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Correlation between thermodynamic efficiency and ecological cyclicity for thermodynamic power cycles.
A sustainable global community requires the successful integration of environment and engineering. In the public and private sectors, designing cyclical ("closed loop") resource networks increasingly appears as a strategy employed to improve resource efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. Patterning industrial networks on ecological ones has been shown to provide significant improvements at multiple levels. Here, we apply the biological metric cyclicity to 28 familiar thermodynamic power cycles of increasing complexity. These cycles, composed of turbines and the like, are scientifically very different from natural ecosystems. Despite this difference, the application results in a positive correlation between the maximum thermal efficiency and the cyclic structure of the cycles. The immediate impact of these findings results in a simple method for comparing cycles to one another, higher cyclicity values pointing to those cycles which have the potential for a higher maximum thermal efficiency. Such a strong correlation has the promise of impacting both natural ecology and engineering thermodynamics and provides a clear motivation to look for more fundamental scientific connections between natural and engineered systems.
The growth of anodic electroactive microbial biofilms from waste water inocula in a fed-batch reactor is demonstrated using a three-electrode setup controlled by a potentiostat. Thereby the use of potentiostats allows an exact adjustment of the electrode potential and ensures reproducible microbial culturing conditions. During growth the current production is monitored using chronoamperometry (CA). Based on these data the maximum current density (jmax) and the coulombic efficiency (CE) are discussed as measures for characterization of the bioelectrocatalytic performance. Cyclic voltammetry (CV), a nondestructive, i.e. noninvasive, method, is used to study the extracellular electron transfer (EET) of electroactive bacteria. CV measurements are performed on anodic biofilm electrodes in the presence of the microbial substrate, i.e. turnover conditions, and in the absence of the substrate, i.e. nonturnover conditions, using different scan rates. Subsequently, data analysis is exemplified and fundamental thermodynamic parameters of the microbial EET are derived and explained: peak potential (Ep), peak current density (jp), formal potential (Ef) and peak separation (ΔEp). Additionally the limits of the method and the state-of the art data analysis are addressed. Thereby this video-article shall provide a guide for the basic experimental steps and the fundamental data analysis.
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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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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo cellular environment in a controlled in vitro platform.1 This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3 To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5 The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6 Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7 The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8 Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10 The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Submillisecond Conformational Changes in Proteins Resolved by Photothermal Beam Deflection
Authors: Walter G. Gonzalez, Jaroslava Miksovska.
Institutions: Florida International University.
Photothermal beam deflection together with photo-acoustic calorimetry and thermal grating belongs to the family of photothermal methods that monitor the time-profile volume and enthalpy changes of light induced conformational changes in proteins on microsecond to millisecond time-scales that are not accessible using traditional stop-flow instruments. In addition, since overall changes in volume and/or enthalpy are probed, these techniques can be applied to proteins and other biomacromolecules that lack a fluorophore and or a chromophore label. To monitor dynamics and energetics of structural changes associated with Ca2+ binding to calcium transducers, such neuronal calcium sensors, a caged calcium compound, DM-nitrophen, is employed to photo-trigger a fast (τ < 20 μsec) increase in free calcium concentration and the associated volume and enthalpy changes are probed using photothermal beam deflection technique.
Chemistry, Issue 84, photothermal techniques, photothermal beam deflection, volume change, enthalpy change, calcium sensors, potassium channel interaction protein, DM-nitrophen
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Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Authors: Matthew Rames, Yadong Yu, Gang Ren.
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3 . Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Towards Biomimicking Wood: Fabricated Free-standing Films of Nanocellulose, Lignin, and a Synthetic Polycation
Authors: Karthik Pillai, Fernando Navarro Arzate, Wei Zhang, Scott Renneckar.
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
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Hot Biological Catalysis: Isothermal Titration Calorimetry to Characterize Enzymatic Reactions
Authors: Luca Mazzei, Stefano Ciurli, Barbara Zambelli.
Institutions: University of Bologna.
Isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) is a well-described technique that measures the heat released or absorbed during a chemical reaction, using it as an intrinsic probe to characterize virtually every chemical process. Nowadays, this technique is extensively applied to determine thermodynamic parameters of biomolecular binding equilibria. In addition, ITC has been demonstrated to be able of directly measuring kinetics and thermodynamic parameters (kcat, KM, ΔH) of enzymatic reactions, even though this application is still underexploited. As heat changes spontaneously occur during enzymatic catalysis, ITC does not require any modification or labeling of the system under analysis and can be performed in solution. Moreover, the method needs little amount of material. These properties make ITC an invaluable, powerful and unique tool to study enzyme kinetics in several applications, such as, for example, drug discovery. In this work an experimental ITC-based method to quantify kinetics and thermodynamics of enzymatic reactions is thoroughly described. This method is applied to determine kcat and KM of the enzymatic hydrolysis of urea by Canavalia ensiformis (jack bean) urease. Calculation of intrinsic molar enthalpy (ΔHint) of the reaction is performed. The values thus obtained are consistent with previous data reported in literature, demonstrating the reliability of the methodology.
Chemistry, Issue 86, Isothermal titration calorimetry, enzymatic catalysis, kinetics, thermodynamics, enthalpy, Michaelis constant, catalytic rate constant, urease
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Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Authors: Sungsoo Lee, Hui Zheng, Liang Shi, Qiu-Xing Jiang.
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
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Measuring Cation Transport by Na,K- and H,K-ATPase in Xenopus Oocytes by Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry: An Alternative to Radioisotope Assays
Authors: Katharina L. Dürr, Neslihan N. Tavraz, Susan Spiller, Thomas Friedrich.
Institutions: Technical University of Berlin, Oregon Health & Science University.
Whereas cation transport by the electrogenic membrane transporter Na+,K+-ATPase can be measured by electrophysiology, the electroneutrally operating gastric H+,K+-ATPase is more difficult to investigate. Many transport assays utilize radioisotopes to achieve a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio, however, the necessary security measures impose severe restrictions regarding human exposure or assay design. Furthermore, ion transport across cell membranes is critically influenced by the membrane potential, which is not straightforwardly controlled in cell culture or in proteoliposome preparations. Here, we make use of the outstanding sensitivity of atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) towards trace amounts of chemical elements to measure Rb+ or Li+ transport by Na+,K+- or gastric H+,K+-ATPase in single cells. Using Xenopus oocytes as expression system, we determine the amount of Rb+ (Li+) transported into the cells by measuring samples of single-oocyte homogenates in an AAS device equipped with a transversely heated graphite atomizer (THGA) furnace, which is loaded from an autosampler. Since the background of unspecific Rb+ uptake into control oocytes or during application of ATPase-specific inhibitors is very small, it is possible to implement complex kinetic assay schemes involving a large number of experimental conditions simultaneously, or to compare the transport capacity and kinetics of site-specifically mutated transporters with high precision. Furthermore, since cation uptake is determined on single cells, the flux experiments can be carried out in combination with two-electrode voltage-clamping (TEVC) to achieve accurate control of the membrane potential and current. This allowed e.g. to quantitatively determine the 3Na+/2K+ transport stoichiometry of the Na+,K+-ATPase and enabled for the first time to investigate the voltage dependence of cation transport by the electroneutrally operating gastric H+,K+-ATPase. In principle, the assay is not limited to K+-transporting membrane proteins, but it may work equally well to address the activity of heavy or transition metal transporters, or uptake of chemical elements by endocytotic processes.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Chemistry, Biophysics, Bioengineering, Physiology, Molecular Biology, electrochemical processes, physical chemistry, spectrophotometry (application), spectroscopic chemical analysis (application), life sciences, temperature effects (biological, animal and plant), Life Sciences (General), Na+,K+-ATPase, H+,K+-ATPase, Cation Uptake, P-type ATPases, Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS), Two-Electrode Voltage-Clamp, Xenopus Oocytes, Rb+ Flux, Transversely Heated Graphite Atomizer (THGA) Furnace, electrophysiology, animal model
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Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification of Prions
Authors: Samuel E. Saunders, Jason C. Bartz, Ronald A. Shikiya.
Institutions: University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Creighton University.
Prions are infectious agents that cause the inevitably fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) in animals and humans9,18. The prion protein has two distinct isoforms, the non-infectious host-encoded protein (PrPC) and the infectious protein (PrPSc), an abnormally-folded isoform of PrPC 8. One of the challenges of working with prion agents is the long incubation period prior to the development of clinical signs following host inoculation13. This traditionally mandated long and expensive animal bioassay studies. Furthermore, the biochemical and biophysical properties of PrPSc are poorly characterized due to their unusual conformation and aggregation states. PrPSc can seed the conversion of PrPC to PrPSc in vitro14. PMCA is an in vitro technique that takes advantage of this ability using sonication and incubation cycles to produce large amounts of PrPSc, at an accelerated rate, from a system containing excess amounts of PrPC and minute amounts of the PrPSc seed19. This technique has proven to effectively recapitulate the species and strain specificity of PrPSc conversion from PrPC, to emulate prion strain interference, and to amplify very low levels of PrPSc from infected tissues, fluids, and environmental samples6,7,16,23 . This paper details the PMCA protocol, including recommendations for minimizing contamination, generating consistent results, and quantifying those results. We also discuss several PMCA applications, including generation and characterization of infectious prion strains, prion strain interference, and the detection of prions in the environment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Virology, prion, prion detection, sonication, PrPC, PrPSc, strain, in vitro, PMCA, sPMCA
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Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Authors: Aya D. Pusic, Yelena Y. Grinberg, Heidi M. Mitchell, Richard P. Kraig.
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers. In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic and modulate SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to: ● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media. ● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method. ● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria. ● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage. ● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure. ● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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Design of a Cyclic Pressure Bioreactor for the Ex Vivo Study of Aortic Heart Valves
Authors: Kimberly J. Schipke, S. D. Filip To, James N. Warnock.
Institutions: Mississippi State University.
The aortic valve, located between the left ventricle and the aorta, allows for unidirectional blood flow, preventing backflow into the ventricle. Aortic valve leaflets are composed of interstitial cells suspended within an extracellular matrix (ECM) and are lined with an endothelial cell monolayer. The valve withstands a harsh, dynamic environment and is constantly exposed to shear, flexion, tension, and compression. Research has shown calcific lesions in diseased valves occur in areas of high mechanical stress as a result of endothelial disruption or interstitial matrix damage1-3. Hence, it is not surprising that epidemiological studies have shown high blood pressure to be a leading risk factor in the onset of aortic valve disease4. The only treatment option currently available for valve disease is surgical replacement of the diseased valve with a bioprosthetic or mechanical valve5. Improved understanding of valve biology in response to physical stresses would help elucidate the mechanisms of valve pathogenesis. In turn, this could help in the development of non-invasive therapies such as pharmaceutical intervention or prevention. Several bioreactors have been previously developed to study the mechanobiology of native or engineered heart valves6-9. Pulsatile bioreactors have also been developed to study a range of tissues including cartilage10, bone11 and bladder12. The aim of this work was to develop a cyclic pressure system that could be used to elucidate the biological response of aortic valve leaflets to increased pressure loads. The system consisted of an acrylic chamber in which to place samples and produce cyclic pressure, viton diaphragm solenoid valves to control the timing of the pressure cycle, and a computer to control electrical devices. The pressure was monitored using a pressure transducer, and the signal was conditioned using a load cell conditioner. A LabVIEW program regulated the pressure using an analog device to pump compressed air into the system at the appropriate rate. The system mimicked the dynamic transvalvular pressure levels associated with the aortic valve; a saw tooth wave produced a gradual increase in pressure, typical of the transvalvular pressure gradient that is present across the valve during diastole, followed by a sharp pressure drop depicting valve opening in systole. The LabVIEW program allowed users to control the magnitude and frequency of cyclic pressure. The system was able to subject tissue samples to physiological and pathological pressure conditions. This device can be used to increase our understanding of how heart valves respond to changes in the local mechanical environment.
Bioengineering, Issue 54, Mechanobiology, Bioreactor, Aortic Heart Valve, Organ Culture
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Protocol for Long Duration Whole Body Hyperthermia in Mice
Authors: Vikas Duhan, Neha Joshi, P. Nagarajan, Pramod Upadhyay.
Institutions: National Institute of Immunology, National Institute of Immunology.
Hyperthermia is a general term used to define the increase in core body temperature above normal. It is often used to describe the increased core body temperature that is observed during fever. The use of hyperthermia as an adjuvant has emerged as a promising procedure for tumor regression in the field of cancer biology. For this purpose, the most important requirement is to have reliable and uniform heating protocols. We have developed a protocol for hyperthermia (whole body) in mice. In this protocol, animals are exposed to cycles of hyperthermia for 90 min followed by a rest period of 15 min. During this period mice have easy access to food and water. High body temperature spikes in the mice during first few hyperthermia exposure cycles are prevented by immobilizing the animal. Additionally, normal saline is administered in first few cycles to minimize the effects of dehydration. This protocol can simulate fever like conditions in mice up to 12-24 hr. We have used 8-12 weeks old BALB/Cj female mice to demonstrate the protocol.
Medicine, Issue 66, Anatomy, Physiology, Mouse, Fever, Whole Body Hyperthermia, Temperature Spikes, core body temperature
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Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Authors: Todd C. Lorenz.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, consequently the name Taq DNA polymerase. PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to: ● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment ● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment ● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template ● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
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Plasma Lithography Surface Patterning for Creation of Cell Networks
Authors: Michael Junkin, Siu Ling Leung, Yongliang Yang, Yi Lu, Justin Volmering, Pak Kin Wong.
Institutions: University of Arizona , University of Arizona .
Systematic manipulation of a cell microenvironment with micro- and nanoscale resolution is often required for deciphering various cellular and molecular phenomena. To address this requirement, we have developed a plasma lithography technique to manipulate the cellular microenvironment by creating a patterned surface with feature sizes ranging from 100 nm to millimeters. The goal of this technique is to be able to study, in a controlled way, the behaviors of individual cells as well as groups of cells and their interactions. This plasma lithography method is based on selective modification of the surface chemistry on a substrate by means of shielding the contact of low-temperature plasma with a physical mold. This selective shielding leaves a chemical pattern which can guide cell attachment and movement. This pattern, or surface template, can then be used to create networks of cells whose structure can mimic that found in nature and produces a controllable environment for experimental investigations. The technique is well suited to studying biological phenomenon as it produces stable surface patterns on transparent polymeric substrates in a biocompatible manner. The surface patterns last for weeks to months and can thus guide interaction with cells for long time periods which facilitates the study of long-term cellular processes, such as differentiation and adaption. The modification to the surface is primarily chemical in nature and thus does not introduce topographical or physical interference for interpretation of results. It also does not involve any harsh or toxic substances to achieve patterning and is compatible for tissue culture. Furthermore, it can be applied to modify various types of polymeric substrates, which due to the ability to tune their properties are ideal for and are widely used in biological applications. The resolution achievable is also beneficial, as isolation of specific processes such as migration, adhesion, or binding allows for discrete, clear observations at the single to multicell level. This method has been employed to form diverse networks of different cell types for investigations involving migration, signaling, tissue formation, and the behavior and interactions of neurons arraigned in a network.
Bioengineering, Issue 52, Cell Network, Surface Patterning, Self-Organization, Developmental Biology, Tissue Engineering, Nanopattern, Micropattern, Self-Assembly, Cell Guidance, Neuron
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Quantitative Real-Time PCR using the Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Assay
Authors: Christy Ogrean, Ben Jackson, James Covino.
Institutions: Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Products.
The Solaris qPCR Gene Expression Assay is a novel type of primer/probe set, designed to simplify the qPCR process while maintaining the sensitivity and accuracy of the assay. These primer/probe sets are pre-designed to >98% of the human and mouse genomes and feature significant improvements from previously available technologies. These improvements were made possible by virtue of a novel design algorithm, developed by Thermo Scientific bioinformatics experts. Several convenient features have been incorporated into the Solaris qPCR Assay to streamline the process of performing quantitative real-time PCR. First, the protocol is similar to commonly employed alternatives, so the methods used during qPCR are likely to be familiar. Second, the master mix is blue, which makes setting the qPCR reactions easier to track. Third, the thermal cycling conditions are the same for all assays (genes), making it possible to run many samples at a time and reducing the potential for error. Finally, the probe and primer sequence information are provided, simplifying the publication process. Here, we demonstrate how to obtain the appropriate Solaris reagents using the GENEius product search feature found on the ordering web site ( and how to use the Solaris reagents for performing qPCR using the standard curve method.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, qPCR, probe, real-time PCR, molecular biology, Solaris, primer, gene expression assays
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Measuring Blood Pressure in Mice using Volume Pressure Recording, a Tail-cuff Method
Authors: Alan Daugherty, Debra Rateri, Lu Hong, Anju Balakrishnan.
Institutions: University of Kentucky.
The CODA 8-Channel High Throughput Non-Invasive Blood Pressure system measures the blood pressure in up to 8 mice or rats simultaneously. The CODA tail-cuff system uses Volume Pressure Recording (VPR) to measure the blood pressure by determining the tail blood volume. A specially designed differential pressure transducer and an occlusion tail-cuff measure the total blood volume in the tail without the need to obtain the individual pulse signal. Special attention is afforded to the length of the occlusion cuff in order to derive the most accurate blood pressure readings. VPR can easily obtain readings on dark-skinned rodents, such as C57BL6 mice and is MRI compatible. The CODA system provides you with measurements of six (6) different blood pressure parameters; systolic and diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, mean blood pressure, tail blood flow, and tail blood volume. Measurements can be made on either awake or anesthetized mice or rats. The CODA system includes a controller, laptop computer, software, cuffs, animal holders, infrared warming pads, and an infrared thermometer. There are seven different holder sizes for mice as small as 8 grams to rats as large as 900 grams.
Medicine, Issue 27, blood pressure, systolic, diastolic, tail-cuff, mouse, rat
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Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Authors: Frank Buchholz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells. We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
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Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Authors: Edward F. DeLong.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome
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Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
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
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