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Tradeoffs in the evolution of caste and body size in the hyperdiverse ant genus Pheidole.
The efficient investment of resources is often the route to ecological success, and the adaptability of resource investment may play a critical role in promoting biodiversity. The ants of the "hyperdiverse" genus Pheidole produce two discrete sterile castes, soldiers and minor workers. Within Pheidole, there is tremendous interspecific variation in proportion of soldiers. The causes and correlates of caste ratio variation among species of Pheidole remain enigmatic. Here we test whether a body size threshold model accounts for interspecific variation in caste ratio in Pheidole, such that species with larger body sizes produce relatively fewer soldiers within their colonies. We evaluated the caste ratio of 26 species of Pheidole and found that the body size of workers accounts for interspecific variation in the production of soldiers as we predicted. Twelve species sampled from one forest in Costa Rica yielded the same relationship as found in previously published data from many localities. We conclude that production of soldiers in the most species-rich group of ants is regulated by a body size threshold mechanism, and that the great variation in body size and caste ratio in Pheidole plays a role in niche divergence in this rapidly evolving taxon.
Authors: Daniel Münch, Nicholas Baker, Erik M.K. Rasmussen, Ashish K. Shah, Claus D. Kreibich, Lars E. Heidem, Gro V. Amdam.
Published: 08-29-2013
Societies of highly social animals feature vast lifespan differences between closely related individuals. Among social insects, the honey bee is the best established model to study how plasticity in lifespan and aging is explained by social factors. The worker caste of honey bees includes nurse bees, which tend the brood, and forager bees, which collect nectar and pollen. Previous work has shown that brain functions and flight performance senesce more rapidly in foragers than in nurses. However, brain functions can recover, when foragers revert back to nursing tasks. Such patterns of accelerated and reversed functional senescence are linked to changed metabolic resource levels, to alterations in protein abundance and to immune function. Vitellogenin, a yolk protein with adapted functions in hormonal control and cellular defense, may serve as a major regulatory element in a network that controls the different aging dynamics in workers. Here we describe how the emergence of nurses and foragers can be monitored, and manipulated, including the reversal from typically short-lived foragers into longer-lived nurses. Our representative results show how individuals with similar chronological age differentiate into foragers and nurse bees under experimental conditions. We exemplify how behavioral reversal from foragers back to nurses can be validated. Last, we show how different cellular senescence can be assessed by measuring the accumulation of lipofuscin, a universal biomarker of senescence. For studying mechanisms that may link social influences and aging plasticity, this protocol provides a standardized tool set to acquire relevant sample material, and to improve data comparability among future studies.
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Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Authors: Oswald J. Schmitz, Mark A. Bradford, Michael S. Strickland, Dror Hawlena.
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
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Swimming Performance Assessment in Fishes
Authors: Keith B. Tierney.
Institutions: University of Alberta.
Swimming performance tests of fish have been integral to studies of muscle energetics, swimming mechanics, gas exchange, cardiac physiology, disease, pollution, hypoxia and temperature. This paper describes a flexible protocol to assess fish swimming performance using equipment in which water velocity can be controlled. The protocol involves one to several stepped increases in flow speed that are intended to cause fish to fatigue. Step speeds and their duration can be set to capture swimming abilities of different physiological and ecological relevance. Most frequently step size is set to determine critical swimming velocity (Ucrit), which is intended to capture maximum sustained swimming ability. Traditionally this test has consisted of approximately ten steps each of 20 min duration. However, steps of shorter duration (e.g. 1 min) are increasingly being utilized to capture acceleration ability or burst swimming performance. Regardless of step size, swimming tests can be repeated over time to gauge individual variation and recovery ability. Endpoints related to swimming such as measures of metabolic rate, fin use, ventilation rate, and of behavior, such as the distance between schooling fish, are often included before, during and after swimming tests. Given the diversity of fish species, the number of unexplored research questions, and the importance of many species to global ecology and economic health, studies of fish swimming performance will remain popular and invaluable for the foreseeable future.
Physiology, Issue 51, fish, swimming, Ucrit, burst, sustained, prolonged, schooling performance
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Rapid High Throughput Amylose Determination in Freeze Dried Potato Tuber Samples
Authors: Diego Fajardo, Sastry S. Jayanty, Shelley H. Jansky.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin - Madison, Colorado State University .
This protocol describes a high through put colorimetric method that relies on the formation of a complex between iodine and chains of glucose molecules in starch. Iodine forms complexes with both amylose and long chains within amylopectin. After the addition of iodine to a starch sample, the maximum absorption of amylose and amylopectin occurs at 620 and 550 nm, respectively. The amylose/amylopectin ratio can be estimated from the ratio of the 620 and 550 nm absorbance values and comparing them to a standard curve in which specific known concentrations are plotted against absorption values. This high throughput, inexpensive method is reliable and reproducible, allowing the evaluation of large populations of potato clones. 
Chemistry, Issue 80, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Life Sciences (General), Potato, amylose, amylopectin, colorimetric assay, iodine
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Measurement of Greenhouse Gas Flux from Agricultural Soils Using Static Chambers
Authors: Sarah M. Collier, Matthew D. Ruark, Lawrence G. Oates, William E. Jokela, Curtis J. Dell.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems Watershed Management Research Unit.
Measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes between the soil and the atmosphere, in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems, is critical to understanding the biogeochemical drivers of climate change and to the development and evaluation of GHG mitigation strategies based on modulation of landscape management practices. The static chamber-based method described here is based on trapping gases emitted from the soil surface within a chamber and collecting samples from the chamber headspace at regular intervals for analysis by gas chromatography. Change in gas concentration over time is used to calculate flux. This method can be utilized to measure landscape-based flux of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, and to estimate differences between treatments or explore system dynamics over seasons or years. Infrastructure requirements are modest, but a comprehensive experimental design is essential. This method is easily deployed in the field, conforms to established guidelines, and produces data suitable to large-scale GHG emissions studies.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, greenhouse gas, trace gas, gas flux, static chamber, soil, field, agriculture, climate
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An Allelotyping PCR for Identifying Salmonella enterica serovars Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, and Typhimurium
Authors: John J. Maurer, Margie D. Lee, Ying Cheng, Adriana Pedroso.
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Current commercial PCRs tests for identifying Salmonella target genes unique to this genus. However, there are two species, six subspecies, and over 2,500 different Salmonella serovars, and not all are equal in their significance to public health. For example, finding S. enterica subspecies IIIa Arizona on a table egg layer farm is insignificant compared to the isolation of S. enterica subspecies I serovar Enteritidis, the leading cause of salmonellosis linked to the consumption of table eggs. Serovars are identified based on antigenic differences in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)(O antigen) and flagellin (H1 and H2 antigens). These antigenic differences are the outward appearance of the diversity of genes and gene alleles associated with this phenotype. We have developed an allelotyping, multiplex PCR that keys on genetic differences between four major S. enterica subspecies I serovars found in poultry and associated with significant human disease in the US. The PCR primer pairs were targeted to key genes or sequences unique to a specific Salmonella serovar and designed to produce an amplicon with size specific for that gene or allele. Salmonella serovar is assigned to an isolate based on the combination of PCR test results for specific LPS and flagellin gene alleles. The multiplex PCRs described in this article are specific for the detection of S. enterica subspecies I serovars Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, and Typhimurium. Here we demonstrate how to use the multiplex PCRs to identify serovar for a Salmonella isolate.
Immunology, Issue 53, PCR, Salmonella, multiplex, Serovar
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Preterm EEG: A Multimodal Neurophysiological Protocol
Authors: Susanna Stjerna, Juha Voipio, Marjo Metsäranta, Kai Kaila, Sampsa Vanhatalo.
Institutions: University of Helsinki , University of Helsinki , University of Helsinki , University of Helsinki .
Since its introduction in early 1950s, electroencephalography (EEG) has been widely used in the neonatal intensive care units (NICU) for assessment and monitoring of brain function in preterm and term babies. Most common indications are the diagnosis of epileptic seizures, assessment of brain maturity, and recovery from hypoxic-ischemic events. EEG recording techniques and the understanding of neonatal EEG signals have dramatically improved, but these advances have been slow to penetrate through the clinical traditions. The aim of this presentation is to bring theory and practice of advanced EEG recording available for neonatal units. In the theoretical part, we will present animations to illustrate how a preterm brain gives rise to spontaneous and evoked EEG activities, both of which are unique to this developmental phase, as well as crucial for a proper brain maturation. Recent animal work has shown that the structural brain development is clearly reflected in early EEG activity. Most important structures in this regard are the growing long range connections and the transient cortical structure, subplate. Sensory stimuli in a preterm baby will generate responses that are seen at a single trial level, and they have underpinnings in the subplate-cortex interaction. This brings neonatal EEG readily into a multimodal study, where EEG is not only recording cortical function, but it also tests subplate function via different sensory modalities. Finally, introduction of clinically suitable dense array EEG caps, as well as amplifiers capable of recording low frequencies, have disclosed multitude of brain activities that have as yet been overlooked. In the practical part of this video, we show how a multimodal, dense array EEG study is performed in neonatal intensive care unit from a preterm baby in the incubator. The video demonstrates preparation of the baby and incubator, application of the EEG cap, and performance of the sensory stimulations.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, neurophysiology, preterm baby, neonatal, EEG, evoked response, high density EEG, FbEEG, sensory evoked response, neonatal intensive care unit
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Complete Spinal Cord Injury and Brain Dissection Protocol for Subsequent Wholemount In Situ Hybridization in Larval Sea Lamprey
Authors: Antón Barreiro-Iglesias, Guixin Zhang, Michael E. Selzer, Michael I. Shifman.
Institutions: University of Edinburgh, Temple University School of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.
After a complete spinal cord injury, sea lampreys at first are paralyzed below the level of transection. However, they recover locomotion after several weeks, and this is accompanied by short distance regeneration (a few mm) of propriospinal axons and spinal-projecting axons from the brainstem. Among the 36 large identifiable spinal-projecting neurons, some are good regenerators and others are bad regenerators. These neurons can most easily be identified in wholemount CNS preparations. In order to understand the neuron-intrinsic mechanisms that favor or inhibit axon regeneration after injury in the vertebrates CNS, we determine differences in gene expression between the good and bad regenerators, and how expression is influenced by spinal cord transection. This paper illustrates the techniques for housing larval and recently transformed adult sea lampreys in fresh water tanks, producing complete spinal cord transections under microscopic vision, and preparing brain and spinal cord wholemounts for in situ hybridization. Briefly, animals are kept at 16 °C and anesthetized in 1% Benzocaine in lamprey Ringer. The spinal cord is transected with iridectomy scissors via a dorsal approach and the animal is allowed to recover in fresh water tanks at 23 °C. For in situ hybridization, animals are reanesthetized and the brain and cord removed via a dorsal approach.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, spinal cord injury, axonal guidance molecules, neurofilaments, regeneration
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Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Authors: Lorena Stannek, Richard Egelkamp, Katrin Gunka, Fabian M. Commichau.
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Authors: William R. Brant, Siegbert Schmid, Guodong Du, Helen E. A. Brand, Wei Kong Pang, Vanessa K. Peterson, Zaiping Guo, Neeraj Sharma.
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2 However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3 This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries. We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ data.
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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Isolation of Viable Multicellular Glands from Tissue of the Carnivorous Plant, Nepenthes
Authors: Sandy Rottloff, Axel Mithöfer, Ute Müller, Roland Kilper.
Institutions: Université de Lorraine, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, aura optik.
Many plants possess specialized structures that are involved in the production and secretion of specific low molecular weight compounds and proteins. These structures are almost always localized on plant surfaces. Among them are nectaries or glandular trichomes. The secreted compounds are often employed in interactions with the biotic environment, for example as attractants for pollinators or deterrents against herbivores. Glands that are unique in several aspects can be found in carnivorous plants. In so-called pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes, bifunctional glands inside the pitfall-trap on the one hand secrete the digestive fluid, including all enzymes necessary for prey digestion, and on the other hand take-up the released nutrients. Thus, these glands represent an ideal, specialized tissue predestinated to study the underlying molecular, biochemical, and physiological mechanisms of protein secretion and nutrient uptake in plants. Moreover, generally the biosynthesis of secondary compounds produced by many plants equipped with glandular structures could be investigated directly in glands. In order to work on such specialized structures, they need to be isolated efficiently, fast, metabolically active, and without contamination with other tissues. Therefore, a mechanical micropreparation technique was developed and applied for studies on Nepenthes digestion fluid. Here, a protocol is presented that was used to successfully prepare single bifunctional glands from Nepenthes traps, based on a mechanized microsampling platform. The glands could be isolated and directly used further for gene expression analysis by PCR techniques after preparation of RNA.
Plant Biology, Issue 82, Plant, Plant Preparations, Plant Physiological Processes, Plant Pathology, micropreparation, mechanical dissection, glands, carnivory, Nepenthes, PCR, RNA
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Visualizing Bacteria in Nematodes using Fluorescent Microscopy
Authors: Kristen E. Murfin, John Chaston, Heidi Goodrich-Blair.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Symbioses, the living together of two or more organisms, are widespread throughout all kingdoms of life. As two of the most ubiquitous organisms on earth, nematodes and bacteria form a wide array of symbiotic associations that range from beneficial to pathogenic 1-3. One such association is the mutually beneficial relationship between Xenorhabdus bacteria and Steinernema nematodes, which has emerged as a model system of symbiosis 4. Steinernema nematodes are entomopathogenic, using their bacterial symbiont to kill insects 5. For transmission between insect hosts, the bacteria colonize the intestine of the nematode's infective juvenile stage 6-8. Recently, several other nematode species have been shown to utilize bacteria to kill insects 9-13, and investigations have begun examining the interactions between the nematodes and bacteria in these systems 9. We describe a method for visualization of a bacterial symbiont within or on a nematode host, taking advantage of the optical transparency of nematodes when viewed by microscopy. The bacteria are engineered to express a fluorescent protein, allowing their visualization by fluorescence microscopy. Many plasmids are available that carry genes encoding proteins that fluoresce at different wavelengths (i.e. green or red), and conjugation of plasmids from a donor Escherichia coli strain into a recipient bacterial symbiont is successful for a broad range of bacteria. The methods described were developed to investigate the association between Steinernema carpocapsae and Xenorhabdus nematophila 14. Similar methods have been used to investigate other nematode-bacterium associations 9,15-18and the approach therefore is generally applicable. The method allows characterization of bacterial presence and localization within nematodes at different stages of development, providing insights into the nature of the association and the process of colonization 14,16,19. Microscopic analysis reveals both colonization frequency within a population and localization of bacteria to host tissues 14,16,19-21. This is an advantage over other methods of monitoring bacteria within nematode populations, such as sonication 22or grinding 23, which can provide average levels of colonization, but may not, for example, discriminate populations with a high frequency of low symbiont loads from populations with a low frequency of high symbiont loads. Discriminating the frequency and load of colonizing bacteria can be especially important when screening or characterizing bacterial mutants for colonization phenotypes 21,24. Indeed, fluorescence microscopy has been used in high throughput screening of bacterial mutants for defects in colonization 17,18, and is less laborious than other methods, including sonication 22,25-27and individual nematode dissection 28,29.
Microbiology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Bacteriology, Developmental Biology, Colonization, Xenorhabdus, Steinernema, symbiosis, nematode, bacteria, fluorescence microscopy
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Extracting DNA from the Gut Microbes of the Termite (Zootermopsis Angusticollis) and Visualizing Gut Microbes
Authors: Eric Matson, Elizabeth Ottesen, Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Termites are among the few animals known to have the capacity to subsist solely by consuming wood. The termite gut tract contains a dense and species-rich microbial population that assists in the degradation of lignocellulose predominantly into acetate, the key nutrient fueling termite metabolism (Odelson & Breznak, 1983). Within these microbial populations are bacteria, methanogenic archaea and, in some ("lower") termites, eukaryotic protozoa. Thus, termites are excellent research subjects for studying the interactions among microbial species and the numerous biochemical functions they perform to the benefit of their host. The species composition of microbial populations in termite guts as well as key genes involved in various biochemical processes has been explored using molecular techniques (Kudo et al., 1998; Schmit-Wagner et al., 2003; Salmassi & Leadbetter, 2003). These techniques depend on the extraction and purification of high-quality nucleic acids from the termite gut environment. The extraction technique described in this video is a modified compilation of protocols developed for extraction and purification of nucleic acids from environmental samples (Mor et al., 1994; Berthelet et al., 1996; Purdy et al., 1996; Salmassi & Leadbetter, 2003; Ottesen et al. 2006) and it produces DNA from termite hindgut material suitable for use as template for polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termite
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Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Authors: R. Craig Stillwell, Ian Dworkin, Alexander W. Shingleton, W. Anthony Frankino.
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4. Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12). Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
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Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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RNAi-mediated Double Gene Knockdown and Gustatory Perception Measurement in Honey Bees (Apis mellifera)
Authors: Ying Wang, Nicholas Baker, Gro V. Amdam.
Institutions: Arizona State University , Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
This video demonstrates novel techniques of RNA interference (RNAi) which downregulate two genes simultaneously in honey bees using double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) injections. It also presents a protocol of proboscis extension response (PER) assay for measuring gustatory perception. RNAi-mediated gene knockdown is an effective technique downregulating target gene expression. This technique is usually used for single gene manipulation, but it has limitations to detect interactions and joint effects between genes. In the first part of this video, we present two strategies to simultaneously knock down two genes (called double gene knockdown). We show both strategies are able to effectively suppress two genes, vitellogenin (vg) and ultraspiracle (usp), which are in a regulatory feedback loop. This double gene knockdown approach can be used to dissect interrelationships between genes and can be readily applied in different insect species. The second part of this video is a demonstration of proboscis extension response (PER) assay in honey bees after the treatment of double gene knockdown. The PER assay is a standard test for measuring gustatory perception in honey bees, which is a key predictor for how fast a honey bee's behavioral maturation is. Greater gustatory perception of nest bees indicates increased behavioral development which is often associated with an earlier age at onset of foraging and foraging specialization in pollen. In addition, PER assay can be applied to identify metabolic states of satiation or hunger in honey bees. Finally, PER assay combined with pairing different odor stimuli for conditioning the bees is also widely used for learning and memory studies in honey bees.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Genetics, Behavior, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, biology (general), genetics (animal and plant), animal biology, RNA interference, RNAi, double stranded RNA, dsRNA, double gene knockdown, vitellogenin gene, vg, ultraspiracle gene, usp, vitellogenin protein, Vg, ultraspiracle protein, USP, green fluorescence protein, GFP, gustatory perception, proboscis extension response, PER, honey bees, Apis mellifera, animal model, assay
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
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
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
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
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Authors: Melissa N. Patterson, Patrick H. Maxwell.
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
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High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Authors: Subarna Bhattacharya, Paul W. Burridge, Erin M. Kropp, Sandra L. Chuppa, Wai-Meng Kwok, Joseph C. Wu, Kenneth R. Boheler, Rebekah L. Gundry.
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
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Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
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Electroporation of Mycobacteria
Authors: Renan Goude, Tanya Parish.
Institutions: Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
Microbiology, Issue 15, Springer Protocols, Mycobacteria, Electroporation, Bacterial Transformation, Transformation Efficiency, Bacteria, Tuberculosis, M. Smegmatis, Springer Protocols
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