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Plant interactions alter the predictions of metabolic scaling theory.
PUBLISHED: 01-24-2013
Metabolic scaling theory (MST) is an attempt to link physiological processes of individual organisms with macroecology. It predicts a power law relationship with an exponent of -4/3 between mean individual biomass and density during density-dependent mortality (self-thinning). Empirical tests have produced variable results, and the validity of MST is intensely debated. MST focuses on organisms internal physiological mechanisms but we hypothesize that ecological interactions can be more important in determining plant mass-density relationships induced by density. We employ an individual-based model of plant stand development that includes three elements: a model of individual plant growth based on MST, different modes of local competition (size-symmetric vs. -asymmetric), and different resource levels. Our model is consistent with the observed variation in the slopes of self-thinning trajectories. Slopes were significantly shallower than -4/3 if competition was size-symmetric. We conclude that when the size of survivors is influenced by strong ecological interactions, these can override predictions of MST, whereas when surviving plants are less affected by interactions, individual-level metabolic processes can scale up to the population level. MST, like thermodynamics or biomechanics, sets limits within which organisms can live and function, but there may be stronger limits determined by ecological interactions. In such cases MST will not be predictive.
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Published: 03-13-2014
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
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Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Authors: Mackenzie J. Denyes, Michèle A. Parisien, Allison Rutter, Barbara A. Zeeb.
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Authors: Jennifer L Soong, Dan Reuss, Colin Pinney, Ty Boyack, Michelle L Haddix, Catherine E Stewart, M. Francesca Cotrufo.
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2 fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13C with 15N, 18O or 2H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13C and 15N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components. Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13C and 15N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13C and 6.7 atom%15N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13C and 0.56 atom%15N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13C-CO2 atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
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Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Authors: Moneim Shamloul, Jason Trusa, Vadim Mett, Vidadi Yusibov.
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
Agrobacterium-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana plants with Agrobacteria carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana, N. excelsiana (N. benthamiana × N. excelsior) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
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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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Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Authors: Alison X. Xie, Kelli Lauderdale, Thomas Murphy, Timothy L. Myers, Todd A. Fiacco.
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ and in vivo express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+ indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+ events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
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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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Protein Purification-free Method of Binding Affinity Determination by Microscale Thermophoresis
Authors: Lyuba Khavrutskii, Joanna Yeh, Olga Timofeeva, Sergey G. Tarasov, Samuel Pritt, Karen Stefanisko, Nadya Tarasova.
Institutions: National Cancer Institute, SAIC-Frederick, Inc., Georgetown University Medical Center, National Cancer Institute.
Quantitative characterization of protein interactions is essential in practically any field of life sciences, particularly drug discovery. Most of currently available methods of KD determination require access to purified protein of interest, generation of which can be time-consuming and expensive. We have developed a protocol that allows for determination of binding affinity by microscale thermophoresis (MST) without purification of the target protein from cell lysates. The method involves overexpression of the GFP-fused protein and cell lysis in non-denaturing conditions. Application of the method to STAT3-GFP transiently expressed in HEK293 cells allowed to determine for the first time the affinity of the well-studied transcription factor to oligonucleotides with different sequences. The protocol is straightforward and can have a variety of application for studying interactions of proteins with small molecules, peptides, DNA, RNA, and proteins.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins, Proteins, protein-inhibitor interaction, KD, transcription factor, ligand binding, binding affinity, thermophoresis, fluorescence, microscopy
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Metabolic Labeling and Membrane Fractionation for Comparative Proteomic Analysis of Arabidopsis thaliana Suspension Cell Cultures
Authors: Witold G. Szymanski, Sylwia Kierszniowska, Waltraud X. Schulze.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, University of Hohenheim.
Plasma membrane microdomains are features based on the physical properties of the lipid and sterol environment and have particular roles in signaling processes. Extracting sterol-enriched membrane microdomains from plant cells for proteomic analysis is a difficult task mainly due to multiple preparation steps and sources for contaminations from other cellular compartments. The plasma membrane constitutes only about 5-20% of all the membranes in a plant cell, and therefore isolation of highly purified plasma membrane fraction is challenging. A frequently used method involves aqueous two-phase partitioning in polyethylene glycol and dextran, which yields plasma membrane vesicles with a purity of 95% 1. Sterol-rich membrane microdomains within the plasma membrane are insoluble upon treatment with cold nonionic detergents at alkaline pH. This detergent-resistant membrane fraction can be separated from the bulk plasma membrane by ultracentrifugation in a sucrose gradient 2. Subsequently, proteins can be extracted from the low density band of the sucrose gradient by methanol/chloroform precipitation. Extracted protein will then be trypsin digested, desalted and finally analyzed by LC-MS/MS. Our extraction protocol for sterol-rich microdomains is optimized for the preparation of clean detergent-resistant membrane fractions from Arabidopsis thaliana cell cultures. We use full metabolic labeling of Arabidopsis thaliana suspension cell cultures with K15NO3 as the only nitrogen source for quantitative comparative proteomic studies following biological treatment of interest 3. By mixing equal ratios of labeled and unlabeled cell cultures for joint protein extraction the influence of preparation steps on final quantitative result is kept at a minimum. Also loss of material during extraction will affect both control and treatment samples in the same way, and therefore the ratio of light and heave peptide will remain constant. In the proposed method either labeled or unlabeled cell culture undergoes a biological treatment, while the other serves as control 4.
Empty Value, Issue 79, Cellular Structures, Plants, Genetically Modified, Arabidopsis, Membrane Lipids, Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Isotope Labeling, Proteomics, plants, Arabidopsis thaliana, metabolic labeling, stable isotope labeling, suspension cell cultures, plasma membrane fractionation, two phase system, detergent resistant membranes (DRM), mass spectrometry, membrane microdomains, quantitative proteomics
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Authors: Oswald J. Schmitz, Mark A. Bradford, Michael S. Strickland, Dror Hawlena.
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9 because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11. We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum),and a variety of grass and forb plants9.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
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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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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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Cost-effective Method for Microbial Source Tracking Using Specific Human and Animal Viruses
Authors: Sílvia Bofill-Mas, Ayalkibet Hundesa, Byron Calgua, Marta Rusiñol, Carlos Maluquer de Motes, Rosina Girones.
Institutions: University of Barcelona.
Microbial contamination of the environment represents a significant health risk. Classical bacterial fecal indicators have shown to have significant limitations, viruses are more resistant to many inactivation processes and standard fecal indicators do not inform on the source of contamination. The development of cost-effective methods for the concentration of viruses from water and molecular assays facilitates the applicability of viruses as indicators of fecal contamination and as microbial source tracking (MST) tools. Adenoviruses and polyomaviruses are DNA viruses infecting specific vertebrate species including humans and are persistently excreted in feces and/or urine in all geographical areas studied. In previous studies, we suggested the quantification of human adenoviruses (HAdV) and JC polyomaviruses (JCPyV) by quantitative PCR (qPCR) as an index of human fecal contamination. Recently, we have developed qPCR assays for the specific quantification of porcine adenoviruses (PAdV) and bovine polyomaviruses (BPyV) as animal fecal markers of contamination with sensitivities of 1-10 genome copies per test tube. In this study, we present the procedure to be followed to identify the source of contamination in water samples using these tools. As example of representative results, analysis of viruses in ground water presenting high levels of nitrates is shown. Detection of viruses in low or moderately polluted waters requires the concentration of the viruses from at least several liters of water into a much smaller volume, a procedure that usually includes two concentration steps in series. This somewhat cumbersome procedure and the variability observed in viral recoveries significantly hamper the simultaneous processing of a large number of water samples. In order to eliminate the bottleneck caused by the two-step procedures we have applied a one-step protocol developed in previous studies and applicable to a diversity of water matrices. The procedure includes: acidification of ten-liter water samples, flocculation by skimmed milk, gravity sedimentation of the flocculated materials, collection of the precipitate and centrifugation, resuspension of the precipitate in 10 ml phosphate buffer. The viral concentrate is used for the extraction of viral nucleic acids and the specific adenoviruses and polyomaviruses of interest are quantified by qPCR. High number of samples may be simultaneously analyzed using this low-cost concentration method. The procedure has been applied to the analysis of bathing waters, seawater and river water and in this study, we present results analyzing groundwater samples. This high-throughput quantitative method is reliable, straightforward, and cost-effective.
Immunology, Issue 58, Quantitative PCR, qPCR, flocculation, virus, adenovirus, polyomavirus, water, Microbial Source Tracking, bovine, human, porcine, contamination
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Choice and No-Choice Assays for Testing the Resistance of A. thaliana to Chewing Insects
Authors: Martin De Vos, Georg Jander.
Institutions: Cornell University.
Larvae of the small white cabbage butterfly are a pest in agricultural settings. This caterpillar species feeds from plants in the cabbage family, which include many crops such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts etc. Rearing of the insects takes place on cabbage plants in the greenhouse. At least two cages are needed for the rearing of Pieris rapae. One for the larvae and the other to contain the adults, the butterflies. In order to investigate the role of plant hormones and toxic plant chemicals in resistance to this insect pest, we demonstrate two experiments. First, determination of the role of jasmonic acid (JA - a plant hormone often indicated in resistance to insects) in resistance to the chewing insect Pieris rapae. Caterpillar growth can be compared on wild-type and mutant plants impaired in production of JA. This experiment is considered "No Choice", because larvae are forced to subsist on a single plant which synthesizes or is deficient in JA. Second, we demonstrate an experiment that investigates the role of glucosinolates, which are used as oviposition (egg-laying) signals. Here, we use WT and mutant Arabidopsis impaired in glucosinolate production in a "Choice" experiment in which female butterflies are allowed to choose to lay their eggs on plants of either genotype. This video demonstrates the experimental setup for both assays as well as representative results.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Plant Resistance, Herbivory, Arabidopsis thaliana, Pieris rapae, Caterpillars, Butterflies, Jasmonic Acid, Glucosinolates
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Testing the Physiological Barriers to Viral Transmission in Aphids Using Microinjection
Authors: Cecilia Tamborindeguy, Stewart Gray, Georg Jander.
Institutions: Cornell University, Cornell University.
Potato loafroll virus (PLRV), from the family Luteoviridae infects solanaceous plants. It is transmitted by aphids, primarily, the green peach aphid. When an uninfected aphid feeds on an infected plant it contracts the virus through the plant phloem. Once ingested, the virus must pass from the insect gut to the hemolymph (the insect blood ) and then must pass through the salivary gland, in order to be transmitted back to a new plant. An aphid may take up different viruses when munching on a plant, however only a small fraction will pass through the gut and salivary gland, the two main barriers for transmission to infect more plants. In the lab, we use physalis plants to study PLRV transmission. In this host, symptoms are characterized by stunting and interveinal chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves between the veins with the veins remaining green). The video that we present demonstrates a method for performing aphid microinjection on insects that do not vector PLVR viruses and tests whether the gut is preventing viral transmission. The video that we present demonstrates a method for performing Aphid microinjection on insects that do not vector PLVR viruses and tests whether the gut or salivary gland is preventing viral transmission.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Aphids, Plant Virus, Potato Leaf Roll Virus, Microinjection Technique
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Testing Nicotine Tolerance in Aphids Using an Artificial Diet Experiment
Authors: John Sawyer Ramsey, Georg Jander.
Institutions: Cornell University.
Plants may upregulate the production of many different seconday metabolites in response to insect feeding. One of these metabolites, nicotine, is well know to have insecticidal properties. One response of tobacco plants to herbivory, or being gnawed upon by insects, is to increase the production of this neurotoxic alkaloid. Here, we will demonstrate how to set up an experiment to address this question of whether a tobacco-adapted strain of the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, can tolerate higher levels of nicotine than the a strain of this insect that does not infest tobacco in the field.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Nicotine, Aphids, Plant Feeding Resistance, Tobacco
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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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Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
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