Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
A New Screening Method for the Directed Evolution of Thermostable Bacteriolytic Enzymes
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Directed evolution is defined as a method to harness natural selection in order to engineer proteins to acquire particular properties that are not associated with the protein in nature. Literature has provided numerous examples regarding the implementation of directed evolution to successfully alter molecular specificity and catalysis1
. The primary advantage of utilizing directed evolution instead of more rational-based approaches for molecular engineering relates to the volume and diversity of variants that can be screened2
. One possible application of directed evolution involves improving structural stability of bacteriolytic enzymes, such as endolysins. Bacteriophage encode and express endolysins to hydrolyze a critical covalent bond in the peptidoglycan (i.e.
cell wall) of bacteria, resulting in host cell lysis and liberation of progeny virions. Notably, these enzymes possess the ability to extrinsically induce lysis to susceptible bacteria in the absence of phage and furthermore have been validated both in vitro
and in vivo
for their therapeutic potential3-5
. The subject of our directed evolution study involves the PlyC endolysin, which is composed of PlyCA and PlyCB subunits6
. When purified and added extrinsically, the PlyC holoenzyme lyses group A streptococci (GAS) as well as other streptococcal groups in a matter of seconds and furthermore has been validated in vivo
. Significantly, monitoring residual enzyme kinetics after elevated temperature incubation provides distinct evidence that PlyC loses lytic activity abruptly at 45 °C, suggesting a short therapeutic shelf life, which may limit additional development of this enzyme. Further studies reveal the lack of thermal stability is only observed for the PlyCA subunit, whereas the PlyCB subunit is stable up to ~90 °C (unpublished observation). In addition to PlyC, there are several examples in literature that describe the thermolabile nature of endolysins. For example, the Staphylococcus aureus
endolysin LysK and Streptococcus pneumoniae
endolysins Cpl-1 and Pal lose activity spontaneously at 42 °C, 43.5 °C and 50.2 °C, respectively8-10
. According to the Arrhenius equation, which relates the rate of a chemical reaction to the temperature present in the particular system, an increase in thermostability will correlate with an increase in shelf life expectancy11
. Toward this end, directed evolution has been shown to be a useful tool for altering the thermal activity of various molecules in nature, but never has this particular technology been exploited successfully for the study of bacteriolytic enzymes. Likewise, successful accounts of progressing the structural stability of this particular class of antimicrobials altogether are nonexistent. In this video, we employ a novel methodology that uses an error-prone DNA polymerase followed by an optimized screening process using a 96 well microtiter plate format to identify mutations to the PlyCA subunit of the PlyC streptococcal endolysin that correlate to an increase in enzyme kinetic stability (Figure 1
). Results after just one round of random mutagenesis suggest the methodology is generating PlyC variants that retain more than twice the residual activity when compared to wild-type (WT) PlyC after elevated temperature treatment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, directed evolution, thermal behavior, thermostability, endolysin, enzybiotic, bacteriolytic, antimicrobial, therapeutic, PlyC
Identifying the Effects of BRCA1 Mutations on Homologous Recombination using Cells that Express Endogenous Wild-type BRCA1
Institutions: The Ohio State University, Tohoku University.
The functional analysis of missense mutations can be complicated by the presence in the cell of the endogenous protein. Structure-function analyses of the BRCA1 have been complicated by the lack of a robust assay for the full length BRCA1 protein and the difficulties inherent in working with cell lines that express hypomorphic BRCA1 protein1,2,3,4,5
. We developed a system whereby the endogenous BRCA1 protein in a cell was acutely depleted by RNAi targeting the 3'-UTR of the BRCA1 mRNA and replaced by co-transfecting a plasmid expressing a BRCA1 variant. One advantage of this procedure is that the acute silencing of BRCA1 and simultaneous replacement allow the cells to grow without secondary mutations or adaptations that might arise over time to compensate for the loss of BRCA1 function. This depletion and add-back procedure was done in a HeLa-derived cell line that was readily assayed for homologous recombination activity. The homologous recombination assay is based on a previously published method whereby a recombination substrate is integrated into the genome (Figure 1)6,7,8,9
. This recombination substrate has the rare-cutting I-SceI restriction enzyme site inside an inactive GFP allele, and downstream is a second inactive GFP allele. Transfection of the plasmid that expresses I-SceI results in a double-stranded break, which may be repaired by homologous recombination, and if homologous recombination does repair the break it creates an active GFP allele that is readily scored by flow cytometry for GFP protein expression. Depletion of endogenous BRCA1 resulted in an 8-10-fold reduction in homologous recombination activity, and add-back of wild-type plasmid fully restored homologous recombination function. When specific point mutants of full length BRCA1 were expressed from co-transfected plasmids, the effect of the specific missense mutant could be scored. As an example, the expression of the BRCA1(M18T) protein, a variant of unknown clinical significance10
, was expressed in these cells, it failed to restore BRCA1-dependent homologous recombination. By contrast, expression of another variant, also of unknown significance, BRCA1(I21V) fully restored BRCA1-dependent homologous recombination function. This strategy of testing the function of BRCA1 missense mutations has been applied to another biological system assaying for centrosome function (Kais et al, unpublished observations). Overall, this approach is suitable for the analysis of missense mutants in any gene that must be analyzed recessively.
Cell Biology, Issue 48, BRCA1, homologous recombination, breast cancer, RNA interference, DNA repair
Terahertz Microfluidic Sensing Using a Parallel-plate Waveguide Sensor
Institutions: Rice University .
Refractive index (RI) sensing is a powerful noninvasive and label-free sensing technique for the identification, detection and monitoring of microfluidic samples with a wide range of possible sensor designs such as interferometers and resonators 1,2
. Most of the existing RI sensing applications focus on biological materials in aqueous solutions in visible and IR frequencies, such as DNA hybridization and genome sequencing. At terahertz frequencies, applications include quality control, monitoring of industrial processes and sensing and detection applications involving nonpolar materials.
Several potential designs for refractive index sensors in the terahertz regime exist, including photonic crystal waveguides 3
, asymmetric split-ring resonators 4
, and photonic band gap structures integrated into parallel-plate waveguides 5
. Many of these designs are based on optical resonators such as rings or cavities. The resonant frequencies of these structures are dependent on the refractive index of the material in or around the resonator. By monitoring the shifts in resonant frequency the refractive index of a sample can be accurately measured and this in turn can be used to identify a material, monitor contamination or dilution, etc.
The sensor design we use here is based on a simple parallel-plate waveguide 6,7
. A rectangular groove machined into one face acts as a resonant cavity (Figures 1 and 2
). When terahertz radiation is coupled into the waveguide and propagates in the lowest-order transverse-electric (TE1
) mode, the result is a single strong resonant feature with a tunable resonant frequency that is dependent on the geometry of the groove 6,8
. This groove can be filled with nonpolar liquid microfluidic samples which cause a shift in the observed resonant frequency that depends on the amount of liquid in the groove and its refractive index 9
Our technique has an advantage over other terahertz techniques in its simplicity, both in fabrication and implementation, since the procedure can be accomplished with standard laboratory equipment without the need for a clean room or any special fabrication or experimental techniques. It can also be easily expanded to multichannel operation by the incorporation of multiple grooves 10
. In this video we will describe our complete experimental procedure, from the design of the sensor to the data analysis and determination of the sample refractive index.
Physics, Issue 66, Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Terahertz radiation, sensing, microfluidic, refractive index sensor, waveguide, optical sensing
Transmembrane Domain Oligomerization Propensity determined by ToxR Assay
Institutions: University of Colorado at Boulder.
The oversimplified view of protein transmembrane domains as merely anchors in phospholipid bilayers has long since been disproven. In many cases membrane-spanning proteins have evolved highly sophisticated mechanisms of action.1-3
One way in which membrane proteins can modulate their structures and functions is by direct and specific contact of hydrophobic helices, forming structured transmembrane oligomers.4,5
Much recent work has focused on the distribution of amino acids preferentially found in the membrane environment in comparison to aqueous solution and the different intermolecular forces that drive protein association.6,7
Nevertheless, studies of molecular recognition at the transmembrane domain of proteins still lags behind those of water-soluble regions. A major hurdle remains: despite the remarkable specificity and affinity that transmembrane oligomerization can achieve,8
direct measurement of their association is challenging. Traditional methodologies applied to the study of integral membrane protein function can be hampered by the inherent insolubility of the sequences under examination. Biophysical insights gained from studying synthetic peptides representing transmembrane domains can provide useful structural insight. However, the biological relevance of the detergent micellar or liposome systems used in these studies to mimic cellular membranes is often questioned; do peptides adopt a native-like structure under these conditions and does their functional behaviour truly reflect the mode of action within a native membrane? In order to study the interactions of transmembrane sequences in natural phospholipid bilayers, the Langosch lab developed ToxR transcriptional reporter assays.9
The transmembrane domain of interest is expressed as a chimeric protein with maltose binding protein for location to the periplasm and ToxR to provide a report of the level of oligomerization (Figure 1).
In the last decade, several other groups (e.g. Engelman, DeGrado, Shai) further optimized and applied this ToxR reporter assay.10-13
The various ToxR assays have become a gold standard to test protein-protein interactions in cell membranes. We herein demonstrate a typical experimental operation conducted in our laboratory that primarily follows protocols developed by Langosch. This generally applicable method is useful for the analysis of transmembrane domain self-association in E. coli
, where β-galactosidase production is used to assess the TMD oligomerization propensity. Upon TMD-induced dimerization, ToxR binds to the ctx
promoter causing up-regulation of the LacZ
gene for β-galactosidase. A colorimetric readout is obtained by addition of ONPG to lyzed cells. Hydrolytic cleavage of ONPG by β-galactosidase results in the production of the light absorbing species o-nitrophenolate (ONP) (Figure 2).
Cellular Biology, Issue 51, Transmembrane domain, oligomerization, transcriptional reporter, ToxR, latent membrane protein-1
Bio-layer Interferometry for Measuring Kinetics of Protein-protein Interactions and Allosteric Ligand Effects
Institutions: SUNY Upstate Medical University.
We describe the use of Bio-layer Interferometry to study inhibitory interactions of subunit ε with the catalytic complex of Escherichia coli
ATP synthase. Bacterial F-type ATP synthase
is the target of a new, FDA-approved antibiotic to combat drug-resistant tuberculosis. Understanding bacteria-specific auto-inhibition of ATP synthase by the C-terminal domain of subunit ε could provide a new means to target the enzyme for discovery of antibacterial drugs. The C-terminal domain of ε undergoes a dramatic conformational change when the enzyme transitions between the active and inactive states, and catalytic-site ligands can influence which of ε's conformations is predominant. The assay measures kinetics of ε's binding/dissociation with the catalytic complex, and indirectly measures the shift of enzyme-bound ε to and from the apparently nondissociable inhibitory conformation. The Bio-layer Interferometry signal is not overly sensitive to solution composition, so it can also be used to monitor allosteric effects of catalytic-site ligands on ε's conformational changes.
Chemistry, Issue 84, ATP synthase, Bio-Layer Interferometry, Ligand-induced conformational change, Biomolecular Interaction Analysis, Allosteric regulation, Enzyme inhibition
Analyzing the Movement of the Nauplius 'Artemia salina' by Optical Tracking of Plasmonic Nanoparticles
We demonstrate how optical tweezers may provide a sensitive tool to analyze the fluidic vibrations generated by the movement of small aquatic organisms. A single gold nanoparticle held by an optical tweezer is used as a sensor to quantify the rhythmic motion of a Nauplius larva (Artemia salina
) in a water sample. This is achieved by monitoring the time dependent displacement of the trapped nanoparticle as a consequence of the Nauplius activity. A Fourier analysis of the nanoparticle's position then yields a frequency spectrum that is characteristic to the motion of the observed species. This experiment demonstrates the capability of this method to measure and characterize the activity of small aquatic larvae without the requirement to observe them directly and to gain information about the position of the larvae with respect to the trapped particle. Overall, this approach could give an insight on the vitality of certain species found in an aquatic ecosystem and could expand the range of conventional methods for analyzing water samples.
Biophysics, Issue 89, optical tweezers, particle tracking, plasmonic nanoparticles, Nauplius, bioindicator, water sample analysis
Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
Fabrication of Silica Ultra High Quality Factor Microresonators
Institutions: University of Southern California, University of Southern California.
Whispering gallery resonant cavities confine light in circular orbits at their periphery.1-2
The photon storage lifetime in the cavity, quantified by the quality factor (Q) of the cavity, can be in excess of 500ns for cavities with Q factors above 100 million. As a result of their low material losses, silica microcavities have demonstrated some of the longest photon lifetimes to date1-2
. Since a portion of the circulating light extends outside the resonator, these devices can also be used to probe the surroundings. This interaction has enabled numerous experiments in biology, such as single molecule biodetection and antibody-antigen kinetics, as well as discoveries in other fields, such as development of ultra-low-threshold microlasers, characterization of thin films, and cavity quantum electrodynamics studies.3-7
The two primary silica resonant cavity geometries are the microsphere and the microtoroid. Both devices rely on a carbon dioxide laser reflow step to achieve their ultra-high-Q factors (Q>100 million).1-2,8-9
However, there are several notable differences between the two structures. Silica microspheres are free-standing, supported by a single optical fiber, whereas silica microtoroids can be fabricated on a silicon wafer in large arrays using a combination of lithography and etching steps. These differences influence which device is optimal for a given experiment.
Here, we present detailed fabrication protocols for both types of resonant cavities. While the fabrication of microsphere resonant cavities is fairly straightforward, the fabrication of microtoroid resonant cavities requires additional specialized equipment and facilities (cleanroom). Therefore, this additional requirement may also influence which device is selected for a given experiment.
An optical resonator efficiently confines light at specific wavelengths, known as the resonant wavelengths of the device. 1-2
The common figure of merit for these optical resonators is the quality factor or Q. This term describes the photon lifetime (τo
) within the resonator, which is directly related to the resonator's optical losses. Therefore, an optical resonator with a high Q factor has low optical losses, long photon lifetimes, and very low photon decay rates (1/τo
). As a result of the long photon lifetimes, it is possible to build-up extremely large circulating optical field intensities in these devices. This very unique property has allowed these devices to be used as laser sources and integrated biosensors.10
A unique sub-class of resonators is the whispering gallery mode optical microcavity. In these devices, the light is confined in circular orbits at the periphery. Therefore, the field is not completely confined within the device, but evanesces into the environment. Whispering gallery mode optical cavities have demonstrated some of the highest quality factors of any optical resonant cavity to date.9,11
Therefore, these devices are used throughout science and engineering, including in fundamental physics studies and in telecommunications as well as in biodetection experiments. 3-7,12
Optical microcavities can be fabricated from a wide range of materials and in a wide variety of geometries. A few examples include silica and silicon microtoroids, silicon, silicon nitride, and silica microdisks, micropillars, and silica and polymer microrings.13-17
The range in quality factor (Q) varies as dramatically as the geometry. Although both geometry and high Q are important considerations in any field, in many applications, there is far greater leverage in boosting device performance through Q enhancement. Among the numerous options detailed previously, the silica microsphere and the silica microtoroid resonator have achieved some of the highest Q factors to date.1,9
Additionally, as a result of the extremely low optical loss of silica from the visible through the near-IR, both microspheres and microtoroids are able to maintain their Q factors over a wide range of testing wavelengths.18
Finally, because silica is inherently biocompatible, it is routinely used in biodetection experiments.
In addition to high material absorption, there are several other potential loss mechanisms, including surface roughness, radiation loss, and contamination loss.2
Through an optimization of the device size, it is possible to eliminate radiation losses, which arise from poor optical field confinement within the device. Similarly, by storing a device in an appropriately clean environment, contamination of the surface can be minimized. Therefore, in addition to material loss, surface scattering is the primary loss mechanism of concern.2,8
In silica devices, surface scattering is minimized by using a laser reflow technique, which melts the silica through surface tension induced reflow. While spherical optical resonators have been studied for many years, it is only with recent advances in fabrication technologies that researchers been able to fabricate high quality silica optical toroidal microresonators (Q>100 million) on a silicon substrate, thus paving the way for integration with microfluidics.1
The present series of protocols details how to fabricate both silica microsphere and microtoroid resonant cavities. While silica microsphere resonant cavities are well-established, microtoroid resonant cavities were only recently invented.1
As many of the fundamental methods used to fabricate the microsphere are also used in the more complex microtoroid fabrication procedure, by including both in a single protocol it will enable researchers to more easily trouble-shoot their experiments.
Materials Science, Issue 65, Chemical Engineering, Physics, Electrophysics, Biosensor, device fabrication, microcavity, optical resonator
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro
. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro
using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
Direct Detection of the Acetate-forming Activity of the Enzyme Acetate Kinase
Institutions: Clemson University.
Acetate kinase, a member of the acetate and sugar kinase-Hsp70-actin (ASKHA) enzyme superfamily1-5
, is responsible for the reversible phosphorylation of acetate to acetyl phosphate utilizing ATP as a substrate. Acetate kinases are ubiquitous in the Bacteria
, found in one genus of Archaea
, and are also present in microbes of the Eukarya6
. The most well characterized acetate kinase is that from the methane-producing archaeon Methanosarcina thermophila7-14
. An acetate kinase which can only utilize PPi
but not ATP in the acetyl phosphate-forming direction has been isolated from Entamoeba histolytica
, the causative agent of amoebic dysentery, and has thus far only been found in this genus15,16
In the direction of acetyl phosphate formation, acetate kinase activity is typically measured using the hydroxamate assay, first described by Lipmann17-20
, a coupled assay in which conversion of ATP to ADP is coupled to oxidation of NADH to NAD+
by the enzymes pyruvate kinase and lactate dehydrogenase21,22
, or an assay measuring release of inorganic phosphate after reaction of the acetyl phosphate product with hydroxylamine23
. Activity in the opposite, acetate-forming direction is measured by coupling ATP formation from ADP to the reduction of NADP+
to NADPH by the enzymes hexokinase and glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase24
Here we describe a method for the detection of acetate kinase activity in the direction of acetate formation that does not require coupling enzymes, but is instead based on direct determination of acetyl phosphate consumption. After the enzymatic reaction, remaining acetyl phosphate is converted to a ferric hydroxamate complex that can be measured spectrophotometrically, as for the hydroxamate assay. Thus, unlike the standard coupled assay for this direction that is dependent on the production of ATP from ADP, this direct assay can be used for acetate kinases that produce ATP or PPi
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, Acetate kinase, acetate, acetyl phosphate, pyrophosphate, PPi, ATP
The Importance of Correct Protein Concentration for Kinetics and Affinity Determination in Structure-function Analysis
Institutions: GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences AB.
In this study, we explore the interaction between the bovine cysteine protease inhibitor cystatin B and a catalytically inactive form of papain (Fig. 1), a plant cysteine protease, by real-time label-free analysis using Biacore X100. Several cystatin B variants with point mutations in areas of interaction with papain, are produced. For each cystatin B variant we determine its specific binding concentration using calibration-free concentration analysis (CFCA) and compare the values obtained with total protein concentration as determined by A280
. After that, the kinetics of each cystatin B variant binding to papain is measured using single-cycle kinetics (SCK). We show that one of the four cystatin B variants we examine is only partially active for binding. This partial activity, revealed by CFCA, translates to a significant difference in the association rate constant (ka
) and affinity (KD
), compared to the values calculated using total protein concentration. Using CFCA in combination with kinetic analysis in a structure-function study contributes to obtaining reliable results, and helps to make the right interpretation of the interaction mechanism.
Cellular Biology, Issue 37, Protein interaction, Surface Plasmon Resonance, Biacore X100, CFCA, Cystatin B, Papain
High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1
. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2
. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8
, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing.
Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli
the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9
, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli
expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10
and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12
We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli
. (Fig 1
) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness.
Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13
involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14
for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes
, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus
and Penicillium decumbens
(shown in Figure 2
), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
Genetically-encoded Molecular Probes to Study G Protein-coupled Receptors
Institutions: The Rockefeller University.
To facilitate structural and dynamic studies of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling complexes, new approaches are required to introduce informative probes or labels into expressed receptors that do not perturb receptor function. We used amber codon suppression technology to genetically-encode the unnatural amino acid, p
-azido-L-phenylalanine (azF) at various targeted positions in GPCRs heterologously expressed in mammalian cells. The versatility of the azido group is illustrated here in different applications to study GPCRs in their native cellular environment or under detergent solubilized conditions. First, we demonstrate a cell-based targeted photocrosslinking technology to identify the residues in the ligand-binding pocket of GPCR where a tritium-labeled small-molecule ligand is crosslinked to a genetically-encoded azido amino acid. We then demonstrate site-specific modification of GPCRs by the bioorthogonal Staudinger-Bertozzi ligation reaction that targets the azido group using phosphine derivatives. We discuss a general strategy for targeted peptide-epitope tagging of expressed membrane proteins in-culture and its detection using a whole-cell-based ELISA approach. Finally, we show that azF-GPCRs can be selectively tagged with fluorescent probes. The methodologies discussed are general, in that they can in principle be applied to any amino acid position in any expressed GPCR to interrogate active signaling complexes.
Genetics, Issue 79, Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled, Protein Engineering, Signal Transduction, Biochemistry, Unnatural amino acid, site-directed mutagenesis, G protein-coupled receptor, targeted photocrosslinking, bioorthogonal labeling, targeted epitope tagging
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Fabrication And Characterization Of Photonic Crystal Slow Light Waveguides And Cavities
Institutions: University of St Andrews.
Slow light has been one of the hot topics in the photonics community in the past decade, generating great interest both from a fundamental point of view and for its considerable potential for practical applications. Slow light photonic crystal waveguides, in particular, have played a major part and have been successfully employed for delaying optical signals1-4
and the enhancement of both linear5-7
and nonlinear devices.8-11
Photonic crystal cavities achieve similar effects to that of slow light waveguides, but over a reduced band-width. These cavities offer high Q-factor/volume ratio, for the realization of optically12
pumped ultra-low threshold lasers and the enhancement of nonlinear effects.14-16
Furthermore, passive filters17
have been demonstrated, exhibiting ultra-narrow line-width, high free-spectral range and record values of low energy consumption.
To attain these exciting results, a robust repeatable fabrication protocol must be developed. In this paper we take an in-depth look at our fabrication protocol which employs electron-beam lithography for the definition of photonic crystal patterns and uses wet and dry etching techniques. Our optimised fabrication recipe results in photonic crystals that do not suffer from vertical asymmetry and exhibit very good edge-wall roughness. We discuss the results of varying the etching parameters and the detrimental effects that they can have on a device, leading to a diagnostic route that can be taken to identify and eliminate similar issues.
The key to evaluating slow light waveguides is the passive characterization of transmission and group index spectra. Various methods have been reported, most notably resolving the Fabry-Perot fringes of the transmission spectrum20-21
and interferometric techniques.22-25
Here, we describe a direct, broadband measurement technique combining spectral interferometry with Fourier transform analysis.26
Our method stands out for its simplicity and power, as we can characterise a bare photonic crystal with access waveguides, without need for on-chip interference components, and the setup only consists of a Mach-Zehnder interferometer, with no need for moving parts and delay scans.
When characterising photonic crystal cavities, techniques involving internal sources21
or external waveguides directly coupled to the cavity27
impact on the performance of the cavity itself, thereby distorting the measurement. Here, we describe a novel and non-intrusive technique that makes use of a cross-polarised probe beam and is known as resonant scattering (RS), where the probe is coupled out-of plane into the cavity through an objective. The technique was first demonstrated by McCutcheon et al.28
and further developed by Galli et al.29
Physics, Issue 69, Optics and Photonics, Astronomy, light scattering, light transmission, optical waveguides, photonics, photonic crystals, Slow-light, Cavities, Waveguides, Silicon, SOI, Fabrication, Characterization
The Generation of Higher-order Laguerre-Gauss Optical Beams for High-precision Interferometry
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Thermal noise in high-reflectivity mirrors is a major impediment for several types of high-precision interferometric experiments that aim to reach the standard quantum limit or to cool mechanical systems to their quantum ground state. This is for example the case of future gravitational wave observatories, whose sensitivity to gravitational wave signals is expected to be limited in the most sensitive frequency band, by atomic vibration of their mirror masses. One promising approach being pursued to overcome this limitation is to employ higher-order Laguerre-Gauss (LG) optical beams in place of the conventionally used fundamental mode. Owing to their more homogeneous light intensity distribution these beams average more effectively over the thermally driven fluctuations of the mirror surface, which in turn reduces the uncertainty in the mirror position sensed by the laser light.
We demonstrate a promising method to generate higher-order LG beams by shaping a fundamental Gaussian beam with the help of diffractive optical elements. We show that with conventional sensing and control techniques that are known for stabilizing fundamental laser beams, higher-order LG modes can be purified and stabilized just as well at a comparably high level. A set of diagnostic tools allows us to control and tailor the properties of generated LG beams. This enabled us to produce an LG beam with the highest purity reported to date. The demonstrated compatibility of higher-order LG modes with standard interferometry techniques and with the use of standard spherical optics makes them an ideal candidate for application in a future generation of high-precision interferometry.
Physics, Issue 78, Optics, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Gravitational waves, Laser interferometry, Metrology, Thermal noise, Laguerre-Gauss modes, interferometry
Measuring Cation Transport by Na,K- and H,K-ATPase in Xenopus Oocytes by Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry: An Alternative to Radioisotope Assays
Institutions: Technical University of Berlin, Oregon Health & Science University.
Whereas cation transport by the electrogenic membrane transporter Na+
-ATPase can be measured by electrophysiology, the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase is more difficult to investigate. Many transport assays utilize radioisotopes to achieve a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio, however, the necessary security measures impose severe restrictions regarding human exposure or assay design. Furthermore, ion transport across cell membranes is critically influenced by the membrane potential, which is not straightforwardly controlled in cell culture or in proteoliposome preparations. Here, we make use of the outstanding sensitivity of atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) towards trace amounts of chemical elements to measure Rb+
transport by Na+
- or gastric H+
-ATPase in single cells. Using Xenopus
oocytes as expression system, we determine the amount of Rb+
) transported into the cells by measuring samples of single-oocyte homogenates in an AAS device equipped with a transversely heated graphite atomizer (THGA) furnace, which is loaded from an autosampler. Since the background of unspecific Rb+
uptake into control oocytes or during application of ATPase-specific inhibitors is very small, it is possible to implement complex kinetic assay schemes involving a large number of experimental conditions simultaneously, or to compare the transport capacity and kinetics of site-specifically mutated transporters with high precision. Furthermore, since cation uptake is determined on single cells, the flux experiments can be carried out in combination with two-electrode voltage-clamping (TEVC) to achieve accurate control of the membrane potential and current. This allowed e.g.
to quantitatively determine the 3Na+
transport stoichiometry of the Na+
-ATPase and enabled for the first time to investigate the voltage dependence of cation transport by the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase. In principle, the assay is not limited to K+
-transporting membrane proteins, but it may work equally well to address the activity of heavy or transition metal transporters, or uptake of chemical elements by endocytotic processes.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Chemistry, Biophysics, Bioengineering, Physiology, Molecular Biology, electrochemical processes, physical chemistry, spectrophotometry (application), spectroscopic chemical analysis (application), life sciences, temperature effects (biological, animal and plant), Life Sciences (General), Na+,K+-ATPase, H+,K+-ATPase, Cation Uptake, P-type ATPases, Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS), Two-Electrode Voltage-Clamp, Xenopus Oocytes, Rb+ Flux, Transversely Heated Graphite Atomizer (THGA) Furnace, electrophysiology, animal model
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
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)
In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ
characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3
(bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ
time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ
Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ
IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
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-1
H-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
The ChroP Approach Combines ChIP and Mass Spectrometry to Dissect Locus-specific Proteomic Landscapes of Chromatin
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
Multi-step Preparation Technique to Recover Multiple Metabolite Compound Classes for In-depth and Informative Metabolomic Analysis
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
Use of Arabidopsis eceriferum Mutants to Explore Plant Cuticle Biosynthesis
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
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
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