Nucleic acids are astonishingly versatile. In addition to their natural role as storage medium for biological information1, they can be utilized in parallel computing2,3 , recognize and bind molecular or cellular targets4,5 , catalyze chemical reactions6,7 , and generate calculated responses in a biological system8,9. Importantly, nucleic acids can be programmed to self-assemble into 2D and 3D structures10-12, enabling the integration of all these remarkable features in a single robot linking the sensing of biological cues to a preset response in order to exert a desired effect.
Creating shapes from nucleic acids was first proposed by Seeman13, and several variations on this theme have since been realized using various techniques11,12,14,15 . However, the most significant is perhaps the one proposed by Rothemund, termed scaffolded DNA origami16. In this technique, the folding of a long (>7,000 bases) single-stranded DNA 'scaffold' is directed to a desired shape by hundreds of short complementary strands termed 'staples'. Folding is carried out by temperature annealing ramp. This technique was successfully demonstrated in the creation of a diverse array of 2D shapes with remarkable precision and robustness. DNA origami was later extended to 3D as well17,18 .
The current paper will focus on the caDNAno 2.0 software19 developed by Douglas and colleagues. caDNAno is a robust, user-friendly CAD tool enabling the design of 2D and 3D DNA origami shapes with versatile features. The design process relies on a systematic and accurate abstraction scheme for DNA structures, making it relatively straightforward and efficient.
In this paper we demonstrate the design of a DNA origami nanorobot that has been recently described20. This robot is 'robotic' in the sense that it links sensing to actuation, in order to perform a task. We explain how various sensing schemes can be integrated into the structure, and how this can be relayed to a desired effect. Finally we use Cando21 to simulate the mechanical properties of the designed shape. The concept we discuss can be adapted to multiple tasks and settings.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Using Insect Electroantennogram Sensors on Autonomous Robots for Olfactory Searches
Institutions: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Institut d'Ecologie et des Sciences de l'Environnement de Paris, Institut Pasteur.
Robots designed to track chemical leaks in hazardous industrial facilities1
or explosive traces in landmine fields2
face the same problem as insects foraging for food or searching for mates3
: the olfactory search is constrained by the physics of turbulent transport4
. The concentration landscape of wind borne odors is discontinuous and consists of sporadically located patches. A pre-requisite to olfactory search is that intermittent odor patches are detected. Because of its high speed and sensitivity5-6
, the olfactory organ of insects provides a unique opportunity for detection. Insect antennae have been used in the past to detect not only sex pheromones7
but also chemicals that are relevant to humans, e.g.
, volatile compounds emanating from cancer cells8
or toxic and illicit substances9-11
. We describe here a protocol for using insect antennae on autonomous robots and present a proof of concept for tracking odor plumes to their source. The global response of olfactory neurons is recorded in situ
in the form of electroantennograms (EAGs). Our experimental design, based on a whole insect preparation, allows stable recordings within a working day. In comparison, EAGs on excised antennae have a lifetime of 2 hr. A custom hardware/software interface was developed between the EAG electrodes and a robot. The measurement system resolves individual odor patches up to 10 Hz, which exceeds the time scale of artificial chemical sensors12
. The efficiency of EAG sensors for olfactory searches is further demonstrated in driving the robot toward a source of pheromone. By using identical olfactory stimuli and sensors as in real animals, our robotic platform provides a direct means for testing biological hypotheses about olfactory coding and search strategies13
. It may also prove beneficial for detecting other odorants of interests by combining EAGs from different insect species in a bioelectronic nose configuration14
or using nanostructured gas sensors that mimic insect antennae15
Neuroscience, Issue 90, robotics, electroantennogram, EAG, gas sensor, electronic nose, olfactory search, surge and casting, moth, insect, olfaction, neuron
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
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 (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), 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
Measuring Growth and Gene Expression Dynamics of Tumor-Targeted S. Typhimurium Bacteria
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, San Diego , University of California, San Diego , University of California, San Diego , Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The goal of these experiments is to generate quantitative time-course data on the growth and gene expression dynamics of attenuated S. typhimurium
bacterial colonies growing inside tumors.
We generated model xenograft tumors in mice by subcutaneous injection of a human ovarian cancer cell line, OVCAR-8 (NCI DCTD Tumor Repository, Frederick, MD).
We transformed attenuated strains of S. typhimurium
bacteria (ELH430:SL1344 phoPQ- 1
) with a constitutively expressed luciferase (luxCDABE) plasmid for visualization2
. These strains specifically colonize tumors while remaining essentially non-virulent to the mouse1
Once measurable tumors were established, bacteria were injected intravenously via the tail vein with varying dosage. Tumor-localized, bacterial gene expression was monitored in real time over the course of 60 hours using an in vivo
imaging system (IVIS). At each time point, tumors were excised, homogenized, and plated to quantitate bacterial colonies for correlation with gene expression data.
Together, this data yields a quantitative measure of the in vivo
growth and gene expression dynamics of bacteria growing inside tumors.
Infection, Issue 77, Cancer Biology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Bacteria, Synthetic Biology, Biological Agents, Time-Lapse Imaging, Synthetic Biology, dynamics (physics), Synthetic Biology, cancer therapy, bacteria population dynamics, in-vivo imaging, cell, imaging
Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo
cellular environment in a controlled in vitro
This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3
To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo
cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli
based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5
The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli
, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6
Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7
The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8
Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10
The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
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
High-throughput Image Analysis of Tumor Spheroids: A User-friendly Software Application to Measure the Size of Spheroids Automatically and Accurately
Institutions: Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation, New Jersey, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Institute for Advanced Study, New Jersey.
The increasing number of applications of three-dimensional (3D) tumor spheroids as an in vitro
model for drug discovery requires their adaptation to large-scale screening formats in every step of a drug screen, including large-scale image analysis. Currently there is no ready-to-use and free image analysis software to meet this large-scale format. Most existing methods involve manually drawing the length and width of the imaged 3D spheroids, which is a tedious and time-consuming process. This study presents a high-throughput image analysis software application – SpheroidSizer, which measures the major and minor axial length of the imaged 3D tumor spheroids automatically and accurately; calculates the volume of each individual 3D tumor spheroid; then outputs the results in two different forms in spreadsheets for easy manipulations in the subsequent data analysis. The main advantage of this software is its powerful image analysis application that is adapted for large numbers of images. It provides high-throughput computation and quality-control workflow. The estimated time to process 1,000 images is about 15 min on a minimally configured laptop, or around 1 min on a multi-core performance workstation. The graphical user interface (GUI) is also designed for easy quality control, and users can manually override the computer results. The key method used in this software is adapted from the active contour algorithm, also known as Snakes, which is especially suitable for images with uneven illumination and noisy background that often plagues automated imaging processing in high-throughput screens. The complimentary “Manual Initialize” and “Hand Draw” tools provide the flexibility to SpheroidSizer in dealing with various types of spheroids and diverse quality images. This high-throughput image analysis software remarkably reduces labor and speeds up the analysis process. Implementing this software is beneficial for 3D tumor spheroids to become a routine in vitro
model for drug screens in industry and academia.
Cancer Biology, Issue 89, computer programming, high-throughput, image analysis, tumor spheroids, 3D, software application, cancer therapy, drug screen, neuroendocrine tumor cell line, BON-1, cancer research
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
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
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
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
The Logic, Experimental Steps, and Potential of Heterologous Natural Product Biosynthesis Featuring the Complex Antibiotic Erythromycin A Produced Through E. coli
Institutions: State University of New York at Buffalo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The heterologous production of complex natural products is an approach designed to address current limitations and future possibilities. It is particularly useful for those compounds which possess therapeutic value but cannot be sufficiently produced or would benefit from an improved form of production. The experimental procedures involved can be subdivided into three components: 1) genetic transfer; 2) heterologous reconstitution; and 3) product analysis. Each experimental component is under continual optimization to meet the challenges and anticipate the opportunities associated with this emerging approach.
Heterologous biosynthesis begins with the identification of a genetic sequence responsible for a valuable natural product. Transferring this sequence to a heterologous host is complicated by the biosynthetic pathway complexity responsible for product formation. The antibiotic erythromycin A is a good example. Twenty genes (totaling >50 kb) are required for eventual biosynthesis. In addition, three of these genes encode megasynthases, multi-domain enzymes each ~300 kDa in size. This genetic material must be designed and transferred to E. coli
for reconstituted biosynthesis. The use of PCR isolation, operon construction, multi-cystronic plasmids, and electro-transformation will be described in transferring the erythromycin A genetic cluster to E. coli
Once transferred, the E. coli
cell must support eventual biosynthesis. This process is also challenging given the substantial differences between E. coli
and most original hosts responsible for complex natural product formation. The cell must provide necessary substrates to support biosynthesis and coordinately express the transferred genetic cluster to produce active enzymes. In the case of erythromycin A, the E. coli
cell had to be engineered to provide the two precursors (propionyl-CoA and (2S)-methylmalonyl-CoA) required for biosynthesis. In addition, gene sequence modifications, plasmid copy number, chaperonin co-expression, post-translational enzymatic modification, and process temperature were also required to allow final erythromycin A formation.
Finally, successful production must be assessed. For the erythromycin A case, we will present two methods. The first is liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to confirm and quantify production. The bioactivity of erythromycin A will also be confirmed through use of a bioassay in which the antibiotic activity is tested against Bacillus subtilis
. The assessment assays establish erythromycin A biosynthesis from E. coli
and set the stage for future engineering efforts to improve or diversify production and for the production of new complex natural compounds using this approach.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 71, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Basic Protocols, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Heterologous biosynthesis, natural products, antibiotics, erythromycin A, metabolic engineering, E. coli
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al.
, 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome
Biology of Microbial Communities - Interview
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termit
Preventing the Spread of Malaria and Dengue Fever Using Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
In this candid interview, Anthony A. James explains how mosquito genetics can be exploited to control malaria and dengue transmission. Population replacement strategy, the idea that transgenic mosquitoes can be released into the wild to control disease transmission, is introduced, as well as the concept of genetic drive and the design criterion for an effective genetic drive system. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically-modified organisms into the wild are also discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, dengue fever, genetics, infectious disease, Translational Research
BioMEMS and Cellular Biology: Perspectives and Applications
Institutions: University of Washington.
The ability to culture cells has revolutionized hypothesis testing in basic cell and molecular biology research. It has become a standard methodology in drug screening, toxicology, and clinical assays, and is increasingly used in regenerative medicine. However, the traditional cell culture methodology essentially consisting of the immersion of a large population of cells in a homogeneous fluid medium and on a homogeneous flat substrate has become increasingly limiting both from a fundamental and practical perspective. Microfabrication technologies have enabled researchers to design, with micrometer control, the biochemical composition and topology of the substrate, and the medium composition, as well as the neighboring cell type in the surrounding cellular microenvironment. Additionally, microtechnology is conceptually well-suited for the development of fast, low-cost in vitro systems that allow for high-throughput culturing and analysis of cells under large numbers of conditions. In this interview, Albert Folch explains these limitations, how they can be overcome with soft lithography and microfluidics, and describes some relevant examples of research in his lab and future directions.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 8, BioMEMS, Soft Lithography, Microfluidics, Agrin, Axon Guidance, Olfaction, Interview
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
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