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A case study of the de novo evolution of a complex odometric behavior in digital organisms.
PUBLISHED: 02-26-2013
Investigating the evolution of animal behavior is difficult. The fossil record leaves few clues that would allow us to recapitulate the path that evolution took to build a complex behavior, and the large population sizes and long time scales required prevent us from re-evolving such behaviors in a laboratory setting. We present results of a study in which digital organisms-self-replicating computer programs that are subject to mutations and selection-evolved in different environments that required information about past experience for fitness-enhancing behavioral decisions. One population evolved a mechanism for step-counting, a surprisingly complex odometric behavior that was only indirectly related to enhancing fitness. We examine in detail the operation of the evolved mechanism and the evolutionary transitions that produced this striking example of a complex behavior.
Authors: Naomi Ziv, Nathan J. Brandt, David Gresham.
Published: 10-14-2013
Cells regulate their rate of growth in response to signals from the external world. As the cell grows, diverse cellular processes must be coordinated including macromolecular synthesis, metabolism and ultimately, commitment to the cell division cycle. The chemostat, a method of experimentally controlling cell growth rate, provides a powerful means of systematically studying how growth rate impacts cellular processes - including gene expression and metabolism - and the regulatory networks that control the rate of cell growth. When maintained for hundreds of generations chemostats can be used to study adaptive evolution of microbes in environmental conditions that limit cell growth. We describe the principle of chemostat cultures, demonstrate their operation and provide examples of their various applications. Following a period of disuse after their introduction in the middle of the twentieth century, the convergence of genome-scale methodologies with a renewed interest in the regulation of cell growth and the molecular basis of adaptive evolution is stimulating a renaissance in the use of chemostats in biological research.
28 Related JoVE Articles!
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State-Dependency Effects on TMS: A Look at Motive Phosphene Behavior
Authors: Umer Najib, Jared C. Horvath, Juha Silvanto, Alvaro Pascual-Leone.
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Aalto University School of Science and Technology.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive neurostimulatory and neuromodulatory technique that can transiently or lastingly modulate cortical excitability (either increasing or decreasing it) via the application of localized magnetic field pulses.1,2 Within the field of TMS, the term state dependency refers to the initial, baseline condition of the particular neural region targeted for stimulation. As can be inferred, the effects of TMS can (and do) vary according to this primary susceptibility and responsiveness of the targeted cortical area.3,4,5 In this experiment, we will examine this concept of state dependency through the elicitation and subjective experience of motive phosphenes. Phosphenes are visually perceived flashes of small lights triggered by electromagnetic pulses to the visual cortex. These small lights can assume varied characteristics depending upon which type of visual cortex is being stimulated. In this particular study, we will be targeting motive phosphenes as elicited through the stimulation of V1/V2 and the V5/MT+ complex visual regions.6
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, state dependency, motive phosphenes, visual priming, V1/V2, V5/MT+
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Nest Building as an Indicator of Health and Welfare in Laboratory Mice
Authors: Brianna N. Gaskill, Alicia Z. Karas, Joseph P. Garner, Kathleen R. Pritchett-Corning.
Institutions: Charles River, Tufts University, Stanford University, Stanford University.
The minimization and alleviation of suffering has moral and scientific implications. In order to mitigate this negative experience one must be able to identify when an animal is actually in distress. Pain, illness, or distress cannot be managed if unrecognized. Evaluation of pain or illness typically involves the measurement of physiologic and behavioral indicators which are either invasive or not suitable for large scale assessment. The observation of nesting behavior shows promise as the basis of a species appropriate cage-side assessment tool for recognizing distress in mice. Here we demonstrate the utility of nest building behavior in laboratory mice as an ethologically relevant indicator of welfare. The methods presented can be successfully used to identify thermal stressors, aggressive cages, sickness, and pain. Observation of nest building behavior in mouse colonies provides a refinement to health and well-being assessment on a day to day basis.
Behavior, Issue 82, Animal Structures, Surgical Procedures, Life Sciences (General), Behavioral Sciences, Mouse, Welfare assessment, Nest building
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C. elegans Tracking and Behavioral Measurement
Authors: Jirapat Likitlersuang, Greg Stephens, Konstantine Palanski, William S. Ryu.
Institutions: University of Toronto, Vrije Universiteit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, University of Toronto.
We have developed instrumentation, image processing, and data analysis techniques to quantify the locomotory behavior of C. elegans as it crawls on the surface of an agar plate. For the study of the genetic, biochemical, and neuronal basis of behavior, C. elegans is an ideal organism because it is genetically tractable, amenable to microscopy, and shows a number of complex behaviors, including taxis, learning, and social interaction1,2. Behavioral analysis based on tracking the movements of worms as they crawl on agar plates have been particularly useful in the study of sensory behavior3, locomotion4, and general mutational phenotyping5. Our system works by moving the camera and illumination system as the worms crawls on a stationary agar plate, which ensures no mechanical stimulus is transmitted to the worm. Our tracking system is easy to use and includes a semi-automatic calibration feature. A challenge of all video tracking systems is that it generates an enormous amount of data that is intrinsically high dimensional. Our image processing and data analysis programs deal with this challenge by reducing the worms shape into a set of independent components, which comprehensively reconstruct the worms behavior as a function of only 3-4 dimensions6,7. As an example of the process we show that the worm enters and exits its reversal state in a phase specific manner.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Physics, Biophysics, Anatomy, Microscopy, Ethology, Behavior, Machine Vision, C. elegans, animal model
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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An Experimental and Bioinformatics Protocol for RNA-seq Analyses of Photoperiodic Diapause in the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus
Authors: Monica F. Poelchau, Xin Huang, Allison Goff, Julie Reynolds, Peter Armbruster.
Institutions: Georgetown University, The Ohio State University.
Photoperiodic diapause is an important adaptation that allows individuals to escape harsh seasonal environments via a series of physiological changes, most notably developmental arrest and reduced metabolism. Global gene expression profiling via RNA-Seq can provide important insights into the transcriptional mechanisms of photoperiodic diapause. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, is an outstanding organism for studying the transcriptional bases of diapause due to its ease of rearing, easily induced diapause, and the genomic resources available. This manuscript presents a general experimental workflow for identifying diapause-induced transcriptional differences in A. albopictus. Rearing techniques, conditions necessary to induce diapause and non-diapause development, methods to estimate percent diapause in a population, and RNA extraction and integrity assessment for mosquitoes are documented. A workflow to process RNA-Seq data from Illumina sequencers culminates in a list of differentially expressed genes. The representative results demonstrate that this protocol can be used to effectively identify genes differentially regulated at the transcriptional level in A. albopictus due to photoperiodic differences. With modest adjustments, this workflow can be readily adapted to study the transcriptional bases of diapause or other important life history traits in other mosquitoes.
Genetics, Issue 93, Aedes albopictus Asian tiger mosquito, photoperiodic diapause, RNA-Seq de novo transcriptome assembly, mosquito husbandry
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Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Authors: Karin Hauffen, Eugene Bart, Mark Brady, Daniel Kersten, Jay Hegdé.
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes) with such properties2. Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6 (also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings. First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints. Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases. Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms. Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper. We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have. Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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Ablation of a Single Cell From Eight-cell Embryos of the Amphipod Crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis
Authors: Anastasia R. Nast, Cassandra G. Extavour.
Institutions: Harvard University.
The amphipod Parhyale hawaiensis is a small crustacean found in intertidal marine habitats worldwide. Over the past decade, Parhyale has emerged as a promising model organism for laboratory studies of development, providing a useful outgroup comparison to the well studied arthropod model organism Drosophila melanogaster. In contrast to the syncytial cleavages of Drosophila, the early cleavages of Parhyale are holoblastic. Fate mapping using tracer dyes injected into early blastomeres have shown that all three germ layers and the germ line are established by the eight-cell stage. At this stage, three blastomeres are fated to give rise to the ectoderm, three are fated to give rise to the mesoderm, and the remaining two blastomeres are the precursors of the endoderm and germ line respectively. However, blastomere ablation experiments have shown that Parhyale embryos also possess significant regulatory capabilities, such that the fates of blastomeres ablated at the eight-cell stage can be taken over by the descendants of some of the remaining blastomeres. Blastomere ablation has previously been described by one of two methods: injection and subsequent activation of phototoxic dyes or manual ablation. However, photoablation kills blastomeres but does not remove the dead cell body from the embryo. Complete physical removal of specific blastomeres may therefore be a preferred method of ablation for some applications. Here we present a protocol for manual removal of single blastomeres from the eight-cell stage of Parhyale embryos, illustrating the instruments and manual procedures necessary for complete removal of the cell body while keeping the remaining blastomeres alive and intact. This protocol can be applied to any Parhyale cell at the eight-cell stage, or to blastomeres of other early cleavage stages. In addition, in principle this protocol could be applicable to early cleavage stage embryos of other holoblastically cleaving marine invertebrates.
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, Amphipod, experimental embryology, micromere, germ line, ablation, developmental potential, vasa
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In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Authors: William R. Brant, Siegbert Schmid, Guodong Du, Helen E. A. Brand, Wei Kong Pang, Vanessa K. Peterson, Zaiping Guo, Neeraj Sharma.
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2 However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3 This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries. We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ data.
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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2D and 3D Chromosome Painting in Malaria Mosquitoes
Authors: Phillip George, Atashi Sharma, Igor V Sharakhov.
Institutions: Virginia Tech.
Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) of whole arm chromosome probes is a robust technique for mapping genomic regions of interest, detecting chromosomal rearrangements, and studying three-dimensional (3D) organization of chromosomes in the cell nucleus. The advent of laser capture microdissection (LCM) and whole genome amplification (WGA) allows obtaining large quantities of DNA from single cells. The increased sensitivity of WGA kits prompted us to develop chromosome paints and to use them for exploring chromosome organization and evolution in non-model organisms. Here, we present a simple method for isolating and amplifying the euchromatic segments of single polytene chromosome arms from ovarian nurse cells of the African malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae. This procedure provides an efficient platform for obtaining chromosome paints, while reducing the overall risk of introducing foreign DNA to the sample. The use of WGA allows for several rounds of re-amplification, resulting in high quantities of DNA that can be utilized for multiple experiments, including 2D and 3D FISH. We demonstrated that the developed chromosome paints can be successfully used to establish the correspondence between euchromatic portions of polytene and mitotic chromosome arms in An. gambiae. Overall, the union of LCM and single-chromosome WGA provides an efficient tool for creating significant amounts of target DNA for future cytogenetic and genomic studies.
Immunology, Issue 83, Microdissection, whole genome amplification, malaria mosquito, polytene chromosome, mitotic chromosomes, fluorescence in situ hybridization, chromosome painting
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Synthesis and Characterization of Functionalized Metal-organic Frameworks
Authors: Olga Karagiaridi, Wojciech Bury, Amy A. Sarjeant, Joseph T. Hupp, Omar K. Farha.
Institutions: Northwestern University, Warsaw University of Technology, King Abdulaziz University.
Metal-organic frameworks have attracted extraordinary amounts of research attention, as they are attractive candidates for numerous industrial and technological applications. Their signature property is their ultrahigh porosity, which however imparts a series of challenges when it comes to both constructing them and working with them. Securing desired MOF chemical and physical functionality by linker/node assembly into a highly porous framework of choice can pose difficulties, as less porous and more thermodynamically stable congeners (e.g., other crystalline polymorphs, catenated analogues) are often preferentially obtained by conventional synthesis methods. Once the desired product is obtained, its characterization often requires specialized techniques that address complications potentially arising from, for example, guest-molecule loss or preferential orientation of microcrystallites. Finally, accessing the large voids inside the MOFs for use in applications that involve gases can be problematic, as frameworks may be subject to collapse during removal of solvent molecules (remnants of solvothermal synthesis). In this paper, we describe synthesis and characterization methods routinely utilized in our lab either to solve or circumvent these issues. The methods include solvent-assisted linker exchange, powder X-ray diffraction in capillaries, and materials activation (cavity evacuation) by supercritical CO2 drying. Finally, we provide a protocol for determining a suitable pressure region for applying the Brunauer-Emmett-Teller analysis to nitrogen isotherms, so as to estimate surface area of MOFs with good accuracy.
Chemistry, Issue 91, Metal-organic frameworks, porous coordination polymers, supercritical CO2 activation, crystallography, solvothermal, sorption, solvent-assisted linker exchange
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Single Wavelength Shadow Imaging of Caenorhabditis elegans Locomotion Including Force Estimates
Authors: Alicia Jago, Tewa Kpulun, Kathleen M. Raley-Susman, Jenny Magnes.
Institutions: Vassar College, Vassar College.
This study demonstrates an inexpensive and straightforward technique that allows the measurement of physical properties such as position, velocity, acceleration and forces involved in the locomotory behavior of nematodes suspended in a column of water in response to single wavelengths of light. We demonstrate how to evaluate the locomotion of a microscopic organism using Single Wavelength Shadow Imaging (SWSI) using two different examples. The first example is a systematic and statistically viable study of the average descent of C. elegans in a column of water. For this study, we used living and dead wildtype C. elegans. When we compared the velocity and direction of nematode active movement with the passive descent of dead worms within the gravitational field, this study showed no difference in descent-times. The average descent was 1.5 mm/sec ± 0.1 mm/sec for both the live and dead worms using 633 nm coherent light. The second example is a case study of select individual C. elegans changing direction during the descent in a vertical water column. Acceleration and force are analyzed in this example. This case study demonstrates the scope of other physical properties that can be evaluated using SWSI while evaluating the behavior using single wavelengths in an environment that is not accessible with traditional microscopes. Using this analysis we estimated an individual nematode is capable of thrusting with a force in excess of 28 nN. Our findings indicate that living nematodes exert 28 nN when turning, or moving against the gravitational field. The findings further suggest that nematodes passively descend in a column of water, but can actively resist the force of gravity primarily by turning direction.
Physics, Issue 86, C. elegans, nematode, shadow imaging, locomotion, video analysis, swimming behavior, force
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Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Hans Maaswinkel, Liqun Zhu, Wei Weng.
Institutions: xyZfish.
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
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
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Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Authors: Lorena Stannek, Richard Egelkamp, Katrin Gunka, Fabian M. Commichau.
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
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Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Authors: Stéphanie Beaucourt, Antonio V. Bordería, Lark L. Coffey, Nina F. Gnädig, Marta Sanz-Ramos, Yasnee Beeharry, Marco Vignuzzi.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7.
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
Authors: Hirotaka Shoji, Keizo Takao, Satoko Hattori, Tsuyoshi Miyakawa.
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
The contextual and cued fear conditioning test is one of the behavioral tests that assesses the ability of mice to learn and remember an association between environmental cues and aversive experiences. In this test, mice are placed into a conditioning chamber and are given parings of a conditioned stimulus (an auditory cue) and an aversive unconditioned stimulus (an electric footshock). After a delay time, the mice are exposed to the same conditioning chamber and a differently shaped chamber with presentation of the auditory cue. Freezing behavior during the test is measured as an index of fear memory. To analyze the behavior automatically, we have developed a video analyzing system using the ImageFZ application software program, which is available as a free download at Here, to show the details of our protocol, we demonstrate our procedure for the contextual and cued fear conditioning test in C57BL/6J mice using the ImageFZ system. In addition, we validated our protocol and the video analyzing system performance by comparing freezing time measured by the ImageFZ system or a photobeam-based computer measurement system with that scored by a human observer. As shown in our representative results, the data obtained by ImageFZ were similar to those analyzed by a human observer, indicating that the behavioral analysis using the ImageFZ system is highly reliable. The present movie article provides detailed information regarding the test procedures and will promote understanding of the experimental situation.
Behavior, Issue 85, Fear, Learning, Memory, ImageFZ program, Mouse, contextual fear, cued fear
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g., food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides. We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Authors: Jason Rasgon.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia
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A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Authors: Gauthier Julie, Fadi F. Hamdan, Guy A. Rouleau.
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1 and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
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Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Authors: Frank Buchholz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells. We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
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Studying Aggression in Drosophila (fruit flies)
Authors: Sibu Mundiyanapurath, Sarah Certel, Edward A. Kravitz.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Aggression is an innate behavior that evolved in the framework of defending or obtaining resources. This complex social behavior is influenced by genetic, hormonal and environmental factors. In many organisms, aggression is critical to survival but controlling and suppressing aggression in distinct contexts also has become increasingly important. In recent years, invertebrates have become increasingly useful as model systems for investigating the genetic and systems biological basis of complex social behavior. This is in part due to the diverse repertoire of behaviors exhibited by these organisms. In the accompanying video, we outline a method for analyzing aggression in Drosophila whose design encompasses important eco-ethological constraints. Details include steps for: making a fighting chamber; isolating and painting flies; adding flies to the fight chamber; and video taping fights. This approach is currently being used to identify candidate genes important in aggression and in elaborating the neuronal circuitry that underlies the output of aggression and other social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Drosophila, behavior
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High-Resolution Video Tracking of Locomotion in Adult Drosophila Melanogaster
Authors: Justin B. Slawson, Eugene Z. Kim, Leslie C. Griffith.
Institutions: Brandeis.
Flies provide an important model for studying complex behavior due to the plethora of genetic tools available to researchers in this field. Studying locomotor behavior in Drosophila melanogaster relies on the ability to be able to quantify changes in motion during or in response to a given task. For this reason, a high-resolution video tracking system, such as the one we describe in this paper, is a valuable tool for measuring locomotion in real-time. Our protocol involves the use of an initial air pulse to break the flies momentum, followed by a thirty second filming period in a square chamber. A tracking program is then used to calculate the instantaneous speed of each fly within the chamber in 10 msec increments. Analysis software then compiles this data, and outputs a variety of parameters such as average speed, max speed, time spent in motion, acceleration, etc. This protocol will discuss proper feeding and management of flies for behavioral tasks, handling flies without anesthetization or immobilization, setting up a controlled environment, and running the assay from start to finish.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, behavior, Drosophila, locomotion, video, tracking, air pulse
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Interview: HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase
Authors: Joachim Hauber.
Institutions: Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, University of Hamburg.
HIV-1 integrates into the host chromosome of infected cells and persists as a provirus flanked by long terminal repeats. Current treatment strategies primarily target virus enzymes or virus-cell fusion, suppressing the viral life cycle without eradicating the infection. Since the integrated provirus is not targeted by these approaches, new resistant strains of HIV-1 may emerge. Here, we report that the engineered recombinase Tre (see Molecular evolution of the Tre recombinase , Buchholz, F., Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden) efficiently excises integrated HIV-1 proviral DNA from the genome of infected cells. We produced loxLTR containing viral pseudotypes and infected HeLa cells to examine whether Tre recombinase can excise the provirus from the genome of HIV-1 infected human cells. A virus particle-releasing cell line was cloned and transfected with a plasmid expressing Tre or with a parental control vector. Recombinase activity and virus production were monitored. All assays demonstrated the efficient deletion of the provirus from infected cells without visible cytotoxic effects. These results serve as proof of principle that it is possible to evolve a recombinase to specifically target an HIV-1 LTR and that this recombinase is capable of excising the HIV-1 provirus from the genome of HIV-1-infected human cells. Before an engineered recombinase could enter the therapeutic arena, however, significant obstacles need to be overcome. Among the most critical issues, that we face, are an efficient and safe delivery to targeted cells and the absence of side effects.
Medicine, Issue 16, HIV, Cell Biology, Recombinase, provirus, HeLa Cells
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Light/dark Transition Test for Mice
Authors: Keizo Takao, Tsuyoshi Miyakawa.
Institutions: Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University.
Although all of the mouse genome sequences have been determined, we do not yet know the functions of most of these genes. Gene-targeting techniques, however, can be used to delete or manipulate a specific gene in mice. The influence of a given gene on a specific behavior can then be determined by conducting behavioral analyses of the mutant mice. As a test for behavioral phenotyping of mutant mice, the light/dark transition test is one of the most widely used tests to measure anxiety-like behavior in mice. The test is based on the natural aversion of mice to brightly illuminated areas and on their spontaneous exploratory behavior in novel environments. The test is sensitive to anxiolytic drug treatment. The apparatus consists of a dark chamber and a brightly illuminated chamber. Mice are allowed to move freely between the two chambers. The number of entries into the bright chamber and the duration of time spent there are indices of bright-space anxiety in mice. To obtain phenotyping results of a strain of mutant mice that can be readily reproduced and compared with those of other mutants, the behavioral test methods should be as identical as possible between laboratories. The procedural differences that exist between laboratories, however, make it difficult to replicate or compare the results among laboratories. Here, we present our protocol for the light/dark transition test as a movie so that the details of the protocol can be demonstrated. In our laboratory, we have assessed more than 60 strains of mutant mice using the protocol shown in the movie. Those data will be disclosed as a part of a public database that we are now constructing. Visualization of the protocol will facilitate understanding of the details of the entire experimental procedure, allowing for standardization of the protocols used across laboratories and comparisons of the behavioral phenotypes of various strains of mutant mice assessed using this test.
Neuroscience, Issue 1, knockout mice, transgenic mice, behavioral test, phenotyping
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