Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4/kgVS (VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4/kgVS at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
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
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
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
A Rapid and Specific Microplate Assay for the Determination of Intra- and Extracellular Ascorbate in Cultured Cells
Institutions: University of Sydney, Monash University.
Vitamin C (ascorbate) plays numerous important roles in cellular metabolism, many of which have only come to light in recent years. For instance, within the brain, ascorbate acts in a neuroprotective and neuromodulatory manner that involves ascorbate cycling between neurons and vicinal astrocytes - a relationship that appears to be crucial for brain ascorbate homeostasis. Additionally, emerging evidence strongly suggests that ascorbate has a greatly expanded role in regulating cellular and systemic iron metabolism than is classically recognized. The increasing recognition of the integral role of ascorbate in normal and deregulated cellular and organismal physiology demands a range of medium-throughput and high-sensitivity analytic techniques that can be executed without the need for highly expensive specialist equipment. Here we provide explicit instructions for a medium-throughput, specific and relatively inexpensive microplate assay for the determination of both intra- and extracellular ascorbate in cell culture.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, Vitamin C, Ascorbate, Cell swelling, Glutamate, Microplate assay, Astrocytes
Reconstitution Of β-catenin Degradation In Xenopus Egg Extract
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
egg extract is a well-characterized, robust system for studying the biochemistry of diverse cellular processes. Xenopus
egg extract has been used to study protein turnover in many cellular contexts, including the cell cycle and signal transduction pathways1-3
. Herein, a method is described for isolating Xenopus
egg extract that has been optimized to promote the degradation of the critical Wnt pathway component, β-catenin. Two different methods are described to assess β-catenin protein degradation in Xenopus
egg extract. One method is visually informative ([35
S]-radiolabeled proteins), while the other is more readily scaled for high-throughput assays (firefly luciferase-tagged fusion proteins). The techniques described can be used to, but are not limited to, assess β-catenin protein turnover and identify molecular components contributing to its turnover. Additionally, the ability to purify large volumes of homogenous Xenopus
egg extract combined with the quantitative and facile readout of luciferase-tagged proteins allows this system to be easily adapted for high-throughput screening for modulators of β-catenin degradation.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, Xenopus laevis, Xenopus egg extracts, protein degradation, radiolabel, luciferase, autoradiography, high-throughput screening
A Simple and Rapid Protocol for Measuring Neutral Lipids in Algal Cells Using Fluorescence
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Calgary.
Algae are considered excellent candidates for renewable fuel sources due to their natural lipid storage capabilities. Robust monitoring of algal fermentation processes and screening for new oil-rich strains requires a fast and reliable protocol for determination of intracellular lipid content. Current practices rely largely on gravimetric methods to determine oil content, techniques developed decades ago that are time consuming and require large sample volumes. In this paper, Nile Red, a fluorescent dye that has been used to identify the presence of lipid bodies in numerous types of organisms, is incorporated into a simple, fast, and reliable protocol for measuring the neutral lipid content of Auxenochlorella protothecoides
, a green alga. The method uses ethanol, a relatively mild solvent, to permeabilize the cell membrane before staining and a 96 well micro-plate to increase sample capacity during fluorescence intensity measurements. It has been designed with the specific application of monitoring bioprocess performance. Previously dried samples or live samples from a growing culture can be used in the assay.
Chemistry, Issue 87, engineering (general), microbiology, bioengineering (general), Eukaryota Algae, Nile Red, Fluorescence, Oil Content, Oil Extraction, Oil Quantification, Neutral Lipids, Optical Microscope, biomass
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
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.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ
measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration.
Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release.
The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Larval RNA Interference in the Red Flour Beetle, Tribolium castaneum
Institutions: Miami University.
The red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum
, offers a repertoire of experimental tools for genetic and developmental studies, including a fully annotated genome sequence, transposon-based transgenesis, and effective RNA interference (RNAi). Among these advantages, RNAi-based gene knockdown techniques are at the core of Tribolium
research. T. castaneum
show a robust systemic RNAi response, making it possible to perform RNAi at any life stage by simply injecting double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) into the beetle’s body cavity.
In this report, we provide an overview of our larval RNAi technique in T. castaneum
. The protocol includes (i) isolation of the proper stage of T. castaneum
larvae for injection, (ii) preparation for the injection setting, and (iii) dsRNA injection. Larval RNAi is a simple, but powerful technique that provides us with quick access to loss-of-function phenotypes, including multiple gene knockdown phenotypes as well as a series of hypomorphic phenotypes. Since virtually all T. castaneum
tissues are susceptible to extracellular dsRNA, the larval RNAi technique allows researchers to study a wide variety of tissues in diverse contexts, including the genetic basis of organismal responses to the outside environment. In addition, the simplicity of this technique stimulates more student involvement in research, making T. castaneum
an ideal genetic system for use in a classroom setting.
Molecular Biology, Issue 92, RNA interference, RNAi, gene knockdown, red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, injection, double-stranded RNA, functional analysis, teaching laboratories
Isolation of Cellular Lipid Droplets: Two Purification Techniques Starting from Yeast Cells and Human Placentas
Institutions: University of Tennessee, University of Tennessee.
Lipid droplets are dynamic organelles that can be found in most eukaryotic and certain prokaryotic cells. Structurally, the droplets consist of a core of neutral lipids surrounded by a phospholipid monolayer. One of the most useful techniques in determining the cellular roles of droplets has been proteomic identification of bound proteins, which can be isolated along with the droplets. Here, two methods are described to isolate lipid droplets and their bound proteins from two wide-ranging eukaryotes: fission yeast and human placental villous cells. Although both techniques have differences, the main method - density gradient centrifugation - is shared by both preparations. This shows the wide applicability of the presented droplet isolation techniques.
In the first protocol, yeast cells are converted into spheroplasts by enzymatic digestion of their cell walls. The resulting spheroplasts are then gently lysed in a loose-fitting homogenizer. Ficoll is added to the lysate to provide a density gradient, and the mixture is centrifuged three times. After the first spin, the lipid droplets are localized to the white-colored floating layer of the centrifuge tubes along with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), the plasma membrane, and vacuoles. Two subsequent spins are used to remove these other three organelles. The result is a layer that has only droplets and bound proteins.
In the second protocol, placental villous cells are isolated from human term placentas by enzymatic digestion with trypsin and DNase I. The cells are homogenized in a loose-fitting homogenizer. Low-speed and medium-speed centrifugation steps are used to remove unbroken cells, cellular debris, nuclei, and mitochondria. Sucrose is added to the homogenate to provide a density gradient and the mixture is centrifuged to separate the lipid droplets from the other cellular fractions.
The purity of the lipid droplets in both protocols is confirmed by Western Blot analysis. The droplet fractions from both preps are suitable for subsequent proteomic and lipidomic analysis.
Bioengineering, Issue 86, Lipid droplet, lipid body, fat body, oil body, Yeast, placenta, placental villous cells, isolation, purification, density gradient centrifugation
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
High-Throughput Measurement and Classification of Organic P in Environmental Samples
Institutions: University of Vermont.
Many types of organic phosphorus (P) molecules exist in environmental samples1
. Traditional P measurements do not detect these organic P compounds since they do not react with colorimetric reagents2,3
. Enzymatic hydrolysis (EH) is an emerging method for accurately characterizing organic P forms in environmental samples4,5
. This method is only trumped in accuracy by Phosphorus-31 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (31
P-NMR) -a method that is expensive and requires specialized technical training6
. We have adapted an enzymatic hydrolysis method capable of measuring three classes of phosphorus (monoester P, diester P and inorganic P) to a microplate reader system7
. This method provides researchers with a fast, accurate, affordable and user-friendly means to measure P species in soils, sediments, manures and, if concentrated, aquatic samples. This is the only high-throughput method for measuring the forms and enzyme-lability of organic P that can be performed in a standard laboratory. The resulting data provides insight to scientists studying system nutrient content and eutrophication potential.
Microbiology, Issue 52, phosphorus, enzymatic-hydrolysis, soil, manure, phosphatase, phytic acid, NaOH-EDTA, organophosphates, molybdate, organic P
Agrobacterium-Mediated Virus-Induced Gene Silencing Assay In Cotton
Institutions: Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University.
Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum
) is one of the most important crops worldwide. Considerable efforts have been made on molecular breeding of new varieties. The large-scale gene functional analysis in cotton has been lagged behind most of the modern plant species, likely due to its large size of genome, gene duplication and polyploidy, long growth cycle and recalcitrance to genetic transformation1
. To facilitate high throughput functional genetic/genomic study in cotton, we attempt to develop rapid and efficient transient assays to assess cotton gene functions.
Virus-Induced Gene Silencing (VIGS) is a powerful technique that was developed based on the host Post-Transcriptional Gene Silencing (PTGS) to repress viral proliferation2,3
. Agrobacterium-mediated VIGS has been successfully applied in a wide range of dicots species such as Solanaceae, Arabidopsis
and legume species, and monocots species including barley, wheat and maize, for various functional genomic studies3,4
. As this rapid and efficient approach avoids plant transformation and overcomes functional redundancy, it is particularly attractive and suitable for functional genomic study in crop species like cotton not amenable for transformation.
In this study, we report the detailed protocol of Agrobacterium-mediated VIGS system in cotton. Among the several viral VIGS vectors, the tobacco rattle virus (TRV) invades a wide range of hosts and is able to spread vigorously throughout the entire plant yet produce mild symptoms on the hosts5. To monitor the silencing efficiency, GrCLA1, a homolog gene of Arabidopsis Cloroplastos alterados 1
) in cotton, has been cloned and inserted into the VIGS binary vector pYL156. CLA1
gene is involved in chloroplast development6
, and previous studies have shown that loss-of-function of AtCLA1
resulted in an albino phenotype on true leaves7
, providing an excellent visual marker for silencing efficiency. At approximately two weeks post Agrobacterium
infiltration, the albino phenotype started to appear on the true leaves, with 100% silencing efficiency in all replicated experiments. The silencing of endogenous gene expression was also confirmed by RT-PCR analysis. Significantly, silencing could potently occur in all the cultivars we tested, including various commercially grown varieties in Texas. This rapid and efficient Agrobacterium-mediated VIGS assay provides a very powerful tool for rapid large-scale analysis of gene functions at genome-wide level in cotton.
Plant Biology, Issue 54, Agrobacterium, Cotton, Functional Genomics, Virus-Induced Gene Silencing
Revealing Neural Circuit Topography in Multi-Color
Institutions: Yeshiva University.
Neural circuits are organized into functional topographic maps. In order to visualize complex circuit architecture we developed an approach to reliably label the global patterning of multiple topographic projections. The cerebellum is an ideal model to study the orderly arrangement of neural circuits. For example, the compartmental organization of spinocerebellar mossy fibers has proven to be an indispensable system for studying mossy fiber patterning. We recently showed that wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) conjugated to Alexa 555 and 488 can be used for tracing spinocerebellar mossy fiber projections in developing and adult mice (Reeber et al. 2011). We found three major properties that make the WGA-Alexa tracers desirable tools for labeling neural projections. First, Alexa fluorophores are intense and their brightness allows for wholemount imaging directly after tracing. Second, WGA-Alexa tracers label the entire trajectory of developing and adult neural projections. Third, WGA-Alexa tracers are rapidly transported in both retrograde and anterograde directions. Here, we describe in detail how to prepare the tracers and other required tools, how to perform the surgery for spinocerebellar tracing and how best to image traced projections in three dimensions. In summary, we provide a step-by-step tracing protocol that will be useful for deciphering the organization and connectivity of functional maps not only in the cerebellum but also in the cortex, brainstem, and spinal cord.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, neuronal projections, topography, circuits, connectivity, fluorescent tracers, mice
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
Using Unfixed, Frozen Tissues to Study Natural Mucin Distribution
Institutions: University of California, San Diego , Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Mucins are complex and heavily glycosylated O
-linked glycoproteins, which contain more than 70% carbohydrate by weight1-3
. Secreted mucins, produced by goblet cells and the gastric mucosa, provide the scaffold for a micrometers-thick mucus layer that lines the epithelia of the gut and respiratory tract3,4
. In addition to mucins, mucus layers also contain antimicrobial peptides, cytokines, and immunoglobulins5-9
. The mucus layer is an important part of host innate immunity, and forms the first line of defense against invading microorganisms8,10-12
. As such, the mucus is subject to numerous interactions with microbes, both pathogens and symbionts, and secreted mucins form an important interface for these interactions. The study of such biological interactions usually involves histological methods for tissue collection and staining. The two most commonly used histological methods for tissue collection and preservation in the clinic and in research laboratories are: formalin fixation followed by paraffin embedding, and tissue freezing, followed by embedding in cryo-protectant media.
Paraffin-embedded tissue samples produce sections with optimal qualities for histological visualization including clarity and well-defined morphology. However, during the paraffin embedding process a number of epitopes become altered and in order to study these epitopes, tissue sections have to be further processed with one of many epitope retrieval methods13
. Secreted mucins and lipids are extracted from the tissue during the paraffin-embedding clearing step, which requires prolong incubation with organic solvents (xylene or Citrisolv). Therefore this approach is sub-optimal for studies focusing on the nature and distribution of mucins and mucus in vivo
In contrast, freezing tissues in Optimal Cutting Temperature (OCT) embedding medium avoids dehydration and clearing of the sample, and maintains the sample hydration. This allows for better preservation of the hydrated mucus layer, and thus permits the study of the numerous roles of mucins in epithelial biology. As this method requires minimal processing of the tissue, the tissue is preserved in a more natural state. Therefore frozen tissues sections do not require any additional processing prior to staining and can be readily analyzed using immunohistochemistry methods.
We demonstrate the preservation of micrometers-thick secreted mucus layer in frozen colon samples. This layer is drastically reduced when the same tissues are embedded in paraffin. We also demonstrate immunofluorescence staining of glycan epitopes presented on mucins using plant lectins. The advantage of this approach is that it does not require the use of special fixatives and allows utilizing frozen tissues that may already be preserved in the laboratory.
Medicine, Issue 67, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Biomedical Engineering, mucus, lectins, OCT, imaging, sialic acids, glycosylation
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Giant Liposome Preparation for Imaging and Patch-Clamp Electrophysiology
Institutions: University of Washington.
The reconstitution of ion channels into chemically defined lipid membranes for electrophysiological recording has been a powerful technique to identify and explore the function of these important proteins. However, classical preparations, such as planar bilayers, limit the manipulations and experiments that can be performed on the reconstituted channel and its membrane environment. The more cell-like structure of giant liposomes permits traditional patch-clamp experiments without sacrificing control of the lipid environment.
Electroformation is an efficient mean to produce giant liposomes >10 μm in diameter which relies on the application of alternating voltage to a thin, ordered lipid film deposited on an electrode surface. However, since the classical protocol calls for the lipids to be deposited from organic solvents, it is not compatible with less robust membrane proteins like ion channels and must be modified. Recently, protocols have been developed to electroform giant liposomes from partially dehydrated small liposomes, which we have adapted to protein-containing liposomes in our laboratory.
We present here the background, equipment, techniques, and pitfalls of electroformation of giant liposomes from small liposome dispersions. We begin with the classic protocol, which should be mastered first before attempting the more challenging protocols that follow. We demonstrate the process of controlled partial dehydration of small liposomes using vapor equilibrium with saturated salt solutions. Finally, we demonstrate the process of electroformation itself. We will describe simple, inexpensive equipment that can be made in-house to produce high-quality liposomes, and describe visual inspection of the preparation at each stage to ensure the best results.
Physiology, Issue 76, Biophysics, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Proteins, Membranes, Artificial, Lipid Bilayers, Liposomes, Phospholipids, biochemistry, Lipids, Giant Unilamellar Vesicles, liposome, electrophysiology, electroformation, reconstitution, patch clamp
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
Analysis of Fatty Acid Content and Composition in Microalgae
Institutions: Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center.
A method to determine the content and composition of total fatty acids present in microalgae is described. Fatty acids are a major constituent of microalgal biomass. These fatty acids can be present in different acyl-lipid classes. Especially the fatty acids present in triacylglycerol (TAG) are of commercial interest, because they can be used for production of transportation fuels, bulk chemicals, nutraceuticals (ω-3 fatty acids), and food commodities. To develop commercial applications, reliable analytical methods for quantification of fatty acid content and composition are needed. Microalgae are single cells surrounded by a rigid cell wall. A fatty acid analysis method should provide sufficient cell disruption to liberate all acyl lipids and the extraction procedure used should be able to extract all acyl lipid classes.
With the method presented here all fatty acids present in microalgae can be accurately and reproducibly identified and quantified using small amounts of sample (5 mg) independent of their chain length, degree of unsaturation, or the lipid class they are part of.
This method does not provide information about the relative abundance of different lipid classes, but can be extended to separate lipid classes from each other.
The method is based on a sequence of mechanical cell disruption, solvent based lipid extraction, transesterification of fatty acids to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), and quantification and identification of FAMEs using gas chromatography (GC-FID). A TAG internal standard (tripentadecanoin) is added prior to the analytical procedure to correct for losses during extraction and incomplete transesterification.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, chemical analysis techniques, Microalgae, fatty acid, triacylglycerol, lipid, gas chromatography, cell disruption
Surface Renewal: An Advanced Micrometeorological Method for Measuring and Processing Field-Scale Energy Flux Density Data
Institutions: United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, University of California, Davis, University of Chile, University of California, Davis, URS Corporation Australia Pty. Ltd..
Advanced micrometeorological methods have become increasingly important in soil, crop, and environmental sciences. For many scientists without formal training in atmospheric science, these techniques are relatively inaccessible. Surface renewal and other flux measurement methods require an understanding of boundary layer meteorology and extensive training in instrumentation and multiple data management programs. To improve accessibility of these techniques, we describe the underlying theory of surface renewal measurements, demonstrate how to set up a field station for surface renewal with eddy covariance calibration, and utilize our open-source turnkey data logger program to perform flux data acquisition and processing. The new turnkey program returns to the user a simple data table with the corrected fluxes and quality control parameters, and eliminates the need for researchers to shuttle between multiple processing programs to obtain the final flux data. An example of data generated from these measurements demonstrates how crop water use is measured with this technique. The output information is useful to growers for making irrigation decisions in a variety of agricultural ecosystems. These stations are currently deployed in numerous field experiments by researchers in our group and the California Department of Water Resources in the following crops: rice, wine and raisin grape vineyards, alfalfa, almond, walnut, peach, lemon, avocado, and corn.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, Conservation of Natural Resources, Engineering, Agriculture, plants, energy balance, irrigated agriculture, flux data, evapotranspiration, agrometeorology
A Rapid and Efficient Method for Assessing Pathogenicity of Ustilago maydis on Maize and Teosinte Lines
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Maize is a major cereal crop worldwide. However, susceptibility to biotrophic pathogens is the primary constraint to increasing productivity. U. maydis
is a biotrophic fungal pathogen and the causal agent of corn smut on maize. This disease is responsible for significant yield losses of approximately $1.0 billion annually in the U.S.1
Several methods including crop rotation, fungicide application and seed treatments are currently used to control corn smut2
. However, host resistance is the only practical method for managing corn smut. Identification of crop plants including maize, wheat, and rice that are resistant to various biotrophic pathogens has significantly decreased yield losses annually3-5
. Therefore, the use of a pathogen inoculation method that efficiently and reproducibly delivers the pathogen in between the plant leaves, would facilitate the rapid identification of maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis
. As, a first step toward indentifying maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis
, a needle injection inoculation method and a resistance reaction screening method was utilized to inoculate maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines with a U. maydis
strain and to select resistant plants.
Maize, teosinte and maize x teosinte introgression lines, consisting of about 700 plants, were planted, inoculated with a strain of U. maydis
, and screened for resistance. The inoculation and screening methods successfully identified three teosinte lines resistant to U. maydis
. Here a detailed needle injection inoculation and resistance reaction screening protocol for maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines is presented. This study demonstrates that needle injection inoculation is an invaluable tool in agriculture that can efficiently deliver U. maydis
in between the plant leaves and has provided plant lines that are resistant to U. maydis
that can now be combined and tested in breeding programs for improved disease resistance.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, Bacterial Infections, Signs and Symptoms, Eukaryota, Plant Physiological Phenomena, Ustilago maydis, needle injection inoculation, disease rating scale, plant-pathogen interactions
Gibberella zeae Ascospore Production and Collection for Microarray Experiments.
Institutions: USDA, University of Minnesota/ Agroinnova, University of Torino, University of Minnesota.
Fusarium graminearum Schwabe (teleomorph Gibberella zeae) is a plant pathogen causing scab disease on wheat and barley that reduces crop yield and grain quality. F. graminearum also causes stalk and ear rots of maize and is a producer of mycotoxins such as the trichothecenes that contaminate grain and are harmful to humans and livestock (Goswami and Kistler, 2004).
The fungus produces two types of spores. Ascospores, the propagules resulting from sexual reproduction, are the main source of primary infection. These spores are forcibly discharged from mature perithecia and dispersed by wind (Francl et al 1999). Secondary infections are mainly caused by macroconidia which are produced by asexual means on the plant surface. To study the developmental processes of ascospores in this fungus, a procedure for their collection in large quantity under sterile conditions was required. Our protocol was filmed in order to generate the highest level of information for understanding and reproducibility; crucial aspects when full genome gene expression profiles are generated and interpreted. In particular, the variability of ascospore germination and biological activity are dependent on the prior manipulation of the material. The use of video for documenting every step in ascospore production is proposed in order to increase standardization, complying with the increasingly stringent requirements for microarray analysis. The procedure requires only standard laboratory equipment. Steps are shown to prevent contamination and favor time synchronization of ascospores.
Plant Biology, Issue 1, sexual cross, spore separation, MIAME standards