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Microwhip Scorpions (Palpigradi) Feed on Heterotrophic Cyanobacteria in Slovak Caves - A Curiosity among Arachnida.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
TO DATE, ONLY MORPHOLOGICAL AND ANATOMICAL DESCRIPTIONS OF MICROWHIP SCORPIONS (ARACHNIDA: Palpigradi) have been published. This very rare group is enigmatic not only in its relationships to other arachnids, but especially due to the fact that these animals dwell only underground (in caves, soil, and interstitial spaces). We observed the curious feeding habit of the microwhip scorpion Eukoenenia spelaea over the course of one year in Ardovská Cave, located in Slovakias Karst region. We chose histology as our methodology in studying 17 specimens and based it upon Massons triple staining, fluorescent light and confocal microscopy. Single-celled cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) were conspicuously predominant in the gut of all studied palpigrades. Digestibility of the consumed cyanobacteria was supported by the presence of guanine crystals, glycogen deposits and haemocytes inside the palpigrade body. Cyanobacteria, the oldest cellular organisms on Earth, are very resistant to severe conditions in caves, including even darkness. Therefore, the cyanobacteria are able to survive in dark caves as nearly heterotrophic organisms and are consumed by cave palpigrades. Such feeding habit is extraordinary within the almost wholly predacious orders of the class Arachnida, and particularly so due to the type of food observed.
Authors: Revital Halevy, Lazar Shtirberg, Michael Shklyar, Aharon Blank.
Published: 08-26-2010
This protocol describes an electron spin resonance (ESR) micro-imaging method for three-dimensional mapping of oxygen levels in the immediate environment of live cells with micron-scale resolution1. Oxygen is one of the most important molecules in the cycle of life. It serves as the terminal electron acceptor of oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondria and is used in the production of reactive oxygen species. Measurements of oxygen are important for the study of mitochondrial and metabolic functions, signaling pathways, effects of various stimuli, membrane permeability, and disease differentiation. Oxygen consumption is therefore an informative marker of cellular metabolism, which is broadly applicable to various biological systems from mitochondria to cells to whole organisms. Due to its importance, many methods have been developed for the measurements of oxygen in live systems. Current attempts to provide high-resolution oxygen imaging are based mainly on optical fluorescence and phosphorescence methods that fail to provide satisfactory results as they employ probes with high photo-toxicity and low oxygen sensitivity. ESR, which measures the signal from exogenous paramagnetic probes in the sample, is known to provide very accurate measurements of oxygen concentration. In a typical case, ESR measurements map the probe's lineshape broadening and/or relaxation-time shortening that are linked directly to the local oxygen concentration. (Oxygen is paramagnetic; therefore, when colliding with the exogenous paramagnetic probe, it shortness its relaxation times.) Traditionally, these types of experiments are carried out with low resolution, millimeter-scale ESR for small animals imaging. Here we show how ESR imaging can also be carried out in the micron-scale for the examination of small live samples. ESR micro-imaging is a relatively new methodology that enables the acquisition of spatially-resolved ESR signals with a resolution approaching 1 micron at room temperature2. The main aim of this protocol-paper is to show how this new method, along with newly developed oxygen-sensitive probes, can be applied to the mapping of oxygen levels in small live samples. A spatial resolution of ~30 x 30 x 100 μm is demonstrated, with near-micromolar oxygen concentration sensitivity and sub-femtomole absolute oxygen sensitivity per voxel. The use of ESR micro-imaging for oxygen mapping near cells complements the currently available techniques based on micro-electrodes or fluorescence/phosphorescence. Furthermore, with the proper paramagnetic probe, it will also be readily applicable for intracellular oxygen micro-imaging, a capability which other methods find very difficult to achieve.
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Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential
Authors: Jenna M. Dolhi, Nicholas Ketchum, Rachael M. Morgan-Kiss.
Institutions: Miami University .
Lake Bonney is one of numerous permanently ice-covered lakes located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams. Biota are exposed to numerous environmental stresses, including year-round severe nutrient deficiency, low temperatures, extreme shade, hypersalinity, and 24-hour darkness during the winter 1. These extreme environmental conditions limit the biota in Lake Bonney almost exclusively to microorganisms 2. Single-celled microbial eukaryotes (called "protists") are important players in global biogeochemical cycling 3 and play important ecological roles in the cycling of carbon in the dry valley lakes, occupying both primary and tertiary roles in the aquatic food web. In the dry valley aquatic food web, protists that fix inorganic carbon (autotrophy) are the major producers of organic carbon for organotrophic organisms 4, 2. Phagotrophic or heterotrophic protists capable of ingesting bacteria and smaller protists act as the top predators in the food web 5. Last, an unknown proportion of the protist population is capable of combined mixotrophic metabolism 6, 7. Mixotrophy in protists involves the ability to combine photosynthetic capability with phagotrophic ingestion of prey microorganisms. This form of mixotrophy differs from mixotrophic metabolism in bacterial species, which generally involves uptake dissolved carbon molecules. There are currently very few protist isolates from permanently ice-capped polar lakes, and studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited 8, 4, 9, 10, 5. A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle. We employed an enrichment culture approach to isolate potentially phototrophic and mixotrophic protists from Lake Bonney. Sampling depths in the water column were chosen based on the location of primary production maxima and protist phylogenetic diversity 4, 11, as well as variability in major abiotic factors affecting protist trophic modes: shallow sampling depths are limited for major nutrients, while deeper sampling depths are limited by light availability. In addition, lake water samples were supplemented with multiple types of growth media to promote the growth of a variety of phototrophic organisms. RubisCO catalyzes the rate limiting step in the Calvin Benson Bassham (CBB) cycle, the major pathway by which autotrophic organisms fix inorganic carbon and provide organic carbon for higher trophic levels in aquatic and terrestrial food webs 12. In this study, we applied a radioisotope assay modified for filtered samples 13 to monitor maximum carboxylase activity as a proxy for carbon fixation potential and metabolic versatility in the Lake Bonney enrichment cultures.
Microbiology, Issue 62, Antarctic lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Enrichment cultivation, Microbial eukaryotes, RubisCO
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Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Authors: R. Craig Stillwell, Ian Dworkin, Alexander W. Shingleton, W. Anthony Frankino.
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4. Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12). Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
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Fat Preference: A Novel Model of Eating Behavior in Rats
Authors: James M Kasper, Sarah B Johnson, Jonathan D. Hommel.
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch.
Obesity is a growing problem in the United States of America, with more than a third of the population classified as obese. One factor contributing to this multifactorial disorder is the consumption of a high fat diet, a behavior that has been shown to increase both caloric intake and body fat content. However, the elements regulating preference for high fat food over other foods remain understudied. To overcome this deficit, a model to quickly and easily test changes in the preference for dietary fat was developed. The Fat Preference model presents rats with a series of choices between foods with differing fat content. Like humans, rats have a natural bias toward consuming high fat food, making the rat model ideal for translational studies. Changes in preference can be ascribed to the effect of either genetic differences or pharmacological interventions. This model allows for the exploration of determinates of fat preference and screening pharmacotherapeutic agents that influence acquisition of obesity.
Behavior, Issue 88, obesity, fat, preference, choice, diet, macronutrient, animal model
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Extraction of Venom and Venom Gland Microdissections from Spiders for Proteomic and Transcriptomic Analyses
Authors: Jessica E. Garb.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Venoms are chemically complex secretions typically comprising numerous proteins and peptides with varied physiological activities. Functional characterization of venom proteins has important biomedical applications, including the identification of drug leads or probes for cellular receptors. Spiders are the most species rich clade of venomous organisms, but the venoms of only a few species are well-understood, in part due to the difficulty associated with collecting minute quantities of venom from small animals. This paper presents a protocol for the collection of venom from spiders using electrical stimulation, demonstrating the procedure on the Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus). The collected venom is useful for varied downstream analyses including direct protein identification via mass spectrometry, functional assays, and stimulation of venom gene expression for transcriptomic studies. This technique has the advantage over protocols that isolate venom from whole gland homogenates, which do not separate genuine venom components from cellular proteins that are not secreted as part of the venom. Representative results demonstrate the detection of known venom peptides from the collected sample using mass spectrometry. The venom collection procedure is followed by a protocol for dissecting spider venom glands, with results demonstrating that this leads to the characterization of venom-expressed proteins and peptides at the sequence level.
Genetics, Issue 93, spider, toxin, proteomics, transcriptomics, electrical stimulation, Latrodectus
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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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Fabricating Metamaterials Using the Fiber Drawing Method
Authors: Alessandro Tuniz, Richard Lwin, Alexander Argyros, Simon C. Fleming, Boris T. Kuhlmey.
Institutions: University of Sydney .
Metamaterials are man-made composite materials, fabricated by assembling components much smaller than the wavelength at which they operate 1. They owe their electromagnetic properties to the structure of their constituents, instead of the atoms that compose them. For example, sub-wavelength metal wires can be arranged to possess an effective electric permittivity that is either positive or negative at a given frequency, in contrast to the metals themselves 2. This unprecedented control over the behaviour of light can potentially lead to a number of novel devices, such as invisibility cloaks 3, negative refractive index materials 4, and lenses that resolve objects below the diffraction limit 5. However, metamaterials operating at optical, mid-infrared and terahertz frequencies are conventionally made using nano- and micro-fabrication techniques that are expensive and produce samples that are at most a few centimetres in size 6-7. Here we present a fabrication method to produce hundreds of meters of metal wire metamaterials in fiber form, which exhibit a terahertz plasmonic response 8. We combine the stack-and-draw technique used to produce microstructured polymer optical fiber 9 with the Taylor-wire process 10, using indium wires inside polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) tubes. PMMA is chosen because it is an easy to handle, drawable dielectric with suitable optical properties in the terahertz region; indium because it has a melting temperature of 156.6 °C which is appropriate for codrawing with PMMA. We include an indium wire of 1 mm diameter and 99.99% purity in a PMMA tube with 1 mm inner diameter (ID) and 12 mm outside diameter (OD) which is sealed at one end. The tube is evacuated and drawn down to an outer diameter of 1.2 mm. The resulting fiber is then cut into smaller pieces, and stacked into a larger PMMA tube. This stack is sealed at one end and fed into a furnace while being rapidly drawn, reducing the diameter of the structure by a factor of 10, and increasing the length by a factor of 100. Such fibers possess features on the micro- and nano- scale, are inherently flexible, mass-producible, and can be woven to exhibit electromagnetic properties that are not found in nature. They represent a promising platform for a number of novel devices from terahertz to optical frequencies, such as invisible fibers, woven negative refractive index cloths, and super-resolving lenses.
Physics, Issue 68, Optics, Photonics, Materials Science, Fiber drawing, metamaterials, polymer optical fiber, microstructured fibers
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Continuously-stirred Anaerobic Digester to Convert Organic Wastes into Biogas: System Setup and Basic Operation
Authors: Joseph G. Usack, Catherine M. Spirito, Largus T. Angenent.
Institutions: Cornell University.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a bioprocess that is commonly used to convert complex organic wastes into a useful biogas with methane as the energy carrier 1-3. Increasingly, AD is being used in industrial, agricultural, and municipal waste(water) treatment applications 4,5. The use of AD technology allows plant operators to reduce waste disposal costs and offset energy utility expenses. In addition to treating organic wastes, energy crops are being converted into the energy carrier methane 6,7. As the application of AD technology broadens for the treatment of new substrates and co-substrate mixtures 8, so does the demand for a reliable testing methodology at the pilot- and laboratory-scale. Anaerobic digestion systems have a variety of configurations, including the continuously stirred tank reactor (CSTR), plug flow (PF), and anaerobic sequencing batch reactor (ASBR) configurations 9. The CSTR is frequently used in research due to its simplicity in design and operation, but also for its advantages in experimentation. Compared to other configurations, the CSTR provides greater uniformity of system parameters, such as temperature, mixing, chemical concentration, and substrate concentration. Ultimately, when designing a full-scale reactor, the optimum reactor configuration will depend on the character of a given substrate among many other nontechnical considerations. However, all configurations share fundamental design features and operating parameters that render the CSTR appropriate for most preliminary assessments. If researchers and engineers use an influent stream with relatively high concentrations of solids, then lab-scale bioreactor configurations cannot be fed continuously due to plugging problems of lab-scale pumps with solids or settling of solids in tubing. For that scenario with continuous mixing requirements, lab-scale bioreactors are fed periodically and we refer to such configurations as continuously stirred anaerobic digesters (CSADs). This article presents a general methodology for constructing, inoculating, operating, and monitoring a CSAD system for the purpose of testing the suitability of a given organic substrate for long-term anaerobic digestion. The construction section of this article will cover building the lab-scale reactor system. The inoculation section will explain how to create an anaerobic environment suitable for seeding with an active methanogenic inoculum. The operating section will cover operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. The monitoring section will introduce testing protocols using standard analyses. The use of these measures is necessary for reliable experimental assessments of substrate suitability for AD. This protocol should provide greater protection against a common mistake made in AD studies, which is to conclude that reactor failure was caused by the substrate in use, when really it was improper user operation 10.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Environmental Engineering, Chemistry, Anaerobic Digestion, Bioenergy, Biogas, Methane, Organic Waste, Methanogenesis, Energy Crops
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Feeder-free Derivation of Neural Crest Progenitor Cells from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells
Authors: Nadja Zeltner, Fabien G. Lafaille, Faranak Fattahi, Lorenz Studer.
Institutions: Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, The Rockefeller University.
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have great potential for studying human embryonic development, for modeling human diseases in the dish and as a source of transplantable cells for regenerative applications after disease or accidents. Neural crest (NC) cells are the precursors for a large variety of adult somatic cells, such as cells from the peripheral nervous system and glia, melanocytes and mesenchymal cells. They are a valuable source of cells to study aspects of human embryonic development, including cell fate specification and migration. Further differentiation of NC progenitor cells into terminally differentiated cell types offers the possibility to model human diseases in vitro, investigate disease mechanisms and generate cells for regenerative medicine. This article presents the adaptation of a currently available in vitro differentiation protocol for the derivation of NC cells from hPSCs. This new protocol requires 18 days of differentiation, is feeder-free, easily scalable and highly reproducible among human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines as well as human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) lines. Both old and new protocols yield NC cells of equal identity.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs), Pluripotent Stem Cells, Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), Neural Crest, Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), pluripotent stem cells, neural crest cells, in vitro differentiation, disease modeling, differentiation protocol, human embryonic stem cells, human pluripotent stem cells
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Measuring Circadian and Acute Light Responses in Mice using Wheel Running Activity
Authors: Tara A. LeGates, Cara M. Altimus.
Institutions: John Hopkins University.
Circadian rhythms are physiological functions that cycle over a period of approximately 24 hours (circadian- circa: approximate and diem: day)1, 2. They are responsible for timing our sleep/wake cycles and hormone secretion. Since this timing is not precisely 24-hours, it is synchronized to the solar day by light input. This is accomplished via photic input from the retina to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which serves as the master pacemaker synchronizing peripheral clocks in other regions of the brain and peripheral tissues to the environmental light dark cycle3-7. The alignment of rhythms to this environmental light dark cycle organizes particular physiological events to the correct temporal niche, which is crucial for survival8. For example, mice sleep during the day and are active at night. This ability to consolidate activity to either the light or dark portion of the day is referred to as circadian photoentrainment and requires light input to the circadian clock9. Activity of mice at night is robust particularly in the presence of a running wheel. Measuring this behavior is a minimally invasive method that can be used to evaluate the functionality of the circadian system as well as light input to this system. Methods that will covered here are used to examine the circadian clock, light input to this system, as well as the direct influence of light on wheel running behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, mouse, circadian, behavior, wheel running
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Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Authors: Bibhudatta Mishra, Mostafa Ghannad-Rezaie, Jiaxing Li, Xin Wang, Yan Hao, Bing Ye, Nikos Chronis, Catherine A. Collins.
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
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Creating Transient Cell Membrane Pores Using a Standard Inkjet Printer
Authors: Alexander B. Owczarczak, Stephen O. Shuford, Scott T. Wood, Sandra Deitch, Delphine Dean.
Institutions: Clemson University.
Bioprinting has a wide range of applications and significance, including tissue engineering, direct cell application therapies, and biosensor microfabrication.1-10 Recently, thermal inkjet printing has also been used for gene transfection.8,9 The thermal inkjet printing process was shown to temporarily disrupt the cell membranes without affecting cell viability. The transient pores in the membrane can be used to introduce molecules, which would otherwise be too large to pass through the membrane, into the cell cytoplasm.8,9,11 The application being demonstrated here is the use of thermal inkjet printing for the incorporation of fluorescently labeled g-actin monomers into cells. The advantage of using thermal ink-jet printing to inject molecules into cells is that the technique is relatively benign to cells.8, 12 Cell viability after printing has been shown to be similar to standard cell plating methods1,8. In addition, inkjet printing can process thousands of cells in minutes, which is much faster than manual microinjection. The pores created by printing have been shown to close within about two hours. However, there is a limit to the size of the pore created (~10 nm) with this printing technique, which limits the technique to injecting cells with small proteins and/or particles. 8,9,11 A standard HP DeskJet 500 printer was modified to allow for cell printing.3, 5, 8 The cover of the printer was removed and the paper feed mechanism was bypassed using a mechanical lever. A stage was created to allow for placement of microscope slides and coverslips directly under the print head. Ink cartridges were opened, the ink was removed and they were cleaned prior to use with cells. The printing pattern was created using standard drawing software, which then controlled the printer through a simple print command. 3T3 fibroblasts were grown to confluence, trypsinized, and then resuspended into phosphate buffered saline with soluble fluorescently labeled g-actin monomers. The cell suspension was pipetted into the ink cartridge and lines of cells were printed onto glass microscope cover slips. The live cells were imaged using fluorescence microscopy and actin was found throughout the cytoplasm. Incorporation of fluorescent actin into the cell allows for imaging of short-time cytoskeletal dynamics and is useful for a wide range of applications.13-15
Bioengineering, Issue 61, bioprinting, inkjet, cell, actin, fluorescence, transfection
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Flexible Colonoscopy in Mice to Evaluate the Severity of Colitis and Colorectal Tumors Using a Validated Endoscopic Scoring System
Authors: Tomohiro Kodani, Alex Rodriguez-Palacios, Daniele Corridoni, Loris Lopetuso, Luca Di Martino, Brian Marks, James Pizarro, Theresa Pizarro, Amitabh Chak, Fabio Cominelli.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland.
The use of modern endoscopy for research purposes has greatly facilitated our understanding of gastrointestinal pathologies. In particular, experimental endoscopy has been highly useful for studies that require repeated assessments in a single laboratory animal, such as those evaluating mechanisms of chronic inflammatory bowel disease and the progression of colorectal cancer. However, the methods used across studies are highly variable. At least three endoscopic scoring systems have been published for murine colitis and published protocols for the assessment of colorectal tumors fail to address the presence of concomitant colonic inflammation. This study develops and validates a reproducible endoscopic scoring system that integrates evaluation of both inflammation and tumors simultaneously. This novel scoring system has three major components: 1) assessment of the extent and severity of colorectal inflammation (based on perianal findings, transparency of the wall, mucosal bleeding, and focal lesions), 2) quantitative recording of tumor lesions (grid map and bar graph), and 3) numerical sorting of clinical cases by their pathological and research relevance based on decimal units with assigned categories of observed lesions and endoscopic complications (decimal identifiers). The video and manuscript presented herein were prepared, following IACUC-approved protocols, to allow investigators to score their own experimental mice using a well-validated and highly reproducible endoscopic methodology, with the system option to differentiate distal from proximal endoscopic colitis (D-PECS).
Medicine, Issue 80, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, Clostridium difficile, SAMP mice, DSS/AOM-colitis, decimal scoring identifier
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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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A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Eric K. Donahue, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
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Electrophysiology of Scorpion Peg Sensilla
Authors: Elizabeth D. Knowlton, Douglas D. Gaffin.
Institutions: University of Oklahoma.
We describe a modification of an existing tip-recording technique1,2 for electrophysiologically investigating short, peg-like sensory sensilla3,4. On the mid-ventral surface of all scorpions are two appendages called pectines, which have dense fields of mechano- and chemosensory peg sensilla5,6. One method for assessing chemoresponsiveness of these sensilla uses a tungsten electrode for extracellularly recording neural activity within a sensillum as a volatile odorant is introduced to the sensory field5,7. The limitations of this method include slow data collection and uncontrolled stimulant introduction to, and removal from, the peg field. To overcome these limitations, we developed a new tip-recording technique that uses nonpolar mineral oil as a medium through which to deliver water-based tastants to individual peg sensilla8,9. We have successfully applied this method to obtain sensillar chemoresponses to citric acid, ethanol, and salt. Here we describe the experimental protocol for such a study9. We think this new method may be useful for studying the response properties of other arthropod chemosensory systems, including those of insects10, 11 and crustaceans12.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Electrophysiology, sensory neurobiology, extracellular, tip-recording, mineral oil, Scorpion, Peg Sensilla
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Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Authors: Yongqi Shao, Erika M Arias-Cordero, Wilhelm Boland.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e. helping in insect reproduction1, boosting the immune response2, pheromone production3, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4, among others.     Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms. To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo employing 13C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5. The incorporation of 13C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12C) one. In the end, the 13C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12C-unlabeled similar one6. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species. Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
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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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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Authors: Eva Wagner, Sören Brandenburg, Tobias Kohl, Stephan E. Lehnart.
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+ release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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Mesoscopic Fluorescence Tomography for In-vivo Imaging of Developing Drosophila
Authors: Claudio Vinegoni, Daniel Razansky, Chrysoula Pitsouli, Norbert Perrimon, Vasilis Ntziachristos, Ralph Weissleder.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital, Technical University of Munich and Helmholtz Center Munich, Harvard Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Visualizing developing organ formation as well as progession and treatment of disease often heavily relies on the ability to optically interrogate molecular and functional changes in intact living organisms. Most existing optical imaging methods are inadequate for imaging at dimensions that lie between the penetration limits of modern optical microscopy (0.5-1mm) and the diffusion-imposed limits of optical macroscopy (>1cm) [1]. Thus, many important model organisms, e.g. insects, animal embryos or small animal extremities, remain inaccessible for in-vivo optical imaging. Although there is increasing interest towards the development of nanometer-resolution optical imaging methods, there have not been many successful efforts in improving the imaging penetration depth. The ability to perform in-vivo imaging beyond microscopy limits is in fact met with the difficulties associated with photon scattering present in tissues. Recent efforts to image entire embryos for example [2,3] require special chemical treatment of the specimen, to clear them from scattering, a procedure that makes them suitable only for post-mortem imaging. These methods however evidence the need for imaging larger specimens than the ones usually allowed by two-photon or confocal microscopy, especially in developmental biology and in drug discovery. We have developed a new optical imaging technique named Mesoscopic Fluorescence Tomography [4], which appropriate for non-invasive in-vivo imaging at dimensions of 1mm-5mm. The method exchanges resolution for penetration depth, but offers unprecedented tomographic imaging performance and it has been developed to add time as a new dimension in developmental biology observations (and possibly other areas of biological research) by imparting the ability to image the evolution of fluorescence-tagged responses over time. As such it can accelerate studies of morphological or functional dependencies on gene mutations or external stimuli, and can importantly, capture the complete picture of development or tissue function by allowing longitudinal time-lapse visualization of the same, developing organism. The technique utilizes a modified laboratory microscope and multi-projection illumination to collect data at 360-degree projections. It applies the Fermi simplification to Fokker-Plank solution of the photon transport equation, combined with geometrical optics principles in order to build a realistic inversion scheme suitable for mesoscopic range. This allows in-vivo whole-body visualization of non-transparent three-dimensional structures in samples up to several millimeters in size. We have demonstrated the in-vivo performance of the technique by imaging three-dimensional structures of developing Drosophila tissues in-vivo and by following the morphogenesis of the wings in the opaque Drosophila pupae in real time over six consecutive hours.
Developmental Biology, Issue 30, fluorescence tomography, mesoscopic imaging, Drosophila, optical imaging, diffusion tomography, scattering
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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Non-invasive 3D-Visualization with Sub-micron Resolution Using Synchrotron-X-ray-tomography
Authors: Michael Heethoff, Lukas Helfen, Peter Cloetens.
Institutions: University of Tubingen, European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.
Little is known about the internal organization of many micro-arthropods with body sizes below 1 mm. The reasons for that are the small size and the hard cuticle which makes it difficult to use protocols of classical histology. In addition, histological sectioning destroys the sample and can therefore not be used for unique material. Hence, a non-destructive method is desirable which allows to view inside small samples without the need of sectioning. We used synchrotron X-ray tomography at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble (France) to non-invasively produce 3D tomographic datasets with a pixel-resolution of 0.7µm. Using volume rendering software, this allows us to reconstruct the internal organization in its natural state without the artefacts produced by histological sectioning. These date can be used for quantitative morphology, landmarks, or for the visualization of animated movies to understand the structure of hidden body parts and to follow complete organ systems or tissues through the samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 15, Synchrotron X-ray tomography, Acari, Oribatida, micro-arthropods, non-invasive investigation
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Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
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