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!
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
Corticospinal Excitability Modulation During Action Observation
Institutions: Universita degli Studi di Padova.
This study used the transcranial magnetic stimulation/motor evoked potential (TMS/MEP) technique to pinpoint when the automatic tendency to mirror someone else's action becomes anticipatory simulation of a complementary act. TMS was delivered to the left primary motor cortex corresponding to the hand to induce the highest level of MEP activity from the abductor digiti minimi (ADM; the muscle serving little finger abduction) as well as the first dorsal interosseus (FDI; the muscle serving index finger flexion/extension) muscles. A neuronavigation system was used to maintain the position of the TMS coil, and electromyographic (EMG) activity was recorded from the right ADM and FDI muscles. Producing original data with regard to motor resonance, the combined TMS/MEP technique has taken research on the perception-action coupling mechanism a step further. Specifically, it has answered the questions of how and when observing another person's actions produces motor facilitation in an onlooker's corresponding muscles and in what way corticospinal excitability is modulated in social contexts.
Behavior, Issue 82, action observation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, motor evoked potentials, corticospinal excitability
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
Towards Biomimicking Wood: Fabricated Free-standing Films of Nanocellulose, Lignin, and a Synthetic Polycation
Institutions: Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, Illinois Institute of Technology- Moffett Campus, University of Guadalajara, Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech.
Woody materials are comprised of plant cell walls that contain a layered secondary cell wall composed of structural polymers of polysaccharides and lignin. Layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly process which relies on the assembly of oppositely charged molecules from aqueous solutions was used to build a freestanding composite film of isolated wood polymers of lignin and oxidized nanofibril cellulose (NFC). To facilitate the assembly of these negatively charged polymers, a positively charged polyelectrolyte, poly(diallyldimethylammomium chloride) (PDDA), was used as a linking layer to create this simplified model cell wall. The layered adsorption process was studied quantitatively using quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring (QCM-D) and ellipsometry. The results showed that layer mass/thickness per adsorbed layer increased as a function of total number of layers. The surface coverage of the adsorbed layers was studied with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Complete coverage of the surface with lignin in all the deposition cycles was found for the system, however, surface coverage by NFC increased with the number of layers. The adsorption process was carried out for 250 cycles (500 bilayers) on a cellulose acetate (CA) substrate. Transparent free-standing LBL assembled nanocomposite films were obtained when the CA substrate was later dissolved in acetone. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the fractured cross-sections showed a lamellar structure, and the thickness per adsorption cycle (PDDA-Lignin-PDDA-NC) was estimated to be 17 nm for two different lignin types used in the study. The data indicates a film with highly controlled architecture where nanocellulose and lignin are spatially deposited on the nanoscale (a polymer-polymer nanocomposites), similar to what is observed in the native cell wall.
Plant Biology, Issue 88, nanocellulose, thin films, quartz crystal microbalance, layer-by-layer, LbL
Lignin Down-regulation of Zea mays via dsRNAi and Klason Lignin Analysis
Institutions: University of Arizona, Michigan State University, The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Michigan State University.
To facilitate the use of lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative bioenergy resource, during biological conversion processes, a pretreatment step is needed to open up the structure of the plant cell wall, increasing the accessibility of the cell wall carbohydrates. Lignin, a polyphenolic material present in many cell wall types, is known to be a significant hindrance to enzyme access. Reduction in lignin content to a level that does not interfere with the structural integrity and defense system of the plant might be a valuable step to reduce the costs of bioethanol production. In this study, we have genetically down-regulated one of the lignin biosynthesis-related genes, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (ZmCCR1
) via a double stranded RNA interference technique. The ZmCCR1_RNAi
construct was integrated into the maize genome using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic maize plants grew normally as compared to the wild-type control plants without interfering with biomass growth or defense mechanisms, with the exception of displaying of brown-coloration in transgenic plants leaf mid-ribs, husks, and stems. The microscopic analyses, in conjunction with the histological assay, revealed that the leaf sclerenchyma fibers were thinned but the structure and size of other major vascular system components was not altered. The lignin content in the transgenic maize was reduced by 7-8.7%, the crystalline cellulose content was increased in response to lignin reduction, and hemicelluloses remained unchanged. The analyses may indicate that carbon flow might have been shifted from lignin biosynthesis to cellulose biosynthesis. This article delineates the procedures used to down-regulate the lignin content in maize via RNAi technology, and the cell wall compositional analyses used to verify the effect of the modifications on the cell wall structure.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Zea mays, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), dsRNAi, Klason lignin measurement, cell wall carbohydrate analysis, gas chromatography (GC)
Electrophysiological Recording From Drosophila Labellar Taste Sensilla
Institutions: Yale University.
The peripheral taste response of insects can be powerfully investigated with electrophysiological techniques. The method described here allows the researcher to measure gustatory responses directly and quantitatively, reflecting the sensory input that the insect nervous system receives from taste stimuli in its environment. This protocol outlines all key steps in performing this technique. The critical steps in assembling an electrophysiology rig, such as selection of necessary equipment and a suitable environment for recording, are delineated. We also describe how to prepare for recording by making appropriate reference and recording electrodes, and tastant solutions. We describe in detail the method used for preparing the insect by insertion of a glass reference electrode into the fly in order to immobilize the proboscis. We show traces of the electrical impulses fired by taste neurons in response to a sugar and a bitter compound. Aspects of the protocol are technically challenging and we include an extensive description of some common technical challenges that may be encountered, such as lack of signal or excessive noise in the system, and potential solutions. The technique has limitations, such as the inability to deliver temporally complex stimuli, observe background firing immediately prior to stimulus delivery, or use water-insoluble taste compounds conveniently. Despite these limitations, this technique (including minor variations referenced in the protocol) is a standard, broadly accepted procedure for recording Drosophila
neuronal responses to taste compounds.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Drosophila, insect, taste, neuron, electrophysiology, labellum, extracellular recording, labellar taste sensilla
Transcript and Metabolite Profiling for the Evaluation of Tobacco Tree and Poplar as Feedstock for the Bio-based Industry
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, Royal Holloway, University of London, VIB, UGhent, ETH Zurich, EMPA, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), European Research and Project Office GmbH, ABBA Gaia S.L., Pflanzenöltechnologie, Capax Environmental Services, Green Fuels, Neutral Consulting Ltd, University of Melbourne.
The global demand for food, feed, energy, and water poses extraordinary challenges for future generations. It is evident that robust platforms for the exploration of renewable resources are necessary to overcome these challenges. Within the multinational framework MultiBioPro we are developing biorefinery pipelines to maximize the use of plant biomass. More specifically, we use poplar and tobacco tree (Nicotiana glauca
) as target crop species for improving saccharification, isoprenoid, long chain hydrocarbon contents, fiber quality, and suberin and lignin contents. The methods used to obtain these outputs include GC-MS, LC-MS and RNA sequencing platforms. The metabolite pipelines are well established tools to generate these types of data, but also have the limitations in that only well characterized metabolites can be used. The deep sequencing will allow us to include all transcripts present during the developmental stages of the tobacco tree leaf, but has to be mapped back to the sequence of Nicotiana tabacum
. With these set-ups, we aim at a basic understanding for underlying processes and at establishing an industrial framework to exploit the outcomes. In a more long term perspective, we believe that data generated here will provide means for a sustainable biorefinery process using poplar and tobacco tree as raw material. To date the basal level of metabolites in the samples have been analyzed and the protocols utilized are provided in this article.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, botany, plants, Biorefining, Poplar, Tobacco tree, Arabidopsis, suberin, lignin, cell walls, biomass, long-chain hydrocarbons, isoprenoids, Nicotiana glauca, systems biology
The 5-Choice Serial Reaction Time Task: A Task of Attention and Impulse Control for Rodents
Institutions: Oberlin College.
This protocol describes the 5-choice serial reaction time task, which is an operant based task used to study attention and impulse control in rodents. Test day challenges, modifications to the standard task, can be used to systematically tax the neural systems controlling either attention or impulse control. Importantly, these challenges have consistent effects on behavior across laboratories in intact animals and can reveal either enhancements or deficits in cognitive function that are not apparent when rats are only tested on the standard task. The variety of behavioral measures that are collected can be used to determine if other factors (i.e
., sedation, motivation deficits, locomotor impairments) are contributing to changes in performance. The versatility of the 5CSRTT is further enhanced because it is amenable to combination with pharmacological, molecular, and genetic techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, attention, impulse control, neuroscience, cognition, rodent
Expression of Recombinant Cellulase Cel5A from Trichoderma reesei in Tobacco Plants
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology.
Cellulose degrading enzymes, cellulases, are targets of both research and industrial interests. The preponderance of these enzymes in difficult-to-culture organisms, such as hyphae-building fungi and anaerobic bacteria, has hastened the use of recombinant technologies in this field. Plant expression methods are a desirable system for large-scale production of enzymes and other industrially useful proteins. Herein, methods for the transient expression of a fungal endoglucanase, Trichoderma reesei
Cel5A, in Nicotiana tabacum
are demonstrated. Successful protein expression is shown, monitored by fluorescence using an mCherry-enzyme fusion protein. Additionally, a set of basic tests are used to examine the activity of transiently expressed T. reesei
Cel5A, including SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, zymography, as well as fluorescence and dye-based substrate degradation assays. The system described here can be used to produce an active cellulase in a short time period, so as to assess the potential for further production in plants through constitutive or inducible expression systems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, heterologous expression, endoplasmic reticulum, endoglucanase, cellulose, glycosyl-hydrolase, fluorescence, cellulase, Trichoderma reesei, tobacco plants
Evaluation of Integrated Anaerobic Digestion and Hydrothermal Carbonization for Bioenergy Production
Institutions: Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering.
Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4
(VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4
at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar
was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, Biomethane, Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC), Calorific Value, Lignocellulosic Biomass, UASS, Anaerobic Digestion
Radio Frequency Identification and Motion-sensitive Video Efficiently Automate Recording of Unrewarded Choice Behavior by Bumblebees
Institutions: University of Ottawa.
We present two methods for observing bumblebee choice behavior in an enclosed testing space. The first method consists of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) readers built into artificial flowers that display various visual cues, and RFID tags (i.e.
, passive transponders) glued to the thorax of bumblebee workers. The novelty in our implementation is that RFID readers are built directly into artificial flowers that are capable of displaying several distinct visual properties such as color, pattern type, spatial frequency (i.e.
, “busyness” of the pattern), and symmetry (spatial frequency and symmetry were not manipulated in this experiment). Additionally, these visual displays in conjunction with the automated systems are capable of recording unrewarded
choice behavior. The second method consists of recording choice behavior at artificial flowers using motion-sensitive high-definition camcorders. Bumblebees have number tags glued to their thoraces for unique identification. The advantage in this implementation over RFID is that in addition to observing landing behavior, alternate measures of preference such as hovering and antennation may also be observed. Both automation methods increase experimental control, and internal validity by allowing larger scale studies that take into account individual differences. External validity is also improved because bees can freely enter and exit the testing environment without constraints such as the availability of a research assistant on-site. Compared to human observation in real time, the automated methods are more cost-effective and possibly less error-prone.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, bumblebee, unlearned behaviors, floral choice, visual perception, Bombus spp, information processing, radio-frequency identification, motion-sensitive video
Free Radicals in Chemical Biology: from Chemical Behavior to Biomarker Development
Institutions: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche.
The involvement of free radicals in life sciences has constantly increased with time and has been connected to several physiological and pathological processes. This subject embraces diverse scientific areas, spanning from physical, biological and bioorganic chemistry to biology and medicine, with applications to the amelioration of quality of life, health and aging. Multidisciplinary skills are required for the full investigation of the many facets of radical processes in the biological environment and chemical knowledge plays a crucial role in unveiling basic processes and mechanisms. We developed a chemical biology approach able to connect free radical chemical reactivity with biological processes, providing information on the mechanistic pathways and products. The core of this approach is the design of biomimetic models to study biomolecule behavior (lipids, nucleic acids and proteins) in aqueous systems, obtaining insights of the reaction pathways as well as building up molecular libraries of the free radical reaction products. This context can be successfully used for biomarker discovery and examples are provided with two classes of compounds: mono-trans isomers of cholesteryl esters, which are synthesized and used as references for detection in human plasma, and purine 5',8-cyclo-2'-deoxyribonucleosides, prepared and used as reference in the protocol for detection of such lesions in DNA samples, after ionizing radiations or obtained from different health conditions.
Chemistry, Issue 74, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Chemical Biology, chemical analysis techniques, chemistry (general), life sciences, radiation effects (biological, animal and plant), biomarker, biomimetic chemistry, free radicals, trans lipids, cyclopurine lesions, DNA, chromatography, spectroscopy, synthesis
Rapid Colorimetric Assays to Qualitatively Distinguish RNA and DNA in Biomolecular Samples
Institutions: University of Virginia .
Biochemical experimentation generally requires accurate knowledge, at an early stage, of the nucleic acid, protein, and other biomolecular components in potentially heterogeneous specimens. Nucleic acids can be detected via
several established approaches, including analytical methods that are spectrophotometric (e.g.
), fluorometric (e.g.
, binding of fluorescent dyes), or colorimetric (nucleoside-specific chromogenic chemical reactions).1
Though it cannot readily distinguish RNA from DNA, the A260
ratio is commonly employed, as it offers a simple and rapid2
assessment of the relative content of nucleic acid, which absorbs predominantly near 260 nm and protein, which absorbs primarily near 280 nm. Ratios < 0.8 are taken as indicative of 'pure' protein specimens, while pure nucleic acid (NA) is characterized by ratios > 1.53
However, there are scenarios in which the protein/NA content cannot be as clearly or reliably inferred from simple uv-vis spectrophotometric measurements. For instance, (i)
samples may contain one or more proteins which are relatively devoid of the aromatic amino acids responsible for absorption at ≈280 nm (Trp, Tyr, Phe), as is the case with some small RNA-binding proteins, and (ii)
samples can exhibit intermediate A260
ratios (~0.8 < ~1.5), where the protein/NA content is far less clear and may even reflect some high-affinity association between the protein and NA components. For such scenarios, we describe herein a suite of colorimetric assays to rapidly distinguish RNA, DNA, and reducing sugars in a potentially mixed sample of biomolecules. The methods rely on the differential sensitivity of pentoses and other carbohydrates to Benedict's, Bial's (orcinol), and Dische's (diphenylamine) reagents; the streamlined protocols can be completed in a matter of minutes, without any additional steps of having to isolate the components. The assays can be performed in parallel to differentiate between RNA and DNA, as well as indicate the presence of free reducing sugars such as glucose, fructose, and ribose (Figure 1
Chemistry, Issue 72, Biochemistry, Chemical Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Nucleic Acids, DNA, RNA, Proteins, analytical chemistry, Benedict's assay, Bial's orcinol assay, Dische's diphenylamine assay, colorimetric assay, reducing sugar, purification, transcription, reaction, assay
Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part I: Lignin
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), Michigan State University (MSU).
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation1
and other products such as biocomposite materials7
. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4
. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses (matrix polysaccharides, and the polyphenol lignin6
and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls provide tensile strength to cells and the entire plants, ward off pathogens, and allow water to be transported throughout the plant; in the case of trees up to more the 100 m above ground level. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4
. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerization by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis. In this first part we focus on the analysis of the polyphenol lignin (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its lignin content by acetylbromide solubilization3
, and its lignin composition in terms of its syringyl, guaiacyl- and p-hydroxyphenyl units5
. The protocol for analyzing the carbohydrates in lignocellulosic biomass including cellulose content and matrix polysaccharide composition is discussed in Part II2
Plant Biology, Issue 37, cell walls, lignin, GC-MS, biomass, compositional analysis
Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part II: Carbohydrates
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), Michigan State University (MSU).
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation2
and other products such as biocomposite materials6
. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4
. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses, and the polyphenol lignin5
and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls contribute extensively to the strength and structural integrity of the entire plant. Despite its necessary rigidity, the cell wall is a highly dynamic entity that is metabolically active and plays crucial roles in numerous cell activities such as plant growth and differentiation5
. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4
. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerisation by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its monosaccharide composition of the hemicelluloses and other matrix polysaccharides1, and its content of crystalline cellulose7
. The protocol for analyzing the lignin components in lignocellulosic biomass is discussed in Part I3
Plant Biology, Issue 37, cell walls, polysaccharide, cellulose, hemicellulose, sugar composition, GC-MS
Label-free in situ Imaging of Lignification in Plant Cell Walls
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Meeting growing energy demands safely and efficiently is a pressing global challenge. Therefore, research into biofuels production that seeks to find cost-effective and sustainable solutions has become a topical and critical task. Lignocellulosic biomass is poised to become the primary source of biomass for the conversion to liquid biofuels1-6
. However, the recalcitrance of these plant cell wall materials to cost-effective and efficient degradation presents a major impediment for their use in the production of biofuels and chemicals4
. In particular, lignin, a complex and irregular poly-phenylpropanoid heteropolymer, becomes problematic to the postharvest deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass. For example in biomass conversion for biofuels, it inhibits saccharification in processes aimed at producing simple sugars for fermentation7
. The effective use of plant biomass for industrial purposes is in fact largely dependent on the extent to which the plant cell wall is lignified. The removal of lignin is a costly and limiting factor8
and lignin has therefore become a key plant breeding and genetic engineering target in order to improve cell wall conversion.
Analytical tools that permit the accurate rapid characterization of lignification of plant cell walls become increasingly important for evaluating a large number of breeding populations. Extractive procedures for the isolation of native components such as lignin are inevitably destructive, bringing about significant chemical and structural modifications9-11
. Analytical chemical in situ
methods are thus invaluable tools for the compositional and structural characterization of lignocellulosic materials. Raman microscopy is a technique that relies on inelastic or Raman scattering of monochromatic light, like that from a laser, where the shift in energy of the laser photons is related to molecular vibrations and presents an intrinsic label-free molecular "fingerprint" of the sample. Raman microscopy can afford non-destructive and comparatively inexpensive measurements with minimal sample preparation, giving insights into chemical composition and molecular structure in a close to native state. Chemical imaging by confocal Raman microscopy has been previously used for the visualization of the spatial distribution of cellulose and lignin in wood cell walls12-14
. Based on these earlier results, we have recently adopted this method to compare lignification in wild type and lignin-deficient transgenic Populus trichocarpa
(black cottonwood) stem wood15
. Analyzing the lignin Raman bands16,17
in the spectral region between 1,600 and 1,700 cm-1
, lignin signal intensity and localization were mapped in situ
. Our approach visualized differences in lignin content, localization, and chemical composition. Most recently, we demonstrated Raman imaging of cell wall polymers in Arabidopsis thaliana
with lateral resolution that is sub-μm18
. Here, this method is presented affording visualization of lignin in plant cell walls and comparison of lignification in different tissues, samples or species without staining or labeling of the tissues.
Plant Biology, Issue 45, Raman microscopy, lignin, poplar wood, Arabidopsis thaliana
Cryopreservation of Preimplantation Embryos of Cattle, Sheep, and Goats
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Preimplantation embryos from cattle, sheep, and goats may be cryopreserved for short- or long-term storage. Preimplantation embryos consist predominantly of water, and the avoidance of intracellular ice crystal formation during the cryopreservation process is of paramount importance to maintain embryo viability. Embryos are placed into a hypertonic solution (1.4 – 1.5 M) of a cryoprotective agent (CPA) such as ethylene glycol (EG) or glycerol (GLYC) to create an osmotic gradient that facilitates cellular dehydration. After embryos reach osmotic equilibrium in the CPA solution, they are individually loaded in the hypertonic CPA solution into 0.25 ml plastic straws for freezing. Embryos are placed into a controlled rate freezer at a temperature of -6°C. Ice crystal formation is induced in the CPA solution surrounding the embryo, and crystallization causes an increase in the concentration of CPA outside of the embryo, causing further cellular dehydration. Embryos are cooled at a rate of 0.5°C/min, enabling further dehydration, to a temperature of -34°C before being plunged into liquid nitrogen (-196°C). Cryopreserved embryos must be thawed prior to transfer to a recipient (surrogate) female. Straws containing the embryos are removed from the liquid nitrogen dewar, held in room temperature air for 3 to 5 sec, and placed into a 37°C water bath for 25 to 30 sec. Embryos cryopreserved in GLYC are placed into a 1 M solution of sucrose for 10 min for removal of the CPA before transfer to a recipient (surrogate) female. Embryos cryopreserved in EG, however, may be directly transferred to the uterus of a recipient.
Developmental Biology, Issue 54, embryo, cryopreservation, cattle, sheep, goats
High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1
. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2
. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8
, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing.
Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli
the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9
, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli
expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10
and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12
We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli
. (Fig 1
) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness.
Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13
involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14
for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes
, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus
and Penicillium decumbens
(shown in Figure 2
), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
High-throughput Saccharification Assay for Lignocellulosic Materials
Institutions: University of York.
Polysaccharides that make up plant lignocellulosic biomass can be broken down to produce a range of sugars that subsequently can be
used in establishing a biorefinery. These raw materials would constitute a new industrial platform, which is both sustainable and carbon neutral, to replace
the current dependency on fossil fuel. The recalcitrance to deconstruction observed in lignocellulosic materials is produced by several intrinsic properties
of plant cell walls. Crystalline cellulose is embedded in matrix polysaccharides such as xylans and arabinoxylans, and the whole structure is encased by the
phenolic polymer lignin, that is also difficult to digest 1
. In order to improve the digestibility of plant materials we need to discover the main bottlenecks
for the saccharification of cell walls and also screen mutant and breeding populations to evaluate the variability in saccharification 2
. These tasks require
a high throughput approach and here we present an analytical platform that can perform saccharification analysis in a 96-well plate format. This platform has
been developed to allow the screening of lignocellulose digestibility of large populations from varied plant species. We have scaled down the reaction volumes
for gentle pretreatment, partial enzymatic hydrolysis and sugar determination, to allow large numbers to be assessed rapidly in an automated system.
This automated platform works with milligram amounts of biomass, performing ball milling under controlled conditions to reduce the plant
materials to a standardised particle size in a reproducible manner. Once the samples are ground, the automated formatting robot dispenses specified and recorded
amounts of material into the corresponding wells of 96 deep well plate (Figure 1). Normally, we dispense the same material into 4 wells to have 4 replicates for
analysis. Once the plates are filled with the plant material in the desired layout, they are manually moved to a liquid handling station (Figure 2). In this
station the samples are subjected to a mild pretreatment with either dilute acid or alkaline and incubated at temperatures of up to 90°C. The pretreatment solution
is subsequently removed and the samples are rinsed with buffer to return them to a suitable pH for hydrolysis. The samples are then incubated with an enzyme
mixture for a variable length of time at 50°C. An aliquot is taken from the hydrolyzate and the reducing sugars are automatically determined by the MBTH
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Saccharification, lignocellulose, high-throughput, glycosyl hydrolases, biomass, biofuels
GENPLAT: an Automated Platform for Biomass Enzyme Discovery and Cocktail Optimization
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
The high cost of enzymes for biomass deconstruction is a major impediment to the economic conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol. We have developed an integrated high throughput platform, called GENPLAT, for the discovery and development of novel enzymes and enzyme cocktails for the release of sugars from diverse pretreatment/biomass combinations. GENPLAT comprises four elements: individual pure enzymes, statistical design of experiments, robotic pipeting of biomass slurries and enzymes, and automated colorimeteric determination of released Glc and Xyl. Individual enzymes are produced by expression in Pichia pastoris
or Trichoderma reesei
, or by chromatographic purification from commercial cocktails or from extracts of novel microorganisms. Simplex lattice (fractional factorial) mixture models are designed using commercial Design of Experiment statistical software. Enzyme mixtures of high complexity are constructed using robotic pipeting into a 96-well format. The measurement of released Glc and Xyl is automated using enzyme-linked colorimetric assays. Optimized enzyme mixtures containing as many as 16 components have been tested on a variety of feedstock and pretreatment combinations.
GENPLAT is adaptable to mixtures of pure enzymes, mixtures of commercial products (e.g., Accellerase 1000 and Novozyme 188), extracts of novel microbes, or combinations thereof. To make and test mixtures of ˜10 pure enzymes requires less than 100 μg of each protein and fewer than 100 total reactions, when operated at a final total loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan. We use enzymes from several sources. Enzymes can be purified from natural sources such as fungal cultures (e.g., Aspergillus niger
, Cochliobolus carbonum
, and Galerina marginata
), or they can be made by expression of the encoding genes (obtained from the increasing number of microbial genome sequences) in hosts such as E. coli, Pichia pastoris
, or a filamentous fungus such as T. reesei
. Proteins can also be purified from commercial enzyme cocktails (e.g., Multifect Xylanase, Novozyme 188). An increasing number of pure enzymes, including glycosyl hydrolases, cell wall-active esterases, proteases, and lyases, are available from commercial sources, e.g., Megazyme, Inc. (www.megazyme.com), NZYTech (www.nzytech.com), and PROZOMIX (www.prozomix.com).
Design-Expert software (Stat-Ease, Inc.) is used to create simplex-lattice designs and to analyze responses (in this case, Glc and Xyl release). Mixtures contain 4-20 components, which can vary in proportion between 0 and 100%. Assay points typically include the extreme vertices with a sufficient number of intervening points to generate a valid model. In the terminology of experimental design, most of our studies are "mixture" experiments, meaning that the sum of all components adds to a total fixed protein loading (expressed as mg/g glucan). The number of mixtures in the simplex-lattice depends on both the number of components in the mixture and the degree of polynomial (quadratic or cubic). For example, a 6-component experiment will entail 63 separate reactions with an augmented special cubic model, which can detect three-way interactions, whereas only 23 individual reactions are necessary with an augmented quadratic model. For mixtures containing more than eight components, a quadratic experimental design is more practical, and in our experience such models are usually statistically valid.
All enzyme loadings are expressed as a percentage of the final total loading (which for our experiments is typically 15 mg protein/g glucan). For "core" enzymes, the lower percentage limit is set to 5%. This limit was derived from our experience in which yields of Glc and/or Xyl were very low if any core enzyme was present at 0%. Poor models result from too many samples showing very low Glc or Xyl yields. Setting a lower limit in turn determines an upper limit. That is, for a six-component experiment, if the lower limit for each single component is set to 5%, then the upper limit of each single component will be 75%. The lower limits of all other enzymes considered as "accessory" are set to 0%. "Core" and "accessory" are somewhat arbitrary designations and will differ depending on the substrate, but in our studies the core enzymes for release of Glc from corn stover comprise the following enzymes from T. reesei
: CBH1 (also known as Cel7A), CBH2 (Cel6A), EG1(Cel7B), BG (β-glucosidase), EX3 (endo-β1,4-xylanase, GH10), and BX (β-xylosidase).
Bioengineering, Issue 56, cellulase, cellobiohydrolase, glucanase, xylanase, hemicellulase, experimental design, biomass, bioenergy, corn stover, glycosyl hydrolase
Identification and Characterization of Protein Glycosylation using Specific Endo- and Exoglycosidases
Institutions: New England Biolabs.
Glycosylation, the addition of covalently linked sugars, is a major post-translational modification of proteins that can significantly affect processes such as cell adhesion, molecular trafficking, clearance, and signal transduction1-4
. In eukaryotes, the most common glycosylation modifications in the secretory pathway are additions at consensus asparagine residues (N
-linked); or at serine or threonine residues (O
-linked) (Figure 1). Initiation of N
-glycan synthesis is highly conserved in eukaryotes, while the end products can vary greatly among different species, tissues, or proteins. Some glycans remain unmodified ("high mannose N
-glycans") or are further processed in the Golgi ("complex N
-glycans"). Greater diversity is found for O
-glycans, which start with a common N
-Acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc) residue in animal cells but differ in lower organisms1
The detailed analysis of the glycosylation of proteins is a field unto itself and requires extensive resources and expertise to execute properly. However a variety of available enzymes that remove sugars (glycosidases) makes possible to have a general idea of the glycosylation status of a protein in a standard laboratory setting. Here we illustrate the use of glycosidases for the analysis of a model glycoprotein: recombinant human chorionic gonadotropin beta (hCGβ), which carries two N
-glycans and four O
. The technique requires only simple instrumentation and typical consumables, and it can be readily adapted to the analysis of multiple glycoprotein samples.
Several enzymes can be used in parallel to study a glycoprotein. PNGase F is able to remove almost all types of N
. For O
-glycans, there is no available enzyme that can cleave an intact oligosaccharide from the protein backbone. Instead, O
-glycans are trimmed by exoglycosidases to a short core, which is then easily removed by O
-Glycosidase. The Protein Deglycosylation Mix contains PNGase F, O
-Glycosidase, Neuraminidase (sialidase), β1-4 Galactosidase, and β-N
-Acetylglucosaminidase. It is used to simultaneously remove N
-glycans and some O
. Finally, the Deglycosylation Mix was supplemented with a mixture of other exoglycosidases (α-N
-Acetylgalactosaminidase, α1-2 Fucosidase, α1-3,6 Galactosidase, and β1-3 Galactosidase ), which help remove otherwise resistant monosaccharides that could be present in certain O
SDS-PAGE/Coomasie blue is used to visualize differences in protein migration before and after glycosidase treatment. In addition, a sugar-specific staining method, ProQ Emerald-300, shows diminished signal as glycans are successively removed. This protocol is designed for the analysis of small amounts of glycoprotein (0.5 to 2 μg), although enzymatic deglycosylation can be scaled up to accommodate larger quantities of protein as needed.
Molecular Biology , Issue 58, Glycoprotein, N-glycan, O-glycan, PNGase F, O-glycosidase, deglycosylation, glycosidase
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Chemoselective Modification of Viral Surfaces via Bioorthogonal Click Chemistry
Institutions: Stony Brook University.
The modification of virus particles has received a significant amount of attention for its tremendous potential for impacting gene therapy, oncolytic applications and vaccine development.1,2,3
Current approaches to modifying viral surfaces, which are mostly genetics-based, often suffer from attenuation of virus production, infectivity and cellular transduction.4,5
Using chemoselective click chemistry, we have developed a straightforward alternative approach which sidesteps these issues while remaining both highly flexible and accessible.1,2
The goal of this protocol is to demonstrate the effectiveness of using bioorthogonal click chemistry to modify the surface of adenovirus type 5 particles. This two-step process can be used both therapeutically1
as it allows for chemoselective ligation of targeting molecules, dyes or other molecules of interest onto proteins pre-labeled with azide tags. The three major advantages of this method are that (1) metabolic labeling demonstrates little to no impact on viral fitness,1,7
(2) a wide array of effector ligands can be utilized, and (3) it is remarkably fast, reliable and easy to access.1,2,7
In the first step of this procedure, adenovirus particles are produced bearing either azidohomoalanine (Aha, a methionine surrogate) or the unnatural sugar O
-GlcNAz), both of which contain the azide (-N3
) functional group. After purification of the azide-modified virus particles, an alkyne probe containing the fluorescent TAMRA moiety is ligated in a chemoselective manner to the pre-labeled proteins or glycoproteins. Finally, an SDS-PAGE analysis is performed to demonstrate the successful ligation of the probe onto the viral capsid proteins. Aha incorporation is shown to label all viral capsid proteins (Hexon, Penton and Fiber), while O
-GlcNAz incorporation results in labeling of Fiber only.
In this evolving field, multiple methods for azide-alkyne ligation have been successfully developed; however only the two we have found to be most convenient are demonstrated herein – strain-promoted azide-alkyne cycloaddition (SPAAC) and copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition (CuAAC) under deoxygenated atmosphere.
Chemistry, Issue 66, Virology, Immunology, Genetics, adenovirus, azide-alkyne cycloaddition, azido sugar, azidohomoalanine, bioorthogonal, click chemistry, gene therapy, unnatural amino acid
Appetitive Associative Olfactory Learning in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Konstanz, University of Fribourg.
In the following we describe the methodological details of appetitive associative olfactory learning in Drosophila
larvae. The setup, in combination with genetic interference, provides a handle to analyze the neuronal and molecular fundamentals of specifically associative
learning in a simple larval brain.
Organisms can use past experience to adjust present behavior. Such acquisition of behavioral potential can be defined as learning, and the physical bases of these potentials as memory traces1-4
. Neuroscientists try to understand how these processes are organized in terms of molecular and neuronal changes in the brain by using a variety of methods in model organisms ranging from insects to vertebrates5,6
. For such endeavors it is helpful to use model systems that are simple and experimentally accessible. The Drosophila
larva has turned out to satisfy these demands based on the availability of robust behavioral assays, the existence of a variety of transgenic techniques and the elementary organization of the nervous system comprising only about 10,000 neurons (albeit with some concessions: cognitive limitations, few behavioral options, and richness of experience questionable)7-10
larvae can form associations between odors and appetitive gustatory reinforcement like sugar11-14
. In a standard assay, established in the lab of B. Gerber, animals receive a two-odor reciprocal training: A first group of larvae is exposed to an odor A together with a gustatory reinforcer (sugar reward) and is subsequently exposed to an odor B without reinforcement 9
. Meanwhile a second group of larvae receives reciprocal training while experiencing odor A without reinforcement and subsequently being exposed to odor B with reinforcement (sugar reward). In the following both groups are tested for their preference between the two odors. Relatively higher preferences for the rewarded odor reflect associative learning - presented as a performance index (PI). The conclusion regarding the associative nature of the performance index is compelling, because apart from the contingency between odors and tastants, other parameters, such as odor and reward exposure, passage of time and handling do not differ between the two groups9
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Behavior, Drosophila, fruit fly, larvae, instar, olfaction, olfactory system, odor, 1-octanol, OCT, learning, reward, sugar, feeding, animal model
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity