans
. While this strategy works well when a small number of genes are targeted for knockdown, large scale feeding screens show variable knockdown efficiencies, which limits their utility. We have deconstructed previously published RNAi knockdown protocols and found that the primary source of the reduced knockdown can be attributed to the loss of dsRNA-encoding plasmids from the bacteria fed to the animals. Based on these observations, we have developed a dsRNA feeding protocol that greatly reduces or eliminates plasmid loss to achieve efficient, high throughput knockdown. We demonstrate that this protocol will produce robust, reproducible knock down of C. elegans
genes in multiple tissue types, including neurons, and will permit efficient knockdown in large scale screens. This protocol uses a commercially available dsRNA feeding library and describes all steps needed to duplicate the library and perform dsRNA screens. The protocol does not require the use of any sophisticated equipment, and can therefore be performed by any C. elegans
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), Gene Knockdown Techniques, C. elegans, dsRNA interference, gene knockdown, large scale feeding screen
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
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
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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
Laboratory Estimation of Net Trophic Transfer Efficiencies of PCB Congeners to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) from Its Prey
Institutions: U. S. Geological Survey, Grand Valley State University, Shedd Aquarium.
A technique for laboratory estimation of net trophic transfer efficiency (γ) of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners to piscivorous fish from their prey is described herein. During a 135-day laboratory experiment, we fed bloater (Coregonus hoyi
) that had been caught in Lake Michigan to lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush
) kept in eight laboratory tanks. Bloater is a natural prey for lake trout. In four of the tanks, a relatively high flow rate was used to ensure relatively high activity by the lake trout, whereas a low flow rate was used in the other four tanks, allowing for low lake trout activity. On a tank-by-tank basis, the amount of food eaten by the lake trout on each day of the experiment was recorded. Each lake trout was weighed at the start and end of the experiment. Four to nine lake trout from each of the eight tanks were sacrificed at the start of the experiment, and all 10 lake trout remaining in each of the tanks were euthanized at the end of the experiment. We determined concentrations of 75 PCB congeners in the lake trout at the start of the experiment, in the lake trout at the end of the experiment, and in bloaters fed to the lake trout during the experiment. Based on these measurements, γ was calculated for each of 75 PCB congeners in each of the eight tanks. Mean γ was calculated for each of the 75 PCB congeners for both active and inactive lake trout. Because the experiment was replicated in eight tanks, the standard error about mean γ could be estimated. Results from this type of experiment are useful in risk assessment models to predict future risk to humans and wildlife eating contaminated fish under various scenarios of environmental contamination.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, trophic transfer efficiency, polychlorinated biphenyl congeners, lake trout, activity, contaminants, accumulation, risk assessment, toxic equivalents
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
Fat Preference: A Novel Model of Eating Behavior in Rats
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch.
Obesity is a growing problem in the United States of America, with more than a third of the population classified as obese. One factor contributing to this multifactorial disorder is the consumption of a high fat diet, a behavior that has been shown to increase both caloric intake and body fat content. However, the elements regulating preference for high fat food over other foods remain understudied.
To overcome this deficit, a model to quickly and easily test changes in the preference for dietary fat was developed. The Fat Preference model presents rats with a series of choices between foods with differing fat content. Like humans, rats have a natural bias toward consuming high fat food, making the rat model ideal for translational studies. Changes in preference can be ascribed to the effect of either genetic differences or pharmacological interventions. This model allows for the exploration of determinates of fat preference and screening pharmacotherapeutic agents that influence acquisition of obesity.
Behavior, Issue 88, obesity, fat, preference, choice, diet, macronutrient, animal model
Using Microwave and Macroscopic Samples of Dielectric Solids to Study the Photonic Properties of Disordered Photonic Bandgap Materials
Institutions: San Francisco State University.
Recently, disordered photonic materials have been suggested as an alternative to periodic crystals for the formation of a complete photonic bandgap (PBG). In this article we will describe the methods for constructing and characterizing macroscopic disordered photonic structures using microwaves. The microwave regime offers the most convenient experimental sample size to build and test PBG media. Easily manipulated dielectric lattice components extend flexibility in building various 2D structures on top of pre-printed plastic templates. Once built, the structures could be quickly modified with point and line defects to make freeform waveguides and filters. Testing is done using a widely available Vector Network Analyzer and pairs of microwave horn antennas. Due to the scale invariance property of electromagnetic fields, the results we obtained in the microwave region can be directly applied to infrared and optical regions. Our approach is simple but delivers exciting new insight into the nature of light and disordered matter interaction.
Our representative results include the first experimental demonstration of the existence of a complete and isotropic PBG in a two-dimensional (2D) hyperuniform disordered dielectric structure. Additionally we demonstrate experimentally the ability of this novel photonic structure to guide electromagnetic waves (EM) through freeform waveguides of arbitrary shape.
Physics, Issue 91, optics and photonics, photonic crystals, photonic bandgap, hyperuniform, disordered media, waveguides
An Experimental and Bioinformatics Protocol for RNA-seq Analyses of Photoperiodic Diapause in the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus
Institutions: Georgetown University, The Ohio State University.
Photoperiodic diapause is an important adaptation that allows individuals to escape harsh seasonal environments via a series of physiological changes, most notably developmental arrest and reduced metabolism. Global gene expression profiling via RNA-Seq can provide important insights into the transcriptional mechanisms of photoperiodic diapause. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus
, is an outstanding organism for studying the transcriptional bases of diapause due to its ease of rearing, easily induced diapause, and the genomic resources available. This manuscript presents a general experimental workflow for identifying diapause-induced transcriptional differences in A. albopictus.
Rearing techniques, conditions necessary to induce diapause and non-diapause development, methods to estimate percent diapause in a population, and RNA extraction and integrity assessment for mosquitoes are documented. A workflow to process RNA-Seq data from Illumina sequencers culminates in a list of differentially expressed genes. The representative results demonstrate that this protocol can be used to effectively identify genes differentially regulated at the transcriptional level in A. albopictus
due to photoperiodic differences. With modest adjustments, this workflow can be readily adapted to study the transcriptional bases of diapause or other important life history traits in other mosquitoes.
Genetics, Issue 93, Aedes albopictus Asian tiger mosquito, photoperiodic diapause, RNA-Seq de novo transcriptome assembly, mosquito husbandry
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
Microfluidic Picoliter Bioreactor for Microbial Single-cell Analysis: Fabrication, System Setup, and Operation
Institutions: Forschungszentrum Juelich GmbH.
In this protocol the fabrication, experimental setup and basic operation of the recently introduced microfluidic picoliter bioreactor (PLBR) is described in detail. The PLBR can be utilized for the analysis of single bacteria and microcolonies to investigate biotechnological and microbiological related questions concerning, e.g.
cell growth, morphology, stress response, and metabolite or protein production on single-cell level. The device features continuous media flow enabling constant environmental conditions for perturbation studies, but in addition allows fast medium changes as well as oscillating conditions to mimic any desired environmental situation. To fabricate the single use devices, a silicon wafer containing sub micrometer sized SU-8 structures served as the replication mold for rapid polydimethylsiloxane casting. Chips were cut, assembled, connected, and set up onto a high resolution and fully automated microscope suited for time-lapse imaging, a powerful tool for spatio-temporal cell analysis. Here, the biotechnological platform organism Corynebacterium glutamicum
was seeded into the PLBR and cell growth and intracellular fluorescence were followed over several hours unraveling time dependent population heterogeneity on single-cell level, not possible with conventional analysis methods such as flow cytometry. Besides insights into device fabrication, furthermore, the preparation of the preculture, loading, trapping of bacteria, and the PLBR cultivation of single cells and colonies is demonstrated. These devices will add a new dimension in microbiological research to analyze time dependent phenomena of single bacteria under tight environmental control. Due to the simple and relatively short fabrication process the technology can be easily adapted at any microfluidics lab and simply tailored towards specific needs.
Bioengineering, Issue 82, Soft lithography, SU-8 lithography, Picoliter bioreactor, Single-cell analysis, Polydimethylsiloxane, Corynebacterium glutamicum, Escherichia coli, Microfluidics, Lab-on-a-chip
Assessing Differences in Sperm Competitive Ability in Drosophila
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
Competition among conspecific males for fertilizing the ova is one of the mechanisms of sexual selection, i.e.
selection that operates on maximizing the number of successful mating events rather than on maximizing survival and viability 1
. Sperm competition represents the competition between males after copulating with the same female 2
, in which their sperm are coincidental in time and space. This phenomenon has been reported in multiple species of plants and animals 3
. For example, wild-caught D. melanogaster
females usually contain sperm from 2-3 males 4
. The sperm are stored in specialized organs with limited storage capacity, which might lead to the direct competition of the sperm from different males 2,5
Comparing sperm competitive ability of different males of interest (experimental male types) has been performed through controlled double-mating experiments in the laboratory 6,7
. Briefly, a single female is exposed to two different males consecutively, one experimental male and one cross-mating reference male. The same mating scheme is then followed using other experimental male types thus facilitating the indirect comparison of the competitive ability of their sperm through a common reference. The fraction of individuals fathered by the experimental and reference males is identified using markers, which allows one to estimate sperm competitive ability using simple mathematical expressions 7,8
. In addition, sperm competitive ability can be estimated in two different scenarios depending on whether the experimental male is second or first to mate (offense and defense assay, respectively) 9
, which is assumed to be reflective of different competence attributes.
Here, we describe an approach that helps to interrogate the role of different genetic factors that putatively underlie the phenomenon of sperm competitive ability in D. melanogaster
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Spermatozoa, Drosophila melanogaster, Biological Evolution, Phenotype, genetics (animal and plant), animal biology, double-mating experiment, sperm competitive ability, male fertility, Drosophila, fruit fly, animal model
Window on a Microworld: Simple Microfluidic Systems for Studying Microbial Transport in Porous Media
Institutions: Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, University of Connecticut, University of Connecticut.
Microbial growth and transport in porous media have important implications for the quality of groundwater and surface water, the recycling of nutrients in the environment, as well as directly for the transmission of pathogens to drinking water supplies. Natural porous media is composed of an intricate physical topology, varied surface chemistries, dynamic gradients of nutrients and electron acceptors, and a patchy distribution of microbes. These features vary substantially over a length scale of microns, making the results of macro-scale investigations of microbial transport difficult to interpret, and the validation of mechanistic models challenging. Here we demonstrate how simple microfluidic devices can be used to visualize microbial interactions with micro-structured habitats, to identify key processes influencing the observed phenomena, and to systematically validate predictive models. Simple, easy-to-use flow cells were constructed out of the transparent, biocompatible and oxygen-permeable material poly(dimethyl siloxane). Standard methods of photolithography were used to make micro-structured masters, and replica molding was used to cast micro-structured flow cells from the masters. The physical design of the flow cell chamber is adaptable to the experimental requirements: microchannels can vary from simple linear connections to complex topologies with feature sizes as small as 2 μm. Our modular EcoChip flow cell array features dozens of identical chambers and flow control by a gravity-driven flow module. We demonstrate that through use of EcoChip devices, physical structures and pressure heads can be held constant or varied systematically while the influence of surface chemistry, fluid properties, or the characteristics of the microbial population is investigated. Through transport experiments using a non-pathogenic, green fluorescent protein-expressing Vibrio
bacterial strain, we illustrate the importance of habitat structure, flow conditions, and inoculums size on fundamental transport phenomena, and with real-time particle-scale observations, demonstrate that microfluidics offer a compelling view of a hidden world.
Microbiology, Issue 39, Microfluidic device, bacterial transport, porous media, colloid, biofilm, filtration theory, artificial habitat, micromodel, PDMS, GFP
A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1
. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2
. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps
). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
Regular Care and Maintenance of a Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Laboratory: An Introduction
Institutions: Edith Cowan University, Graylands Hospital, University of Western Australia, McCusker Alzheimer's Research foundation, University of Western Australia , University of Adelaide, Curtin University of Technology, University of Western Australia .
This protocol describes regular care and maintenance of a zebrafish laboratory. Zebrafish are now gaining popularity in genetics, pharmacological and behavioural research. As a vertebrate, zebrafish share considerable genetic sequence similarity with humans and are being used as an animal model for various human disease conditions. The advantages of zebrafish in comparison to other common vertebrate models include high fecundity, low maintenance cost, transparent embryos, and rapid development. Due to the spur of interest in zebrafish research, the need to establish and maintain a productive zebrafish housing facility is also increasing. Although literature is available for the maintenance of a zebrafish laboratory, a concise video protocol is lacking. This video illustrates the protocol for regular housing, feeding, breeding and raising of zebrafish larvae. This process will help researchers to understand the natural behaviour and optimal conditions of zebrafish husbandry and hence troubleshoot experimental issues that originate from the fish husbandry conditions. This protocol will be of immense help to researchers planning to establish a zebrafish laboratory, and also to graduate students who are intending to use zebrafish as an animal model.
Basic Protocols, Issue 69, Biology, Marine Biology, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, maintenance, breeding, feeding, raising, larvae, animal model, aquarium
An In Vitro Preparation for Eliciting and Recording Feeding Motor Programs with Physiological Movements in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
Multifunctionality, the ability of one peripheral structure to generate multiple, distinct behaviors1
, allows animals to rapidly adapt their behaviors to changing environments. The marine mollusk Aplysia californica
provides a tractable system for the study of multifunctionality. During feeding, Aplysia
generates several distinct types of behaviors using the same feeding apparatus, the buccal mass. The ganglia that control these behaviors contain a number of large, identified neurons that are accessible to electrophysiological study. The activity of these neurons has been described in motor programs that can be divided into two types, ingestive and egestive programs, based on the timing of neural activity that closes the food grasper relative to the neural activity that protracts or retracts the grasper2
. However, in isolated ganglia, the muscle movements that would produce these behaviors are absent, making it harder to be certain whether the motor programs observed are correlates of real behaviors. In vivo
, nerve and muscle recordings have been obtained corresponding to feeding programs2,3,4
, but it is very difficult to directly record from individual neurons5
. Additionally, in vivo
, ingestive programs can be further divided into bites and swallows1,2
, a distinction that is difficult to make in most previously described in vitro
The suspended buccal mass preparation (Figure 1
) bridges the gap between isolated ganglia and intact animals. In this preparation, ingestive behaviors - including both biting and swallowing - and egestive behaviors (rejection) can be elicited, at the same time as individual neurons can be recorded from and stimulated using extracellular electrodes6
. The feeding movements associated with these different behaviors can be recorded, quantified, and related directly to the motor programs. The motor programs in the suspended buccal mass preparation appear to be more similar to those observed in vivo
than are motor programs elicited in isolated ganglia. Thus, the motor programs in this preparation can be more directly related to in vivo
behavior; at the same time, individual neurons are more accessible to recording and stimulation than in intact animals. Additionally, as an intermediate step between isolated ganglia and intact animals, findings from the suspended buccal mass can aid in interpretation of data obtained in both more reduced and more intact settings. The suspended buccal mass preparation is a useful tool for characterizing the neural control of multifunctionality in Aplysia
Neuroscience, Issue 70, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Marine Biology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, neurobiology, buccal mass, semi-intact preparation, extracellular electrodes, extracellular recording, neurons, animal model
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
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 (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), 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
A Noninvasive Method For In situ Determination of Mating Success in Female American Lobsters (Homarus americanus)
Institutions: University of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Boston University, Middle College.
Despite being one of the most productive fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic, much remains unknown about the natural reproductive dynamics of American lobsters. Recent work in exploited crustacean populations (crabs and lobsters) suggests that there are circumstances where mature females are unable to achieve their full reproductive potential due to sperm limitation. To examine this possibility in different regions of the American lobster fishery, a reliable and noninvasive method was developed for sampling large numbers of female lobsters at sea. This method involves inserting a blunt-tipped needle into the female's seminal receptacle to determine the presence or absence of a sperm plug and to withdraw a sample that can be examined for the presence of sperm. A series of control studies were conducted at the dock and in the laboratory to test the reliability of this technique. These efforts entailed sampling 294 female lobsters to confirm that the presence of a sperm plug was a reliable indicator of sperm within the receptacle and thus, mating. This paper details the methodology and the results obtained from a subset of the total females sampled. Of the 230 female lobsters sampled from George's Bank and Cape Ann, MA (size range = 71-145 mm in carapace length), 90.3% were positive for sperm. Potential explanations for the absence of sperm in some females include: immaturity (lack of physiological maturity), breakdown of the sperm plug after being used to fertilize a clutch of eggs, and lack of mating activity. The surveys indicate that this technique for examining the mating success of female lobsters is a reliable proxy that can be used in the field to document reproductive activity in natural populations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 84, sperm limitation, spermatophore, lobster fishery, sex ratios, sperm receptacle, mating, American lobster, Homarus americanus
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
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
Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia