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Digital surveillance: a novel approach to monitoring the illegal wildlife trade.
A dearth of information obscures the true scale of the global illegal trade in wildlife. Herein, we introduce an automated web crawling surveillance system developed to monitor reports on illegally traded wildlife. A resource for enforcement officials as well as the general public, the freely available website,, provides a customizable visualization of worldwide reports on interceptions of illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products. From August 1, 2010 to July 31, 2011, publicly available English language illegal wildlife trade reports from official and unofficial sources were collected and categorized by location and species involved. During this interval, 858 illegal wildlife trade reports were collected from 89 countries. Countries with the highest number of reports included India (n = 146, 15.6%), the United States (n = 143, 15.3%), South Africa (n = 75, 8.0%), China (n = 41, 4.4%), and Vietnam (n = 37, 4.0%). Species reported as traded or poached included elephants (n = 107, 12.5%), rhinoceros (n = 103, 12.0%), tigers (n = 68, 7.9%), leopards (n = 54, 6.3%), and pangolins (n = 45, 5.2%). The use of unofficial data sources, such as online news sites and social networks, to collect information on international wildlife trade augments traditional approaches drawing on official reporting and presents a novel source of intelligence with which to monitor and collect news in support of enforcement against this threat to wildlife conservation worldwide.
Authors: Justin W Fischer, Tracy A Nichols, Gregory E Phillips, Kurt C VerCauteren.
Published: 11-06-2013
Infectious prion (PrPRes) material is likely the cause of fatal, neurodegenerative transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) diseases1. Transmission of TSE diseases, such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), is presumed to be from animal to animal2,3 as well as from environmental sources4-6. Scavengers and carnivores have potential to translocate PrPRes material through consumption and excretion of CWD-contaminated carrion. Recent work has documented passage of PrPRes material through the digestive system of American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), a common North American scavenger7. We describe procedures used to document passage of PrPRes material through American crows. Crows were gavaged with RML-strain mouse-adapted scrapie and their feces were collected 4 hr post gavage. Crow feces were then pooled and injected intraperitoneally into C57BL/6 mice. Mice were monitored daily until they expressed clinical signs of mouse scrapie and were thereafter euthanized. Asymptomatic mice were monitored until 365 days post inoculation. Western blot analysis was conducted to confirm disease status. Results revealed that prions remain infectious after traveling through the digestive system of crows and are present in the feces, causing disease in test mice.
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Avian Influenza Surveillance with FTA Cards: Field Methods, Biosafety, and Transportation Issues Solved
Authors: Robert H.S. Kraus, Pim van Hooft, Jonas Waldenström, Neus Latorre-Margalef, Ronald C. Ydenberg, Herbert H.T. Prins.
Institutions: Wageningen University, Linnaeus University, Simon Fraser University .
Avian Influenza Viruses (AIVs) infect many mammals, including humans1. These AIVs are diverse in their natural hosts, harboring almost all possible viral subtypes2. Human pandemics of flu originally stem from AIVs3. Many fatal human cases during the H5N1 outbreaks in recent years were reported. Lately, a new AIV related strain swept through the human population, causing the 'swine flu epidemic'4. Although human trading and transportation activity seems to be responsible for the spread of highly pathogenic strains5, dispersal can also partly be attributed to wild birds6, 7. However, the actual reservoir of all AIV strains is wild birds. In reaction to this and in face of severe commercial losses in the poultry industry, large surveillance programs have been implemented globally to collect information on the ecology of AIVs, and to install early warning systems to detect certain highly pathogenic strains8-12. Traditional virological methods require viruses to be intact and cultivated before analysis. This necessitates strict cold chains with deep freezers and heavy biosafety procedures to be in place during transport. Long-term surveillance is therefore usually restricted to a few field stations close to well equipped laboratories. Remote areas cannot be sampled unless logistically cumbersome procedures are implemented. These problems have been recognised13, 14 and the use of alternative storage and transport strategies investigated (alcohols or guanidine)15-17. Recently, Kraus et al.18 introduced a method to collect, store and transport AIV samples, based on a special filter paper. FTA cards19 preserve RNA on a dry storage basis20 and render pathogens inactive upon contact21. This study showed that FTA cards can be used to detect AIV RNA in reverse-transcription PCR and that the resulting cDNA could be sequenced and virus genes and determined. In the study of Kraus et al.18 a laboratory isolate of AIV was used, and samples were handled individually. In the extension presented here, faecal samples from wild birds from the duck trap at the Ottenby Bird Observatory (SE Sweden) were tested directly to illustrate the usefulness of the methods under field conditions. Catching of ducks and sample collection by cloacal swabs is demonstrated. The current protocol includes up-scaling of the work flow from single tube handling to a 96-well design. Although less sensitive than the traditional methods, the method of FTA cards provides an excellent supplement to large surveillance schemes. It allows collection and analysis of samples from anywhere in the world, without the need to maintaining a cool chain or safety regulations with respect to shipping of hazardous reagents, such as alcohol or guanidine.
Immunology, Issue 54, AI, Influenza A Virus, zoonoses, reverse transcription PCR, viral RNA, surveillance, duck trap, RNA preservation and storage, infection, mallard
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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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A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Authors: Jennifer L. Koch, David W. Carey.
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
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Laboratory Estimation of Net Trophic Transfer Efficiencies of PCB Congeners to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) from Its Prey
Authors: Charles P. Madenjian, Richard R. Rediske, James P. O'Keefe, Solomon R. David.
Institutions: U. S. Geological Survey, Grand Valley State University, Shedd Aquarium.
A technique for laboratory estimation of net trophic transfer efficiency (γ) of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners to piscivorous fish from their prey is described herein. During a 135-day laboratory experiment, we fed bloater (Coregonus hoyi) that had been caught in Lake Michigan to lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) kept in eight laboratory tanks. Bloater is a natural prey for lake trout. In four of the tanks, a relatively high flow rate was used to ensure relatively high activity by the lake trout, whereas a low flow rate was used in the other four tanks, allowing for low lake trout activity. On a tank-by-tank basis, the amount of food eaten by the lake trout on each day of the experiment was recorded. Each lake trout was weighed at the start and end of the experiment. Four to nine lake trout from each of the eight tanks were sacrificed at the start of the experiment, and all 10 lake trout remaining in each of the tanks were euthanized at the end of the experiment. We determined concentrations of 75 PCB congeners in the lake trout at the start of the experiment, in the lake trout at the end of the experiment, and in bloaters fed to the lake trout during the experiment. Based on these measurements, γ was calculated for each of 75 PCB congeners in each of the eight tanks. Mean γ was calculated for each of the 75 PCB congeners for both active and inactive lake trout. Because the experiment was replicated in eight tanks, the standard error about mean γ could be estimated. Results from this type of experiment are useful in risk assessment models to predict future risk to humans and wildlife eating contaminated fish under various scenarios of environmental contamination.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, trophic transfer efficiency, polychlorinated biphenyl congeners, lake trout, activity, contaminants, accumulation, risk assessment, toxic equivalents
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Authors: Justen Manasa, Siva Danaviah, Sureshnee Pillay, Prevashinee Padayachee, Hloniphile Mthiyane, Charity Mkhize, Richard John Lessells, Christopher Seebregts, Tobias F. Rinke de Wit, Johannes Viljoen, David Katzenstein, Tulio De Oliveira.
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
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Reduced Itraconazole Concentration and Durations Are Successful in Treating Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis Infection in Amphibians
Authors: Laura A. Brannelly.
Institutions: James Cook University.
Amphibians are experiencing the greatest decline of any vertebrate class and a leading cause of these declines is a fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which causes the disease chytridiomycosis. Captive assurance colonies are important worldwide for threatened amphibian species and may be the only lifeline for those in critical threat of extinction. Maintaining disease free colonies is a priority of captive managers, yet safe and effective treatments for all species and across life stages have not been identified. The most widely used chemotherapeutic treatment is itraconazole, although the dosage commonly used can be harmful to some individuals and species. We performed a clinical treatment trial to assess whether a lower and safer but effective dose of itraconazole could be found to cure Bd infections. We found that by reducing the treatment concentration from 0.01-0.0025% and reducing the treatment duration from 11-6 days of 5 min baths, frogs could be cured of Bd infection with fewer side effects and less treatment-associated mortality.
Immunology, Issue 85, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, itraconazole, chytridiomycosis, captive assurance colonies, amphibian conservation
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Helminth Collection and Identification from Wildlife
Authors: Maria S Sepulveda, John M Kinsella.
Institutions: Purdue University, Helm West Laboratory.
Wild animals are commonly parasitized by a wide range of helminths. The four major types of helminths are "roundworms" (nematodes), "thorny-headed worms" (acanthocephalans), "flukes" (trematodes), and "tapeworms" (cestodes). The optimum method for collecting helminths is to examine a host that has been dead less than 4-6 hr since most helminths will still be alive. A thorough necropsy should be conducted and all major organs examined. Organs are washed over a 106 μm sieve under running water and contents examined under a stereo microscope. All helminths are counted and a representative number are fixed (either in 70% ethanol, 10% buffered formalin, or alcohol-formalin-acetic acid). For species identification, helminths are either cleared in lactophenol (nematodes and small acanthocephalans) or stained (trematodes, cestodes, and large acanthocephalans) using Harris' hematoxylin or Semichon's carmine. Helminths are keyed to species by examining different structures (e.g. male spicules in nematodes or the rostellum in cestodes). The protocols outlined here can be applied to any vertebrate animal. They require some expertise on recognizing the different organs and being able to differentiate helminths from other tissue debris or gut contents. Collection, preservation, and staining are straightforward techniques that require minimal equipment and reagents. Taxonomic identification, especially to species, can be very time consuming and might require the submission of specimens to an expert or DNA analysis.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, Helminths, eukaryotic parasites, worms, nematodes, cestodes, trematodes, acanthocephalans, wildlife
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Diagnosis of Neoplasia in Barrett’s Esophagus using Vital-dye Enhanced Fluorescence Imaging
Authors: Daniel P. Perl, Neil Parikh, Shannon Chang, Paul Peng, Nadhi Thekkek, Michelle H. Lee, Alexandros D. Polydorides, Josephine Mitcham, Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Sharmila Anandasabapathy.
Institutions: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Rice University.
The ability to differentiate benign metaplasia in Barrett’s Esophagus (BE) from neoplasia in vivo remains difficult as both tissue types can be flat and indistinguishable with white light imaging alone. As a result, a modality that highlights glandular architecture would be useful to discriminate neoplasia from benign epithelium in the distal esophagus. VFI is a novel technique that uses an exogenous topical fluorescent contrast agent to delineate high grade dysplasia and cancer from benign epithelium. Specifically, the fluorescent images provide spatial resolution of 50 to 100 μm and a field of view up to 2.5 cm, allowing endoscopists to visualize glandular morphology. Upon excitation, classic Barrett’s metaplasia appears as continuous, evenly-spaced glands and an overall homogenous morphology; in contrast, neoplastic tissue appears crowded with complete obliteration of the glandular framework. Here we provide an overview of the instrumentation and enumerate the protocol of this new technique. While VFI affords a gastroenterologist with the glandular architecture of suspicious tissue, cellular dysplasia cannot be resolved with this modality. As such, one cannot morphologically distinguish Barrett’s metaplasia from BE with Low-Grade Dysplasia via this imaging modality. By trading off a decrease in resolution with a greater field of view, this imaging system can be used at the very least as a red-flag imaging device to target and biopsy suspicious lesions; yet, if the accuracy measures are promising, VFI may become the standard imaging technique for the diagnosis of neoplasia (defined as either high grade dysplasia or cancer) in the distal esophagus.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, fluorescence imaging, Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal adenocarcinoma
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Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Authors: James J. Jun, André Longtin, Leonard Maler.
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
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Testing Visual Sensitivity to the Speed and Direction of Motion in Lizards
Authors: Kevin L. Woo.
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Visual sensitivity, motion perception, operant conditioning, speed, coherence, Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus)
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A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Authors: Philippe Henry, Alison Henry, Michael A. Russello.
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
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Rapid Diagnosis of Avian Influenza Virus in Wild Birds: Use of a Portable rRT-PCR and Freeze-dried Reagents in the Field
Authors: John Y. Takekawa, Nichola J. Hill, Annie K. Schultz, Samuel A. Iverson, Carol J. Cardona, Walter M. Boyce, Joseph P. Dudley.
Institutions: USGS Western Ecological Research Center, University of California, Davis, University of California, Davis, University of Minnesota , Science Applications International Corporation.
Wild birds have been implicated in the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the H5N1 subtype, prompting surveillance along migratory flyways. Sampling of wild birds for avian influenza virus (AIV) is often conducted in remote regions, but results are often delayed because of the need to transport samples to a laboratory equipped for molecular testing. Real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) is a molecular technique that offers one of the most accurate and sensitive methods for diagnosis of AIV. The previously strict lab protocols needed for rRT-PCR are now being adapted for the field. Development of freeze-dried (lyophilized) reagents that do not require cold chain, with sensitivity at the level of wet reagents has brought on-site remote testing to a practical goal. Here we present a method for the rapid diagnosis of AIV in wild birds using an rRT-PCR unit (Ruggedized Advanced Pathogen Identification Device or RAPID, Idaho Technologies, Salt Lake City, UT) that employs lyophilized reagents (Influenza A Target 1 Taqman; ASAY-ASY-0109, Idaho Technologies). The reagents contain all of the necessary components for testing at appropriate concentrations in a single tube: primers, probes, enzymes, buffers and internal positive controls, eliminating errors associated with improper storage or handling of wet reagents. The portable unit performs a screen for Influenza A by targeting the matrix gene and yields results in 2-3 hours. Genetic subtyping is also possible with H5 and H7 primer sets that target the hemagglutinin gene. The system is suitable for use on cloacal and oropharyngeal samples collected from wild birds, as demonstrated here on the migratory shorebird species, the western sandpiper (Calidrus mauri) captured in Northern California. Animal handling followed protocols approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center and permits of the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory. The primary advantage of this technique is to expedite diagnosis of wild birds, increasing the chances of containing an outbreak in a remote location. On-site diagnosis would also prove useful for identifying and studying infected individuals in wild populations. The opportunity to collect information on host biology (immunological and physiological response to infection) and spatial ecology (migratory performance of infected birds) will provide insights into the extent to which wild birds can act as vectors for AIV over long distances.
Immunology, Issue 54, migratory birds, active surveillance, lyophilized reagents, avian influenza, H5N1
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A Parasite Rescue and Transformation Assay for Antileishmanial Screening Against Intracellular Leishmania donovani Amastigotes in THP1 Human Acute Monocytic Leukemia Cell Line
Authors: Surendra K. Jain, Rajnish Sahu, Larry A. Walker, Babu L. Tekwani.
Institutions: University of Mississippi, University of Mississippi.
Leishmaniasis is one of the world's most neglected diseases, largely affecting the poorest of the poor, mainly in developing countries. Over 350 million people are considered at risk of contracting leishmaniasis, and approximately 2 million new cases occur yearly1. Leishmania donovani is the causative agent for visceral leishmaniasis (VL), the most fatal form of the disease. The choice of drugs available to treat leishmaniasis is limited 2;current treatments provide limited efficacy and many are toxic at therapeutic doses. In addition, most of the first line treatment drugs have already lost their utility due to increasing multiple drug resistance 3. The current pipeline of anti-leishmanial drugs is also severely depleted. Sustained efforts are needed to enrich a new anti-leishmanial drug discovery pipeline, and this endeavor relies on the availability of suitable in vitro screening models. In vitro promastigotes 4 and axenic amastigotes assays5 are primarily used for anti-leishmanial drug screening however, may not be appropriate due to significant cellular, physiological, biochemical and molecular differences in comparison to intracellular amastigotes. Assays with macrophage-amastigotes models are considered closest to the pathophysiological conditions of leishmaniasis, and are therefore the most appropriate for in vitro screening. Differentiated, non-dividing human acute monocytic leukemia cells (THP1) (make an attractive) alternative to isolated primary macrophages and can be used for assaying anti-leishmanial activity of different compounds against intracellular amastigotes. Here, we present a parasite-rescue and transformation assay with differentiated THP1 cells infected in vitro with Leishmania donovani for screening pure compounds and natural products extracts and determining the efficacy against the intracellular Leishmania amastigotes. The assay involves the following steps: (1) differentiation of THP1 cells to non-dividing macrophages, (2) infection of macrophages with L. donovani metacyclic promastigotes, (3) treatment of infected cells with test drugs, (4) controlled lysis of infected macrophages, (5) release/rescue of amastigotes and (6) transformation of live amastigotes to promastigotes. The assay was optimized using detergent treatment for controlled lysis of Leishmania-infected THP1 cells to achieve almost complete rescue of viable intracellular amastigotes with minimal effect on their ability to transform to promastigotes. Different macrophage:promastigotes ratios were tested to achieve maximum infection. Quantification of the infection was performed through transformation of live, rescued Leishmania amastigotes to promastigotes and evaluation of their growth by an alamarBlue fluorometric assay in 96-well microplates. This assay is comparable to the currently-used microscopic, transgenic reporter gene and digital-image analysis assays. This assay is robust and measures only the live intracellular amastigotes compared to reporter gene and image analysis assays, which may not differentiate between live and dead amastigotes. Also, the assay has been validated with a current panel of anti-leishmanial drugs and has been successfully applied to large-scale screening of pure compounds and a library of natural products fractions (Tekwani et al. unpublished).
Infection, Issue 70, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Pharmacology, Leishmania donovani, Visceral Leishmaniasis, THP1 cells, Drug Screening, Amastigotes, Antileishmanial drug assay
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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A Research Method For Detecting Transient Myocardial Ischemia In Patients With Suspected Acute Coronary Syndrome Using Continuous ST-segment Analysis
Authors: Michele M. Pelter, Teri M. Kozik, Denise L. Loranger, Mary G. Carey.
Institutions: University of Nevada, Reno, St. Joseph's Medical Center, University of Rochester Medical Center .
Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans will have a new coronary attack, or acute coronary syndrome (ACS). The pathophysiology of ACS involves rupture of an atherosclerotic plaque; hence, treatment is aimed at plaque stabilization in order to prevent cellular death. However, there is considerable debate among clinicians, about which treatment pathway is best: early invasive using percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI/stent) when indicated or a conservative approach (i.e., medication only with PCI/stent if recurrent symptoms occur). There are three types of ACS: ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), non-ST elevation MI (NSTEMI), and unstable angina (UA). Among the three types, NSTEMI/UA is nearly four times as common as STEMI. Treatment decisions for NSTEMI/UA are based largely on symptoms and resting or exercise electrocardiograms (ECG). However, because of the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the atherosclerotic plaque, these methods often under detect myocardial ischemia because symptoms are unreliable, and/or continuous ECG monitoring was not utilized. Continuous 12-lead ECG monitoring, which is both inexpensive and non-invasive, can identify transient episodes of myocardial ischemia, a precursor to MI, even when asymptomatic. However, continuous 12-lead ECG monitoring is not usual hospital practice; rather, only two leads are typically monitored. Information obtained with 12-lead ECG monitoring might provide useful information for deciding the best ACS treatment. Purpose. Therefore, using 12-lead ECG monitoring, the COMPARE Study (electroCardiographic evaluatiOn of ischeMia comParing invAsive to phaRmacological trEatment) was designed to assess the frequency and clinical consequences of transient myocardial ischemia, in patients with NSTEMI/UA treated with either early invasive PCI/stent or those managed conservatively (medications or PCI/stent following recurrent symptoms). The purpose of this manuscript is to describe the methodology used in the COMPARE Study. Method. Permission to proceed with this study was obtained from the Institutional Review Board of the hospital and the university. Research nurses identify hospitalized patients from the emergency department and telemetry unit with suspected ACS. Once consented, a 12-lead ECG Holter monitor is applied, and remains in place during the patient's entire hospital stay. Patients are also maintained on the routine bedside ECG monitoring system per hospital protocol. Off-line ECG analysis is done using sophisticated software and careful human oversight.
Medicine, Issue 70, Anatomy, Physiology, Cardiology, Myocardial Ischemia, Cardiovascular Diseases, Health Occupations, Health Care, transient myocardial ischemia, Acute Coronary Syndrome, electrocardiogram, ST-segment monitoring, Holter monitoring, research methodology
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Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Authors: Graham Bailes, Margaret Lind, Andrew Ely, Marianne Powell, Jennifer Moore-Kucera, Carol Miles, Debra Inglis, Marion Brodhagen.
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g. fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
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Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Authors: Mackenzie J. Denyes, Michèle A. Parisien, Allison Rutter, Barbara A. Zeeb.
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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Using the Gene Pulser MXcell Electroporation System to Transfect Primary Cells with High Efficiency
Authors: Adam M. McCoy, Michelle L. Collins, Luis A. Ugozzoli.
Institutions: Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc..
It is becoming increasingly apparent that electroporation is the most effective way to introduce plasmid DNA or siRNA into primary cells. The Gene Pulser MXcell electroporation system and Gene Pulser electroporation buffer (Bio-Rad) were specifically developed to easily transfect nucleic acids into mammalian cells and difficult-to-transfect cells, such as primary and stem cells. We will demonstrate how to perform a simple experiment to quickly identify the best electroporation conditions. We will demonstrate how to run several samples through a range of electroporation conditions so that an experiment can be conducted at the same time as optimization is performed. We will also show how optimal conditions identified using 96-well electroporation plates can be used with standard electroporation cuvettes, facilitating the switch from electroporation plates to electroporation cuvettes while maintaining the same electroporation efficiency. In the video, we will also discuss some of the key factors that can lead to the success or failure of electroporation experiments.
Cellular Biology, Issue 35, Primary cell electroporation, MEF, Bio-Rad, Gene Pulser MXcell, transfection, GFP
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Computer-Generated Animal Model Stimuli
Authors: Kevin L. Woo.
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Communication between animals is diverse and complex. Animals may communicate using auditory, seismic, chemosensory, electrical, or visual signals. In particular, understanding the constraints on visual signal design for communication has been of great interest. Traditional methods for investigating animal interactions have used basic observational techniques, staged encounters, or physical manipulation of morphology. Less intrusive methods have tried to simulate conspecifics using crude playback tools, such as mirrors, still images, or models. As technology has become more advanced, video playback has emerged as another tool in which to examine visual communication (Rosenthal, 2000). However, to move one step further, the application of computer-animation now allows researchers to specifically isolate critical components necessary to elicit social responses from conspecifics, and manipulate these features to control interactions. Here, I provide detail on how to create an animation using the Jacky dragon as a model, but this process may be adaptable for other species. In building the animation, I elected to use Lightwave 3D to alter object morphology, add texture, install bones, and provide comparable weight shading that prevents exaggerated movement. The animation is then matched to select motor patterns to replicate critical movement features. Finally, the sequence must rendered into an individual clip for presentation. Although there are other adaptable techniques, this particular method had been demonstrated to be effective in eliciting both conspicuous and social responses in staged interactions.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, behavior, lizard, simulation, animation
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