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AcalPred: a sequence-based tool for discriminating between acidic and alkaline enzymes.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
The structure and activity of enzymes are influenced by pH value of their surroundings. Although many enzymes work well in the pH range from 6 to 8, some specific enzymes have good efficiencies only in acidic (pH<5) or alkaline (pH>9) solution. Studies have demonstrated that the activities of enzymes correlate with their primary sequences. It is crucial to judge enzyme adaptation to acidic or alkaline environment from its amino acid sequence in molecular mechanism clarification and the design of high efficient enzymes. In this study, we developed a sequence-based method to discriminate acidic enzymes from alkaline enzymes. The analysis of variance was used to choose the optimized discriminating features derived from g-gap dipeptide compositions. And support vector machine was utilized to establish the prediction model. In the rigorous jackknife cross-validation, the overall accuracy of 96.7% was achieved. The method can correctly predict 96.3% acidic and 97.1% alkaline enzymes. Through the comparison between the proposed method and previous methods, it is demonstrated that the proposed method is more accurate. On the basis of this proposed method, we have built an online web-server called AcalPred which can be freely accessed from the website ( We believe that the AcalPred will become a powerful tool to study enzyme adaptation to acidic or alkaline environment.
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Published: 11-15-2013
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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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High-throughput Saccharification Assay for Lignocellulosic Materials
Authors: Leonardo D. Gomez, Caragh Whitehead, Philip Roberts, Simon J. McQueen-Mason.
Institutions: University of York.
Polysaccharides that make up plant lignocellulosic biomass can be broken down to produce a range of sugars that subsequently can be used in establishing a biorefinery. These raw materials would constitute a new industrial platform, which is both sustainable and carbon neutral, to replace the current dependency on fossil fuel. The recalcitrance to deconstruction observed in lignocellulosic materials is produced by several intrinsic properties of plant cell walls. Crystalline cellulose is embedded in matrix polysaccharides such as xylans and arabinoxylans, and the whole structure is encased by the phenolic polymer lignin, that is also difficult to digest 1. In order to improve the digestibility of plant materials we need to discover the main bottlenecks for the saccharification of cell walls and also screen mutant and breeding populations to evaluate the variability in saccharification 2. These tasks require a high throughput approach and here we present an analytical platform that can perform saccharification analysis in a 96-well plate format. This platform has been developed to allow the screening of lignocellulose digestibility of large populations from varied plant species. We have scaled down the reaction volumes for gentle pretreatment, partial enzymatic hydrolysis and sugar determination, to allow large numbers to be assessed rapidly in an automated system. This automated platform works with milligram amounts of biomass, performing ball milling under controlled conditions to reduce the plant materials to a standardised particle size in a reproducible manner. Once the samples are ground, the automated formatting robot dispenses specified and recorded amounts of material into the corresponding wells of 96 deep well plate (Figure 1). Normally, we dispense the same material into 4 wells to have 4 replicates for analysis. Once the plates are filled with the plant material in the desired layout, they are manually moved to a liquid handling station (Figure 2). In this station the samples are subjected to a mild pretreatment with either dilute acid or alkaline and incubated at temperatures of up to 90°C. The pretreatment solution is subsequently removed and the samples are rinsed with buffer to return them to a suitable pH for hydrolysis. The samples are then incubated with an enzyme mixture for a variable length of time at 50°C. An aliquot is taken from the hydrolyzate and the reducing sugars are automatically determined by the MBTH colorimetric method.
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Saccharification, lignocellulose, high-throughput, glycosyl hydrolases, biomass, biofuels
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Hydrophobic Salt-modified Nafion for Enzyme Immobilization and Stabilization
Authors: Shannon Meredith, Shuai Xu, Matthew T. Meredith, Shelley D. Minteer.
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
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High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Authors: Mary F. Farrow, Frances H. Arnold.
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
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Application of MassSQUIRM for Quantitative Measurements of Lysine Demethylase Activity
Authors: Lauren P. Blair, Nathan L. Avaritt, Alan J. Tackett.
Institutions: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences .
Recently, epigenetic regulators have been discovered as key players in many different diseases 1-3. As a result, these enzymes are prime targets for small molecule studies and drug development 4. Many epigenetic regulators have only recently been discovered and are still in the process of being classified. Among these enzymes are lysine demethylases which remove methyl groups from lysines on histones and other proteins. Due to the novel nature of this class of enzymes, few assays have been developed to study their activity. This has been a road block to both the classification and high throughput study of histone demethylases. Currently, very few demethylase assays exist. Those that do exist tend to be qualitative in nature and cannot simultaneously discern between the different lysine methylation states (un-, mono-, di- and tri-). Mass spectrometry is commonly used to determine demethylase activity but current mass spectrometric assays do not address whether differentially methylated peptides ionize differently. Differential ionization of methylated peptides makes comparing methylation states difficult and certainly not quantitative (Figure 1A). Thus available assays are not optimized for the comprehensive analysis of demethylase activity. Here we describe a method called MassSQUIRM (mass spectrometric quantitation using isotopic reductive methylation) that is based on reductive methylation of amine groups with deuterated formaldehyde to force all lysines to be di-methylated, thus making them essentially the same chemical species and therefore ionize the same (Figure 1B). The only chemical difference following the reductive methylation is hydrogen and deuterium, which does not affect MALDI ionization efficiencies. The MassSQUIRM assay is specific for demethylase reaction products with un-, mono- or di-methylated lysines. The assay is also applicable to lysine methyltransferases giving the same reaction products. Here, we use a combination of reductive methylation chemistry and MALDI mass spectrometry to measure the activity of LSD1, a lysine demethylase capable of removing di- and mono-methyl groups, on a synthetic peptide substrate 5. This assay is simple and easily amenable to any lab with access to a MALDI mass spectrometer in lab or through a proteomics facility. The assay has ~8-fold dynamic range and is readily scalable to plate format 5.
Molecular Biology, Issue 61, LSD1, lysine demethylase, mass spectrometry, reductive methylation, demethylase quantification
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Use of the Protease Fluorescent Detection Kit to Determine Protease Activity
Authors: Carrie Cupp-Enyard.
Institutions: Sigma Aldrich.
The Protease Fluorescent Detection Kit provides ready-to-use reagents for detecting the presence of protease activity. This simple assay to detect protease activity uses casein labeled with fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) as the substrate. Protease activity results in the cleavage of the FITC-labeled casein substrate into smaller fragments, which do not precipitate under acidic conditions. After incubation of the protease sample and substrate, the reaction is acidified with the addition of trichloroacetic acid (TCA). The mixture is then centrifuged with the undigested substrate forming a pellet and the smaller, acid soluble fragments remaining in solution. The supernatant is neutralized and the fluorescence of the FITC-labeled fragments is measured. The described kit procedure detects the trypsin protease control at a concentration of approximately 0.5 μg/ml (5 ng of trypsin added to the assay). This sensitivity can be increased with a longer incubation time, up to 24 hours. The assay is performed in microcentrifuge tubes and procedures are provided for fluorescence detection using either cuvettes or multiwell plates.
Basic Protocols, Issue 30, Protease Fluorescent Detection Kit, Protease Detection, serine proteases, cysteine proteases, metallo-proteases, aspartic proteases
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Protease- and Acid-catalyzed Labeling Workflows Employing 18O-enriched Water
Authors: Diana Klingler, Markus Hardt.
Institutions: Boston Biomedical Research Institute.
Stable isotopes are essential tools in biological mass spectrometry. Historically, 18O-stable isotopes have been extensively used to study the catalytic mechanisms of proteolytic enzymes1-3. With the advent of mass spectrometry-based proteomics, the enzymatically-catalyzed incorporation of 18O-atoms from stable isotopically enriched water has become a popular method to quantitatively compare protein expression levels (reviewed by Fenselau and Yao4, Miyagi and Rao5 and Ye et al.6). 18O-labeling constitutes a simple and low-cost alternative to chemical (e.g. iTRAQ, ICAT) and metabolic (e.g. SILAC) labeling techniques7. Depending on the protease utilized, 18O-labeling can result in the incorporation of up to two 18O-atoms in the C-terminal carboxyl group of the cleavage product3. The labeling reaction can be subdivided into two independent processes, the peptide bond cleavage and the carboxyl oxygen exchange reaction8. In our PALeO (protease-assisted labeling employing 18O-enriched water) adaptation of enzymatic 18O-labeling, we utilized 50% 18O-enriched water to yield distinctive isotope signatures. In combination with high-resolution matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight tandem mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF/TOF MS/MS), the characteristic isotope envelopes can be used to identify cleavage products with a high level of specificity. We previously have used the PALeO-methodology to detect and characterize endogenous proteases9 and monitor proteolytic reactions10-11. Since PALeO encodes the very essence of the proteolytic cleavage reaction, the experimental setup is simple and biochemical enrichment steps of cleavage products can be circumvented. The PALeO-method can easily be extended to (i) time course experiments that monitor the dynamics of proteolytic cleavage reactions and (ii) the analysis of proteolysis in complex biological samples that represent physiological conditions. PALeO-TimeCourse experiments help identifying rate-limiting processing steps and reaction intermediates in complex proteolytic pathway reactions. Furthermore, the PALeO-reaction allows us to identify proteolytic enzymes such as the serine protease trypsin that is capable to rebind its cleavage products and catalyze the incorporation of a second 18O-atom. Such "double-labeling" enzymes can be used for postdigestion 18O-labeling, in which peptides are exclusively labeled by the carboxyl oxygen exchange reaction. Our third strategy extends labeling employing 18O-enriched water beyond enzymes and uses acidic pH conditions to introduce 18O-stable isotope signatures into peptides.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Proteins, Proteomics, Chemistry, Physics, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, proteomics, proteolysis, quantification, stable isotope labeling, labeling, catalyst, peptides, 18-O enriched water
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CometChip: A High-throughput 96-Well Platform for Measuring DNA Damage in Microarrayed Human Cells
Authors: Jing Ge, Somsak Prasongtanakij, David K. Wood, David M. Weingeist, Jessica Fessler, Panida Navasummrit, Mathuros Ruchirawat, Bevin P. Engelward.
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chulabhorn Graduate Institute, University of Minnesota.
DNA damaging agents can promote aging, disease and cancer and they are ubiquitous in the environment and produced within human cells as normal cellular metabolites. Ironically, at high doses DNA damaging agents are also used to treat cancer. The ability to quantify DNA damage responses is thus critical in the public health, pharmaceutical and clinical domains. Here, we describe a novel platform that exploits microfabrication techniques to pattern cells in a fixed microarray. The ‘CometChip’ is based upon the well-established single cell gel electrophoresis assay (a.k.a. the comet assay), which estimates the level of DNA damage by evaluating the extent of DNA migration through a matrix in an electrical field. The type of damage measured by this assay includes abasic sites, crosslinks, and strand breaks. Instead of being randomly dispersed in agarose in the traditional assay, cells are captured into an agarose microwell array by gravity. The platform also expands from the size of a standard microscope slide to a 96-well format, enabling parallel processing. Here we describe the protocols of using the chip to evaluate DNA damage caused by known genotoxic agents and the cellular repair response followed after exposure. Through the integration of biological and engineering principles, this method potentiates robust and sensitive measurements of DNA damage in human cells and provides the necessary throughput for genotoxicity testing, drug development, epidemiological studies and clinical assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, comet assay, electrophoresis, microarray, DNA damage, DNA repair
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Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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GENPLAT: an Automated Platform for Biomass Enzyme Discovery and Cocktail Optimization
Authors: Jonathan Walton, Goutami Banerjee, Suzana Car.
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
The high cost of enzymes for biomass deconstruction is a major impediment to the economic conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol. We have developed an integrated high throughput platform, called GENPLAT, for the discovery and development of novel enzymes and enzyme cocktails for the release of sugars from diverse pretreatment/biomass combinations. GENPLAT comprises four elements: individual pure enzymes, statistical design of experiments, robotic pipeting of biomass slurries and enzymes, and automated colorimeteric determination of released Glc and Xyl. Individual enzymes are produced by expression in Pichia pastoris or Trichoderma reesei, or by chromatographic purification from commercial cocktails or from extracts of novel microorganisms. Simplex lattice (fractional factorial) mixture models are designed using commercial Design of Experiment statistical software. Enzyme mixtures of high complexity are constructed using robotic pipeting into a 96-well format. The measurement of released Glc and Xyl is automated using enzyme-linked colorimetric assays. Optimized enzyme mixtures containing as many as 16 components have been tested on a variety of feedstock and pretreatment combinations. GENPLAT is adaptable to mixtures of pure enzymes, mixtures of commercial products (e.g., Accellerase 1000 and Novozyme 188), extracts of novel microbes, or combinations thereof. To make and test mixtures of ˜10 pure enzymes requires less than 100 μg of each protein and fewer than 100 total reactions, when operated at a final total loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan. We use enzymes from several sources. Enzymes can be purified from natural sources such as fungal cultures (e.g., Aspergillus niger, Cochliobolus carbonum, and Galerina marginata), or they can be made by expression of the encoding genes (obtained from the increasing number of microbial genome sequences) in hosts such as E. coli, Pichia pastoris, or a filamentous fungus such as T. reesei. Proteins can also be purified from commercial enzyme cocktails (e.g., Multifect Xylanase, Novozyme 188). An increasing number of pure enzymes, including glycosyl hydrolases, cell wall-active esterases, proteases, and lyases, are available from commercial sources, e.g., Megazyme, Inc. (, NZYTech (, and PROZOMIX ( Design-Expert software (Stat-Ease, Inc.) is used to create simplex-lattice designs and to analyze responses (in this case, Glc and Xyl release). Mixtures contain 4-20 components, which can vary in proportion between 0 and 100%. Assay points typically include the extreme vertices with a sufficient number of intervening points to generate a valid model. In the terminology of experimental design, most of our studies are "mixture" experiments, meaning that the sum of all components adds to a total fixed protein loading (expressed as mg/g glucan). The number of mixtures in the simplex-lattice depends on both the number of components in the mixture and the degree of polynomial (quadratic or cubic). For example, a 6-component experiment will entail 63 separate reactions with an augmented special cubic model, which can detect three-way interactions, whereas only 23 individual reactions are necessary with an augmented quadratic model. For mixtures containing more than eight components, a quadratic experimental design is more practical, and in our experience such models are usually statistically valid. All enzyme loadings are expressed as a percentage of the final total loading (which for our experiments is typically 15 mg protein/g glucan). For "core" enzymes, the lower percentage limit is set to 5%. This limit was derived from our experience in which yields of Glc and/or Xyl were very low if any core enzyme was present at 0%. Poor models result from too many samples showing very low Glc or Xyl yields. Setting a lower limit in turn determines an upper limit. That is, for a six-component experiment, if the lower limit for each single component is set to 5%, then the upper limit of each single component will be 75%. The lower limits of all other enzymes considered as "accessory" are set to 0%. "Core" and "accessory" are somewhat arbitrary designations and will differ depending on the substrate, but in our studies the core enzymes for release of Glc from corn stover comprise the following enzymes from T. reesei: CBH1 (also known as Cel7A), CBH2 (Cel6A), EG1(Cel7B), BG (β-glucosidase), EX3 (endo-β1,4-xylanase, GH10), and BX (β-xylosidase).
Bioengineering, Issue 56, cellulase, cellobiohydrolase, glucanase, xylanase, hemicellulase, experimental design, biomass, bioenergy, corn stover, glycosyl hydrolase
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Synthesis of an Intein-mediated Artificial Protein Hydrogel
Authors: Miguel A. Ramirez, Zhilei Chen.
Institutions: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas A&M University, College Station.
We present the synthesis of a highly stable protein hydrogel mediated by a split-intein-catalyzed protein trans-splicing reaction. The building blocks of this hydrogel are two protein block-copolymers each containing a subunit of a trimeric protein that serves as a crosslinker and one half of a split intein. A highly hydrophilic random coil is inserted into one of the block-copolymers for water retention. Mixing of the two protein block copolymers triggers an intein trans-splicing reaction, yielding a polypeptide unit with crosslinkers at either end that rapidly self-assembles into a hydrogel. This hydrogel is very stable under both acidic and basic conditions, at temperatures up to 50 °C, and in organic solvents. The hydrogel rapidly reforms after shear-induced rupture. Incorporation of a "docking station peptide" into the hydrogel building block enables convenient incorporation of "docking protein"-tagged target proteins. The hydrogel is compatible with tissue culture growth media, supports the diffusion of 20 kDa molecules, and enables the immobilization of bioactive globular proteins. The application of the intein-mediated protein hydrogel as an organic-solvent-compatible biocatalyst was demonstrated by encapsulating the horseradish peroxidase enzyme and corroborating its activity.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, split-intein, self-assembly, shear-thinning, enzyme, immobilization, organic synthesis
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Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Authors: Mackenzie J. Denyes, Michèle A. Parisien, Allison Rutter, Barbara A. Zeeb.
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
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Sequence-specific Labeling of Nucleic Acids and Proteins with Methyltransferases and Cofactor Analogues
Authors: Gisela Maria Hanz, Britta Jung, Anna Giesbertz, Matyas Juhasz, Elmar Weinhold.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University.
S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (AdoMet or SAM)-dependent methyltransferases (MTase) catalyze the transfer of the activated methyl group from AdoMet to specific positions in DNA, RNA, proteins and small biomolecules. This natural methylation reaction can be expanded to a wide variety of alkylation reactions using synthetic cofactor analogues. Replacement of the reactive sulfonium center of AdoMet with an aziridine ring leads to cofactors which can be coupled with DNA by various DNA MTases. These aziridine cofactors can be equipped with reporter groups at different positions of the adenine moiety and used for Sequence-specific Methyltransferase-Induced Labeling of DNA (SMILing DNA). As a typical example we give a protocol for biotinylation of pBR322 plasmid DNA at the 5’-ATCGAT-3’ sequence with the DNA MTase M.BseCI and the aziridine cofactor 6BAz in one step. Extension of the activated methyl group with unsaturated alkyl groups results in another class of AdoMet analogues which are used for methyltransferase-directed Transfer of Activated Groups (mTAG). Since the extended side chains are activated by the sulfonium center and the unsaturated bond, these cofactors are called double-activated AdoMet analogues. These analogues not only function as cofactors for DNA MTases, like the aziridine cofactors, but also for RNA, protein and small molecule MTases. They are typically used for enzymatic modification of MTase substrates with unique functional groups which are labeled with reporter groups in a second chemical step. This is exemplified in a protocol for fluorescence labeling of histone H3 protein. A small propargyl group is transferred from the cofactor analogue SeAdoYn to the protein by the histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) MTase Set7/9 followed by click labeling of the alkynylated histone H3 with TAMRA azide. MTase-mediated labeling with cofactor analogues is an enabling technology for many exciting applications including identification and functional study of MTase substrates as well as DNA genotyping and methylation detection.
Biochemistry, Issue 93, S-adenosyl-l-methionine, AdoMet, SAM, aziridine cofactor, double activated cofactor, methyltransferase, DNA methylation, protein methylation, biotin labeling, fluorescence labeling, SMILing, mTAG
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, 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.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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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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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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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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Expression of Recombinant Cellulase Cel5A from Trichoderma reesei in Tobacco Plants
Authors: Megan Garvey, Johannes Klinger, Holger Klose, Rainer Fischer, Ulrich Commandeur.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology.
Cellulose degrading enzymes, cellulases, are targets of both research and industrial interests. The preponderance of these enzymes in difficult-to-culture organisms, such as hyphae-building fungi and anaerobic bacteria, has hastened the use of recombinant technologies in this field. Plant expression methods are a desirable system for large-scale production of enzymes and other industrially useful proteins. Herein, methods for the transient expression of a fungal endoglucanase, Trichoderma reesei Cel5A, in Nicotiana tabacum are demonstrated. Successful protein expression is shown, monitored by fluorescence using an mCherry-enzyme fusion protein. Additionally, a set of basic tests are used to examine the activity of transiently expressed T. reesei Cel5A, including SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, zymography, as well as fluorescence and dye-based substrate degradation assays. The system described here can be used to produce an active cellulase in a short time period, so as to assess the potential for further production in plants through constitutive or inducible expression systems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, heterologous expression, endoplasmic reticulum, endoglucanase, cellulose, glycosyl-hydrolase, fluorescence, cellulase, Trichoderma reesei, tobacco plants
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
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
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Purifying Plasmid DNA from Bacterial Colonies Using the Qiagen Miniprep Kit
Authors: Shenyuan Zhang, Michael D. Cahalan.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Plasmid DNA purification from E. coli is a core technique for molecular cloning. Small scale purification (miniprep) from less than 5 ml of bacterial culture is a quick way for clone verification or DNA isolation, followed by further enzymatic reactions (polymerase chain reaction and restriction enzyme digestion). Here, we video-recorded the general procedures of miniprep through the QIAGEN's QIAprep 8 Miniprep Kit, aiming to introducing this highly efficient technique to the general beginners for molecular biology techniques. The whole procedure is based on alkaline lysis of E. coli cells followed by adsorption of DNA onto silica in the presence of high salt. It consists of three steps: 1) preparation and clearing of a bacterial lysate, 2) adsorption of DNA onto the QIAprep membrane, 3) washing and elution of plasmid DNA. All steps are performed without the use of phenol, chloroform, CsCl, ethidium bromide, and without alcohol precipitation. It usually takes less than 2 hours to finish the entire procedure.
Issue 6, Basic Protocols, plasmid, DNA, purification, Qiagen
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Detection of Protein Ubiquitination
Authors: Yeun Su Choo, Zhuohua Zhang.
Institutions: The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research.
Ubiquitination, the covalent attachment of the polypeptide ubiquitin to target proteins, is a key posttranslational modification carried out by a set of three enzymes. They include ubiquitin-activating enzyme E1, ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme E2, and ubiquitin ligase E3. Unlike to E1 and E2, E3 ubiquitin ligases display substrate specificity. On the other hand, numerous deubiquitylating enzymes have roles in processing polyubiquitinated proteins. Ubiquitination can result in change of protein stability, cellular localization, and biological activity. Mutations of genes involved in the ubiquitination/deubiquitination pathway or altered ubiquitin system function are associated with many different human diseases such as various types of cancer, neurodegeneration, and metabolic disorders. The detection of altered or normal ubiquitination of target proteins may provide a better understanding on the pathogenesis of these diseases.  Here, we describe protocols to detect protein ubiquitination in cultured cells in vivo and test tubes in vitro. These protocols are also useful to detect other ubiquitin-like small molecule modification such as sumolyation and neddylation.
Cell Biology, Biochemistry, Issue 30, ubiquitination, cultured cell, in vitro system, immunoprecipitation, immunoblotting, ubiquitin, posttranslational modification
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Interview: HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase
Authors: Joachim Hauber.
Institutions: Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, University of Hamburg.
HIV-1 integrates into the host chromosome of infected cells and persists as a provirus flanked by long terminal repeats. Current treatment strategies primarily target virus enzymes or virus-cell fusion, suppressing the viral life cycle without eradicating the infection. Since the integrated provirus is not targeted by these approaches, new resistant strains of HIV-1 may emerge. Here, we report that the engineered recombinase Tre (see Molecular evolution of the Tre recombinase , Buchholz, F., Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden) efficiently excises integrated HIV-1 proviral DNA from the genome of infected cells. We produced loxLTR containing viral pseudotypes and infected HeLa cells to examine whether Tre recombinase can excise the provirus from the genome of HIV-1 infected human cells. A virus particle-releasing cell line was cloned and transfected with a plasmid expressing Tre or with a parental control vector. Recombinase activity and virus production were monitored. All assays demonstrated the efficient deletion of the provirus from infected cells without visible cytotoxic effects. These results serve as proof of principle that it is possible to evolve a recombinase to specifically target an HIV-1 LTR and that this recombinase is capable of excising the HIV-1 provirus from the genome of HIV-1-infected human cells. Before an engineered recombinase could enter the therapeutic arena, however, significant obstacles need to be overcome. Among the most critical issues, that we face, are an efficient and safe delivery to targeted cells and the absence of side effects.
Medicine, Issue 16, HIV, Cell Biology, Recombinase, provirus, HeLa Cells
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Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Authors: Frank Buchholz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells. We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
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