Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
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.
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
An Allele-specific Gene Expression Assay to Test the Functional Basis of Genetic Associations
Institutions: University of Oxford.
The number of significant genetic associations with common complex traits is constantly increasing. However, most of these associations have not been understood at molecular level. One of the mechanisms mediating the effect of DNA variants on phenotypes is gene expression, which has been shown to be particularly relevant for complex traits1
This method tests in a cellular context the effect of specific DNA sequences on gene expression. The principle is to measure the relative abundance of transcripts arising from the two alleles of a gene, analysing cells which carry one copy of the DNA sequences associated with disease (the risk variants)2,3
. Therefore, the cells used for this method should meet two fundamental genotypic requirements: they have to be heterozygous both for DNA risk variants and for DNA markers, typically coding polymorphisms, which can distinguish transcripts based on their chromosomal origin (Figure 1). DNA risk variants and DNA markers do not need to have the same allele frequency but the phase (haplotypic) relationship of the genetic markers needs to be understood. It is also important to choose cell types which express the gene of interest. This protocol refers specifically to the procedure adopted to extract nucleic acids from fibroblasts but the method is equally applicable to other cells types including primary cells.
DNA and RNA are extracted from the selected cell lines and cDNA is generated. DNA and cDNA are analysed with a primer extension assay, designed to target the coding DNA markers4
. The primer extension assay is carried out using the MassARRAY (Sequenom)5
platform according to the manufacturer's specifications. Primer extension products are then analysed by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF/MS). Because the selected markers are heterozygous they will generate two peaks on the MS profiles. The area of each peak is proportional to the transcript abundance and can be measured with a function of the MassARRAY Typer software to generate an allelic ratio (allele 1: allele 2) calculation. The allelic ratio obtained for cDNA is normalized using that measured from genomic DNA, where the allelic ratio is expected to be 1:1 to correct for technical artifacts. Markers with a normalised allelic ratio significantly different to 1 indicate that the amount of transcript generated from the two chromosomes in the same cell is different, suggesting that the DNA variants associated with the phenotype have an effect on gene expression. Experimental controls should be used to confirm the results.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, Gene expression, regulatory variant, haplotype, association study, primer extension, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, single nucleotide polymorphism, allele-specific
Mosaic Zebrafish Transgenesis for Evaluating Enhancer Sequences
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
The completion of the human genome sequence, along with that of many other species, has highlighted the challenge of ascribing specific function to non coding sequences. One prominent function carried out by the non coding fraction of the genome is to regulate gene transcription; however, there are no effective methods to broadly predict cis-regulatory elements from primary DNA sequence. We have developed an efficient protocol to functionally evaluate potential cis-regulatory elements through zebrafish transgenesis. Our approach offers significant advantages over cell-culture based techniques for developmentally important genes, since it provides information on spatial and temporal gene regulation. Conversely, it is faster and less expensive than similar experiments in transgenic mice, and we routinely apply it to sequences isolated from the human genome. Here we demonstrate our approach to selecting elements for testing based on sequence conservation and our protocol for cloning sequences and microinjecting them into zebrafish embryos.
Cellular Biology, Issue 41, zebrafish, transgenesis, microinjection, GFP, enhancers, transposon
Analysis of DNA Double-strand Break (DSB) Repair in Mammalian Cells
Institutions: University of Rochester.
DNA double-strand breaks are the most dangerous DNA lesions that may lead to massive loss of genetic information and cell death. Cells repair DSBs using two major pathways: nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) and homologous recombination (HR). Perturbations of NHEJ and HR are often associated with premature aging and tumorigenesis, hence it is important to have a quantitative way of measuring each DSB repair pathway. Our laboratory has developed fluorescent reporter constructs that allow sensitive and quantitative measurement of NHEJ and HR. The constructs are based on an engineered GFP gene containing recognition sites for a rare-cutting I-SceI endonuclease for induction of DSBs. The starting constructs are GFP negative as the GFP gene is inactivated by an additional exon, or by mutations. Successful repair of the I-SceI-induced breaks by NHEJ or HR restores the functional GFP gene. The number of GFP positive cells counted by flow cytometry provides quantitative measure of NHEJ or HR efficiency.
Cellular Biology, Issue 43, DNA repair, HR, NHEJ, mammalian cells
Protocol for Production of a Genetic Cross of the Rodent Malaria Parasites
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, Xiamen University.
Variation in response to antimalarial drugs and in pathogenicity of malaria parasites is of biologic and medical importance. Linkage mapping has led to successful identification of genes or loci underlying various traits in malaria parasites of rodents1-3
. The malaria parasite Plasmodium yoelii
is one of many malaria species isolated from wild African rodents and has been adapted to grow in laboratories. This species reproduces many of the biologic characteristics of the human malaria parasites; genetic markers such as microsatellite and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers have also been developed for the parasite7-9
. Thus, genetic studies in rodent malaria parasites can be performed to complement research on Plasmodium falciparum
. Here, we demonstrate the techniques for producing a genetic cross in P. yoelii
that were first pioneered by Drs. David Walliker, Richard Carter, and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh10
Genetic crosses in P. yoelii
and other rodent malaria parasites are conducted by infecting mice Mus musculus
with an inoculum containing gametocytes of two genetically distinct clones that differ in phenotypes of interest and by allowing mosquitoes to feed on the infected mice 4 days after infection. The presence of male and female gametocytes in the mouse blood is microscopically confirmed before feeding. Within 48 hrs after feeding, in the midgut of the mosquito, the haploid gametocytes differentiate into male and female gametes, fertilize, and form a diploid zygote (Fig. 1). During development of a zygote into an ookinete, meiosis appears to occur11
. If the zygote is derived through cross-fertilization between gametes of the two genetically distinct parasites, genetic exchanges (chromosomal reassortment and cross-overs between the non-sister chromatids of a pair of homologous chromosomes; Fig. 2) may occur, resulting in recombination of genetic material at homologous loci. Each zygote undergoes two successive nuclear divisions, leading to four haploid nuclei. An ookinete further develops into an oocyst. Once the oocyst matures, thousands of sporozoites (the progeny of the cross) are formed and released into mosquito hemoceal. Sporozoites are harvested from the salivary glands and injected into a new murine host, where pre-erythrocytic and erythrocytic stage development takes place. Erythrocytic forms are cloned and classified with regard to the characters distinguishing the parental lines prior to genetic linkage mapping. Control infections of individual parental clones are performed in the same way as the production of a genetic cross.
Infectious Disease, Issue 47, Genetic cross, genetic mapping, malaria, rodent
A Genetic Screen to Isolate Toxoplasma gondii Host-cell Egress Mutants
Institutions: Boston College.
The widespread, obligate intracellular, protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii
causes opportunistic disease in immuno-compromised patients and causes birth defects upon congenital infection. The lytic replication cycle is characterized by three stages: 1. active invasion of a nucleated host cell; 2. replication inside the host cell; 3. active egress from the host cell. The mechanism of egress is increasingly being appreciated as a unique, highly regulated process, which is still poorly understood at the molecular level. The signaling pathways underlying egress have been characterized through the use of pharmacological agents acting on different aspects of the pathways1-5
. As such, several independent triggers of egress have been identified which all converge on the release of intracellular Ca2+
, a signal that is also critical for host cell invasion6-8
. This insight informed a candidate gene approach which led to the identification of plant like calcium dependent protein kinase (CDPK) involved in egress9
. In addition, several recent breakthroughs in understanding egress have been made using (chemical) genetic approaches10-12
. To combine the wealth of pharmacological information with the increasing genetic accessibility of Toxoplasma
we recently established a screen permitting the enrichment for parasite mutants with a defect in host cell egress13
. Although chemical mutagenesis using N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) or ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) has been used for decades in the study of Toxoplasma
, only recently has genetic mapping of mutations underlying the phenotypes become routine16-18
. Furthermore, by generating temperature-sensitive mutants, essential processes can be dissected and the underlying genes directly identified. These mutants behave as wild-type under the permissive temperature (35 °C), but fail to proliferate at the restrictive temperature (40 °C) as a result of the mutation in question. Here we illustrate a new phenotypic screening method to isolate mutants with a temperature-sensitive egress phenotype13
. The challenge for egress screens is to separate egressed from non-egressed parasites, which is complicated by fast re-invasion and general stickiness of the parasites to host cells. A previously established egress screen was based on a cumbersome series of biotinylation steps to separate intracellular from extracellular parasites11
. This method also did not generate conditional mutants resulting in weak phenotypes. The method described here overcomes the strong attachment of egressing parasites by including a glycan competitor, dextran sulfate (DS), that prevents parasites from sticking to the host cell19
. Moreover, extracellular parasites are specifically killed off by pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate (PDTC), which leaves intracellular parasites unharmed20
. Therefore, with a new phenotypic screen to specifically isolate parasite mutants with defects in induced egress, the power of genetics can now be fully deployed to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying host cell egress.
Immunology, Issue 60, Genetics, Toxoplasma gondii, chemical mutagenesis, egress, genetic screen
A Parasite Rescue and Transformation Assay for Antileishmanial Screening Against Intracellular Leishmania donovani Amastigotes in THP1 Human Acute Monocytic Leukemia Cell Line
Institutions: University of Mississippi, University of Mississippi.
Leishmaniasis is one of the world's most neglected diseases, largely affecting the poorest of the poor, mainly in developing countries. Over 350 million people are considered at risk of contracting leishmaniasis, and approximately 2 million new cases occur yearly1
. Leishmania donovani
is the causative agent for visceral leishmaniasis (VL), the most fatal form of the disease. The choice of drugs available to treat leishmaniasis is limited 2
;current treatments provide limited efficacy and many are toxic at therapeutic doses. In addition, most of the first line treatment drugs have already lost their utility due to increasing multiple drug resistance 3
. The current pipeline of anti-leishmanial drugs is also severely depleted. Sustained efforts are needed to enrich a new anti-leishmanial drug discovery pipeline, and this endeavor relies on the availability of suitable in vitro
and axenic amastigotes assays5
are primarily used for anti-leishmanial drug screening however, may not be appropriate due to significant cellular, physiological, biochemical and molecular differences in comparison to intracellular amastigotes. Assays with macrophage-amastigotes models are considered closest to the pathophysiological conditions of leishmaniasis, and are therefore the most appropriate for in vitro
screening. Differentiated, non-dividing human acute monocytic leukemia cells (THP1) (make an attractive) alternative to isolated primary macrophages and can be used for assaying anti-leishmanial activity of different compounds against intracellular amastigotes.
Here, we present a parasite-rescue and transformation assay with differentiated THP1 cells infected in vitro
with Leishmania donovani
for screening pure compounds and natural products extracts and determining the efficacy against the intracellular Leishmania
amastigotes. The assay involves the following steps: (1) differentiation of THP1 cells to non-dividing macrophages, (2) infection of macrophages with L. donovani
metacyclic promastigotes, (3) treatment of infected cells with test drugs, (4) controlled lysis of infected macrophages, (5) release/rescue of amastigotes and (6) transformation of live amastigotes to promastigotes. The assay was optimized using detergent treatment for controlled lysis of Leishmania
-infected THP1 cells to achieve almost complete rescue of viable intracellular amastigotes with minimal effect on their ability to transform to promastigotes. Different macrophage:promastigotes ratios were tested to achieve maximum infection. Quantification of the infection was performed through transformation of live, rescued Leishmania
amastigotes to promastigotes and evaluation of their growth by an alamarBlue fluorometric assay in 96-well microplates. This assay is comparable to the currently-used microscopic, transgenic reporter gene and digital-image analysis assays. This assay is robust and measures only the live intracellular amastigotes compared to reporter gene and image analysis assays, which may not differentiate between live and dead amastigotes. Also, the assay has been validated with a current panel of anti-leishmanial drugs and has been successfully applied to large-scale screening of pure compounds and a library of natural products fractions (Tekwani et al.
Infection, Issue 70, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Pharmacology, Leishmania donovani, Visceral Leishmaniasis, THP1 cells, Drug Screening, Amastigotes, Antileishmanial drug assay
Intravital Microscopy of the Spleen: Quantitative Analysis of Parasite Mobility and Blood Flow
Institutions: Barcelona Centre for International Health Research, University of Barcelona- Scientific and Technological Centers, Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA).
The advent of intravital microscopy in experimental rodent malaria models has allowed major advances to the knowledge of parasite-host interactions 1,2
. Thus, in vivo
imaging of malaria parasites during pre-erythrocytic stages have revealed the active entrance of parasites into skin lymph nodes 3
, the complete development of the parasite in the skin 4
, and the formation of a hepatocyte-derived merosome to assure migration and release of merozoites into the blood stream 5
. Moreover, the development of individual parasites in erythrocytes has been recently documented using 4D imaging and challenged our current view on protein export in malaria 6
. Thus, intravital imaging has radically changed our view on key events in Plasmodium
development. Unfortunately, studies of the dynamic passage of malaria parasites through the spleen, a major lymphoid organ exquisitely adapted to clear infected red blood cells are lacking due to technical constraints.
Using the murine model of malaria Plasmodium yoelii
in Balb/c mice, we have implemented intravital imaging of the spleen and reported a differential remodeling of it and adherence of parasitized red blood cells (pRBCs) to barrier cells of fibroblastic origin in the red pulp during infection with the non-lethal parasite line P.yoelii
17X as opposed to infections with the P.yoelii
17XL lethal parasite line 7
. To reach these conclusions, a specific methodology using ImageJ free software was developed to enable characterization of the fast three-dimensional movement of single-pRBCs. Results obtained with this protocol allow determining velocity, directionality and residence time of parasites in the spleen, all parameters addressing adherence in vivo
. In addition, we report the methodology for blood flow quantification using intravital microscopy and the use of different colouring agents to gain insight into the complex microcirculatory structure of the spleen.
All the animal studies were performed at the animal facilities of University of Barcelona in accordance with guidelines and protocols approved by the Ethics Committee for Animal Experimentation of the University of Barcelona CEEA-UB (Protocol No DMAH: 5429). Female Balb/c mice of 6-8 weeks of age were obtained from Charles River Laboratories.
Immunology, Issue 59, intravital microscopy, GFP, malaria, spleen, mobility, adhesion, Plasmodium yoelii, Balb/c mice
Using Fluorescent Proteins to Monitor Glycosome Dynamics in the African Trypanosome
Institutions: Clemson University Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center.
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
Analysis of Single-cell Gene Transcription by RNA Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization (FISH)
Institutions: University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen University Hospital (Rigshospitalet), University of Edinburgh .
Adhesion of Plasmodium falciparum
infected erythrocytes (IE) to human endothelial receptors during malaria infections is mediated by expression of PfEMP1 protein variants encoded by the var
The haploid P. falciparum
genome harbors approximately 60 different var
genes of which only one has been believed to be transcribed per cell at a time during the blood stage of the infection. How such mutually exclusive regulation of var
gene transcription is achieved is unclear, as is the identification of individual var
genes or sub-groups of var
genes associated with different receptors and the consequence of differential binding on the clinical outcome of P. falciparum
infections. Recently, the mutually exclusive transcription paradigm has been called into doubt by transcription assays based on individual P. falciparum
transcript identification in single infected erythrocytic cells using RNA fluorescent in situ
hybridization (FISH) analysis of var
gene transcription by the parasite in individual nuclei of P. falciparum
Here, we present a detailed protocol for carrying out the RNA-FISH methodology for analysis of var
gene transcription in single-nuclei of P. falciparum
infected human erythrocytes. The method is based on the use of digoxigenin- and biotin- labeled antisense RNA probes using the TSA Plus Fluorescence Palette System2
(Perkin Elmer), microscopic analyses and freshly selected P. falciparum
IE. The in situ
hybridization method can be used to monitor transcription and regulation of a variety of genes expressed during the different stages of the P. falciparum
life cycle and is adaptable to other malaria parasite species and other organisms and cell types.
Genetics, Issue 68, Infectious Diseases, Immunology, Molecular Biology, nuclei, transcription, var genes, PfEMP1, infected erythrocytes (IE), Plasmodium falciparum, fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH)
High Yield Purification of Plasmodium falciparum Merozoites For Use in Opsonizing Antibody Assays
Institutions: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, University of Melbourne.
merozoite antigens are under development as potential malaria vaccines. One aspect of immunity against malaria is the removal of free merozoites from the blood by phagocytic cells. However assessing the functional efficacy of merozoite specific opsonizing antibodies is challenging due to the short half-life of merozoites and the variability of primary phagocytic cells. Described in detail herein is a method for generating viable merozoites using the E64 protease inhibitor, and an assay of merozoite opsonin-dependent phagocytosis using the pro-monocytic cell line THP-1. E64 prevents schizont rupture while allowing the development of merozoites which are released by filtration of treated schizonts. Ethidium bromide labelled merozoites are opsonized with human plasma samples and added to THP-1 cells. Phagocytosis is assessed by a standardized high throughput protocol. Viable merozoites are a valuable resource for assessing numerous aspects of P. falciparum
biology, including assessment of immune function. Antibody levels measured by this assay are associated with clinical immunity to malaria in naturally exposed individuals. The assay may also be of use for assessing vaccine induced antibodies.
Immunology, Issue 89, Parasitic Diseases, malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, hemozoin, antibody, Fc Receptor, opsonization, merozoite, phagocytosis, THP-1
Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro
using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro
preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers.
In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo
counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure
neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic
SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination.
Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii
by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2
. The Δku80
strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro
and in vivo
and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80
strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4
Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt
strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii
. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT
) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80
strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii
and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium
sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e.
biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc
.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not
expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis
; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
A PCR-based Genotyping Method to Distinguish Between Wild-type and Ornamental Varieties of Imperata cylindrica
Institutions: The University of Alabama, Huntsville, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology.
Wild-type I. cylindrica
(cogongrass) is one of the top ten worst invasive plants in the world, negatively impacting agricultural and natural resources in 73 different countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, New Zealand, Oceania and the Americas1-2
. Cogongrass forms rapidly-spreading, monodominant stands that displace a large variety of native plant species and in turn threaten the native animals that depend on the displaced native plant species for forage and shelter. To add to the problem, an ornamental variety [I. cylindrica
(Retzius)] is widely marketed under the names of Imperata cylindrica
'Rubra', Red Baron, and Japanese blood grass (JBG). This variety is putatively sterile and noninvasive and is considered a desirable ornamental for its red-colored leaves. However, under the correct conditions, JBG can produce viable seed (Carol Holko, 2009 personal communication) and can revert to a green invasive form that is often indistinguishable from cogongrass as it takes on the distinguishing characteristics of the wild-type invasive variety4
). This makes identification using morphology a difficult task even for well-trained plant taxonomists. Reversion of JBG to an aggressive green phenotype is also not a rare occurrence. Using sequence comparisons of coding and variable regions in both nuclear and chloroplast DNA, we have confirmed that JBG has reverted to the green invasive within the states of Maryland, South Carolina, and Missouri. JBG has been sold and planted in just about every state in the continental U.S. where there is not an active cogongrass infestation. The extent of the revert problem in not well understood because reverted plants are undocumented and often destroyed.
Application of this molecular protocol provides a method to identify JBG reverts and can help keep these varieties from co-occurring and possibly hybridizing. Cogongrass is an obligate outcrosser and, when crossed with a different genotype, can produce viable wind-dispersed seeds that spread cogongrass over wide distances5-7
. JBG has a slightly different genotype than cogongrass and may be able to form viable hybrids with cogongrass. To add to the problem, JBG is more cold and shade tolerant than cogongrass8-10
, and gene flow between these two varieties is likely to generate hybrids that are more aggressive, shade tolerant, and cold hardy than wild-type cogongrass. While wild-type cogongrass currently infests over 490 million hectares worldwide, in the Southeast U.S. it infests over 500,000 hectares and is capable of occupying most of the U.S. as it rapidly spreads northward due to its broad niche and geographic potential3,7,11
. The potential of a genetic crossing is a serious concern for the USDA-APHIS Federal Noxious Week Program. Currently, the USDA-APHIS prohibits JBG in states where there are major cogongrass infestations (e.g., Florida, Alabama, Mississippi). However, preventing the two varieties from combining can prove more difficult as cogongrass and JBG expand their distributions. Furthermore, the distribution of the JBG revert is currently unknown and without the ability to identify these varieties through morphology, some cogongrass infestations may be the result of JBG reverts. Unfortunately, current molecular methods of identification typically rely on AFLP (Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms) and DNA sequencing, both of which are time consuming and costly. Here, we present the first cost-effective and reliable PCR-based molecular genotyping method to accurately distinguish between cogongrass and JBG revert.
Molecular Biology, Issue 60, Molecular genotyping, Japanese blood grass, Red Baron, cogongrass, invasive plants
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1
. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2
or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4
. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g.
PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6
and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10
. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
Electroporation of Mycobacteria
Institutions: Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
Microbiology, Issue 15, Springer Protocols, Mycobacteria, Electroporation, Bacterial Transformation, Transformation Efficiency, Bacteria, Tuberculosis, M. Smegmatis, Springer Protocols
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing