This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g.
primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;
H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
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
Ablation of a Single Cell From Eight-cell Embryos of the Amphipod Crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis
Institutions: Harvard University.
The amphipod Parhyale hawaiensis
is a small crustacean found in intertidal marine habitats worldwide. Over the past decade, Parhyale
has emerged as a promising model organism for laboratory studies of development, providing a useful outgroup comparison to the well studied arthropod model organism Drosophila melanogaster
. In contrast to the syncytial cleavages of Drosophila
, the early cleavages of Parhyale
are holoblastic. Fate mapping using tracer dyes injected into early blastomeres have shown that all three germ layers and the germ line are established by the eight-cell stage. At this stage, three blastomeres are fated to give rise to the ectoderm, three are fated to give rise to the mesoderm, and the remaining two blastomeres are the precursors of the endoderm and germ line respectively. However, blastomere ablation experiments have shown that Parhyale
embryos also possess significant regulatory capabilities, such that the fates of blastomeres ablated at the eight-cell stage can be taken over by the descendants of some of the remaining blastomeres. Blastomere ablation has previously been described by one of two methods: injection and subsequent activation of phototoxic dyes or manual ablation. However, photoablation kills blastomeres but does not remove the dead cell body from the embryo. Complete physical removal of specific blastomeres may therefore be a preferred method of ablation for some applications. Here we present a protocol for manual removal of single blastomeres from the eight-cell stage of Parhyale
embryos, illustrating the instruments and manual procedures necessary for complete removal of the cell body while keeping the remaining blastomeres alive and intact. This protocol can be applied to any Parhyale
cell at the eight-cell stage, or to blastomeres of other early cleavage stages. In addition, in principle this protocol could be applicable to early cleavage stage embryos of other holoblastically cleaving marine invertebrates.
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, Amphipod, experimental embryology, micromere, germ line, ablation, developmental potential, vasa
Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis
. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
Analysis of RNA Processing Reactions Using Cell Free Systems: 3' End Cleavage of Pre-mRNA Substrates in vitro
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute, City College of New York.
The 3’ end of mammalian mRNAs is not formed by abrupt termination of transcription by RNA polymerase II (RNPII). Instead, RNPII synthesizes precursor mRNA beyond the end of mature RNAs, and an active process of endonuclease activity is required at a specific site. Cleavage of the precursor RNA normally occurs 10-30 nt downstream from the consensus polyA site (AAUAAA) after the CA dinucleotides. Proteins from the cleavage complex, a multifactorial protein complex of approximately 800 kDa, accomplish this specific nuclease activity. Specific RNA sequences upstream and downstream of the polyA site control the recruitment of the cleavage complex. Immediately after cleavage, pre-mRNAs are polyadenylated by the polyA polymerase (PAP) to produce mature stable RNA messages.
Processing of the 3’ end of an RNA transcript may be studied using cellular nuclear extracts with specific radiolabeled RNA substrates. In sum, a long 32
P-labeled uncleaved precursor RNA is incubated with nuclear extracts in vitro
, and cleavage is assessed by gel electrophoresis and autoradiography. When proper cleavage occurs, a shorter 5’ cleaved product is detected and quantified. Here, we describe the cleavage assay in detail using, as an example, the 3’ end processing of HIV-1 mRNAs.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 87, Cleavage, Polyadenylation, mRNA processing, Nuclear extracts, 3' Processing Complex
Flame Experiments at the Advanced Light Source: New Insights into Soot Formation Processes
Institutions: Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Universität Bielefeld.
The following experimental protocols and the accompanying video are concerned with the flame experiments that are performed at the Chemical Dynamics Beamline of the Advanced Light Source (ALS) of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory1-4
. This video demonstrates how the complex chemical structures of laboratory-based model flames are analyzed using flame-sampling mass spectrometry with tunable synchrotron-generated vacuum-ultraviolet (VUV) radiation. This experimental approach combines isomer-resolving capabilities with high sensitivity and a large dynamic range5,6
. The first part of the video describes experiments involving burner-stabilized, reduced-pressure (20-80 mbar) laminar premixed flames. A small hydrocarbon fuel was used for the selected flame to demonstrate the general experimental approach. It is shown how species’ profiles are acquired as a function of distance from the burner surface and how the tunability of the VUV photon energy is used advantageously to identify many combustion intermediates based on their ionization energies. For example, this technique has been used to study gas-phase aspects of the soot-formation processes, and the video shows how the resonance-stabilized radicals, such as C3
, and i-
, are identified as important intermediates7
. The work has been focused on soot formation processes, and, from the chemical point of view, this process is very intriguing because chemical structures containing millions of carbon atoms are assembled from a fuel molecule possessing only a few carbon atoms in just milliseconds. The second part of the video highlights a new experiment, in which an opposed-flow diffusion flame and synchrotron-based aerosol mass spectrometry are used to study the chemical composition of the combustion-generated soot particles4
. The experimental results indicate that the widely accepted H-abstraction-C2
-addition (HACA) mechanism is not the sole molecular growth process responsible for the formation of the observed large polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Physics, Issue 87, Combustion, Flame, Energy Conversion, Mass Spectrometry, Photoionization, Synchrotron, Hydrocarbon, Soot, Aerosol, Isomer
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
Demonstration of Proteolytic Activation of the Epithelial Sodium Channel (ENaC) by Combining Current Measurements with Detection of Cleavage Fragments
Institutions: Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU).
The described methods can be used to investigate the effect of proteases on ion channels, receptors, and other plasma membrane proteins heterologously expressed in Xenopus laevis
oocytes. In combination with site-directed mutagenesis, this approach provides a powerful tool to identify functionally relevant cleavage sites. Proteolytic activation is a characteristic feature of the amiloride-sensitive epithelial sodium channel (ENaC). The final activating step involves cleavage of the channel’s γ-subunit in a critical region potentially targeted by several proteases including chymotrypsin and plasmin. To determine the stimulatory effect of these serine proteases on ENaC, the amiloride-sensitive whole-cell current (ΔIami
) was measured twice in the same oocyte before and after exposure to the protease using the two-electrode voltage-clamp technique. In parallel to the electrophysiological experiments, a biotinylation approach was used to monitor the appearance of γENaC cleavage fragments at the cell surface. Using the methods described, it was demonstrated that the time course of proteolytic activation of ENaC-mediated whole-cell currents correlates with the appearance of a γENaC cleavage product at the cell surface. These results suggest a causal link between channel cleavage and channel activation. Moreover, they confirm the concept that a cleavage event in γENaC is required as a final step in proteolytic channel activation. The methods described here may well be applicable to address similar questions for other types of ion channels or membrane proteins.
Biochemistry, Issue 89, two-electrode voltage-clamp, electrophysiology, biotinylation, Xenopus laevis oocytes, epithelial sodium channel, ENaC, proteases, proteolytic channel activation, ion channel, cleavage sites, cleavage fragments
Hydrogel Nanoparticle Harvesting of Plasma or Urine for Detecting Low Abundance Proteins
Institutions: George Mason University, Ceres Nanosciences.
Novel biomarker discovery plays a crucial role in providing more sensitive and specific disease detection. Unfortunately many low-abundance biomarkers that exist in biological fluids cannot be easily detected with mass spectrometry or immunoassays because they are present in very low concentration, are labile, and are often masked by high-abundance proteins such as albumin or immunoglobulin. Bait containing poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (NIPAm) based nanoparticles are able to overcome these physiological barriers. In one step they are able to capture, concentrate and preserve biomarkers from body fluids. Low-molecular weight analytes enter the core of the nanoparticle and are captured by different organic chemical dyes, which act as high affinity protein baits. The nanoparticles are able to concentrate the proteins of interest by several orders of magnitude. This concentration factor is sufficient to increase the protein level such that the proteins are within the detection limit of current mass spectrometers, western blotting, and immunoassays. Nanoparticles can be incubated with a plethora of biological fluids and they are able to greatly enrich the concentration of low-molecular weight proteins and peptides while excluding albumin and other high-molecular weight proteins. Our data show that a 10,000 fold amplification in the concentration of a particular analyte can be achieved, enabling mass spectrometry and immunoassays to detect previously undetectable biomarkers.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, biomarker, hydrogel, low abundance, mass spectrometry, nanoparticle, plasma, protein, urine
FtsZ Polymerization Assays: Simple Protocols and Considerations
Institutions: University of Groningen.
During bacterial cell division, the essential protein FtsZ assembles in the middle of the cell to form the so-called Z-ring. FtsZ polymerizes into long filaments in the presence of GTP in vitro
, and polymerization is regulated by several accessory proteins. FtsZ polymerization has been extensively studied in vitro
using basic methods including light scattering, sedimentation, GTP hydrolysis assays and electron microscopy. Buffer conditions influence both the polymerization properties of FtsZ, and the ability of FtsZ to interact with regulatory proteins. Here, we describe protocols for FtsZ polymerization studies and validate conditions and controls using Escherichia coli
and Bacillus subtilis
FtsZ as model proteins. A low speed sedimentation assay is introduced that allows the study of the interaction of FtsZ with proteins that bundle or tubulate FtsZ polymers. An improved GTPase assay protocol is described that allows testing of GTP hydrolysis over time using various conditions in a 96-well plate setup, with standardized incubation times that abolish variation in color development in the phosphate detection reaction. The preparation of samples for light scattering studies and electron microscopy is described. Several buffers are used to establish suitable buffer pH and salt concentration for FtsZ polymerization studies. A high concentration of KCl is the best for most of the experiments. Our methods provide a starting point for the in vitro
characterization of FtsZ, not only from E. coli
and B. subtilis
but from any other bacterium. As such, the methods can be used for studies of the interaction of FtsZ with regulatory proteins or the testing of antibacterial drugs which may affect FtsZ polymerization.
Basic Protocols, Issue 81, FtsZ, protein polymerization, cell division, GTPase, sedimentation assay, light scattering
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 Fluorescence-based Exonuclease Assay to Characterize DmWRNexo, Orthologue of Human Progeroid WRN Exonuclease, and Its Application to Other Nucleases
Institutions: University of Oxford.
WRN exonuclease is involved in resolving DNA damage that occurs either during DNA replication or following exposure to endogenous or exogenous genotoxins. It is likely to play a role in preventing accumulation of recombinogenic intermediates that would otherwise accumulate at transiently stalled replication forks, consistent with a hyper-recombinant phenotype of cells lacking WRN. In humans, the exonuclease domain comprises an N-terminal portion of a much larger protein that also possesses helicase activity, together with additional sites important for DNA and protein interaction. By contrast, in Drosophila
, the exonuclease activity of WRN (DmWRNexo) is encoded by a distinct genetic locus from the presumptive helicase, allowing biochemical (and genetic) dissection of the role of the exonuclease activity in genome stability mechanisms. Here, we demonstrate a fluorescent method to determine WRN exonuclease activity using purified recombinant DmWRNexo and end-labeled fluorescent oligonucleotides. This system allows greater reproducibility than radioactive assays as the substrate oligonucleotides remain stable for months, and provides a safer and relatively rapid method for detailed analysis of nuclease activity, permitting determination of nuclease polarity, processivity, and substrate preferences.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, Aging, Premature, Exonucleases, Enzyme Assays, biochemistry, WRN, exonuclease, nuclease, RecQ, progeroid disease, aging, DmWRNexo
Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ
hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ
hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ
experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies
). Here we present a modified DIG in situ
hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies
. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana
and Brassica napus
. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3
were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana
and B. napus
and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies
. For P. abies
the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ
protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film.
Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study.
Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at Anna.Karlgren@ebc.uu.se and Jens F. Sundström at Jens.Sundstrom@vbsg.slu.se
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) Labeling and Subsequent Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting for Culture-independent Identification of Dissolved Organic Carbon-degrading Bacterioplankton
Institutions: Kent State University, University of Georgia (UGA).
Microbes are major agents mediating the degradation of numerous dissolved organic carbon (DOC) substrates in aquatic environments. However, identification of bacterial taxa that transform specific pools of DOC in nature poses a technical challenge.
Here we describe an approach that couples bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation, fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS), and 16S rRNA gene-based molecular analysis that allows culture-independent identification of bacterioplankton capable of degrading a specific DOC compound in aquatic environments. Triplicate bacterioplankton microcosms are set up to receive both BrdU and a model DOC compound (DOC amendments), or only BrdU (no-addition control). BrdU substitutes the positions of thymidine in newly synthesized bacterial DNA and BrdU-labeled DNA can be readily immunodetected 1,2
. Through a 24-hr incubation, bacterioplankton that are able to use the added DOC compound are expected to be selectively activated, and therefore have higher levels of BrdU incorporation (HI cells) than non-responsive cells in the DOC amendments and cells in no-addition controls (low BrdU incorporation cells, LI cells). After fluorescence immunodetection, HI cells are distinguished and physically separated from the LI cells by fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) 3
. Sorted DOC-responsive cells (HI cells) are extracted for DNA and taxonomically identified through subsequent 16S rRNA gene-based analyses including PCR, clone library construction and sequencing.
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, BrdU incorporation, fluorescence-activated cell sorting, FACS, flow cytometry, microbial community, culture-independent, bacterioplankton
Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro
using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro
preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers.
In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo
counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure
neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic
SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
Expression Analysis of Mammalian Linker-histone Subtypes
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology .
Linker histone H1 binds to the nucleosome core particle and linker DNA, facilitating folding of chromatin into higher order structure. H1 is essential for mammalian development1
and regulates specific gene expression in vivo2-4
. Among the highly conserved histone proteins, the family of H1 linker histones is the most heterogeneous group. There are 11 H1 subtypes in mammals that are differentially regulated during development and in different cell types. These H1 subtypes include 5 somatic H1s (H1a-e), the replacement H10
, 4 germ cell specific H1 subtypes, and H1x5
. The presence of multiple H1 subtypes that differ in DNA binding affinity and chromatin compaction ability6-9
provides an additional level of modulation of chromatin function. Thus, quantitative expression analysis of individual H1 subtypes, both of mRNA and proteins, is necessary for better understanding of the regulation of higher order chromatin structure and function.
Here we describe a set of assays designed for analyzing the expression levels of individual H1 subtypes (Figure 1
). mRNA expression of various H1 variant genes is measured by a set of highly sensitive and quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (qRT-PCR) assays, which are faster, more accurate and require much less samples compared with the alternative approach of Northern blot analysis. Unlike most other cellular mRNA messages, mRNAs for most histone genes, including the majority of H1 genes, lack a long polyA tail, but contain a stem-loop structure at the 3' untranslated region (UTR)10
. Therefore, cDNAs are prepared from total RNA by reverse transcription using random primers instead of oligo-dT primers. Realtime PCR assays with primers specific to each H1 subtypes (Table 1
) are performed to obtain highly quantitative measurement of mRNA levels of individual H1 subtypes. Expression of housekeeping genes are analyzed as controls for normalization.
The relative abundance of proteins of each H1 subtype and core histones is obtained through reverse phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC) analysis of total histones extracted from mammalian cells11-13
. The HPLC method and elution conditions described here give optimum separations of mouse H1 subtypes. By quantifying the HPLC profile, we calculate the relative proportion of individual H1 subtypes within H1 family, as well as determine the H1 to nucleosome ratio in the cells.
Genetics, Issue 61, H1 linker histones, histone H1 subtypes, chromatin, RT-PCR, HPLC, gene expression
Assessing Teratogenic Changes in a Zebrafish Model of Fetal Alcohol Exposure
Institutions: Children's Memorial Research Center, Northwestern University.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a severe manifestation of embryonic exposure to ethanol. It presents with characteristic defects to the face and organs, including mental retardation due to disordered and damaged brain development. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a term used to cover a continuum of birth defects that occur due to maternal alcohol consumption, and occurs in approximately 4% of children born in the United States. With 50% of child-bearing age women reporting consumption of alcohol, and half of all pregnancies being unplanned, unintentional exposure is a continuing issue2
. In order to best understand the damage produced by ethanol, plus produce a model with which to test potential interventions, we developed a model of developmental ethanol exposure using the zebrafish embryo. Zebrafish are ideal for this kind of teratogen study3-8
. Each pair lays hundreds of eggs, which can then be collected without harming the adult fish. The zebrafish embryo is transparent and can be readily imaged with any number of stains. Analysis of these embryos after exposure to ethanol at different doses and times of duration and application shows that the gross developmental defects produced by ethanol are consistent with the human birth defect. Described here are the basic techniques used to study and manipulate the zebrafish FAS model.
Medicine, Issue 61, Zebrafish, fetal alcohol exposure, Danio rerio, development, mRNA expression, morpholino, ethanol exposure
MicroRNA Detection in Prostate Tumors by Quantitative Real-time PCR (qPCR)
Institutions: University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, Sunnybrook Research Institute.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are single-stranded, 18–24 nucleotide long, non-coding RNA molecules. They are involved in virtually every cellular process including development1
, and cell cycle regulation3
. MiRNAs are estimated to regulate the expression of 30% to 90% of human genes4
by binding to their target messenger RNAs (mRNAs)5
. Widespread dysregulation of miRNAs has been reported in various diseases and cancer subtypes6
. Due to their prevalence and unique structure, these small molecules are likely to be the next generation of biomarkers, therapeutic agents and/or targets.
Methods used to investigate miRNA expression include SYBR green I dye- based as well as Taqman-probe based qPCR. If miRNAs are to be effectively used in the clinical setting, it is imperative that their detection in fresh and/or archived clinical samples be accurate, reproducible, and specific. qPCR has been widely used for validating expression of miRNAs in whole genome analyses such as microarray studies7
. The samples used in this protocol were from patients who underwent radical prostatectomy for clinically localized prostate cancer; however other tissues and cell lines can be substituted in. Prostate specimens were snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen after resection. Clinical variables and follow-up information for each patient were collected for subsequent analysis8
Quantification of miRNA levels in prostate tumor samples
. The main steps in qPCR analysis of tumors are: Total RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, and detection of qPCR products using miRNA-specific primers. Total RNA, which includes mRNA, miRNA, and other small RNAs were extracted from specimens using TRIzol reagent. Qiagen's miScript System was used to synthesize cDNA and perform qPCR (Figure 1
). Endogenous miRNAs are not polyadenylated, therefore during the reverse transcription process, a poly(A) polymerase polyadenylates the miRNA. The miRNA is used as a template to synthesize cDNA using oligo-dT and Reverse Transcriptase. A universal tag sequence on the 5' end of oligo-dT primers facilitates the amplification of cDNA in the PCR step. PCR product amplification is detected by the level of fluorescence emitted by SYBR Green, a dye which intercalates into double stranded DNA. Specific miRNA primers, along with a Universal Primer that binds to the universal tag sequence will amplify specific miRNA sequences.
The miScript Primer Assays are available for over a thousand human-specific miRNAs, and hundreds of murine-specific miRNAs. Relative quantification method was used here to quantify the expression of miRNAs. To correct for variability amongst different samples, expression levels of a target miRNA is normalized to the expression levels of a reference gene. The choice of a gene on which to normalize the expression of targets is critical in relative quantification method of analysis. Examples of reference genes typically used in this capacity are the small RNAs RNU6B, RNU44, and RNU48 as they are considered to be stably expressed across most samples. In this protocol, RNU6B is used as the reference gene.
Cancer Biology, Issue 63, Medicine, cancer, primer assay, Prostate, microRNA, tumor, qPCR
RNA-seq Analysis of Transcriptomes in Thrombin-treated and Control Human Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelial Cells
Institutions: Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics, School of Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The characterization of gene expression in cells via measurement of mRNA levels is a useful tool in determining how the transcriptional machinery of the cell is affected by external signals (e.g.
drug treatment), or how cells differ between a healthy state and a diseased state. With the advent and continuous refinement of next-generation DNA sequencing technology, RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) has become an increasingly popular method of transcriptome analysis to catalog all species of transcripts, to determine the transcriptional structure of all expressed genes and to quantify the changing expression levels of the total set of transcripts in a given cell, tissue or organism1,2
. RNA-seq is gradually replacing DNA microarrays as a preferred method for transcriptome analysis because it has the advantages of profiling a complete transcriptome, providing a digital type datum (copy number of any transcript) and not relying on any known genomic sequence3
Here, we present a complete and detailed protocol to apply RNA-seq to profile transcriptomes in human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with or without thrombin treatment. This protocol is based on our recent published study entitled "RNA-seq Reveals Novel Transcriptome of Genes and Their Isoforms in Human Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelial Cells Treated with Thrombin,"4
in which we successfully performed the first complete transcriptome analysis of human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells treated with thrombin using RNA-seq. It yielded unprecedented resources for further experimentation to gain insights into molecular mechanisms underlying thrombin-mediated endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of inflammatory conditions, cancer, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, and provides potential new leads for therapeutic targets to those diseases.
The descriptive text of this protocol is divided into four parts. The first part describes the treatment of human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with thrombin and RNA isolation, quality analysis and quantification. The second part describes library construction and sequencing. The third part describes the data analysis. The fourth part describes an RT-PCR validation assay. Representative results of several key steps are displayed. Useful tips or precautions to boost success in key steps are provided in the Discussion section. Although this protocol uses human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells treated with thrombin, it can be generalized to profile transcriptomes in both mammalian and non-mammalian cells and in tissues treated with different stimuli or inhibitors, or to compare transcriptomes in cells or tissues between a healthy state and a disease state.
Genetics, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Medicine, Genomics, Proteins, RNA-seq, Next Generation DNA Sequencing, Transcriptome, Transcription, Thrombin, Endothelial cells, high-throughput, DNA, genomic DNA, RT-PCR, PCR
Metabolic Labeling of Newly Transcribed RNA for High Resolution Gene Expression Profiling of RNA Synthesis, Processing and Decay in Cell Culture
Institutions: Max von Pettenkofer Institute, University of Cambridge, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich.
The development of whole-transcriptome microarrays and next-generation sequencing has revolutionized our understanding of the complexity of cellular gene expression. Along with a better understanding of the involved molecular mechanisms, precise measurements of the underlying kinetics have become increasingly important. Here, these powerful methodologies face major limitations due to intrinsic properties of the template samples they study, i.e.
total cellular RNA. In many cases changes in total cellular RNA occur either too slowly or too quickly to represent the underlying molecular events and their kinetics with sufficient resolution. In addition, the contribution of alterations in RNA synthesis, processing, and decay are not readily differentiated.
We recently developed high-resolution gene expression profiling to overcome these limitations. Our approach is based on metabolic labeling of newly transcribed RNA with 4-thiouridine (thus also referred to as 4sU-tagging) followed by rigorous purification of newly transcribed RNA using thiol-specific biotinylation and streptavidin-coated magnetic beads. It is applicable to a broad range of organisms including vertebrates, Drosophila
, and yeast. We successfully applied 4sU-tagging to study real-time kinetics of transcription factor activities, provide precise measurements of RNA half-lives, and obtain novel insights into the kinetics of RNA processing. Finally, computational modeling can be employed to generate an integrated, comprehensive analysis of the underlying molecular mechanisms.
Genetics, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Eukaryota, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Gene expression profiling, RNA synthesis, RNA processing, RNA decay, 4-thiouridine, 4sU-tagging, microarray analysis, RNA-seq, RNA, DNA, PCR, sequencing
Using an Automated Cell Counter to Simplify Gene Expression Studies: siRNA Knockdown of IL-4 Dependent Gene Expression in Namalwa Cells
Institutions: Bio-Rad Laboratories.
The use of siRNA mediated gene knockdown is continuing to be an important tool in studies of gene expression. siRNA studies are being conducted not only to study the effects of downregulating single genes, but also to interrogate signaling pathways and other complex interaction networks. These pathway analyses require both the use of relevant cellular models and methods that cause less perturbation to the cellular physiology. Electroporation is increasingly being used as an effective way to introduce siRNA and other nucleic acids into difficult to transfect cell lines and primary cells without altering the signaling pathway under investigation. There are multiple critical steps to a successful siRNA experiment, and there are ways to simplify the work while improving the data quality at several experimental stages. To help you get started with your siRNA mediated gene knockdown project, we will demonstrate how to perform a pathway study complete from collecting and counting the cells prior to electroporation through post transfection real-time PCR gene expression analysis. The following study investigates the role of the transcriptional activator STAT6 in IL-4 dependent gene expression of CCL17 in a Burkitt lymphoma cell line (Namalwa). The techniques demonstrated are useful for a wide range of siRNA-based experiments on both adherent and suspension cells. We will also show how to streamline cell counting with the TC10 automated cell counter, how to electroporate multiple samples simultaneously using the MXcell electroporation system, and how to simultaneously assess RNA quality and quantity with the Experion automated electrophoresis system.
Cellular Biology, Issue 38, Cell Counting, Gene Silencing, siRNA, Namalwa Cells, IL4, Gene Expression, Electroporation, Real Time PCR
Use of Arabidopsis eceriferum Mutants to Explore Plant Cuticle Biosynthesis
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC, University of British Columbia - UBC.
The plant cuticle is a waxy outer covering on plants that has a primary role in water conservation, but is also an important barrier against the entry of pathogenic microorganisms. The cuticle is made up of a tough crosslinked polymer called "cutin" and a protective wax layer that seals the plant surface. The waxy layer of the cuticle is obvious on many plants, appearing as a shiny film on the ivy leaf or as a dusty outer covering on the surface of a grape or a cabbage leaf thanks to light scattering crystals present in the wax. Because the cuticle is an essential adaptation of plants to a terrestrial environment, understanding the genes involved in plant cuticle formation has applications in both agriculture and forestry. Today, we'll show the analysis of plant cuticle mutants identified by forward and reverse genetics approaches.
Plant Biology, Issue 16, Annual Review, Cuticle, Arabidopsis, Eceriferum Mutants, Cryso-SEM, Gas Chromatography
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