This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
OLIgo Mass Profiling (OLIMP) of Extracellular Polysaccharides
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Berkeley.
The direct contact of cells to the environment is mediated in many organisms by an extracellular matrix. One common aspect of extracellular matrices is that they contain complex sugar moieties in form of glycoproteins, proteoglycans, and/or polysaccharides. Examples include the extracellular matrix of humans and animal cells consisting mainly of fibrillar proteins and proteoglycans or the polysaccharide based cell walls of plants and fungi, and the proteoglycan/glycolipid based cell walls of bacteria. All these glycostructures play vital roles in cell-to-cell and cell-to-environment communication and signalling.
An extraordinary complex example of an extracellular matrix is present in the walls of higher plant cells. Their wall is made almost entirely of sugars, up to 75% dry weight, and consists of the most abundant biopolymers present on this planet. Therefore, research is conducted how to utilize these materials best as a carbon-neutral renewable resource to replace petrochemicals derived from fossil fuel. The main challenge for fuel conversion remains the recalcitrance of walls to enzymatic or chemical degradation due to the unique glycostructures present in this unique biocomposite.
Here, we present a method for the rapid and sensitive analysis of plant cell wall glycostructures. This method OLIgo Mass Profiling (OLIMP) is based the enzymatic release of oligosaccharides from wall materials facilitating specific glycosylhydrolases and subsequent analysis of the solubilized oligosaccharide mixtures using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF/MS)1
(Figure 1). OLIMP requires walls of only 5000 cells for a complete analysis, can be performed on the tissue itself2
, and is amenable to high-throughput analyses3
. While the absolute amount of the solubilized oligosaccharides cannot be determined by OLIMP the relative abundance of the various oligosaccharide ions can be delineated from the mass spectra giving insights about the substitution-pattern of the native polysaccharide present in the wall.
OLIMP can be used to analyze a wide variety of wall polymers, limited only by the availability of specific enzymes4
. For example, for the analysis of polymers present in the plant cell wall enzymes are available to analyse the hemicelluloses xyloglucan using a xyloglucanase5, 11, 12, 13
, xylan using an endo
, or for pectic polysaccharides using a combination of a polygalacturonase and a methylesterase 8
. Furthermore, using the same principles of OLIMP glycosylhydrolase and even glycosyltransferase activities can be monitored and determined 9
Plant Biology, Issue 40, Extracellular matrix, cell walls, polysaccharides, glycosylhydrolase, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry
Steady-state, Pre-steady-state, and Single-turnover Kinetic Measurement for DNA Glycosylase Activity
Institutions: NIEHS, National Institutes of Health.
Human 8-oxoguanine DNA glycosylase (OGG1) excises the mutagenic oxidative DNA lesion 8-oxo-7,8-dihydroguanine (8-oxoG) from DNA. Kinetic characterization of OGG1 is undertaken to measure the rates of 8-oxoG excision and product release. When the OGG1 concentration is lower than substrate DNA, time courses of product formation are biphasic; a rapid exponential phase (i.e.
burst) of product formation is followed by a linear steady-state phase. The initial burst of product formation corresponds to the concentration of enzyme properly engaged on the substrate, and the burst amplitude depends on the concentration of enzyme. The first-order rate constant of the burst corresponds to the intrinsic rate of 8-oxoG excision and the slower steady-state rate measures the rate of product release (product DNA dissociation rate constant, koff
). Here, we describe steady-state, pre-steady-state, and single-turnover approaches to isolate and measure specific steps during OGG1 catalytic cycling. A fluorescent labeled lesion-containing oligonucleotide and purified OGG1 are used to facilitate precise kinetic measurements. Since low enzyme concentrations are used to make steady-state measurements, manual mixing of reagents and quenching of the reaction can be performed to ascertain the steady-state rate (koff
). Additionally, extrapolation of the steady-state rate to a point on the ordinate at zero time indicates that a burst of product formation occurred during the first turnover (i.e.
y-intercept is positive). The first-order rate constant of the exponential burst phase can be measured using a rapid mixing and quenching technique that examines the amount of product formed at short time intervals (<1 sec) before the steady-state phase and corresponds to the rate of 8-oxoG excision (i.e.
chemistry). The chemical step can also be measured using a single-turnover approach where catalytic cycling is prevented by saturating substrate DNA with enzyme (E>S). These approaches can measure elementary rate constants that influence the efficiency of removal of a DNA lesion.
Chemistry, Issue 78, Biochemistry, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Structural Biology, Chemical Biology, Eukaryota, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, Nucleic Acids, Nucleotides, and Nucleosides, Enzymes and Coenzymes, Life Sciences (General), enzymology, rapid quench-flow, active site titration, steady-state, pre-steady-state, single-turnover, kinetics, base excision repair, DNA glycosylase, 8-oxo-7,8-dihydroguanine, 8-oxoG, sequencing
Primary Orthotopic Glioma Xenografts Recapitulate Infiltrative Growth and Isocitrate Dehydrogenase I Mutation
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Veteran Affairs TVHS.
Malignant gliomas constitute a heterogeneous group of highly infiltrative glial neoplasms with distinct clinical and molecular features. Primary orthotopic xenografts recapitulate the histopathological and molecular features of malignant glioma subtypes in preclinical animal models. To model WHO grades III and IV malignant gliomas in transplantation assays, human tumor cells are xenografted into an orthotopic site, the brain, of immunocompromised mice. In contrast to secondary xenografts that utilize cultured tumor cells, human glioma cells are dissociated from resected specimens and transplanted without prior passage in tissue culture to generate primary xenografts. The procedure in this report details tumor sample preparation, intracranial transplantation into immunocompromised mice, monitoring for tumor engraftment and tumor harvesting for subsequent passage into recipient animals or analysis. Tumor cell preparation requires 2 hr and surgical procedure requires 20 min/animal.
Medicine, Issue 83, Glioma, Malignant glioma, primary orthotopic xenograft, isocitrate dehydrogenase
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
Preparation of Hydroxy-PAAm Hydrogels for Decoupling the Effects of Mechanotransduction Cues
Institutions: Université de Mons.
It is now well established that many cellular functions are regulated by interactions of cells with physicochemical and mechanical cues of their extracellular matrix (ECM) environment. Eukaryotic cells constantly sense their local microenvironment through surface mechanosensors to transduce physical changes of ECM into biochemical signals, and integrate these signals to achieve specific changes in gene expression. Interestingly, physicochemical and mechanical parameters of the ECM can couple with each other to regulate cell fate. Therefore, a key to understanding mechanotransduction is to decouple the relative contribution of ECM cues on cellular functions.
Here we present a detailed experimental protocol to rapidly and easily generate biologically relevant hydrogels for the independent tuning of mechanotransduction cues in vitro
. We chemically modified polyacrylamide hydrogels (PAAm) to surmount their intrinsically non-adhesive properties by incorporating hydroxyl-functionalized acrylamide monomers during the polymerization. We obtained a novel PAAm hydrogel, called hydroxy-PAAm, which permits immobilization of any desired nature of ECM proteins. The combination of hydroxy-PAAm hydrogels with microcontact printing allows to independently control the morphology of single-cells, the matrix stiffness, the nature and the density of ECM proteins. We provide a simple and rapid method that can be set up in every biology lab to study in vitro
cell mechanotransduction processes. We validate this novel two-dimensional platform by conducting experiments on endothelial cells that demonstrate a mechanical coupling between ECM stiffness and the nucleus.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, hydrogels, mechanotransduction, polyacrylamide, microcontact printing, cell shape, stiffness, durotaxis, cell-ligand density
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
Lignin Down-regulation of Zea mays via dsRNAi and Klason Lignin Analysis
Institutions: University of Arizona, Michigan State University, The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Michigan State University.
To facilitate the use of lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative bioenergy resource, during biological conversion processes, a pretreatment step is needed to open up the structure of the plant cell wall, increasing the accessibility of the cell wall carbohydrates. Lignin, a polyphenolic material present in many cell wall types, is known to be a significant hindrance to enzyme access. Reduction in lignin content to a level that does not interfere with the structural integrity and defense system of the plant might be a valuable step to reduce the costs of bioethanol production. In this study, we have genetically down-regulated one of the lignin biosynthesis-related genes, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (ZmCCR1
) via a double stranded RNA interference technique. The ZmCCR1_RNAi
construct was integrated into the maize genome using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic maize plants grew normally as compared to the wild-type control plants without interfering with biomass growth or defense mechanisms, with the exception of displaying of brown-coloration in transgenic plants leaf mid-ribs, husks, and stems. The microscopic analyses, in conjunction with the histological assay, revealed that the leaf sclerenchyma fibers were thinned but the structure and size of other major vascular system components was not altered. The lignin content in the transgenic maize was reduced by 7-8.7%, the crystalline cellulose content was increased in response to lignin reduction, and hemicelluloses remained unchanged. The analyses may indicate that carbon flow might have been shifted from lignin biosynthesis to cellulose biosynthesis. This article delineates the procedures used to down-regulate the lignin content in maize via RNAi technology, and the cell wall compositional analyses used to verify the effect of the modifications on the cell wall structure.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Zea mays, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), dsRNAi, Klason lignin measurement, cell wall carbohydrate analysis, gas chromatography (GC)
In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ
characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3
(bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ
time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ
Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ
IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
Construction of Vapor Chambers Used to Expose Mice to Alcohol During the Equivalent of all Three Trimesters of Human Development
Institutions: University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
Exposure to alcohol during development can result in a constellation of morphological and behavioral abnormalities that are collectively known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). At the most severe end of the spectrum is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), characterized by growth retardation, craniofacial dysmorphology, and neurobehavioral deficits. Studies with animal models, including rodents, have elucidated many molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in the pathophysiology of FASDs. Ethanol administration to pregnant rodents has been used to model human exposure during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. Third trimester ethanol consumption in humans has been modeled using neonatal rodents. However, few rodent studies have characterized the effect of ethanol exposure during the equivalent to all three trimesters of human pregnancy, a pattern of exposure that is common in pregnant women. Here, we show how to build vapor chambers from readily obtainable materials that can each accommodate up to six standard mouse cages. We describe a vapor chamber paradigm that can be used to model exposure to ethanol, with minimal handling, during all three trimesters. Our studies demonstrate that pregnant dams developed significant metabolic tolerance to ethanol. However, neonatal mice did not develop metabolic tolerance and the number of fetuses, fetus weight, placenta weight, number of pups/litter, number of dead pups/litter, and pup weight were not significantly affected by ethanol exposure. An important advantage of this paradigm is its applicability to studies with genetically-modified mice. Additionally, this paradigm minimizes handling of animals, a major confound in fetal alcohol research.
Medicine, Issue 89, fetal, ethanol, exposure, paradigm, vapor, development, alcoholism, teratogenic, animal, mouse, model
Synthesis and Characterization of Functionalized Metal-organic Frameworks
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
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
Characterization of Electrode Materials for Lithium Ion and Sodium Ion Batteries Using Synchrotron Radiation Techniques
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Haldor Topsøe A/S, PolyPlus Battery Company.
Intercalation compounds such as transition metal oxides or phosphates are the most commonly used electrode materials in Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. During insertion or removal of alkali metal ions, the redox states of transition metals in the compounds change and structural transformations such as phase transitions and/or lattice parameter increases or decreases occur. These behaviors in turn determine important characteristics of the batteries such as the potential profiles, rate capabilities, and cycle lives. The extremely bright and tunable x-rays produced by synchrotron radiation allow rapid acquisition of high-resolution data that provide information about these processes. Transformations in the bulk materials, such as phase transitions, can be directly observed using X-ray diffraction (XRD), while X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) gives information about the local electronic and geometric structures (e.g.
changes in redox states and bond lengths). In situ
experiments carried out on operating cells are particularly useful because they allow direct correlation between the electrochemical and structural properties of the materials. These experiments are time-consuming and can be challenging to design due to the reactivity and air-sensitivity of the alkali metal anodes used in the half-cell configurations, and/or the possibility of signal interference from other cell components and hardware. For these reasons, it is appropriate to carry out ex situ
on electrodes harvested from partially charged or cycled cells) in some cases. Here, we present detailed protocols for the preparation of both ex situ
and in situ
samples for experiments involving synchrotron radiation and demonstrate how these experiments are done.
Physics, Issue 81, X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, inorganic chemistry, electric batteries (applications), energy storage, Electrode materials, Li-ion battery, Na-ion battery, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD)
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
In vitro Reconstitution of the Active T. castaneum Telomerase
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania.
Efforts to isolate the catalytic subunit of telomerase, TERT, in sufficient quantities for structural studies, have been met with limited success for more than a decade. Here, we present methods for the isolation of the recombinant Tribolium castaneum TERT (Tc
TERT) and the reconstitution of the active T. castaneum
telomerase ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex in vitro
Telomerase is a specialized reverse transcriptase1
that adds short DNA repeats, called telomeres, to the 3' end of linear chromosomes2
that serve to protect them from end-to-end fusion and degradation. Following DNA replication, a short segment is lost at the end of the chromosome3
and without telomerase, cells continue dividing until eventually reaching their Hayflick Limit4
. Additionally, telomerase is dormant in most somatic cells5
in adults, but is active in cancer cells6
where it promotes cell immortality7
The minimal telomerase enzyme consists of two core components: the protein subunit (TERT), which comprises the catalytic subunit of the enzyme and an integral RNA component (TER), which contains the template TERT uses to synthesize telomeres8,9
. Prior to 2008, only structures for individual telomerase domains had been solved10,11
. A major breakthrough in this field came from the determination of the crystal structure of the active12
, catalytic subunit of T. castaneum
Here, we present methods for producing large quantities of the active, soluble Tc
TERT for structural and biochemical studies, and the reconstitution of the telomerase RNP complex in vitro
for telomerase activity assays. An overview of the experimental methods used is shown in Figure 1.
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Telomerase, protein expression, purification, chromatography, RNA isolation, TRAP
High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1
. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2
. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8
, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing.
Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli
the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9
, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli
expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10
and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12
We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli
. (Fig 1
) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness.
Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13
involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14
for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes
, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus
and Penicillium decumbens
(shown in Figure 2
), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Direct Detection of the Acetate-forming Activity of the Enzyme Acetate Kinase
Institutions: Clemson University.
Acetate kinase, a member of the acetate and sugar kinase-Hsp70-actin (ASKHA) enzyme superfamily1-5
, is responsible for the reversible phosphorylation of acetate to acetyl phosphate utilizing ATP as a substrate. Acetate kinases are ubiquitous in the Bacteria
, found in one genus of Archaea
, and are also present in microbes of the Eukarya6
. The most well characterized acetate kinase is that from the methane-producing archaeon Methanosarcina thermophila7-14
. An acetate kinase which can only utilize PPi
but not ATP in the acetyl phosphate-forming direction has been isolated from Entamoeba histolytica
, the causative agent of amoebic dysentery, and has thus far only been found in this genus15,16
In the direction of acetyl phosphate formation, acetate kinase activity is typically measured using the hydroxamate assay, first described by Lipmann17-20
, a coupled assay in which conversion of ATP to ADP is coupled to oxidation of NADH to NAD+
by the enzymes pyruvate kinase and lactate dehydrogenase21,22
, or an assay measuring release of inorganic phosphate after reaction of the acetyl phosphate product with hydroxylamine23
. Activity in the opposite, acetate-forming direction is measured by coupling ATP formation from ADP to the reduction of NADP+
to NADPH by the enzymes hexokinase and glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase24
Here we describe a method for the detection of acetate kinase activity in the direction of acetate formation that does not require coupling enzymes, but is instead based on direct determination of acetyl phosphate consumption. After the enzymatic reaction, remaining acetyl phosphate is converted to a ferric hydroxamate complex that can be measured spectrophotometrically, as for the hydroxamate assay. Thus, unlike the standard coupled assay for this direction that is dependent on the production of ATP from ADP, this direct assay can be used for acetate kinases that produce ATP or PPi
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, Acetate kinase, acetate, acetyl phosphate, pyrophosphate, PPi, ATP
Monitoring the Reductive and Oxidative Half-Reactions of a Flavin-Dependent Monooxygenase using Stopped-Flow Spectrophotometry
Institutions: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
siderophore A (SidA) is an FAD-containing monooxygenase that catalyzes the hydroxylation of ornithine in the biosynthesis of hydroxamate siderophores that are essential for virulence (e.g. ferricrocin or N
. The reaction catalyzed by SidA can be divided into reductive and oxidative half-reactions (Scheme 1). In the reductive half-reaction, the oxidized FAD bound to A
f SidA, is reduced by NADPH2,3
. In the oxidative half-reaction, the reduced cofactor reacts with molecular oxygen to form a C4a-hydroperoxyflavin intermediate, which transfers an oxygen atom to ornithine. Here, we describe a procedure to measure the rates and detect the different spectral forms of SidA using a stopped-flow instrument installed in an anaerobic glove box. In the stopped-flow instrument, small volumes of reactants are rapidly mixed, and after the flow is stopped by the stop syringe (Figure 1
), the spectral changes of the solution placed in the observation cell are recorded over time. In the first part of the experiment, we show how we can use the stopped-flow instrument in single mode, where the anaerobic reduction of the flavin in A
f SidA by NADPH is directly measured. We then use double mixing settings where A
f SidA is first anaerobically reduced by NADPH for a designated period of time in an aging loop, and then reacted with molecular oxygen in the observation cell (Figure 1
). In order to perform this experiment, anaerobic buffers are necessary because when only the reductive half-reaction is monitored, any oxygen in the solutions will react with the reduced flavin cofactor and form a C4a-hydroperoxyflavin intermediate that will ultimately decay back into the oxidized flavin. This would not allow the user to accurately measure rates of reduction since there would be complete turnover of the enzyme. When the oxidative half-reaction is being studied the enzyme must be reduced in the absence of oxygen so that just the steps between reduction and oxidation are observed. One of the buffers used in this experiment is oxygen saturated so that we can study the oxidative half-reaction at higher concentrations of oxygen. These are often the procedures carried out when studying either the reductive or oxidative half-reactions with flavin-containing monooxygenases. The time scale of the pre-steady-state experiments performed with the stopped-flow is milliseconds to seconds, which allow the determination of intrinsic rate constants and the detection and identification of intermediates in the reaction4
. The procedures described here can be applied to other flavin-dependent monooxygenases.5,6
Bioengineering, Issue 61, Stopped-flow, kinetic mechanism, SidA, C4a-hydroperoxyflavin, monooxygenase, Aspergillus fumigatus
Hydrophobic Salt-modified Nafion for Enzyme Immobilization and Stabilization
Institutions: University of Utah .
Over the last decade, there has been a wealth of application for immobilized and stabilized enzymes including biocatalysis, biosensors, and biofuel cells.1-3
In most bioelectrochemical applications, enzymes or organelles are immobilized onto an electrode surface with the use of some type of polymer matrix. This polymer scaffold should keep the enzymes stable and allow for the facile diffusion of molecules and ions in and out of the matrix. Most polymers used for this type of immobilization are based on polyamines or polyalcohols - polymers that mimic the natural environment of the enzymes that they encapsulate and stabilize the enzyme through hydrogen or ionic bonding. Another method for stabilizing enzymes involves the use of micelles, which contain hydrophobic regions that can encapsulate and stabilize enzymes.4,5
In particular, the Minteer group has developed a micellar polymer based on commercially available Nafion.6,7
Nafion itself is a micellar polymer that allows for the channel-assisted diffusion of protons and other small cations, but the micelles and channels are extremely small and the polymer is very acidic due to sulfonic acid side chains, which is unfavorable for enzyme immobilization. However, when Nafion is mixed with an excess of hydrophobic alkyl ammonium salts such as tetrabutylammonium bromide (TBAB), the quaternary ammonium cations replace the protons and become the counter ions to the sulfonate groups on the polymer side chains (Figure 1
). This results in larger micelles and channels within the polymer that allow for the diffusion of large substrates and ions that are necessary for enzymatic function such as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). This modified Nafion polymer has been used to immobilize many different types of enzymes as well as mitochondria for use in biosensors and biofuel cells.8-12
This paper describes a novel procedure for making this micellar polymer enzyme immobilization membrane that can stabilize enzymes. The synthesis of the micellar enzyme immobilization membrane, the procedure for immobilizing enzymes within the membrane, and the assays for studying enzymatic specific activity of the immobilized enzyme are detailed below.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, enzyme immobilization, polymer modification, Nafion, enzyme stabilization, enzyme activity assays
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
A New Screening Method for the Directed Evolution of Thermostable Bacteriolytic Enzymes
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Directed evolution is defined as a method to harness natural selection in order to engineer proteins to acquire particular properties that are not associated with the protein in nature. Literature has provided numerous examples regarding the implementation of directed evolution to successfully alter molecular specificity and catalysis1
. The primary advantage of utilizing directed evolution instead of more rational-based approaches for molecular engineering relates to the volume and diversity of variants that can be screened2
. One possible application of directed evolution involves improving structural stability of bacteriolytic enzymes, such as endolysins. Bacteriophage encode and express endolysins to hydrolyze a critical covalent bond in the peptidoglycan (i.e.
cell wall) of bacteria, resulting in host cell lysis and liberation of progeny virions. Notably, these enzymes possess the ability to extrinsically induce lysis to susceptible bacteria in the absence of phage and furthermore have been validated both in vitro
and in vivo
for their therapeutic potential3-5
. The subject of our directed evolution study involves the PlyC endolysin, which is composed of PlyCA and PlyCB subunits6
. When purified and added extrinsically, the PlyC holoenzyme lyses group A streptococci (GAS) as well as other streptococcal groups in a matter of seconds and furthermore has been validated in vivo
. Significantly, monitoring residual enzyme kinetics after elevated temperature incubation provides distinct evidence that PlyC loses lytic activity abruptly at 45 °C, suggesting a short therapeutic shelf life, which may limit additional development of this enzyme. Further studies reveal the lack of thermal stability is only observed for the PlyCA subunit, whereas the PlyCB subunit is stable up to ~90 °C (unpublished observation). In addition to PlyC, there are several examples in literature that describe the thermolabile nature of endolysins. For example, the Staphylococcus aureus
endolysin LysK and Streptococcus pneumoniae
endolysins Cpl-1 and Pal lose activity spontaneously at 42 °C, 43.5 °C and 50.2 °C, respectively8-10
. According to the Arrhenius equation, which relates the rate of a chemical reaction to the temperature present in the particular system, an increase in thermostability will correlate with an increase in shelf life expectancy11
. Toward this end, directed evolution has been shown to be a useful tool for altering the thermal activity of various molecules in nature, but never has this particular technology been exploited successfully for the study of bacteriolytic enzymes. Likewise, successful accounts of progressing the structural stability of this particular class of antimicrobials altogether are nonexistent. In this video, we employ a novel methodology that uses an error-prone DNA polymerase followed by an optimized screening process using a 96 well microtiter plate format to identify mutations to the PlyCA subunit of the PlyC streptococcal endolysin that correlate to an increase in enzyme kinetic stability (Figure 1
). Results after just one round of random mutagenesis suggest the methodology is generating PlyC variants that retain more than twice the residual activity when compared to wild-type (WT) PlyC after elevated temperature treatment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, directed evolution, thermal behavior, thermostability, endolysin, enzybiotic, bacteriolytic, antimicrobial, therapeutic, PlyC
Quantitative FRET (Förster Resonance Energy Transfer) Analysis for SENP1 Protease Kinetics Determination
Institutions: University of California, Riverside .
Reversible posttranslational modifications of proteins with ubiquitin or ubiquitin-like proteins (Ubls) are widely used to dynamically regulate protein activity and have diverse roles in many biological processes. For example, SUMO covalently modifies a large number or proteins with important roles in many cellular processes, including cell-cycle regulation, cell survival and death, DNA damage response, and stress response 1-5. SENP, as SUMO-specific protease, functions as an endopeptidase in the maturation of SUMO precursors or as an isopeptidase to remove SUMO from its target proteins and refresh the SUMOylation cycle 1,3,6,7
The catalytic efficiency or specificity of an enzyme is best characterized by the ratio of the kinetic constants, kcat
. In several studies, the kinetic parameters of SUMO-SENP pairs have been determined by various methods, including polyacrylamide gel-based western-blot, radioactive-labeled substrate, fluorescent compound or protein labeled substrate 8-13
. However, the polyacrylamide-gel-based techniques, which used the "native" proteins but are laborious and technically demanding, that do not readily lend themselves to detailed quantitative analysis. The obtained kcat
from studies using tetrapeptides or proteins with an ACC (7-amino-4-carbamoylmetylcoumarin) or AMC (7-amino-4-methylcoumarin) fluorophore were either up to two orders of magnitude lower than the natural substrates or cannot clearly differentiate the iso- and endopeptidase activities of SENPs.
Recently, FRET-based protease assays were used to study the deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs) or SENPs with the FRET pair of cyan fluorescent protein (CFP) and yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) 9,10,14,15
. The ratio of acceptor emission to donor emission was used as the quantitative parameter for FRET signal monitor for protease activity determination. However, this method ignored signal cross-contaminations at the acceptor and donor emission wavelengths by acceptor and donor self-fluorescence and thus was not accurate.
We developed a novel highly sensitive and quantitative FRET-based protease assay for determining the kinetic parameters of pre-SUMO1 maturation by SENP1. An engineered FRET pair CyPet and YPet with significantly improved FRET efficiency and fluorescence quantum yield, were used to generate the CyPet-(pre-SUMO1)-YPet substrate 16
. We differentiated and quantified absolute fluorescence signals contributed by the donor and acceptor and FRET at the acceptor and emission wavelengths, respectively. The value of kcat
was obtained as (3.2 ± 0.55) x107
of SENP1 toward pre-SUMO1, which is in agreement with general enzymatic kinetic parameters. Therefore, this methodology is valid and can be used as a general approach to characterize other proteases as well.
Bioengineering, Issue 72, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Proteins, Quantitative FRET analysis, QFRET, enzyme kinetics analysis, SENP, SUMO, plasmid, protein expression, protein purification, protease assay, quantitative analysis
Measuring Cation Transport by Na,K- and H,K-ATPase in Xenopus Oocytes by Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry: An Alternative to Radioisotope Assays
Institutions: Technical University of Berlin, Oregon Health & Science University.
Whereas cation transport by the electrogenic membrane transporter Na+
-ATPase can be measured by electrophysiology, the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase is more difficult to investigate. Many transport assays utilize radioisotopes to achieve a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio, however, the necessary security measures impose severe restrictions regarding human exposure or assay design. Furthermore, ion transport across cell membranes is critically influenced by the membrane potential, which is not straightforwardly controlled in cell culture or in proteoliposome preparations. Here, we make use of the outstanding sensitivity of atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) towards trace amounts of chemical elements to measure Rb+
transport by Na+
- or gastric H+
-ATPase in single cells. Using Xenopus
oocytes as expression system, we determine the amount of Rb+
) transported into the cells by measuring samples of single-oocyte homogenates in an AAS device equipped with a transversely heated graphite atomizer (THGA) furnace, which is loaded from an autosampler. Since the background of unspecific Rb+
uptake into control oocytes or during application of ATPase-specific inhibitors is very small, it is possible to implement complex kinetic assay schemes involving a large number of experimental conditions simultaneously, or to compare the transport capacity and kinetics of site-specifically mutated transporters with high precision. Furthermore, since cation uptake is determined on single cells, the flux experiments can be carried out in combination with two-electrode voltage-clamping (TEVC) to achieve accurate control of the membrane potential and current. This allowed e.g.
to quantitatively determine the 3Na+
transport stoichiometry of the Na+
-ATPase and enabled for the first time to investigate the voltage dependence of cation transport by the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase. In principle, the assay is not limited to K+
-transporting membrane proteins, but it may work equally well to address the activity of heavy or transition metal transporters, or uptake of chemical elements by endocytotic processes.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Chemistry, Biophysics, Bioengineering, Physiology, Molecular Biology, electrochemical processes, physical chemistry, spectrophotometry (application), spectroscopic chemical analysis (application), life sciences, temperature effects (biological, animal and plant), Life Sciences (General), Na+,K+-ATPase, H+,K+-ATPase, Cation Uptake, P-type ATPases, Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS), Two-Electrode Voltage-Clamp, Xenopus Oocytes, Rb+ Flux, Transversely Heated Graphite Atomizer (THGA) Furnace, electrophysiology, animal model
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
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
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance