Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
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
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2
facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2
field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4
, and Ca2+
had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
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
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
Whole-Body Nanoparticle Aerosol Inhalation Exposures
Institutions: West Virginia University , West Virginia University , National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Inhalation is the most likely exposure route for individuals working with aerosolizable engineered nano-materials (ENM). To properly perform nanoparticle inhalation toxicology studies, the aerosols in a chamber housing the experimental animals must have: 1) a steady concentration maintained at a desired level for the entire exposure period; 2) a homogenous composition free of contaminants; and 3) a stable size distribution with a geometric mean diameter < 200 nm and a geometric standard deviation σg
< 2.5 5
. The generation of aerosols containing nanoparticles is quite challenging because nanoparticles easily agglomerate. This is largely due to very strong inter-particle forces and the formation of large fractal structures in tens or hundreds of microns in size 6
, which are difficult to be broken up. Several common aerosol generators, including nebulizers, fluidized beds, Venturi aspirators and the Wright dust feed, were tested; however, none were able to produce nanoparticle aerosols which satisfy all criteria 5
A whole-body nanoparticle aerosol inhalation exposure system was fabricated, validated and utilized for nano-TiO2
inhalation toxicology studies. Critical components: 1) novel nano-TiO2
aerosol generator; 2) 0.5 m3
whole-body inhalation exposure chamber; and 3) monitor and control system. Nano-TiO2
aerosols generated from bulk dry nano-TiO2
powders (primary diameter of 21 nm, bulk density of 3.8 g/cm3
) were delivered into the exposure chamber at a flow rate of 90 LPM (10.8 air changes/hr). Particle size distribution and mass concentration profiles were measured continuously with a scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS), and an electric low pressure impactor (ELPI). The aerosol mass concentration (C
) was verified gravimetrically (mg/m3
). The mass (M
) of the collected particles was determined as M = (Mpost-Mpre), where Mpre
are masses of the filter before and after sampling (mg
). The mass concentration was calculated as C = M/(Q*t),
is sampling flowrate (m3/min
is the sampling time (minute
). The chamber pressure, temperature, relative humidity (RH), O2
concentrations were monitored and controlled continuously. Nano-TiO2
aerosols collected on Nuclepore filters were analyzed with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) analysis.
In summary, we report that the nano-particle aerosols generated and delivered to our exposure chamber have: 1) steady mass concentration; 2) homogenous composition free of contaminants; 3) stable particle size distributions with a count-median aerodynamic diameter of 157 nm during aerosol generation. This system reliably and repeatedly creates test atmospheres that simulate occupational, environmental or domestic ENM aerosol exposures.
Medicine, Issue 75, Physiology, Anatomy, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Pharmacology, Titanium dioxide, engineered nanomaterials, nanoparticle, toxicology, inhalation exposure, aerosols, dry powder, animal model
Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7
. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4
Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9
. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10
. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12
Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14
) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila
, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
Using a Comparative Species Approach to Investigate the Neurobiology of Paternal Responses
Institutions: Randolph-Macon College, Marshall University.
A goal of behavioral neuroscience is to identify underlying neurobiological factors that regulate specific behaviors. Using animal models to accomplish this goal, many methodological strategies require invasive techniques to manipulate the intensity of the behavior of interest (e.g., lesion methods, pharmacological manipulations, microdialysis techniques, genetically-engineered animal models). The utilization of a comparative species approach allows researchers to take advantage of naturally occurring differences in response strategies existing in closely related species. In our lab, we use two species of the Peromyscus
genus that differ in paternal responses. The male California deer mouse (Peromyscus californicus
) exhibits the same parental responses as the female whereas its cousin, the common deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus
) exhibits virtually no nurturing/parental responses in the presence of pups. Of specific interest in this article is an exploration of the neurobiological factors associated with the affiliative social responses exhibited by the paternal California deer mouse. Because the behavioral neuroscience approach is multifaceted, the following key components of the study will be briefly addressed: the identification of appropriate species for this type of research; data collection for behavioral analysis; preparation and sectioning of the brains; basic steps involved in immunocytochemistry for the quantification of vasopressin-immunoreactivity; the use of neuroimaging software to quantify the brain tissue; the use of a microsequencing video analysis to score behavior and, finally, the appropriate statistical analyses to provide the most informed interpretations of the research findings.
Neuroscience, Issue 55, Peromyscus, mouse, paternal behavior, vasopressin, immunocytochemistry, microsequencing behavioral analysis
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Annotation of Plant Gene Function via Combined Genomics, Metabolomics and Informatics
Given the ever expanding number of model plant species for which complete genome sequences are available and the abundance of bio-resources such as knockout mutants, wild accessions and advanced breeding populations, there is a rising burden for gene functional annotation. In this protocol, annotation of plant gene function using combined co-expression gene analysis, metabolomics and informatics is provided (Figure 1
). This approach is based on the theory of using target genes of known function to allow the identification of non-annotated genes likely to be involved in a certain metabolic process, with the identification of target compounds via metabolomics. Strategies are put forward for applying this information on populations generated by both forward and reverse genetics approaches in spite of none of these are effortless. By corollary this approach can also be used as an approach to characterise unknown peaks representing new or specific secondary metabolites in the limited tissues, plant species or stress treatment, which is currently the important trial to understanding plant metabolism.
Plant Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Metabolomics, Plant metabolism, Transcriptome analysis, Functional annotation, Computational biology, Plant biology, Theoretical biology, Spectroscopy and structural analysis
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
Determination of Mammalian Cell Counts, Cell Size and Cell Health Using the Moxi Z Mini Automated Cell Counter
Institutions: Orflo Technologies, University of Utah .
Particle and cell counting is used for a variety of applications including routine cell culture, hematological analysis, and industrial controls1-5
. A critical breakthrough in cell/particle counting technologies was the development of the Coulter technique by Wallace Coulter over 50 years ago. The technique involves the application of an electric field across a micron-sized aperture and hydrodynamically focusing single particles through the aperture. The resulting occlusion of the aperture by the particles yields a measurable change in electric impedance that can be directly and precisely correlated to cell size/volume. The recognition of the approach as the benchmark in cell/particle counting stems from the extraordinary precision and accuracy of its particle sizing and counts, particularly as compared to manual and imaging based technologies (accuracies on the order of 98% for Coulter counters versus 75-80% for manual and vision-based systems). This can be attributed to the fact that, unlike imaging-based approaches to cell counting, the Coulter Technique makes a true three-dimensional (3-D) measurement of cells/particles which dramatically reduces count interference from debris and clustering by calculating precise volumetric information about the cells/particles. Overall this provides a means for enumerating and sizing cells in a more accurate, less tedious, less time-consuming, and less subjective means than other counting techniques6
Despite the prominence of the Coulter technique in cell counting, its widespread use in routine biological studies has been prohibitive due to the cost and size of traditional instruments. Although a less expensive Coulter-based instrument has been produced, it has limitations as compared to its more expensive counterparts in the correction for "coincidence events" in which two or more cells pass through the aperture and are measured simultaneously. Another limitation with existing Coulter technologies is the lack of metrics on the overall health of cell samples. Consequently, additional techniques must often be used in conjunction with Coulter counting to assess cell viability. This extends experimental setup time and cost since the traditional methods of viability assessment require cell staining and/or use of expensive and cumbersome equipment such as a flow cytometer.
The Moxi Z mini automated cell counter, described here, is an ultra-small benchtop instrument that combines the accuracy of the Coulter Principle with a thin-film sensor technology to enable precise sizing and counting of particles ranging from 3-25 microns, depending on the cell counting cassette used. The M type cassette can be used to count particles from with average diameters of 4 - 25 microns (dynamic range 2 - 34 microns), and the Type S cassette can be used to count particles with and average diameter of 3 - 20 microns (dynamic range 2 - 26 microns). Since the system uses a volumetric measurement method, the 4-25 microns corresponds to a cell volume range of 34 - 8,180 fL and the 3 - 20 microns corresponds to a cell volume range of 14 - 4200 fL, which is relevant when non-spherical particles are being measured. To perform mammalian cell counts using the Moxi Z, the cells to be counted are first diluted with ORFLO or similar diluent. A cell counting cassette is inserted into the instrument, and the sample is loaded into the port of the cassette. Thousands of cells are pulled, single-file through a "Cell Sensing Zone" (CSZ) in the thin-film membrane over 8-15 seconds. Following the run, the instrument uses proprietary curve-fitting in conjunction with a proprietary software algorithm to provide coincidence event correction along with an assessment of overall culture health by determining the ratio of the number of cells in the population of interest to the total number of particles. The total particle counts include shrunken and broken down dead cells, as well as other debris and contaminants. The results are presented in histogram format with an automatic curve fit, with gates that can be adjusted manually as needed.
Ultimately, the Moxi Z enables counting with a precision and accuracy comparable to a Coulter Z2, the current gold standard, while providing additional culture health information. Furthermore it achieves these results in less time, with a smaller footprint, with significantly easier operation and maintenance, and at a fraction of the cost of comparable technologies.
Cellular Biology, Issue 64, Molecular Biology, cell counting, coulter counting, cell culture health assessment, particle sizing, mammalian cells, Moxi Z
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
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
Basics of Multivariate Analysis in Neuroimaging Data
Institutions: Columbia University.
Multivariate analysis techniques for neuroimaging data have recently received increasing attention as they have many attractive features that cannot be easily realized by the more commonly used univariate, voxel-wise, techniques1,5,6,7,8,9
. Multivariate approaches evaluate correlation/covariance of activation across brain regions, rather than proceeding on a voxel-by-voxel basis. Thus, their results can be more easily interpreted as a signature of neural networks. Univariate approaches, on the other hand, cannot directly address interregional correlation in the brain. Multivariate approaches can also result in greater statistical power when compared with univariate techniques, which are forced to employ very stringent corrections for voxel-wise multiple comparisons. Further, multivariate techniques also lend themselves much better to prospective application of results from the analysis of one dataset to entirely new datasets. Multivariate techniques are thus well placed to provide information about mean differences and correlations with behavior, similarly to univariate approaches, with potentially greater statistical power and better reproducibility checks. In contrast to these advantages is the high barrier of entry to the use of multivariate approaches, preventing more widespread application in the community. To the neuroscientist becoming familiar with multivariate analysis techniques, an initial survey of the field might present a bewildering variety of approaches that, although algorithmically similar, are presented with different emphases, typically by people with mathematics backgrounds. We believe that multivariate analysis techniques have sufficient potential to warrant better dissemination. Researchers should be able to employ them in an informed and accessible manner. The current article is an attempt at a didactic introduction of multivariate techniques for the novice. A conceptual introduction is followed with a very simple application to a diagnostic data set from the Alzheimer s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), clearly demonstrating the superior performance of the multivariate approach.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, fMRI, PET, multivariate analysis, cognitive neuroscience, clinical neuroscience