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Past, present and future distributions of an Iberian Endemic, Lepus granatensis: ecological and evolutionary clues from species distribution models.
The application of species distribution models (SDMs) in ecology and conservation biology is increasing and assuming an important role, mainly because they can be used to hindcast past and predict current and future species distributions. However, the accuracy of SDMs depends on the quality of the data and on appropriate theoretical frameworks. In this study, comprehensive data on the current distribution of the Iberian hare (Lepus granatensis) were used to i) determine the species ecogeographical constraints, ii) hindcast a climatic model for the last glacial maximum (LGM), relating it to inferences derived from molecular studies, and iii) calibrate a model to assess the species future distribution trends (up to 2080). Our results showed that the climatic factor (in its pure effect and when it is combined with the land-cover factor) is the most important descriptor of the current distribution of the Iberian hare. In addition, the models output was a reliable index of the local probability of species occurrence, which is a valuable tool to guide species management decisions and conservation planning. Climatic potential obtained for the LGM was combined with molecular data and the results suggest that several glacial refugia may have existed for the species within the major Iberian refugium. Finally, a high probability of occurrence of the Iberian hare in the current species range and a northward expansion were predicted for future. Given its current environmental envelope and evolutionary history, we discuss the macroecology of the Iberian hare and its sensitivity to climate change.
Authors: Yanping Chen, Adena Why, Gustavo Batista, Agenor Mafra-Neto, Eamonn Keogh.
Published: 10-15-2014
An inexpensive, noninvasive system that could accurately classify flying insects would have important implications for entomological research, and allow for the development of many useful applications in vector and pest control for both medical and agricultural entomology. Given this, the last sixty years have seen many research efforts devoted to this task. To date, however, none of this research has had a lasting impact. In this work, we show that pseudo-acoustic optical sensors can produce superior data; that additional features, both intrinsic and extrinsic to the insect’s flight behavior, can be exploited to improve insect classification; that a Bayesian classification approach allows to efficiently learn classification models that are very robust to over-fitting, and a general classification framework allows to easily incorporate arbitrary number of features. We demonstrate the findings with large-scale experiments that dwarf all previous works combined, as measured by the number of insects and the number of species considered.
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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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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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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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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Authors: Eva Wagner, Sören Brandenburg, Tobias Kohl, Stephan E. Lehnart.
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+ release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Authors: Mayandi Sivaguru, Glenn A. Fried, Carly A. H. Miller, Bruce W. Fouke.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis and M. faveolata. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis and M. faveolata contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis and M. faveolata exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
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An Inverse Analysis Approach to the Characterization of Chemical Transport in Paints
Authors: Matthew P. Willis, Shawn M. Stevenson, Thomas P. Pearl, Brent A. Mantooth.
Institutions: U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, OptiMetrics, Inc., a DCS Company.
The ability to directly characterize chemical transport and interactions that occur within a material (i.e., subsurface dynamics) is a vital component in understanding contaminant mass transport and the ability to decontaminate materials. If a material is contaminated, over time, the transport of highly toxic chemicals (such as chemical warfare agent species) out of the material can result in vapor exposure or transfer to the skin, which can result in percutaneous exposure to personnel who interact with the material. Due to the high toxicity of chemical warfare agents, the release of trace chemical quantities is of significant concern. Mapping subsurface concentration distribution and transport characteristics of absorbed agents enables exposure hazards to be assessed in untested conditions. Furthermore, these tools can be used to characterize subsurface reaction dynamics to ultimately design improved decontaminants or decontamination procedures. To achieve this goal, an inverse analysis mass transport modeling approach was developed that utilizes time-resolved mass spectroscopy measurements of vapor emission from contaminated paint coatings as the input parameter for calculation of subsurface concentration profiles. Details are provided on sample preparation, including contaminant and material handling, the application of mass spectrometry for the measurement of emitted contaminant vapor, and the implementation of inverse analysis using a physics-based diffusion model to determine transport properties of live chemical warfare agents including distilled mustard (HD) and the nerve agent VX.
Chemistry, Issue 90, Vacuum, vapor emission, chemical warfare agent, contamination, mass transport, inverse analysis, volatile organic compound, paint, coating
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An Experimental and Bioinformatics Protocol for RNA-seq Analyses of Photoperiodic Diapause in the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus
Authors: Monica F. Poelchau, Xin Huang, Allison Goff, Julie Reynolds, Peter Armbruster.
Institutions: Georgetown University, The Ohio State University.
Photoperiodic diapause is an important adaptation that allows individuals to escape harsh seasonal environments via a series of physiological changes, most notably developmental arrest and reduced metabolism. Global gene expression profiling via RNA-Seq can provide important insights into the transcriptional mechanisms of photoperiodic diapause. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, is an outstanding organism for studying the transcriptional bases of diapause due to its ease of rearing, easily induced diapause, and the genomic resources available. This manuscript presents a general experimental workflow for identifying diapause-induced transcriptional differences in A. albopictus. Rearing techniques, conditions necessary to induce diapause and non-diapause development, methods to estimate percent diapause in a population, and RNA extraction and integrity assessment for mosquitoes are documented. A workflow to process RNA-Seq data from Illumina sequencers culminates in a list of differentially expressed genes. The representative results demonstrate that this protocol can be used to effectively identify genes differentially regulated at the transcriptional level in A. albopictus due to photoperiodic differences. With modest adjustments, this workflow can be readily adapted to study the transcriptional bases of diapause or other important life history traits in other mosquitoes.
Genetics, Issue 93, Aedes albopictus Asian tiger mosquito, photoperiodic diapause, RNA-Seq de novo transcriptome assembly, mosquito husbandry
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Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Hans Maaswinkel, Liqun Zhu, Wei Weng.
Institutions: xyZfish.
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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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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Computer-assisted Large-scale Visualization and Quantification of Pancreatic Islet Mass, Size Distribution and Architecture
Authors: Abraham Kim, German Kilimnik, Charles Guo, Joshua Sung, Junghyo Jo, Vipul Periwal, Piotr Witkowski, Philip Dilorio, Manami Hara.
Institutions: University of Chicago, National Institutes of Health, University of Chicago, University of Massachusetts.
The pancreatic islet is a unique micro-organ composed of several hormone secreting endocrine cells such as beta-cells (insulin), alpha-cells (glucagon), and delta-cells (somatostatin) that are embedded in the exocrine tissues and comprise 1-2% of the entire pancreas. There is a close correlation between body and pancreas weight. Total beta-cell mass also increases proportionately to compensate for the demand for insulin in the body. What escapes this proportionate expansion is the size distribution of islets. Large animals such as humans share similar islet size distributions with mice, suggesting that this micro-organ has a certain size limit to be functional. The inability of large animal pancreata to generate proportionately larger islets is compensated for by an increase in the number of islets and by an increase in the proportion of larger islets in their overall islet size distribution. Furthermore, islets exhibit a striking plasticity in cellular composition and architecture among different species and also within the same species under various pathophysiological conditions. In the present study, we describe novel approaches for the analysis of biological image data in order to facilitate the automation of analytic processes, which allow for the analysis of large and heterogeneous data collections in the study of such dynamic biological processes and complex structures. Such studies have been hampered due to technical difficulties of unbiased sampling and generating large-scale data sets to precisely capture the complexity of biological processes of islet biology. Here we show methods to collect unbiased "representative" data within the limited availability of samples (or to minimize the sample collection) and the standard experimental settings, and to precisely analyze the complex three-dimensional structure of the islet. Computer-assisted automation allows for the collection and analysis of large-scale data sets and also assures unbiased interpretation of the data. Furthermore, the precise quantification of islet size distribution and spatial coordinates (i.e. X, Y, Z-positions) not only leads to an accurate visualization of pancreatic islet structure and composition, but also allows us to identify patterns during development and adaptation to altering conditions through mathematical modeling. The methods developed in this study are applicable to studies of many other systems and organisms as well.
Cellular Biology, Issue 49, beta-cells, islets, large-scale analysis, pancreas
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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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Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Authors: Karin Hauffen, Eugene Bart, Mark Brady, Daniel Kersten, Jay Hegdé.
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes) with such properties2. Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6 (also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings. First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints. Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases. Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms. Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper. We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have. Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
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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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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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Harvesting Sperm and Artificial Insemination of Mice
Authors: Amanda R. Duselis, Paul B. Vrana.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Rodents of the genus Peromyscus (deer mice) are the most prevalent native North American mammals. Peromyscus species are used in a wide range of research including toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, behavioral, and genetic studies. Here they provide a useful model for demonstrations of artificial insemination. Methods similar to those displayed here have previously been used in several deer mouse studies, yet no detailed protocol has been published. Here we demonstrate the basic method of artificial insemination. This method entails extracting the testes from the rodent, then isolating the sperm from the epididymis and vas deferens. The mature sperm, now in a milk mixture, are placed in the female’s reproductive tract at the time of ovulation. Fertilization is counted as day 0 for timing of embryo development. Embryos can then be retrieved at the desired time-point and manipulated. Artificial insemination can be used in a variety of rodent species where exact embryo timing is crucial or hard to obtain. This technique is vital for species or strains (including most Peromyscus) which may not mate immediately and/or where mating is hard to assess. In addition, artificial insemination provides exact timing for embryo development either in mapping developmental progress and/or transgenic work. Reduced numbers of animals can be used since fertilization is guaranteed. This method has been vital to furthering the Peromyscus system, and will hopefully benefit others as well.
Developmental Biology, Issue 3, sperm, mouse, artificial insemination, dissection
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Spatial Multiobjective Optimization of Agricultural Conservation Practices using a SWAT Model and an Evolutionary Algorithm
Authors: Sergey Rabotyagov, Todd Campbell, Adriana Valcu, Philip Gassman, Manoj Jha, Keith Schilling, Calvin Wolter, Catherine Kling.
Institutions: University of Washington, Iowa State University, North Carolina A&T University, Iowa Geological and Water Survey.
Finding the cost-efficient (i.e., lowest-cost) ways of targeting conservation practice investments for the achievement of specific water quality goals across the landscape is of primary importance in watershed management. Traditional economics methods of finding the lowest-cost solution in the watershed context (e.g.,5,12,20) assume that off-site impacts can be accurately described as a proportion of on-site pollution generated. Such approaches are unlikely to be representative of the actual pollution process in a watershed, where the impacts of polluting sources are often determined by complex biophysical processes. The use of modern physically-based, spatially distributed hydrologic simulation models allows for a greater degree of realism in terms of process representation but requires a development of a simulation-optimization framework where the model becomes an integral part of optimization. Evolutionary algorithms appear to be a particularly useful optimization tool, able to deal with the combinatorial nature of a watershed simulation-optimization problem and allowing the use of the full water quality model. Evolutionary algorithms treat a particular spatial allocation of conservation practices in a watershed as a candidate solution and utilize sets (populations) of candidate solutions iteratively applying stochastic operators of selection, recombination, and mutation to find improvements with respect to the optimization objectives. The optimization objectives in this case are to minimize nonpoint-source pollution in the watershed, simultaneously minimizing the cost of conservation practices. A recent and expanding set of research is attempting to use similar methods and integrates water quality models with broadly defined evolutionary optimization methods3,4,9,10,13-15,17-19,22,23,25. In this application, we demonstrate a program which follows Rabotyagov et al.'s approach and integrates a modern and commonly used SWAT water quality model7 with a multiobjective evolutionary algorithm SPEA226, and user-specified set of conservation practices and their costs to search for the complete tradeoff frontiers between costs of conservation practices and user-specified water quality objectives. The frontiers quantify the tradeoffs faced by the watershed managers by presenting the full range of costs associated with various water quality improvement goals. The program allows for a selection of watershed configurations achieving specified water quality improvement goals and a production of maps of optimized placement of conservation practices.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 70, Plant Biology, Civil Engineering, Forest Sciences, Water quality, multiobjective optimization, evolutionary algorithms, cost efficiency, agriculture, development
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Measurement of Leaf Hydraulic Conductance and Stomatal Conductance and Their Responses to Irradiance and Dehydration Using the Evaporative Flux Method (EFM)
Authors: Lawren Sack, Christine Scoffoni.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Water is a key resource, and the plant water transport system sets limits on maximum growth and drought tolerance. When plants open their stomata to achieve a high stomatal conductance (gs) to capture CO2 for photosynthesis, water is lost by transpiration1,2. Water evaporating from the airspaces is replaced from cell walls, in turn drawing water from the xylem of leaf veins, in turn drawing from xylem in the stems and roots. As water is pulled through the system, it experiences hydraulic resistance, creating tension throughout the system and a low leaf water potential (Ψleaf). The leaf itself is a critical bottleneck in the whole plant system, accounting for on average 30% of the plant hydraulic resistance3. Leaf hydraulic conductance (Kleaf = 1/ leaf hydraulic resistance) is the ratio of the water flow rate to the water potential gradient across the leaf, and summarizes the behavior of a complex system: water moves through the petiole and through several orders of veins, exits into the bundle sheath and passes through or around mesophyll cells before evaporating into the airspace and being transpired from the stomata. Kleaf is of strong interest as an important physiological trait to compare species, quantifying the effectiveness of the leaf structure and physiology for water transport, and a key variable to investigate for its relationship to variation in structure (e.g., in leaf venation architecture) and its impacts on photosynthetic gas exchange. Further, Kleaf responds strongly to the internal and external leaf environment3. Kleaf can increase dramatically with irradiance apparently due to changes in the expression and activation of aquaporins, the proteins involved in water transport through membranes4, and Kleaf declines strongly during drought, due to cavitation and/or collapse of xylem conduits, and/or loss of permeability in the extra-xylem tissues due to mesophyll and bundle sheath cell shrinkage or aquaporin deactivation5-10. Because Kleaf can constrain gs and photosynthetic rate across species in well watered conditions and during drought, and thus limit whole-plant performance they may possibly determine species distributions especially as droughts increase in frequency and severity11-14. We present a simple method for simultaneous determination of Kleaf and gs on excised leaves. A transpiring leaf is connected by its petiole to tubing running to a water source on a balance. The loss of water from the balance is recorded to calculate the flow rate through the leaf. When steady state transpiration (E, mmol • m-2 • s-1) is reached, gs is determined by dividing by vapor pressure deficit, and Kleaf by dividing by the water potential driving force determined using a pressure chamber (Kleaf= E /- Δψleaf, MPa)15. This method can be used to assess Kleaf responses to different irradiances and the vulnerability of Kleaf to dehydration14,16,17.
Plant Biology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Ecology, Biology, Botany, Leaf traits, hydraulics, stomata, transpiration, xylem, conductance, leaf hydraulic conductance, resistance, evaporative flux method, whole plant
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Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Authors: Viktor Martyanov, Robert H. Gross.
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2 to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4 and has been used in other studies5-8. The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well. Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor. Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run. Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11.
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
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Electroporation of Mycobacteria
Authors: Renan Goude, Tanya Parish.
Institutions: Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
Microbiology, Issue 15, Springer Protocols, Mycobacteria, Electroporation, Bacterial Transformation, Transformation Efficiency, Bacteria, Tuberculosis, M. Smegmatis, Springer Protocols
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Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
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