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Interaction signatures stabilizing the NAD(P)-binding Rossmann fold: a structure network approach.
The fidelity of the folding pathways being encoded in the amino acid sequence is met with challenge in instances where proteins with no sequence homology, performing different functions and no apparent evolutionary linkage, adopt a similar fold. The problem stated otherwise is that a limited fold space is available to a repertoire of diverse sequences. The key question is what factors lead to the formation of a fold from diverse sequences. Here, with the NAD(P)-binding Rossmann fold domains as a case study and using the concepts of network theory, we have unveiled the consensus structural features that drive the formation of this fold. We have proposed a graph theoretic formalism to capture the structural details in terms of the conserved atomic interactions in global milieu, and hence extract the essential topological features from diverse sequences. A unified mathematical representation of the different structures together with a judicious concoction of several network parameters enabled us to probe into the structural features driving the adoption of the NAD(P)-binding Rossmann fold. The atomic interactions at key positions seem to be better conserved in proteins, as compared to the residues participating in these interactions. We propose a "spatial motif" and several "fold specific hot spots" that form the signature structural blueprints of the NAD(P)-binding Rossmann fold domain. Excellent agreement of our data with previous experimental and theoretical studies validates the robustness and validity of the approach. Additionally, comparison of our results with statistical coupling analysis (SCA) provides further support. The methodology proposed here is general and can be applied to similar problems of interest.
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Published: 07-25-2013
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.
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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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Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Nikolai Hentze, Matthias P. Mayer.
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1H/2H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g. crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.   
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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FtsZ Polymerization Assays: Simple Protocols and Considerations
Authors: Ewa Król, Dirk-Jan Scheffers.
Institutions: University of Groningen.
During bacterial cell division, the essential protein FtsZ assembles in the middle of the cell to form the so-called Z-ring. FtsZ polymerizes into long filaments in the presence of GTP in vitro, and polymerization is regulated by several accessory proteins. FtsZ polymerization has been extensively studied in vitro using basic methods including light scattering, sedimentation, GTP hydrolysis assays and electron microscopy. Buffer conditions influence both the polymerization properties of FtsZ, and the ability of FtsZ to interact with regulatory proteins. Here, we describe protocols for FtsZ polymerization studies and validate conditions and controls using Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis FtsZ as model proteins. A low speed sedimentation assay is introduced that allows the study of the interaction of FtsZ with proteins that bundle or tubulate FtsZ polymers. An improved GTPase assay protocol is described that allows testing of GTP hydrolysis over time using various conditions in a 96-well plate setup, with standardized incubation times that abolish variation in color development in the phosphate detection reaction. The preparation of samples for light scattering studies and electron microscopy is described. Several buffers are used to establish suitable buffer pH and salt concentration for FtsZ polymerization studies. A high concentration of KCl is the best for most of the experiments. Our methods provide a starting point for the in vitro characterization of FtsZ, not only from E. coli and B. subtilis but from any other bacterium. As such, the methods can be used for studies of the interaction of FtsZ with regulatory proteins or the testing of antibacterial drugs which may affect FtsZ polymerization.
Basic Protocols, Issue 81, FtsZ, protein polymerization, cell division, GTPase, sedimentation assay, light scattering
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Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Authors: Vladimir A. Volkov, Anatoly V. Zaytsev, Ekaterina L. Grishchuk.
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
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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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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Nanomanipulation of Single RNA Molecules by Optical Tweezers
Authors: William Stephenson, Gorby Wan, Scott A. Tenenbaum, Pan T. X. Li.
Institutions: University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York.
A large portion of the human genome is transcribed but not translated. In this post genomic era, regulatory functions of RNA have been shown to be increasingly important. As RNA function often depends on its ability to adopt alternative structures, it is difficult to predict RNA three-dimensional structures directly from sequence. Single-molecule approaches show potentials to solve the problem of RNA structural polymorphism by monitoring molecular structures one molecule at a time. This work presents a method to precisely manipulate the folding and structure of single RNA molecules using optical tweezers. First, methods to synthesize molecules suitable for single-molecule mechanical work are described. Next, various calibration procedures to ensure the proper operations of the optical tweezers are discussed. Next, various experiments are explained. To demonstrate the utility of the technique, results of mechanically unfolding RNA hairpins and a single RNA kissing complex are used as evidence. In these examples, the nanomanipulation technique was used to study folding of each structural domain, including secondary and tertiary, independently. Lastly, the limitations and future applications of the method are discussed.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, RNA folding, single-molecule, optical tweezers, nanomanipulation, RNA secondary structure, RNA tertiary structure
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The Use of Fluorescent Target Arrays for Assessment of T Cell Responses In vivo
Authors: Benjamin J. C. Quah, Danushka K. Wijesundara, Charani Ranasinghe, Christopher R. Parish.
Institutions: Australian National University.
The ability to monitor T cell responses in vivo is important for the development of our understanding of the immune response and the design of immunotherapies. Here we describe the use of fluorescent target array (FTA) technology, which utilizes vital dyes such as carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester (CFSE), violet laser excitable dyes (CellTrace Violet: CTV) and red laser excitable dyes (Cell Proliferation Dye eFluor 670: CPD) to combinatorially label mouse lymphocytes into >250 discernable fluorescent cell clusters. Cell clusters within these FTAs can be pulsed with major histocompatibility (MHC) class-I and MHC class-II binding peptides and thereby act as target cells for CD8+ and CD4+ T cells, respectively. These FTA cells remain viable and fully functional, and can therefore be administered into mice to allow assessment of CD8+ T cell-mediated killing of FTA target cells and CD4+ T cell-meditated help of FTA B cell target cells in real time in vivo by flow cytometry. Since >250 target cells can be assessed at once, the technique allows the monitoring of T cell responses against several antigen epitopes at several concentrations and in multiple replicates. As such, the technique can measure T cell responses at both a quantitative (e.g. the cumulative magnitude of the response) and a qualitative (e.g. functional avidity and epitope-cross reactivity of the response) level. Herein, we describe how these FTAs are constructed and give an example of how they can be applied to assess T cell responses induced by a recombinant pox virus vaccine.
Immunology, Issue 88, Investigative Techniques, T cell response, Flow Cytometry, Multiparameter, CTL assay in vivo, carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester (CFSE), CellTrace Violet (CTV), Cell Proliferation Dye eFluor 670 (CPD)
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Authors: Mirella Vivoli, Halina R. Novak, Jennifer A. Littlechild, Nicholas J. Harmer.
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
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Use of Stopped-Flow Fluorescence and Labeled Nucleotides to Analyze the ATP Turnover Cycle of Kinesins
Authors: Jennifer T. Patel, Hannah R. Belsham, Alexandra J. Rathbone, Claire T. Friel.
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
The kinesin superfamily of microtubule associated motor proteins share a characteristic motor domain which both hydrolyses ATP and binds microtubules. Kinesins display differences across the superfamily both in ATP turnover and in microtubule interaction. These differences tailor specific kinesins to various functions such as cargo transport, microtubule sliding, microtubule depolymerization and microtubule stabilization. To understand the mechanism of action of a kinesin it is important to understand how the chemical cycle of ATP turnover is coupled to the mechanical cycle of microtubule interaction. To dissect the ATP turnover cycle, one approach is to utilize fluorescently labeled nucleotides to visualize individual steps in the cycle. Determining the kinetics of each nucleotide transition in the ATP turnover cycle allows the rate-limiting step or steps for the complete cycle to be identified. For a kinesin, it is important to know the rate-limiting step, in the absence of microtubules, as this step is generally accelerated several thousand fold when the kinesin interacts with microtubules. The cycle in the absence of microtubules is then compared to that in the presence of microtubules to fully understand a kinesin’s ATP turnover cycle. The kinetics of individual nucleotide transitions are generally too fast to observe by manually mixing reactants, particularly in the presence of microtubules. A rapid mixing device, such as a stopped-flow fluorimeter, which allows kinetics to be observed on timescales of as little as a few milliseconds, can be used to monitor such transitions. Here, we describe protocols in which rapid mixing of reagents by stopped-flow is used in conjunction with fluorescently labeled nucleotides to dissect the ATP turnover cycle of a kinesin.
Chemistry, Issue 92, Kinesin, ATP turnover, mantATP, mantADP, stopped-flow fluorescence, microtubules, enzyme kinetics, nucleotide
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Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Authors: Stéphanie Beaucourt, Antonio V. Bordería, Lark L. Coffey, Nina F. Gnädig, Marta Sanz-Ramos, Yasnee Beeharry, Marco Vignuzzi.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7.
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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Hydrophobic Salt-modified Nafion for Enzyme Immobilization and Stabilization
Authors: Shannon Meredith, Shuai Xu, Matthew T. Meredith, Shelley D. Minteer.
Institutions: University of Utah .
Over the last decade, there has been a wealth of application for immobilized and stabilized enzymes including biocatalysis, biosensors, and biofuel cells.1-3 In most bioelectrochemical applications, enzymes or organelles are immobilized onto an electrode surface with the use of some type of polymer matrix. This polymer scaffold should keep the enzymes stable and allow for the facile diffusion of molecules and ions in and out of the matrix. Most polymers used for this type of immobilization are based on polyamines or polyalcohols - polymers that mimic the natural environment of the enzymes that they encapsulate and stabilize the enzyme through hydrogen or ionic bonding. Another method for stabilizing enzymes involves the use of micelles, which contain hydrophobic regions that can encapsulate and stabilize enzymes.4,5 In particular, the Minteer group has developed a micellar polymer based on commercially available Nafion.6,7 Nafion itself is a micellar polymer that allows for the channel-assisted diffusion of protons and other small cations, but the micelles and channels are extremely small and the polymer is very acidic due to sulfonic acid side chains, which is unfavorable for enzyme immobilization. However, when Nafion is mixed with an excess of hydrophobic alkyl ammonium salts such as tetrabutylammonium bromide (TBAB), the quaternary ammonium cations replace the protons and become the counter ions to the sulfonate groups on the polymer side chains (Figure 1). This results in larger micelles and channels within the polymer that allow for the diffusion of large substrates and ions that are necessary for enzymatic function such as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). This modified Nafion polymer has been used to immobilize many different types of enzymes as well as mitochondria for use in biosensors and biofuel cells.8-12 This paper describes a novel procedure for making this micellar polymer enzyme immobilization membrane that can stabilize enzymes. The synthesis of the micellar enzyme immobilization membrane, the procedure for immobilizing enzymes within the membrane, and the assays for studying enzymatic specific activity of the immobilized enzyme are detailed below.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, enzyme immobilization, polymer modification, Nafion, enzyme stabilization, enzyme activity assays
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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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Synthetic, Multi-Layer, Self-Oscillating Vocal Fold Model Fabrication
Authors: Preston R. Murray, Scott L. Thomson.
Institutions: Brigham Young University.
Sound for the human voice is produced via flow-induced vocal fold vibration. The vocal folds consist of several layers of tissue, each with differing material properties 1. Normal voice production relies on healthy tissue and vocal folds, and occurs as a result of complex coupling between aerodynamic, structural dynamic, and acoustic physical phenomena. Voice disorders affect up to 7.5 million annually in the United States alone 2 and often result in significant financial, social, and other quality-of-life difficulties. Understanding the physics of voice production has the potential to significantly benefit voice care, including clinical prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of voice disorders. Existing methods for studying voice production include in vivo experimentation using human and animal subjects, in vitro experimentation using excised larynges and synthetic models, and computational modeling. Owing to hazardous and difficult instrument access, in vivo experiments are severely limited in scope. Excised larynx experiments have the benefit of anatomical and some physiological realism, but parametric studies involving geometric and material property variables are limited. Further, they are typically only able to be vibrated for relatively short periods of time (typically on the order of minutes). Overcoming some of the limitations of excised larynx experiments, synthetic vocal fold models are emerging as a complementary tool for studying voice production. Synthetic models can be fabricated with systematic changes to geometry and material properties, allowing for the study of healthy and unhealthy human phonatory aerodynamics, structural dynamics, and acoustics. For example, they have been used to study left-right vocal fold asymmetry 3,4, clinical instrument development 5, laryngeal aerodynamics 6-9, vocal fold contact pressure 10, and subglottal acoustics 11 (a more comprehensive list can be found in Kniesburges et al. 12) Existing synthetic vocal fold models, however, have either been homogenous (one-layer models) or have been fabricated using two materials of differing stiffness (two-layer models). This approach does not allow for representation of the actual multi-layer structure of the human vocal folds 1 that plays a central role in governing vocal fold flow-induced vibratory response. Consequently, one- and two-layer synthetic vocal fold models have exhibited disadvantages 3,6,8 such as higher onset pressures than what are typical for human phonation (onset pressure is the minimum lung pressure required to initiate vibration), unnaturally large inferior-superior motion, and lack of a "mucosal wave" (a vertically-traveling wave that is characteristic of healthy human vocal fold vibration). In this paper, fabrication of a model with multiple layers of differing material properties is described. The model layers simulate the multi-layer structure of the human vocal folds, including epithelium, superficial lamina propria (SLP), intermediate and deep lamina propria (i.e., ligament; a fiber is included for anterior-posterior stiffness), and muscle (i.e., body) layers 1. Results are included that show that the model exhibits improved vibratory characteristics over prior one- and two-layer synthetic models, including onset pressure closer to human onset pressure, reduced inferior-superior motion, and evidence of a mucosal wave.
Bioengineering, Issue 58, Vocal folds, larynx, voice, speech, artificial biomechanical models
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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Linearization of the Bradford Protein Assay
Authors: Orna Ernst, Tsaffrir Zor.
Institutions: Tel Aviv University.
Determination of microgram quantities of protein in the Bradford Coomassie brilliant blue assay is accomplished by measurement of absorbance at 590 nm. This most common assay enables rapid and simple protein quantification in cell lysates, cellular fractions, or recombinant protein samples, for the purpose of normalization of biochemical measurements. However, an intrinsic nonlinearity compromises the sensitivity and accuracy of this method. It is shown that under standard assay conditions, the ratio of the absorbance measurements at 590 nm and 450 nm is strictly linear with protein concentration. This simple procedure increases the accuracy and improves the sensitivity of the assay about 10-fold, permitting quantification down to 50 ng of bovine serum albumin. Furthermore, the interference commonly introduced by detergents that are used to create the cell lysates is greatly reduced by the new protocol. A linear equation developed on the basis of mass action and Beer's law perfectly fits the experimental data.
Cellular Biology, Issue 38, Bradford, protein assay, protein quantification, Coomassie brilliant blue
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Transmembrane Domain Oligomerization Propensity determined by ToxR Assay
Authors: Catherine Joce, Alyssa Wiener, Hang Yin.
Institutions: University of Colorado at Boulder.
The oversimplified view of protein transmembrane domains as merely anchors in phospholipid bilayers has long since been disproven. In many cases membrane-spanning proteins have evolved highly sophisticated mechanisms of action.1-3 One way in which membrane proteins can modulate their structures and functions is by direct and specific contact of hydrophobic helices, forming structured transmembrane oligomers.4,5 Much recent work has focused on the distribution of amino acids preferentially found in the membrane environment in comparison to aqueous solution and the different intermolecular forces that drive protein association.6,7 Nevertheless, studies of molecular recognition at the transmembrane domain of proteins still lags behind those of water-soluble regions. A major hurdle remains: despite the remarkable specificity and affinity that transmembrane oligomerization can achieve,8 direct measurement of their association is challenging. Traditional methodologies applied to the study of integral membrane protein function can be hampered by the inherent insolubility of the sequences under examination. Biophysical insights gained from studying synthetic peptides representing transmembrane domains can provide useful structural insight. However, the biological relevance of the detergent micellar or liposome systems used in these studies to mimic cellular membranes is often questioned; do peptides adopt a native-like structure under these conditions and does their functional behaviour truly reflect the mode of action within a native membrane? In order to study the interactions of transmembrane sequences in natural phospholipid bilayers, the Langosch lab developed ToxR transcriptional reporter assays.9 The transmembrane domain of interest is expressed as a chimeric protein with maltose binding protein for location to the periplasm and ToxR to provide a report of the level of oligomerization (Figure 1). In the last decade, several other groups (e.g. Engelman, DeGrado, Shai) further optimized and applied this ToxR reporter assay.10-13 The various ToxR assays have become a gold standard to test protein-protein interactions in cell membranes. We herein demonstrate a typical experimental operation conducted in our laboratory that primarily follows protocols developed by Langosch. This generally applicable method is useful for the analysis of transmembrane domain self-association in E. coli, where β-galactosidase production is used to assess the TMD oligomerization propensity. Upon TMD-induced dimerization, ToxR binds to the ctx promoter causing up-regulation of the LacZ gene for β-galactosidase. A colorimetric readout is obtained by addition of ONPG to lyzed cells. Hydrolytic cleavage of ONPG by β-galactosidase results in the production of the light absorbing species o-nitrophenolate (ONP) (Figure 2).
Cellular Biology, Issue 51, Transmembrane domain, oligomerization, transcriptional reporter, ToxR, latent membrane protein-1
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Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Authors: David Almond, Timothy Cardozo.
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2 used the ab initio algorithm 3 accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
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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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Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Authors: Andrew V. Colasanti, Xiang-Jun Lu, Wilma K. Olson.
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
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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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