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Sex-specific correlations of individual heterozygosity, parasite load, and scalation asymmetry in a sexually dichromatic lizard.
PUBLISHED: 01-14-2013
Heterozygosity-fitness correlations (HFCs) provide insights into the genetic bases of individual fitness variation in natural populations. However, despite decades of study, the biological significance of HFCs is still under debate. In this study, we investigated HFCs in a large population of the sexually dimorphic lizard Takydromus viridipunctatus (Lacertidae). Because of the high prevalence of parasitism from trombiculid mites in this lizard, we expect individual fitness (i.e., survival) to decrease with increasing parasite load. Furthermore, because morphological asymmetry is likely to influence individuals mobility (i.e., limb asymmetry) and male biting ability during copulation (i.e., head asymmetry) in this species, we also hypothesize that individual fitness should decrease with increasing morphological asymmetry. Although we did not formally test the relationship between morphological asymmetry and fitness in this lizard, we demonstrated that survival decreased with increasing parasite load using a capture-mark-recapture data set. We used a separate sample of 140 lizards to test the correlations between individual heterozygosity (i.e., standardized mean d(2) and HL based on 10 microsatellite loci) and the two fitness traits (i.e., parasite load and morphological asymmetry). We also evaluated and excluded the possibility that single-locus effects produced spurious HFCs. Our results suggest male-only, negative correlations between individual heterozygosity and parasite load and between individual heterozygosity and asymmetry, suggesting sex-specific, positive HFCs. Male T. viridipunctatus with higher heterozygosity tend to have lower parasite loads (i.e., higher survival) and lower asymmetry, providing a rare example of HFC in reptiles.
Authors: AnneMarie Levy, Cheryl L. Limebeer, Justin Ferdinand, Ucal Shillingford, Linda A. Parker, Francesco Leri.
Published: 02-06-2014
This paper describes a novel method for studying the bio-behavioral basis of addiction to food. This method combines the surgical component of taste reactivity with the behavioral aspects of operant self-administration of drugs. Under very brief general anaesthesia, rats are implanted with an intraoral (IO) cannula that allows delivery of test solutions directly in the oral cavity. Animals are then tested in operant self-administration chambers whereby they can press a lever to receive IO infusions of test solutions. IO self-administration has several advantages over experimental procedures that involve drinking a solution from a spout or operant responding for solid pellets or solutions delivered in a receptacle. Here, we show that IO self-administration can be employed to study self-administration of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Rats were first tested for self-administration on a progressive ratio (PR) schedule, which assesses the maximum amount of operant behavior that will be emitted for different concentrations of HFCS (i.e. 8%, 25%, and 50%). Following this test, rats self-administered these concentrations on a continuous schedule of reinforcement (i.e. one infusion for each lever press) for 10 consecutive days (1 session/day; each lasting 3 hr), and then they were retested on the PR schedule. On the continuous reinforcement schedule, rats took fewer infusions of higher concentrations, although the lowest concentration of HFCS (8%) maintained more variable self-administration. Furthermore, the PR tests revealed that 8% had lower reinforcing value than 25% and 50%. These results indicate that IO self-administration can be employed to study acquisition and maintenance of responding for sweet solutions. The sensitivity of the operant response to differences in concentration and schedule of reinforcement makes IO self-administration an ideal procedure to investigate the neurobiology of voluntary intake of sweets.
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Determining Soil-transmitted Helminth Infection Status and Physical Fitness of School-aged Children
Authors: Peiling Yap, Thomas Fürst, Ivan Müller, Susi Kriemler, Jürg Utzinger, Peter Steinmann.
Institutions: Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.
Soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections are common. Indeed, more than 1 billion people are affected, mainly in the developing world where poverty prevails and hygiene behavior, water supply, and sanitation are often deficient1,2. Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, and the two hookworm species, Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus, are the most prevalent STHs3. The estimated global burden due to hookworm disease, ascariasis, and trichuriasis is 22.1, 10.5, and 6.4 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), respectively4. Furthermore, an estimated 30-100 million people are infected with Strongyloides stercoralis, the most neglected STH species of global significance which arguably also causes a considerable public health impact5,6. Multiple-species infections (i.e., different STHs harbored in a single individual) are common, and infections have been linked to lowered productivity and thus economic outlook of developing countries1,3. For the diagnosis of common STHs, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the Kato-Katz technique7,8, which is a relatively straightforward method for determining the prevalence and intensity of such infections. It facilitates the detection of parasite eggs that infected subjects pass in their feces. With regard to the diagnosis of S.stercoralis, there is currently no simple and accurate tool available. The Baermann technique is the most widely employed method for its diagnosis. The principle behind the Baermann technique is that active S.stercoralis larvae migrate out of an illuminated fresh fecal sample as the larvae are phototactic9. It requires less sophisticated laboratory materials and is less time consuming than culture and immunological methods5. Morbidities associated with STH infections range from acute but common symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and pruritus, to chronic symptoms, such as anemia, under- and malnutrition, and cognitive impairment10. Since the symptoms are generally unspecific and subtle, they often go unnoticed, are considered a normal condition by affected individuals, or are treated as symptoms of other diseases that might be more common in a given setting. Hence, it is conceivable that the true burden of STH infections is underestimated by assessment tools relying on self-declared signs and symptoms as is usually the case in population-based surveys. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Stephenson and colleagues highlighted the possibility of STH infections lowering the physical fitness of boys aged 6-12 years11,12. This line of scientific inquiry gained new momentum recently13,14,15. The 20-meter (m) shuttle run test was developed and validated by Léger et al.16 and is used worldwide to measure the aerobic fitness of children17. The test is easy to standardize and can be performed wherever a 20-m long and flat running course and an audio source are available, making its use attractive in resource-constrained settings13. To facilitate and standardize attempts at assessing whether STH infections have an effect on the physical fitness of school-aged children, we present methodologies that diagnose STH infections or measure physical fitness that are simple to execute and yet, provide accurate and reproducible outcomes. This will help to generate new evidence regarding the health impact of STH infections.
Infection, Issue 66, Immunology, Medicine, Infectious Diseases, Soil-transmitted helminths, physical fitness, Kato-Katz technique, Baermann technique, 20-meter shuttle run test, children
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Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Authors: R. Craig Stillwell, Ian Dworkin, Alexander W. Shingleton, W. Anthony Frankino.
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4. Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12). Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
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Sex Stratified Neuronal Cultures to Study Ischemic Cell Death Pathways
Authors: Stacy L. Fairbanks, Rebekah Vest, Saurabh Verma, Richard J. Traystman, Paco S. Herson.
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Sex differences in neuronal susceptibility to ischemic injury and neurodegenerative disease have long been observed, but the signaling mechanisms responsible for those differences remain unclear. Primary disassociated embryonic neuronal culture provides a simplified experimental model with which to investigate the neuronal cell signaling involved in cell death as a result of ischemia or disease; however, most neuronal cultures used in research today are mixed sex. Researchers can and do test the effects of sex steroid treatment in mixed sex neuronal cultures in models of neuronal injury and disease, but accumulating evidence suggests that the female brain responds to androgens, estrogens, and progesterone differently than the male brain. Furthermore, neonate male and female rodents respond differently to ischemic injury, with males experiencing greater injury following cerebral ischemia than females. Thus, mixed sex neuronal cultures might obscure and confound the experimental results; important information might be missed. For this reason, the Herson Lab at the University of Colorado School of Medicine routinely prepares sex-stratified primary disassociated embryonic neuronal cultures from both hippocampus and cortex. Embryos are sexed before harvesting of brain tissue and male and female tissue are disassociated separately, plated separately, and maintained separately. Using this method, the Herson Lab has demonstrated a male-specific role for the ion channel TRPM2 in ischemic cell death. In this manuscript, we share and discuss our protocol for sexing embryonic mice and preparing sex-stratified hippocampal primary disassociated neuron cultures. This method can be adapted to prepare sex-stratified cortical cultures and the method for embryo sexing can be used in conjunction with other protocols for any study in which sex is thought to be an important determinant of outcome.
Neuroscience, Issue 82, male, female, sex, neuronal culture, ischemia, cell death, neuroprotection
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A Parasite Rescue and Transformation Assay for Antileishmanial Screening Against Intracellular Leishmania donovani Amastigotes in THP1 Human Acute Monocytic Leukemia Cell Line
Authors: Surendra K. Jain, Rajnish Sahu, Larry A. Walker, Babu L. Tekwani.
Institutions: University of Mississippi, University of Mississippi.
Leishmaniasis is one of the world's most neglected diseases, largely affecting the poorest of the poor, mainly in developing countries. Over 350 million people are considered at risk of contracting leishmaniasis, and approximately 2 million new cases occur yearly1. Leishmania donovani is the causative agent for visceral leishmaniasis (VL), the most fatal form of the disease. The choice of drugs available to treat leishmaniasis is limited 2;current treatments provide limited efficacy and many are toxic at therapeutic doses. In addition, most of the first line treatment drugs have already lost their utility due to increasing multiple drug resistance 3. The current pipeline of anti-leishmanial drugs is also severely depleted. Sustained efforts are needed to enrich a new anti-leishmanial drug discovery pipeline, and this endeavor relies on the availability of suitable in vitro screening models. In vitro promastigotes 4 and axenic amastigotes assays5 are primarily used for anti-leishmanial drug screening however, may not be appropriate due to significant cellular, physiological, biochemical and molecular differences in comparison to intracellular amastigotes. Assays with macrophage-amastigotes models are considered closest to the pathophysiological conditions of leishmaniasis, and are therefore the most appropriate for in vitro screening. Differentiated, non-dividing human acute monocytic leukemia cells (THP1) (make an attractive) alternative to isolated primary macrophages and can be used for assaying anti-leishmanial activity of different compounds against intracellular amastigotes. Here, we present a parasite-rescue and transformation assay with differentiated THP1 cells infected in vitro with Leishmania donovani for screening pure compounds and natural products extracts and determining the efficacy against the intracellular Leishmania amastigotes. The assay involves the following steps: (1) differentiation of THP1 cells to non-dividing macrophages, (2) infection of macrophages with L. donovani metacyclic promastigotes, (3) treatment of infected cells with test drugs, (4) controlled lysis of infected macrophages, (5) release/rescue of amastigotes and (6) transformation of live amastigotes to promastigotes. The assay was optimized using detergent treatment for controlled lysis of Leishmania-infected THP1 cells to achieve almost complete rescue of viable intracellular amastigotes with minimal effect on their ability to transform to promastigotes. Different macrophage:promastigotes ratios were tested to achieve maximum infection. Quantification of the infection was performed through transformation of live, rescued Leishmania amastigotes to promastigotes and evaluation of their growth by an alamarBlue fluorometric assay in 96-well microplates. This assay is comparable to the currently-used microscopic, transgenic reporter gene and digital-image analysis assays. This assay is robust and measures only the live intracellular amastigotes compared to reporter gene and image analysis assays, which may not differentiate between live and dead amastigotes. Also, the assay has been validated with a current panel of anti-leishmanial drugs and has been successfully applied to large-scale screening of pure compounds and a library of natural products fractions (Tekwani et al. unpublished).
Infection, Issue 70, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Pharmacology, Leishmania donovani, Visceral Leishmaniasis, THP1 cells, Drug Screening, Amastigotes, Antileishmanial drug assay
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Collection, Isolation, and Flow Cytometric Analysis of Human Endocervical Samples
Authors: Jennifer A. Juno, Genevieve Boily-Larouche, Julie Lajoie, Keith R. Fowke.
Institutions: University of Manitoba, University of Manitoba.
Despite the public health importance of mucosal pathogens (including HIV), relatively little is known about mucosal immunity, particularly at the female genital tract (FGT). Because heterosexual transmission now represents the dominant mechanism of HIV transmission, and given the continual spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), it is critical to understand the interplay between host and pathogen at the genital mucosa. The substantial gaps in knowledge around FGT immunity are partially due to the difficulty in successfully collecting and processing mucosal samples. In order to facilitate studies with sufficient sample size, collection techniques must be minimally invasive and efficient. To this end, a protocol for the collection of cervical cytobrush samples and subsequent isolation of cervical mononuclear cells (CMC) has been optimized. Using ex vivo flow cytometry-based immunophenotyping, it is possible to accurately and reliably quantify CMC lymphocyte/monocyte population frequencies and phenotypes. This technique can be coupled with the collection of cervical-vaginal lavage (CVL), which contains soluble immune mediators including cytokines, chemokines and anti-proteases, all of which can be used to determine the anti- or pro-inflammatory environment in the vagina.
Medicine, Issue 89, mucosal, immunology, FGT, lavage, cervical, CMC
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Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Authors: Cheryl S. Rosenfeld, Sherry A. Ferguson.
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g. bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g. distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e. random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g. shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
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An Experimental Model to Study Tuberculosis-Malaria Coinfection upon Natural Transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Plasmodium berghei
Authors: Ann-Kristin Mueller, Jochen Behrends, Jannike Blank, Ulrich E. Schaible, Bianca E. Schneider.
Institutions: University Hospital Heidelberg, Research Center Borstel.
Coinfections naturally occur due to the geographic overlap of distinct types of pathogenic organisms. Concurrent infections most likely modulate the respective immune response to each single pathogen and may thereby affect pathogenesis and disease outcome. Coinfected patients may also respond differentially to anti-infective interventions. Coinfection between tuberculosis as caused by mycobacteria and the malaria parasite Plasmodium, both of which are coendemic in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, has not been studied in detail. In order to approach the challenging but scientifically and clinically highly relevant question how malaria-tuberculosis coinfection modulate host immunity and the course of each disease, we established an experimental mouse model that allows us to dissect the elicited immune responses to both pathogens in the coinfected host. Of note, in order to most precisely mimic naturally acquired human infections, we perform experimental infections of mice with both pathogens by their natural routes of infection, i.e. aerosol and mosquito bite, respectively.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 84, coinfection, mouse, Tuberculosis, Malaria, Plasmodium berghei, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, natural transmission
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In vivo Imaging of Transgenic Leishmania Parasites in a Live Host
Authors: Colin J. Thalhofer, Joel W. Graff, Laurie Love-Homan, Suzanne M. Hickerson, Noah Craft, Stephen M. Beverley, Mary E. Wilson.
Institutions: University of Iowa, and the VA Medical Center, University of Iowa, and the VA Medical Center, University of Iowa, Washington University School of Medicine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Hanley-Hardison Research Center, Iowa City VA Medical Center, University of Iowa.
Distinct species of Leishmania, a protozoan parasite of the family Trypanosomatidae, typically cause different human disease manifestations. The most common forms of disease are visceral leishmaniasis (VL) and cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL). Mouse models of leishmaniasis are widely used, but quantification of parasite burdens during murine disease requires mice to be euthanized at various times after infection. Parasite loads are then measured either by microscopy, limiting dilution assay, or qPCR amplification of parasite DNA. The in vivo imaging system (IVIS) has an integrated software package that allows the detection of a bioluminescent signal associated with cells in living organisms. Both to minimize animal usage and to follow infection longitudinally in individuals, in vivo models for imaging Leishmania spp. causing VL or CL were established. Parasites were engineered to express luciferase, and these were introduced into mice either intradermally or intravenously. Quantitative measurements of the luciferase driving bioluminescence of the transgenic Leishmania parasites within the mouse were made using IVIS. Individual mice can be imaged multiple times during longitudinal studies, allowing us to assess the inter-animal variation in the initial experimental parasite inocula, and to assess the multiplication of parasites in mouse tissues. Parasites are detected with high sensitivity in cutaneous locations. Although it is very likely that the signal (photons/second/parasite) is lower in deeper visceral organs than the skin, but quantitative comparisons of signals in superficial versus deep sites have not been done. It is possible that parasite numbers between body sites cannot be directly compared, although parasite loads in the same tissues can be compared between mice. Examples of one visceralizing species (L. infantum chagasi) and one species causing cutaneous leishmaniasis (L. mexicana) are shown. The IVIS procedure can be used for monitoring and analyzing small animal models of a wide variety of Leishmania species causing the different forms of human leishmaniasis.
Microbiology, Issue 41, IVIS, Leishmania, in vivo imaging, parasite, transgenic, bioluminescence, luciferase, cutaneous leishmaniasis, visceral leishmaniasis
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Protocol for Production of a Genetic Cross of the Rodent Malaria Parasites
Authors: Sittiporn Pattaradilokrat, Jian Li, Xin-zhuan Su.
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, Xiamen University.
Variation in response to antimalarial drugs and in pathogenicity of malaria parasites is of biologic and medical importance. Linkage mapping has led to successful identification of genes or loci underlying various traits in malaria parasites of rodents1-3 and humans4-6. The malaria parasite Plasmodium yoelii is one of many malaria species isolated from wild African rodents and has been adapted to grow in laboratories. This species reproduces many of the biologic characteristics of the human malaria parasites; genetic markers such as microsatellite and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers have also been developed for the parasite7-9. Thus, genetic studies in rodent malaria parasites can be performed to complement research on Plasmodium falciparum. Here, we demonstrate the techniques for producing a genetic cross in P. yoelii that were first pioneered by Drs. David Walliker, Richard Carter, and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh10. Genetic crosses in P. yoelii and other rodent malaria parasites are conducted by infecting mice Mus musculus with an inoculum containing gametocytes of two genetically distinct clones that differ in phenotypes of interest and by allowing mosquitoes to feed on the infected mice 4 days after infection. The presence of male and female gametocytes in the mouse blood is microscopically confirmed before feeding. Within 48 hrs after feeding, in the midgut of the mosquito, the haploid gametocytes differentiate into male and female gametes, fertilize, and form a diploid zygote (Fig. 1). During development of a zygote into an ookinete, meiosis appears to occur11. If the zygote is derived through cross-fertilization between gametes of the two genetically distinct parasites, genetic exchanges (chromosomal reassortment and cross-overs between the non-sister chromatids of a pair of homologous chromosomes; Fig. 2) may occur, resulting in recombination of genetic material at homologous loci. Each zygote undergoes two successive nuclear divisions, leading to four haploid nuclei. An ookinete further develops into an oocyst. Once the oocyst matures, thousands of sporozoites (the progeny of the cross) are formed and released into mosquito hemoceal. Sporozoites are harvested from the salivary glands and injected into a new murine host, where pre-erythrocytic and erythrocytic stage development takes place. Erythrocytic forms are cloned and classified with regard to the characters distinguishing the parental lines prior to genetic linkage mapping. Control infections of individual parental clones are performed in the same way as the production of a genetic cross.
Infectious Disease, Issue 47, Genetic cross, genetic mapping, malaria, rodent
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High Yield Purification of Plasmodium falciparum Merozoites For Use in Opsonizing Antibody Assays
Authors: Danika L. Hill, Emily M. Eriksson, Louis Schofield.
Institutions: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, University of Melbourne.
Plasmodium falciparum merozoite antigens are under development as potential malaria vaccines. One aspect of immunity against malaria is the removal of free merozoites from the blood by phagocytic cells. However assessing the functional efficacy of merozoite specific opsonizing antibodies is challenging due to the short half-life of merozoites and the variability of primary phagocytic cells. Described in detail herein is a method for generating viable merozoites using the E64 protease inhibitor, and an assay of merozoite opsonin-dependent phagocytosis using the pro-monocytic cell line THP-1. E64 prevents schizont rupture while allowing the development of merozoites which are released by filtration of treated schizonts.  Ethidium bromide labelled merozoites are opsonized with human plasma samples and added to THP-1 cells. Phagocytosis is assessed by a standardized high throughput protocol. Viable merozoites are a valuable resource for assessing numerous aspects of P. falciparum biology, including assessment of immune function. Antibody levels measured by this assay are associated with clinical immunity to malaria in naturally exposed individuals. The assay may also be of use for assessing vaccine induced antibodies.  
Immunology, Issue 89, Parasitic Diseases, malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, hemozoin, antibody, Fc Receptor, opsonization, merozoite, phagocytosis, THP-1
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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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Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Authors: Lorena Stannek, Richard Egelkamp, Katrin Gunka, Fabian M. Commichau.
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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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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Analysis of Gene Function and Visualization of Cilia-Generated Fluid Flow in Kupffer's Vesicle
Authors: Guangliang Wang, H. Joseph Yost, Jeffrey D. Amack.
Institutions: Upstate Medical University, University of Utah .
Internal organs such as the heart, brain, and gut develop left-right (LR) asymmetries that are critical for their normal functions1. Motile cilia are involved in establishing LR asymmetry in vertebrate embryos, including mouse, frog, and zebrafish2-6. These 'LR cilia' generate asymmetric fluid flow that is necessary to trigger a conserved asymmetric Nodal (TGF-β superfamily) signaling cascade in the left lateral plate mesoderm, which is thought to provide LR patterning information for developing organs7. Thus, to understand mechanisms underlying LR patterning, it is essential to identify genes that regulate the organization of LR ciliated cells, the motility and length of LR cilia and their ability to generate robust asymmetric flow. In the zebrafish embryo, LR cilia are located in Kupffer's vesicle (KV)2,4,5. KV is comprised of a single layer of monociliated epithelial cells that enclose a fluid-filled lumen. Fate mapping has shown that KV is derived from a group of ~20-30 cells known as dorsal forerunner cells (DFCs) that migrate at the dorsal blastoderm margin during epiboly stages8,9. During early somite stages, DFCs cluster and differentiate into ciliated epithelial cells to form KV in the tailbud of the embryo10,11. The ability to identify and track DFCs—in combination with optical transparency and rapid development of the zebrafish embryo—make zebrafish KV an excellent model system to study LR ciliated cells. Interestingly, progenitors of the DFC/KV cell lineage retain cytoplasmic bridges between the yolk cell up to 4 hr post-fertilization (hpf), whereas cytoplasmic bridges between the yolk cell and other embryonic cells close after 2 hpf8. Taking advantage of these cytoplasmic bridges, we developed a stage-specific injection strategy to deliver morpholino oligonucleotides (MO) exclusively to DFCs and knockdown the function of a targeted gene in these cells12. This technique creates chimeric embryos in which gene function is knocked down in the DFC/KV lineage developing in the context of a wild-type embryo. To analyze asymmetric fluid flow in KV, we inject fluorescent microbeads into the KV lumen and record bead movement using videomicroscopy2. Fluid flow is easily visualized and can be quantified by tracking bead displacement over time. Here, using the stage-specific DFC-targeted gene knockdown technique and injection of fluorescent microbeads into KV to visualize flow, we present a protocol that provides an effective approach to characterize the role of a particular gene during KV development and function.
Developmental Biology, Issue 73, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Anatomy, Physiology, Cilia, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, Gene Knockdown Techniques, Left-right asymmetry, cilia, Kupffer's Vesicle, morpholinos, microinjection, animal model
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Propagation of Homalodisca coagulata virus-01 via Homalodisca vitripennis Cell Culture
Authors: Anna M. Biesbrock, Christopher M. Powell, Wayne B. Hunter, Blake R. Bextine.
Institutions: University of Texas at Tyler, USDA ARS.
The glassy-winged sharpshooter (Homalodisca vitripennis) is a highly vagile and polyphagous insect found throughout the southwestern United States. These insects are the predominant vectors of Xylella fastidiosa (X. fastidiosa), a xylem-limited bacterium that is the causal agent of Pierce's disease (PD) of grapevine. Pierce’s disease is economically damaging; thus, H. vitripennis have become a target for pathogen management strategies. A dicistrovirus identified as Homalodisca coagulata virus-01 (HoCV-01) has been associated with an increased mortality in H. vitripennis populations. Because a host cell is required for HoCV-01 replication, cell culture provides a uniform environment for targeted replication that is logistically and economically valuable for biopesticide production. In this study, a system for large-scale propagation of H. vitripennis cells via tissue culture was developed, providing a viral replication mechanism. HoCV-01 was extracted from whole body insects and used to inoculate cultured H. vitripennis cells at varying levels. The culture medium was removed every 24 hr for 168 hr, RNA extracted and analyzed with qRT-PCR. Cells were stained with trypan blue and counted to quantify cell survivability using light microscopy. Whole virus particles were extracted up to 96 hr after infection, which was the time point determined to be before total cell culture collapse occurred. Cells were also subjected to fluorescent staining and viewed using confocal microscopy to investigate viral activity on F-actin attachment and nuclei integrity. The conclusion of this study is that H. vitripennis cells are capable of being cultured and used for mass production of HoCV-01 at a suitable level to allow production of a biopesticide.
Infection, Issue 91, Homalodisca vitripennis, Homalodisca coagulata virus-01, cell culture, Pierce’s disease of grapevine, Xylella fastidiosa, Dicistroviridae
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Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Authors: Leah M. Rommereim, Miryam A. Hortua Triana, Alejandra Falla, Kiah L. Sanders, Rebekah B. Guevara, David J. Bzik, Barbara A. Fox.
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination. Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2. The Δku80 strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro and in vivo and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80 strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4. Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80 strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium).
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
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Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Authors: Melissa N. Patterson, Patrick H. Maxwell.
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
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Mass Production of Genetically Modified Aedes aegypti for Field Releases in Brazil
Authors: Danilo O. Carvalho, Derric Nimmo, Neil Naish, Andrew R. McKemey, Pam Gray, André B. B. Wilke, Mauro T. Marrelli, Jair F. Virginio, Luke Alphey, Margareth L. Capurro.
Institutions: Oxitec Ltd, Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade de São Paulo, Moscamed Brasil, University of Oxford, Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia em Entomologia Molecular (INCT-EM).
New techniques and methods are being sought to try to win the battle against mosquitoes. Recent advances in molecular techniques have led to the development of new and innovative methods of mosquito control based around the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT)1-3. A control method known as RIDL (Release of Insects carrying a Dominant Lethal)4, is based around SIT, but uses genetic methods to remove the need for radiation-sterilization5-8. A RIDL strain of Ae. aegypti was successfully tested in the field in Grand Cayman9,10; further field use is planned or in progress in other countries around the world. Mass rearing of insects has been established in several insect species and to levels of billions a week. However, in mosquitoes, rearing has generally been performed on a much smaller scale, with most large scale rearing being performed in the 1970s and 80s. For a RIDL program it is desirable to release as few females as possible as they bite and transmit disease. In a mass rearing program there are several stages to produce the males to be released: egg production, rearing eggs until pupation, and then sorting males from females before release. These males are then used for a RIDL control program, released as either pupae or adults11,12. To suppress a mosquito population using RIDL a large number of high quality male adults need to be reared13,14. The following describes the methods for the mass rearing of OX513A, a RIDL strain of Ae. aegypti 8, for release and covers the techniques required for the production of eggs and mass rearing RIDL males for a control program.
Basic Protocol, Issue 83, Aedes aegypti, mass rearing, population suppression, transgenic, insect, mosquito, dengue
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Assessing Differences in Sperm Competitive Ability in Drosophila
Authors: Shu-Dan Yeh, Carolus Chan, José M. Ranz.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
Competition among conspecific males for fertilizing the ova is one of the mechanisms of sexual selection, i.e. selection that operates on maximizing the number of successful mating events rather than on maximizing survival and viability 1. Sperm competition represents the competition between males after copulating with the same female 2, in which their sperm are coincidental in time and space. This phenomenon has been reported in multiple species of plants and animals 3. For example, wild-caught D. melanogaster females usually contain sperm from 2-3 males 4. The sperm are stored in specialized organs with limited storage capacity, which might lead to the direct competition of the sperm from different males 2,5. Comparing sperm competitive ability of different males of interest (experimental male types) has been performed through controlled double-mating experiments in the laboratory 6,7. Briefly, a single female is exposed to two different males consecutively, one experimental male and one cross-mating reference male. The same mating scheme is then followed using other experimental male types thus facilitating the indirect comparison of the competitive ability of their sperm through a common reference. The fraction of individuals fathered by the experimental and reference males is identified using markers, which allows one to estimate sperm competitive ability using simple mathematical expressions 7,8. In addition, sperm competitive ability can be estimated in two different scenarios depending on whether the experimental male is second or first to mate (offense and defense assay, respectively) 9, which is assumed to be reflective of different competence attributes. Here, we describe an approach that helps to interrogate the role of different genetic factors that putatively underlie the phenomenon of sperm competitive ability in D. melanogaster.
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Spermatozoa, Drosophila melanogaster, Biological Evolution, Phenotype, genetics (animal and plant), animal biology, double-mating experiment, sperm competitive ability, male fertility, Drosophila, fruit fly, animal model
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Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g. protein-protein) and functional (e.g. gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10. Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format. Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g. the 'Keio' collection11) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e. alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e. slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2 as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9.
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
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Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Authors: Jason Rasgon.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia
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Characterizing Herbivore Resistance Mechanisms: Spittlebugs on Brachiaria spp. as an Example
Authors: Soroush Parsa, Guillermo Sotelo, Cesar Cardona.
Institutions: CIAT.
Plants can resist herbivore damage through three broad mechanisms: antixenosis, antibiosis and tolerance1. Antixenosis is the degree to which the plant is avoided when the herbivore is able to select other plants2. Antibiosis is the degree to which the plant affects the fitness of the herbivore feeding on it1.Tolerance is the degree to which the plant can withstand or repair damage caused by the herbivore, without compromising the herbivore's growth and reproduction1. The durability of herbivore resistance in an agricultural setting depends to a great extent on the resistance mechanism favored during crop breeding efforts3. We demonstrate a no-choice experiment designed to estimate the relative contributions of antibiosis and tolerance to spittlebug resistance in Brachiaria spp. Several species of African grasses of the genus Brachiaria are valuable forage and pasture plants in the Neotropics, but they can be severely challenged by several native species of spittlebugs (Hemiptera: Cercopidae)4.To assess their resistance to spittlebugs, plants are vegetatively-propagated by stem cuttings and allowed to grow for approximately one month, allowing the growth of superficial roots on which spittlebugs can feed. At that point, each test plant is individually challenged with six spittlebug eggs near hatching. Infestations are allowed to progress for one month before evaluating plant damage and insect survival. Scoring plant damage provides an estimate of tolerance while scoring insect survival provides an estimate of antibiosis. This protocol has facilitated our plant breeding objective to enhance spittlebug resistance in commercial brachiariagrases5.
Plant Biology, Issue 52, host plant resistance, antibiosis, antixenosis, tolerance, Brachiaria, spittlebugs
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Computer-Generated Animal Model Stimuli
Authors: Kevin L. Woo.
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Communication between animals is diverse and complex. Animals may communicate using auditory, seismic, chemosensory, electrical, or visual signals. In particular, understanding the constraints on visual signal design for communication has been of great interest. Traditional methods for investigating animal interactions have used basic observational techniques, staged encounters, or physical manipulation of morphology. Less intrusive methods have tried to simulate conspecifics using crude playback tools, such as mirrors, still images, or models. As technology has become more advanced, video playback has emerged as another tool in which to examine visual communication (Rosenthal, 2000). However, to move one step further, the application of computer-animation now allows researchers to specifically isolate critical components necessary to elicit social responses from conspecifics, and manipulate these features to control interactions. Here, I provide detail on how to create an animation using the Jacky dragon as a model, but this process may be adaptable for other species. In building the animation, I elected to use Lightwave 3D to alter object morphology, add texture, install bones, and provide comparable weight shading that prevents exaggerated movement. The animation is then matched to select motor patterns to replicate critical movement features. Finally, the sequence must rendered into an individual clip for presentation. Although there are other adaptable techniques, this particular method had been demonstrated to be effective in eliciting both conspicuous and social responses in staged interactions.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, behavior, lizard, simulation, animation
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Building a Better Mosquito: Identifying the Genes Enabling Malaria and Dengue Fever Resistance in A. gambiae and A. aegypti Mosquitoes
Authors: George Dimopoulos.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this interview, George Dimopoulos focuses on the physiological mechanisms used by mosquitoes to combat Plasmodium falciparum and dengue virus infections. Explanation is given for how key refractory genes, those genes conferring resistance to vector pathogens, are identified in the mosquito and how this knowledge can be used to generate transgenic mosquitoes that are unable to carry the malaria parasite or dengue virus.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, Translational Research, mosquito, malaria, virus, dengue, genetics, injection, RNAi, transgenesis, transgenic
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A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Authors: Gauthier Julie, Fadi F. Hamdan, Guy A. Rouleau.
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1 and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
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