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On the Origin of Pantepui montane biotas: A Perspective Based on the Phylogeny of Aulacorhynchus toucanets.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
To understand the origin of Pantepui montane biotas, we studied the biogeography of toucanets in the genus Aulacorhynchus. These birds are ideal for analyzing historical relationships among Neotropical montane regions, given their geographic distribution from Mexico south to Bolivia, including northern Venezuela (Cordillera de la Costa), and the Pantepui. Analyses were based on molecular phylogenies using mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences. Topology tests were applied to compare alternative hypotheses that may explain the current distribution of Aulacorhynchus toucanets, in the context of previous hypotheses of the origin of Pantepui montane biotas. Biogeographic reconstructions in RASP and Lagrange were used to estimate the ancestral area of the genus, and an analysis in BEAST was used to estimate a time framework for its diversification. A sister relationship between the Pantepui and Andes+Cordillera de la Costa was significantly more likely than topologies indicating other hypothesis for the origin of Pantepui populations. The Andes was inferred as the ancestral area for Aulacorhynchus, and the group has diversified since the late Miocene. The biogeographic patterns found herein, in which the Andes are the source for biotas of other regions, are consistent with those found for flowerpiercers and tanagers, and do not support the hypothesis of the geologically old Pantepui as a source of Neotropical montain diversity. Based on the high potential for cryptic speciation and isolation of Pantepui populations, we consider that phylogenetic studies of additional taxa are important from a conservation perspective.
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Published: 02-05-2014
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
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Rapid Diagnosis of Avian Influenza Virus in Wild Birds: Use of a Portable rRT-PCR and Freeze-dried Reagents in the Field
Authors: John Y. Takekawa, Nichola J. Hill, Annie K. Schultz, Samuel A. Iverson, Carol J. Cardona, Walter M. Boyce, Joseph P. Dudley.
Institutions: USGS Western Ecological Research Center, University of California, Davis, University of California, Davis, University of Minnesota , Science Applications International Corporation.
Wild birds have been implicated in the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the H5N1 subtype, prompting surveillance along migratory flyways. Sampling of wild birds for avian influenza virus (AIV) is often conducted in remote regions, but results are often delayed because of the need to transport samples to a laboratory equipped for molecular testing. Real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) is a molecular technique that offers one of the most accurate and sensitive methods for diagnosis of AIV. The previously strict lab protocols needed for rRT-PCR are now being adapted for the field. Development of freeze-dried (lyophilized) reagents that do not require cold chain, with sensitivity at the level of wet reagents has brought on-site remote testing to a practical goal. Here we present a method for the rapid diagnosis of AIV in wild birds using an rRT-PCR unit (Ruggedized Advanced Pathogen Identification Device or RAPID, Idaho Technologies, Salt Lake City, UT) that employs lyophilized reagents (Influenza A Target 1 Taqman; ASAY-ASY-0109, Idaho Technologies). The reagents contain all of the necessary components for testing at appropriate concentrations in a single tube: primers, probes, enzymes, buffers and internal positive controls, eliminating errors associated with improper storage or handling of wet reagents. The portable unit performs a screen for Influenza A by targeting the matrix gene and yields results in 2-3 hours. Genetic subtyping is also possible with H5 and H7 primer sets that target the hemagglutinin gene. The system is suitable for use on cloacal and oropharyngeal samples collected from wild birds, as demonstrated here on the migratory shorebird species, the western sandpiper (Calidrus mauri) captured in Northern California. Animal handling followed protocols approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center and permits of the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory. The primary advantage of this technique is to expedite diagnosis of wild birds, increasing the chances of containing an outbreak in a remote location. On-site diagnosis would also prove useful for identifying and studying infected individuals in wild populations. The opportunity to collect information on host biology (immunological and physiological response to infection) and spatial ecology (migratory performance of infected birds) will provide insights into the extent to which wild birds can act as vectors for AIV over long distances.
Immunology, Issue 54, migratory birds, active surveillance, lyophilized reagents, avian influenza, H5N1
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Soil Sampling and Isolation of Entomopathogenic Nematodes (Steinernematidae, Heterorhabditidae)
Authors: Rousel A. Orozco, Ming-Min Lee, S. Patricia Stock.
Institutions: University of Arizona.
Entomopathogenic nematodes (a.k.a. EPN) represent a group of soil-inhabiting nematodes that parasitize a wide range of insects. These nematodes belong to two families: Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae. Until now, more than 70 species have been described in the Steinernematidae and there are about 20 species in the Heterorhabditidae. The nematodes have a mutualistic partnership with Enterobacteriaceae bacteria and together they act as a potent insecticidal complex that kills a wide range of insect species. Herein, we focus on the most common techniques considered for collecting EPN from soil. The second part of this presentation focuses on the insect-baiting technique, a widely used approach for the isolation of EPN from soil samples, and the modified White trap technique which is used for the recovery of these nematodes from infected insects. These methods and techniques are key steps for the successful establishment of EPN cultures in the laboratory and also form the basis for other bioassays that consider these nematodes as model organisms for research in other biological disciplines. The techniques shown in this presentation correspond to those performed and/or designed by members of S. P. Stock laboratory as well as those described by various authors.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, Entomology, Nematology, Steinernema, Heterorhabditis, nematodes, soil sampling, insect-bait, modified White-trap
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A Novel Bayesian Change-point Algorithm for Genome-wide Analysis of Diverse ChIPseq Data Types
Authors: Haipeng Xing, Willey Liao, Yifan Mo, Michael Q. Zhang.
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Texas at Dallas.
ChIPseq is a widely used technique for investigating protein-DNA interactions. Read density profiles are generated by using next-sequencing of protein-bound DNA and aligning the short reads to a reference genome. Enriched regions are revealed as peaks, which often differ dramatically in shape, depending on the target protein1. For example, transcription factors often bind in a site- and sequence-specific manner and tend to produce punctate peaks, while histone modifications are more pervasive and are characterized by broad, diffuse islands of enrichment2. Reliably identifying these regions was the focus of our work. Algorithms for analyzing ChIPseq data have employed various methodologies, from heuristics3-5 to more rigorous statistical models, e.g. Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)6-8. We sought a solution that minimized the necessity for difficult-to-define, ad hoc parameters that often compromise resolution and lessen the intuitive usability of the tool. With respect to HMM-based methods, we aimed to curtail parameter estimation procedures and simple, finite state classifications that are often utilized. Additionally, conventional ChIPseq data analysis involves categorization of the expected read density profiles as either punctate or diffuse followed by subsequent application of the appropriate tool. We further aimed to replace the need for these two distinct models with a single, more versatile model, which can capably address the entire spectrum of data types. To meet these objectives, we first constructed a statistical framework that naturally modeled ChIPseq data structures using a cutting edge advance in HMMs9, which utilizes only explicit formulas-an innovation crucial to its performance advantages. More sophisticated then heuristic models, our HMM accommodates infinite hidden states through a Bayesian model. We applied it to identifying reasonable change points in read density, which further define segments of enrichment. Our analysis revealed how our Bayesian Change Point (BCP) algorithm had a reduced computational complexity-evidenced by an abridged run time and memory footprint. The BCP algorithm was successfully applied to both punctate peak and diffuse island identification with robust accuracy and limited user-defined parameters. This illustrated both its versatility and ease of use. Consequently, we believe it can be implemented readily across broad ranges of data types and end users in a manner that is easily compared and contrasted, making it a great tool for ChIPseq data analysis that can aid in collaboration and corroboration between research groups. Here, we demonstrate the application of BCP to existing transcription factor10,11 and epigenetic data12 to illustrate its usefulness.
Genetics, Issue 70, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Immunology, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP-Seq, histone modifications, segmentation, Bayesian, Hidden Markov Models, epigenetics
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Primer Extension Capture: Targeted Sequence Retrieval from Heavily Degraded DNA Sources
Authors: Adrian W. Briggs, Jeffrey M. Good, Richard E. Green, Johannes Krause, Tomislav Maricic, Udo Stenzel, Svante Pääbo.
Institutions: Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig.
We present a method of targeted DNA sequence retrieval from DNA sources which are heavily degraded and contaminated with microbial DNA, as is typical of ancient bones. The method greatly reduces sample destruction and sequencing demands relative to direct PCR or shotgun sequencing approaches. We used this method to reconstruct the complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genomes of five Neandertals from across their geographic range. The mtDNA genetic diversity of the late Neandertals was approximately three times lower than that of contemporary modern humans. Together with analyses of mtDNA protein evolution, these data suggest that the long-term effective population size of Neandertals was smaller than that of modern humans and extant great apes.
Cellular Biology, Issue 31, Neandertal, anthropology, evolution, ancient DNA, DNA sequencing, targeted sequencing, capture
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Cost-effective Method for Microbial Source Tracking Using Specific Human and Animal Viruses
Authors: Sílvia Bofill-Mas, Ayalkibet Hundesa, Byron Calgua, Marta Rusiñol, Carlos Maluquer de Motes, Rosina Girones.
Institutions: University of Barcelona.
Microbial contamination of the environment represents a significant health risk. Classical bacterial fecal indicators have shown to have significant limitations, viruses are more resistant to many inactivation processes and standard fecal indicators do not inform on the source of contamination. The development of cost-effective methods for the concentration of viruses from water and molecular assays facilitates the applicability of viruses as indicators of fecal contamination and as microbial source tracking (MST) tools. Adenoviruses and polyomaviruses are DNA viruses infecting specific vertebrate species including humans and are persistently excreted in feces and/or urine in all geographical areas studied. In previous studies, we suggested the quantification of human adenoviruses (HAdV) and JC polyomaviruses (JCPyV) by quantitative PCR (qPCR) as an index of human fecal contamination. Recently, we have developed qPCR assays for the specific quantification of porcine adenoviruses (PAdV) and bovine polyomaviruses (BPyV) as animal fecal markers of contamination with sensitivities of 1-10 genome copies per test tube. In this study, we present the procedure to be followed to identify the source of contamination in water samples using these tools. As example of representative results, analysis of viruses in ground water presenting high levels of nitrates is shown. Detection of viruses in low or moderately polluted waters requires the concentration of the viruses from at least several liters of water into a much smaller volume, a procedure that usually includes two concentration steps in series. This somewhat cumbersome procedure and the variability observed in viral recoveries significantly hamper the simultaneous processing of a large number of water samples. In order to eliminate the bottleneck caused by the two-step procedures we have applied a one-step protocol developed in previous studies and applicable to a diversity of water matrices. The procedure includes: acidification of ten-liter water samples, flocculation by skimmed milk, gravity sedimentation of the flocculated materials, collection of the precipitate and centrifugation, resuspension of the precipitate in 10 ml phosphate buffer. The viral concentrate is used for the extraction of viral nucleic acids and the specific adenoviruses and polyomaviruses of interest are quantified by qPCR. High number of samples may be simultaneously analyzed using this low-cost concentration method. The procedure has been applied to the analysis of bathing waters, seawater and river water and in this study, we present results analyzing groundwater samples. This high-throughput quantitative method is reliable, straightforward, and cost-effective.
Immunology, Issue 58, Quantitative PCR, qPCR, flocculation, virus, adenovirus, polyomavirus, water, Microbial Source Tracking, bovine, human, porcine, contamination
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Methods to Explore the Influence of Top-down Visual Processes on Motor Behavior
Authors: Jillian Nguyen, Thomas V. Papathomas, Jay H. Ravaliya, Elizabeth B. Torres.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Kinesthetic awareness is important to successfully navigate the environment. When we interact with our daily surroundings, some aspects of movement are deliberately planned, while others spontaneously occur below conscious awareness. The deliberate component of this dichotomy has been studied extensively in several contexts, while the spontaneous component remains largely under-explored. Moreover, how perceptual processes modulate these movement classes is still unclear. In particular, a currently debated issue is whether the visuomotor system is governed by the spatial percept produced by a visual illusion or whether it is not affected by the illusion and is governed instead by the veridical percept. Bistable percepts such as 3D depth inversion illusions (DIIs) provide an excellent context to study such interactions and balance, particularly when used in combination with reach-to-grasp movements. In this study, a methodology is developed that uses a DII to clarify the role of top-down processes on motor action, particularly exploring how reaches toward a target on a DII are affected in both deliberate and spontaneous movement domains.
Behavior, Issue 86, vision for action, vision for perception, motor control, reach, grasp, visuomotor, ventral stream, dorsal stream, illusion, space perception, depth inversion
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A Comparative Approach to Characterize the Landscape of Host-Pathogen Protein-Protein Interactions
Authors: Mandy Muller, Patricia Cassonnet, Michel Favre, Yves Jacob, Caroline Demeret.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur , Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Significant efforts were gathered to generate large-scale comprehensive protein-protein interaction network maps. This is instrumental to understand the pathogen-host relationships and was essentially performed by genetic screenings in yeast two-hybrid systems. The recent improvement of protein-protein interaction detection by a Gaussia luciferase-based fragment complementation assay now offers the opportunity to develop integrative comparative interactomic approaches necessary to rigorously compare interaction profiles of proteins from different pathogen strain variants against a common set of cellular factors. This paper specifically focuses on the utility of combining two orthogonal methods to generate protein-protein interaction datasets: yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) and a new assay, high-throughput Gaussia princeps protein complementation assay (HT-GPCA) performed in mammalian cells. A large-scale identification of cellular partners of a pathogen protein is performed by mating-based yeast two-hybrid screenings of cDNA libraries using multiple pathogen strain variants. A subset of interacting partners selected on a high-confidence statistical scoring is further validated in mammalian cells for pair-wise interactions with the whole set of pathogen variants proteins using HT-GPCA. This combination of two complementary methods improves the robustness of the interaction dataset, and allows the performance of a stringent comparative interaction analysis. Such comparative interactomics constitute a reliable and powerful strategy to decipher any pathogen-host interplays.
Immunology, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Infection, Cancer Biology, Virology, Medicine, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Protein-protein interaction, High-throughput screening, Luminescence, Yeast two-hybrid, HT-GPCA, Network, protein, yeast, cell, culture
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Remote Magnetic Actuation of Micrometric Probes for in situ 3D Mapping of Bacterial Biofilm Physical Properties
Authors: Olivier Galy, Kais Zrelli, Patricia Latour-Lambert, Lyndsey Kirwan, Nelly Henry.
Institutions: Sorbonne Universités, UPMC, Institut Pasteur, Sorbonne Universités, UPMC.
Bacterial adhesion and growth on interfaces lead to the formation of three-dimensional heterogeneous structures so-called biofilms. The cells dwelling in these structures are held together by physical interactions mediated by a network of extracellular polymeric substances. Bacterial biofilms impact many human activities and the understanding of their properties is crucial for a better control of their development — maintenance or eradication — depending on their adverse or beneficial outcome. This paper describes a novel methodology aiming to measure in situ the local physical properties of the biofilm that had been, until now, examined only from a macroscopic and homogeneous material perspective. The experiment described here involves introducing magnetic particles into a growing biofilm to seed local probes that can be remotely actuated without disturbing the structural properties of the biofilm. Dedicated magnetic tweezers were developed to exert a defined force on each particle embedded in the biofilm. The setup is mounted on the stage of a microscope to enable the recording of time-lapse images of the particle-pulling period. The particle trajectories are then extracted from the pulling sequence and the local viscoelastic parameters are derived from each particle displacement curve, thereby providing the 3D-spatial distribution of the parameters. Gaining insights into the biofilm mechanical profile is essential from an engineer's point of view for biofilm control purposes but also from a fundamental perspective to clarify the relationship between the architectural properties and the specific biology of these structures.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, Bacterial biofilm, magnetic tweezers, visco-elastic parameters, spatial distribution, flow cell, extracellular matrix
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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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Acquisition of High-Quality Digital Video of Drosophila Larval and Adult Behaviors from a Lateral Perspective
Authors: Beatrix Zenger, Sabine Wetzel, Jason Duncan.
Institutions: Willamette University.
Drosophila melanogaster is a powerful experimental model system for studying the function of the nervous system. Gene mutations that cause dysfunction of the nervous system often produce viable larvae and adults that have locomotion defective phenotypes that are difficult to adequately describe with text or completely represent with a single photographic image. Current modes of scientific publishing, however, support the submission of digital video media as supplemental material to accompany a manuscript. Here we describe a simple and widely accessible microscopy technique for acquiring high-quality digital video of both Drosophila larval and adult phenotypes from a lateral perspective. Video of larval and adult locomotion from a side-view is advantageous because it allows the observation and analysis of subtle distinctions and variations in aberrant locomotive behaviors. We have successfully used the technique to visualize and quantify aberrant crawling behaviors in third instar larvae, in addition to adult mutant phenotypes and behaviors including grooming.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Drosophila, behavior, coordination, crawling, locomotion, nervous system, neurodegeneration, larva
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Analyzing Gene Expression from Marine Microbial Communities using Environmental Transcriptomics
Authors: Rachel S. Poretsky, Scott Gifford, Johanna Rinta-Kanto, Maria Vila-Costa, Mary Ann Moran.
Institutions: University of Georgia (UGA).
Analogous to metagenomics, environmental transcriptomics (metatranscriptomics) retrieves and sequences environmental mRNAs from a microbial assemblage without prior knowledge of what genes the community might be expressing. Thus it provides the most unbiased perspective on community gene expression in situ. Environmental transcriptomics protocols are technically difficult since prokaryotic mRNAs generally lack the poly(A) tails that make isolation of eukaryotic messages relatively straightforward 1 and because of the relatively short half lives of mRNAs 2. In addition, mRNAs are much less abundant than rRNAs in total RNA extracts, thus an rRNA background often overwhelms mRNA signals. However, techniques for overcoming some of these difficulties have recently been developed. A procedure for analyzing environmental transcriptomes by creating clone libraries using random primers to reverse-transcribe and amplify environmental mRNAs was recently described was successful in two different natural environments, but results were biased by selection of the random primers used to initiate cDNA synthesis 3. Advances in linear amplification of mRNA obviate the need for random primers in the amplification step and make it possible to use less starting material decreasing the collection and processing time of samples and thereby minimizing RNA degradation 4. In vitro transcription methods for amplifying mRNA involve polyadenylating the mRNA and incorporating a T7 promoter onto the 3 end of the transcript. Amplified RNA (aRNA) can then be converted to double stranded cDNA using random hexamers and directly sequenced by pyrosequencing 5. A first use of this method at Station ALOHA demonstrated its utility for characterizing microbial community gene expression 6.
Microbiology, Issue 24, transcriptomics, bacterioplankton, mRNA, microbial communities, gene expression
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Generation of Enterobacter sp. YSU Auxotrophs Using Transposon Mutagenesis
Authors: Jonathan James Caguiat.
Institutions: Youngstown State University.
Prototrophic bacteria grow on M-9 minimal salts medium supplemented with glucose (M-9 medium), which is used as a carbon and energy source. Auxotrophs can be generated using a transposome. The commercially available, Tn5-derived transposome used in this protocol consists of a linear segment of DNA containing an R6Kγ replication origin, a gene for kanamycin resistance and two mosaic sequence ends, which serve as transposase binding sites. The transposome, provided as a DNA/transposase protein complex, is introduced by electroporation into the prototrophic strain, Enterobacter sp. YSU, and randomly incorporates itself into this host’s genome. Transformants are replica plated onto Luria-Bertani agar plates containing kanamycin, (LB-kan) and onto M-9 medium agar plates containing kanamycin (M-9-kan). The transformants that grow on LB-kan plates but not on M-9-kan plates are considered to be auxotrophs. Purified genomic DNA from an auxotroph is partially digested, ligated and transformed into a pir+ Escherichia coli (E. coli) strain. The R6Kγ replication origin allows the plasmid to replicate in pir+ E. coli strains, and the kanamycin resistance marker allows for plasmid selection. Each transformant possesses a new plasmid containing the transposon flanked by the interrupted chromosomal region. Sanger sequencing and the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) suggest a putative identity of the interrupted gene. There are three advantages to using this transposome mutagenesis strategy. First, it does not rely on the expression of a transposase gene by the host. Second, the transposome is introduced into the target host by electroporation, rather than by conjugation or by transduction and therefore is more efficient. Third, the R6Kγ replication origin makes it easy to identify the mutated gene which is partially recovered in a recombinant plasmid. This technique can be used to investigate the genes involved in other characteristics of Enterobacter sp. YSU or of a wider variety of bacterial strains.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Auxotroph, transposome, transposon, mutagenesis, replica plating, glucose minimal medium, complex medium, Enterobacter
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A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Authors: Philippe Henry, Alison Henry, Michael A. Russello.
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
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Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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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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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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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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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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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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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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Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Authors: Kristen K. McCampbell, Kristin N. Springer, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90, zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
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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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BioMEMS and Cellular Biology: Perspectives and Applications
Authors: Albert Folch.
Institutions: University of Washington.
The ability to culture cells has revolutionized hypothesis testing in basic cell and molecular biology research. It has become a standard methodology in drug screening, toxicology, and clinical assays, and is increasingly used in regenerative medicine. However, the traditional cell culture methodology essentially consisting of the immersion of a large population of cells in a homogeneous fluid medium and on a homogeneous flat substrate has become increasingly limiting both from a fundamental and practical perspective. Microfabrication technologies have enabled researchers to design, with micrometer control, the biochemical composition and topology of the substrate, and the medium composition, as well as the neighboring cell type in the surrounding cellular microenvironment. Additionally, microtechnology is conceptually well-suited for the development of fast, low-cost in vitro systems that allow for high-throughput culturing and analysis of cells under large numbers of conditions. In this interview, Albert Folch explains these limitations, how they can be overcome with soft lithography and microfluidics, and describes some relevant examples of research in his lab and future directions.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 8, BioMEMS, Soft Lithography, Microfluidics, Agrin, Axon Guidance, Olfaction, Interview
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