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Pubmed Article
Relative amino Acid composition signatures of organisms and environments.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
Identifying organism-environment interactions at the molecular level is crucial to understanding how organisms adapt to and change the chemical and molecular landscape of their habitats. In this work we investigated whether relative amino acid compositions could be used as a molecular signature of an environment and whether such a signature could also be observed at the level of the cellular amino acid composition of the microorganisms that inhabit that environment.
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Published: 07-25-2013
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.
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Window on a Microworld: Simple Microfluidic Systems for Studying Microbial Transport in Porous Media
Authors: Dmitry A. Markov, Philip C. Samson, David K. Schaffer, Adit Dhummakupt, John P. Wikswo, Leslie M. Shor.
Institutions: Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, University of Connecticut, University of Connecticut.
Microbial growth and transport in porous media have important implications for the quality of groundwater and surface water, the recycling of nutrients in the environment, as well as directly for the transmission of pathogens to drinking water supplies. Natural porous media is composed of an intricate physical topology, varied surface chemistries, dynamic gradients of nutrients and electron acceptors, and a patchy distribution of microbes. These features vary substantially over a length scale of microns, making the results of macro-scale investigations of microbial transport difficult to interpret, and the validation of mechanistic models challenging. Here we demonstrate how simple microfluidic devices can be used to visualize microbial interactions with micro-structured habitats, to identify key processes influencing the observed phenomena, and to systematically validate predictive models. Simple, easy-to-use flow cells were constructed out of the transparent, biocompatible and oxygen-permeable material poly(dimethyl siloxane). Standard methods of photolithography were used to make micro-structured masters, and replica molding was used to cast micro-structured flow cells from the masters. The physical design of the flow cell chamber is adaptable to the experimental requirements: microchannels can vary from simple linear connections to complex topologies with feature sizes as small as 2 μm. Our modular EcoChip flow cell array features dozens of identical chambers and flow control by a gravity-driven flow module. We demonstrate that through use of EcoChip devices, physical structures and pressure heads can be held constant or varied systematically while the influence of surface chemistry, fluid properties, or the characteristics of the microbial population is investigated. Through transport experiments using a non-pathogenic, green fluorescent protein-expressing Vibrio bacterial strain, we illustrate the importance of habitat structure, flow conditions, and inoculums size on fundamental transport phenomena, and with real-time particle-scale observations, demonstrate that microfluidics offer a compelling view of a hidden world.
Microbiology, Issue 39, Microfluidic device, bacterial transport, porous media, colloid, biofilm, filtration theory, artificial habitat, micromodel, PDMS, GFP
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Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Authors: Ashwin Prakash, Jason Bechtel, Alexei Fedorov.
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al. 2009). Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al. 2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
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Technique for Studying Arthropod and Microbial Communities within Tree Tissues
Authors: Nicholas C Aflitto, Richard W Hofstetter, Reagan McGuire, David D Dunn, Kristen A Potter.
Institutions: Northern Arizona University, Acoustic Ecology Institute.
Phloem tissues of pine are habitats for many thousands of organisms. Arthropods and microbes use phloem and cambium tissues to seek mates, lay eggs, rear young, feed, or hide from natural enemies or harsh environmental conditions outside of the tree. Organisms that persist within the phloem habitat are difficult to observe given their location under bark. We provide a technique to preserve intact phloem and prepare it for experimentation with invertebrates and microorganisms. The apparatus is called a ‘phloem sandwich’ and allows for the introduction and observation of arthropods, microbes, and other organisms. This technique has resulted in a better understanding of the feeding behaviors, life-history traits, reproduction, development, and interactions of organisms within tree phloem. The strengths of this technique include the use of inexpensive materials, variability in sandwich size, flexibility to re-open the sandwich or introduce multiple organisms through drilled holes, and the preservation and maintenance of phloem integrity. The phloem sandwich is an excellent educational tool for scientific discovery in both K-12 science courses and university research laboratories.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, phloem sandwich, pine, bark beetles, mites, acoustics, phloem
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Multiplex Detection of Bacteria in Complex Clinical and Environmental Samples using Oligonucleotide-coupled Fluorescent Microspheres
Authors: Tim J. Dumonceaux, Jennifer R. Town, Janet E. Hill, Bonnie L. Chaban, Sean M. Hemmingsen.
Institutions: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, University of Saskatchewan , National Research Council of Canada.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a recurring polymicrobial syndrome that is characterized by a change in the "normal" microbiota from Lactobacillus-dominated to a microbiota dominated by a number of bacterial species, including Gardnerella vaginalis, Atopobium vaginae, and others1-3. This condition is associated with a range of negative health outcomes, including HIV acquisition4, and it can be difficult to manage clinically5. Furthermore, diagnosis of BV has relied on the use of Gram stains of vaginal swab smears that are scored on various numerical criteria6,7. While this diagnostic is simple, inexpensive, and well suited to resource-limited settings, it can suffer from problems related to subjective interpretations and it does not give a detailed profile of the composition of the vaginal microbiota8. Recent deep sequencing efforts have revealed a rich, diverse vaginal microbiota with clear differences between samples taken from individuals that are diagnosed with BV compared to those individuals that are considered normal9,10, which has resulted in the identification of a number of potential targets for molecular diagnosis of BV11,12. These studies have provided a wealth of useful information, but deep sequencing is not yet practical as a diagnostic method in a clinical setting. We have recently described a method for rapidly profiling the vaginal microbiota in a multiplex format using oligonucleotide-coupled fluorescent beads with detection on a Luminex platform13. This method, like current Gram stain-based methods, is rapid and simple but adds the additional advantage of exploiting molecular knowledge arising from sequencing studies in probe design. This method therefore provides a way to profile the major microorganisms that are present in a vaginal swab that can be used to diagnose BV with high specificity and sensitivity compared to Gram stain while providing additional information on species presence and abundance in a semi-quantitative and rapid manner. This multiplex method is expandable well beyond the range of current quantitative PCR assays for particular organisms, which is currently limited to 5 or 6 different assays in a single sample14. Importantly, the method is not limited to the detection of bacteria in vaginal swabs and can be easily adapted to rapidly profile nearly any microbial community of interest. For example, we have recently begun to apply this methodology to the development of diagnostic tools for use in wastewater treatment plants.
Immunology, Issue 56, Medicine, chaperonin-60, hsp60, luminex, multiplex, diagnostics, bacterial vaginosis, PCR
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Enteric Bacterial Invasion Of Intestinal Epithelial Cells In Vitro Is Dramatically Enhanced Using a Vertical Diffusion Chamber Model
Authors: Neveda Naz, Dominic C. Mills, Brendan W. Wren, Nick Dorrell.
Institutions: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The interactions of bacterial pathogens with host cells have been investigated extensively using in vitro cell culture methods. However as such cell culture assays are performed under aerobic conditions, these in vitro models may not accurately represent the in vivo environment in which the host-pathogen interactions take place. We have developed an in vitro model of infection that permits the coculture of bacteria and host cells under different medium and gas conditions. The Vertical Diffusion Chamber (VDC) model mimics the conditions in the human intestine where bacteria will be under conditions of very low oxygen whilst tissue will be supplied with oxygen from the blood stream. Placing polarized intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) monolayers grown in Snapwell inserts into a VDC creates separate apical and basolateral compartments. The basolateral compartment is filled with cell culture medium, sealed and perfused with oxygen whilst the apical compartment is filled with broth, kept open and incubated under microaerobic conditions. Both Caco-2 and T84 IECs can be maintained in the VDC under these conditions without any apparent detrimental effects on cell survival or monolayer integrity. Coculturing experiments performed with different C. jejuni wild-type strains and different IEC lines in the VDC model with microaerobic conditions in the apical compartment reproducibly result in an increase in the number of interacting (almost 10-fold) and intracellular (almost 100-fold) bacteria compared to aerobic culture conditions1. The environment created in the VDC model more closely mimics the environment encountered by C. jejuni in the human intestine and highlights the importance of performing in vitro infection assays under conditions that more closely mimic the in vivo reality. We propose that use of the VDC model will allow new interpretations of the interactions between bacterial pathogens and host cells.
Infection, Issue 80, Gram-Negative Bacteria, Bacterial Infections, Gastrointestinal Diseases, Campylobacter jejuni, bacterial invasion, intestinal epithelial cells, models of infection
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Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments
Authors: Eric T. Parker, James H. Cleaves, Aaron S. Burton, Daniel P. Glavin, Jason P. Dworkin, Manshui Zhou, Jeffrey L. Bada, Facundo M. Fernández.
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Institute for Advanced Study, NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of California at San Diego.
In 1953, Stanley Miller reported the production of biomolecules from simple gaseous starting materials, using an apparatus constructed to simulate the primordial Earth's atmosphere-ocean system. Miller introduced 200 ml of water, 100 mmHg of H2, 200 mmHg of CH4, and 200 mmHg of NH3 into the apparatus, then subjected this mixture, under reflux, to an electric discharge for a week, while the water was simultaneously heated. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide the reader with a general experimental protocol that can be used to conduct a Miller-Urey type spark discharge experiment, using a simplified 3 L reaction flask. Since the experiment involves exposing inflammable gases to a high voltage electric discharge, it is worth highlighting important steps that reduce the risk of explosion. The general procedures described in this work can be extrapolated to design and conduct a wide variety of electric discharge experiments simulating primitive planetary environments.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Geosciences (General), Exobiology, Miller-Urey, Prebiotic chemistry, amino acids, spark discharge
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Analysis of Fatty Acid Content and Composition in Microalgae
Authors: Guido Breuer, Wendy A. C. Evers, Jeroen H. de Vree, Dorinde M. M. Kleinegris, Dirk E. Martens, René H. Wijffels, Packo P. Lamers.
Institutions: Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center.
A method to determine the content and composition of total fatty acids present in microalgae is described. Fatty acids are a major constituent of microalgal biomass. These fatty acids can be present in different acyl-lipid classes. Especially the fatty acids present in triacylglycerol (TAG) are of commercial interest, because they can be used for production of transportation fuels, bulk chemicals, nutraceuticals (ω-3 fatty acids), and food commodities. To develop commercial applications, reliable analytical methods for quantification of fatty acid content and composition are needed. Microalgae are single cells surrounded by a rigid cell wall. A fatty acid analysis method should provide sufficient cell disruption to liberate all acyl lipids and the extraction procedure used should be able to extract all acyl lipid classes. With the method presented here all fatty acids present in microalgae can be accurately and reproducibly identified and quantified using small amounts of sample (5 mg) independent of their chain length, degree of unsaturation, or the lipid class they are part of. This method does not provide information about the relative abundance of different lipid classes, but can be extended to separate lipid classes from each other. The method is based on a sequence of mechanical cell disruption, solvent based lipid extraction, transesterification of fatty acids to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), and quantification and identification of FAMEs using gas chromatography (GC-FID). A TAG internal standard (tripentadecanoin) is added prior to the analytical procedure to correct for losses during extraction and incomplete transesterification.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, chemical analysis techniques, Microalgae, fatty acid, triacylglycerol, lipid, gas chromatography, cell disruption
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A Strategy for Sensitive, Large Scale Quantitative Metabolomics
Authors: Xiaojing Liu, Zheng Ser, Ahmad A. Cluntun, Samantha J. Mentch, Jason W. Locasale.
Institutions: Cornell University, Cornell University.
Metabolite profiling has been a valuable asset in the study of metabolism in health and disease. However, current platforms have different limiting factors, such as labor intensive sample preparations, low detection limits, slow scan speeds, intensive method optimization for each metabolite, and the inability to measure both positively and negatively charged ions in single experiments. Therefore, a novel metabolomics protocol could advance metabolomics studies. Amide-based hydrophilic chromatography enables polar metabolite analysis without any chemical derivatization. High resolution MS using the Q-Exactive (QE-MS) has improved ion optics, increased scan speeds (256 msec at resolution 70,000), and has the capability of carrying out positive/negative switching. Using a cold methanol extraction strategy, and coupling an amide column with QE-MS enables robust detection of 168 targeted polar metabolites and thousands of additional features simultaneously.  Data processing is carried out with commercially available software in a highly efficient way, and unknown features extracted from the mass spectra can be queried in databases.
Chemistry, Issue 87, high-resolution mass spectrometry, metabolomics, positive/negative switching, low mass calibration, Orbitrap
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Genome-wide Analysis of Aminoacylation (Charging) Levels of tRNA Using Microarrays
Authors: John Zaborske, Tao Pan.
Institutions: University of Chicago.
tRNA aminoacylation, or charging, levels can rapidly change within a cell in response to the environment[1]. Changes in tRNA charging levels in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells lead to translational regulation which is a major cellular mechanism of stress response. Familiar examples are the stringent response in E. coli and the Gcn2 stress response pathway in yeast ([2-6]). Recent work in E. coli and S. cerevisiae have shown that tRNA charging patterns are highly dynamic and depends on the type of stress experienced by cells [1, 6, 7]. The highly dynamic, variable nature of tRNA charging makes it essential to determine changes in tRNA charging levels at the genomic scale, in order to fully elucidate cellular response to environmental variations. In this review we present a method for simultaneously measuring the relative charging levels of all tRNAs in S. cerevisiae . While the protocol presented here is for yeast, this protocol has been successfully applied for determining relative charging levels in a wide variety of organisms including E. coli and human cell cultures[7, 8].
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, tRNA, aminoacylation, charging, microarray, S. cerevisiae
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Metabolic Pathway Confirmation and Discovery Through 13C-labeling of Proteinogenic Amino Acids
Authors: Le You, Lawrence Page, Xueyang Feng, Bert Berla, Himadri B. Pakrasi, Yinjie J. Tang.
Institutions: Washington University, Washington University, Washington University.
Microbes have complex metabolic pathways that can be investigated using biochemistry and functional genomics methods. One important technique to examine cell central metabolism and discover new enzymes is 13C-assisted metabolism analysis 1. This technique is based on isotopic labeling, whereby microbes are fed with a 13C labeled substrates. By tracing the atom transition paths between metabolites in the biochemical network, we can determine functional pathways and discover new enzymes. As a complementary method to transcriptomics and proteomics, approaches for isotopomer-assisted analysis of metabolic pathways contain three major steps 2. First, we grow cells with 13C labeled substrates. In this step, the composition of the medium and the selection of labeled substrates are two key factors. To avoid measurement noises from non-labeled carbon in nutrient supplements, a minimal medium with a sole carbon source is required. Further, the choice of a labeled substrate is based on how effectively it will elucidate the pathway being analyzed. Because novel enzymes often involve different reaction stereochemistry or intermediate products, in general, singly labeled carbon substrates are more informative for detection of novel pathways than uniformly labeled ones for detection of novel pathways3, 4. Second, we analyze amino acid labeling patterns using GC-MS. Amino acids are abundant in protein and thus can be obtained from biomass hydrolysis. Amino acids can be derivatized by N-(tert-butyldimethylsilyl)-N-methyltrifluoroacetamide (TBDMS) before GC separation. TBDMS derivatized amino acids can be fragmented by MS and result in different arrays of fragments. Based on the mass to charge (m/z) ratio of fragmented and unfragmented amino acids, we can deduce the possible labeled patterns of the central metabolites that are precursors of the amino acids. Third, we trace 13C carbon transitions in the proposed pathways and, based on the isotopomer data, confirm whether these pathways are active 2. Measurement of amino acids provides isotopic labeling information about eight crucial precursor metabolites in the central metabolism. These metabolic key nodes can reflect the functions of associated central pathways. 13C-assisted metabolism analysis via proteinogenic amino acids can be widely used for functional characterization of poorly-characterized microbial metabolism1. In this protocol, we will use Cyanothece 51142 as the model strain to demonstrate the use of labeled carbon substrates for discovering new enzymatic functions.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, GC-MS, novel pathway, metabolism, labeling, phototrophic microorganism
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Chemotactic Response of Marine Micro-Organisms to Micro-Scale Nutrient Layers
Authors: Justin R. Seymour, Marcos, Roman Stocker.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The degree to which planktonic microbes can exploit microscale resource patches will have considerable implications for oceanic trophodynamics and biogeochemical flux. However, to take advantage of nutrient patches in the ocean, swimming microbes must overcome the influences of physical forces including molecular diffusion and turbulent shear, which will limit the availability of patches and the ability of bacteria to locate them. Until recently, methodological limitations have precluded direct examinations of microbial behaviour within patchy habitats and realistic small-scale flow conditions. Hence, much of our current knowledge regarding microbial behaviour in the ocean has been procured from theoretical predictions. To obtain new information on microbial foraging behaviour in the ocean we have applied soft lithographic fabrication techniques to develop 2 microfluidic devices, which we have used to create (i) microscale nutrient patches with dimensions and diffusive characteristics relevant to oceanic processes and (ii) microscale vortices, with shear rates corresponding to those expected in the ocean. These microfluidic devices have permitted a first direct examination of microbial swimming and chemotactic behaviour within a heterogeneous and dynamic seascape. The combined use of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy allow direct examinations of the physical dimensions and diffusive characteristics of nutrient patches, while observing the population-level aggregative response, in addition to the swimming behaviour of individual microbes. These experiments have revealed that some species of phytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and phagotrophic protists are adept at locating and exploiting diffusing microscale resource patches within very short time frames. We have also shown that up to moderate shear rates, marine bacteria are able to fight the flow and swim through their environment at their own accord. However, beyond a threshold high shear level, bacteria are aligned in the shear flow and are less capable of swimming without disturbance from the flow. Microfluidics represents a novel and inexpensive approach for studying aquatic microbial ecology, and due to its suitability for accurately creating realistic flow fields and substrate gradients at the microscale, is ideally applicable to examinations of microbial behaviour at the smallest scales of interaction. We therefore suggest that microfluidics represents a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of the ecology of microorganisms in the ocean.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
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Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo cellular environment in a controlled in vitro platform.1 This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3 To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5 The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6 Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7 The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8 Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10 The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
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The ChroP Approach Combines ChIP and Mass Spectrometry to Dissect Locus-specific Proteomic Landscapes of Chromatin
Authors: Monica Soldi, Tiziana Bonaldi.
Institutions: European Institute of Oncology.
Chromatin is a highly dynamic nucleoprotein complex made of DNA and proteins that controls various DNA-dependent processes. Chromatin structure and function at specific regions is regulated by the local enrichment of histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs) and variants, chromatin-binding proteins, including transcription factors, and DNA methylation. The proteomic characterization of chromatin composition at distinct functional regions has been so far hampered by the lack of efficient protocols to enrich such domains at the appropriate purity and amount for the subsequent in-depth analysis by Mass Spectrometry (MS). We describe here a newly designed chromatin proteomics strategy, named ChroP (Chromatin Proteomics), whereby a preparative chromatin immunoprecipitation is used to isolate distinct chromatin regions whose features, in terms of hPTMs, variants and co-associated non-histonic proteins, are analyzed by MS. We illustrate here the setting up of ChroP for the enrichment and analysis of transcriptionally silent heterochromatic regions, marked by the presence of tri-methylation of lysine 9 on histone H3. The results achieved demonstrate the potential of ChroP in thoroughly characterizing the heterochromatin proteome and prove it as a powerful analytical strategy for understanding how the distinct protein determinants of chromatin interact and synergize to establish locus-specific structural and functional configurations.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, chromatin, histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs), epigenetics, mass spectrometry, proteomics, SILAC, chromatin immunoprecipitation , histone variants, chromatome, hPTMs cross-talks
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Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Authors: Amy H. Van Hove, Brandon D. Wilson, Danielle S. W. Benoit.
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g. primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
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Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to: ● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media. ● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method. ● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria. ● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage. ● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure. ● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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Multi-step Preparation Technique to Recover Multiple Metabolite Compound Classes for In-depth and Informative Metabolomic Analysis
Authors: Charmion Cruickshank-Quinn, Kevin D. Quinn, Roger Powell, Yanhui Yang, Michael Armstrong, Spencer Mahaffey, Richard Reisdorph, Nichole Reisdorph.
Institutions: National Jewish Health, University of Colorado Denver.
Metabolomics is an emerging field which enables profiling of samples from living organisms in order to obtain insight into biological processes. A vital aspect of metabolomics is sample preparation whereby inconsistent techniques generate unreliable results. This technique encompasses protein precipitation, liquid-liquid extraction, and solid-phase extraction as a means of fractionating metabolites into four distinct classes. Improved enrichment of low abundance molecules with a resulting increase in sensitivity is obtained, and ultimately results in more confident identification of molecules. This technique has been applied to plasma, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, and cerebrospinal fluid samples with volumes as low as 50 µl.  Samples can be used for multiple downstream applications; for example, the pellet resulting from protein precipitation can be stored for later analysis. The supernatant from that step undergoes liquid-liquid extraction using water and strong organic solvent to separate the hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds. Once fractionated, the hydrophilic layer can be processed for later analysis or discarded if not needed. The hydrophobic fraction is further treated with a series of solvents during three solid-phase extraction steps to separate it into fatty acids, neutral lipids, and phospholipids. This allows the technician the flexibility to choose which class of compounds is preferred for analysis. It also aids in more reliable metabolite identification since some knowledge of chemical class exists.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, plasma, chemistry techniques, analytical, solid phase extraction, mass spectrometry, metabolomics, fluids and secretions, profiling, small molecules, lipids, liquid chromatography, liquid-liquid extraction, cerebrospinal fluid, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid
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Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Nikolai Hentze, Matthias P. Mayer.
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1H/2H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g. crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.   
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Authors: Alberto Natali, Laura M. Roy, Roberta Croce.
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g., pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g., protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro currently used in our laboratory, and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
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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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Using Fluorescent Proteins to Monitor Glycosome Dynamics in the African Trypanosome
Authors: Sarah Bauer, Meghan Conlon, Meredith Morris.
Institutions: Clemson University Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center.
Trypanosoma brucei is a kinetoplastid parasite that causes human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), or sleeping sickness, and a wasting disease, nagana, in cattle1. The parasite alternates between the bloodstream of the mammalian host and the tsetse fly vector. The composition of many cellular organelles changes in response to these different extracellular conditions2-5. Glycosomes are highly specialized peroxisomes in which many of the enzymes involved in glycolysis are compartmentalized. Glycosome composition changes in a developmental and environmentally regulated manner4-11. Currently, the most common techniques used to study glycosome dynamics are electron and fluorescence microscopy; techniques that are expensive, time and labor intensive, and not easily adapted to high throughput analyses. To overcome these limitations, a fluorescent-glycosome reporter system in which enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (eYFP) is fused to a peroxisome targeting sequence (PTS2), which directs the fusion protein to glycosomes12, has been established. Upon import of the PTS2eYFP fusion protein, glycosomes become fluorescent. Organelle degradation and recycling results in the loss of fluorescence that can be measured by flow cytometry. Large numbers of cells (5,000 cells/sec) can be analyzed in real-time without extensive sample preparation such as fixation and mounting. This method offers a rapid way of detecting changes in organelle composition in response to fluctuating environmental conditions.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, glycosomes, trypanosomes, flow cytometry, kinetoplastids, fluorescent protein, peroxisomes
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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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Use of Arabidopsis eceriferum Mutants to Explore Plant Cuticle Biosynthesis
Authors: Lacey Samuels, Allan DeBono, Patricia Lam, Miao Wen, Reinhard Jetter, Ljerka Kunst.
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC, University of British Columbia - UBC.
The plant cuticle is a waxy outer covering on plants that has a primary role in water conservation, but is also an important barrier against the entry of pathogenic microorganisms. The cuticle is made up of a tough crosslinked polymer called "cutin" and a protective wax layer that seals the plant surface. The waxy layer of the cuticle is obvious on many plants, appearing as a shiny film on the ivy leaf or as a dusty outer covering on the surface of a grape or a cabbage leaf thanks to light scattering crystals present in the wax. Because the cuticle is an essential adaptation of plants to a terrestrial environment, understanding the genes involved in plant cuticle formation has applications in both agriculture and forestry. Today, we'll show the analysis of plant cuticle mutants identified by forward and reverse genetics approaches.
Plant Biology, Issue 16, Annual Review, Cuticle, Arabidopsis, Eceriferum Mutants, Cryso-SEM, Gas Chromatography
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