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Phenotypic and Genotypic Characterization of Biofilm Forming Capabilities in Non-O157 Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli Strains.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
The biofilm life style helps bacteria resist oxidative stress, desiccation, antibiotic treatment, and starvation. Biofilm formation involves a complex regulatory gene network controlled by various environmental signals. It was previously shown that prophage insertions in mlrA and heterogeneous mutations in rpoS constituted major obstacles limiting biofilm formation and the expression of extracellular curli fibers in strains of Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7. The purpose of this study was to test strains from other important serotypes of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) (O26, O45, O103, O111, O113, O121, and O145) for similar regulatory restrictions. In a small but diverse collection of biofilm-forming and non-forming strains, mlrA prophage insertions were identified in only 4 of the 19 strains (serotypes O103, O113, and O145). Only the STEC O103 and O113 strains could be complemented by a trans-copy of mlrA to restore curli production and Congo red (CR) dye affinity. RpoS mutations were found in 5 strains (4 serotypes), each with low CR affinity, and the defects were moderately restored by a wild-type copy of rpoS in 2 of the 3 strains attempted. Fourteen strains in this study showed no or weak biofilm formation, of which 9 could be explained by prophage insertions or rpoS mutations. However, each of the remaining five biofilm-deficient strains, as well as the two O145 strains that could not be complemented by mlrA, showed complete or nearly complete lack of motility. This study indicates that mlrA prophage insertions and rpoS mutations do limit biofilm and curli expression in the non-serotype O157:H7 STEC but prophage insertions may not be as common as in serotype O157:H7 strains. The results also suggest that lack of motility provides a third major factor limiting biofilm formation in the non-O157:H7 STEC. Understanding biofilm regulatory mechanisms will prove beneficial in reducing pathogen survival and enhancing food safety.
Authors: Baoguang Li, Zonglin Hu, Christopher A. Elkins.
Published: 02-01-2014
A unique open reading frame (ORF) Z3276 was identified as a specific genetic marker for E. coli O157:H7. A qPCR assay was developed for detection of E. coli O157:H7 by targeting ORF Z3276. With this assay, we can detect as low as a few copies of the genome of DNA of E. coli O157:H7. The sensitivity and specificity of the assay were confirmed by intensive validation tests with a large number of E. coli O157:H7 strains (n = 369) and non-O157 strains (n = 112). Furthermore, we have combined propidium monoazide (PMA) procedure with the newly developed qPCR protocol for selective detection of live cells from dead cells. Amplification of DNA from PMA-treated dead cells was almost completely inhibited in contrast to virtually unaffected amplification of DNA from PMA-treated live cells. Additionally, the protocol has been modified and adapted to a 96-well plate format for an easy and consistent handling of a large number of samples. This method is expected to have an impact on accurate microbiological and epidemiological monitoring of food safety and environmental source.
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Engineering Adherent Bacteria by Creating a Single Synthetic Curli Operon
Authors: Benoît Drogue, Philippe Thomas, Laurent Balvay, Claire Prigent-Combaret, Corinne Dorel.
Institutions: Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon.
The method described here consists in redesigning E. coli adherence properties by assembling the minimum number of curli genes under the control of a strong and metal-overinducible promoter, and in visualizing and quantifying the resulting gain of bacterial adherence. This method applies appropriate engineering principles of abstraction and standardization of synthetic biology, and results in the BBa_K540000 Biobrick (Best new Biobrick device, engineered, iGEM 2011). The first step consists in the design of the synthetic operon devoted to curli overproduction in response to metal, and therefore in increasing the adherence abilities of the wild type strain. The original curli operon was modified in silico in order to optimize transcriptional and translational signals and escape the "natural" regulation of curli. This approach allowed to test with success our current understanding of curli production. Moreover, simplifying the curli regulation by switching the endogenous complex promoter (more than 10 transcriptional regulators identified) to a simple metal-regulated promoter makes adherence much easier to control. The second step includes qualitative and quantitative assessment of adherence abilities by implementation of simple methods. These methods are applicable to a large range of adherent bacteria regardless of biological structures involved in biofilm formation. Adherence test in 24-well polystyrene plates provides a quick preliminary visualization of the bacterial biofilm after crystal violet staining. This qualitative test can be sharpened by the quantification of the percentage of adherence. Such a method is very simple but more accurate than only crystal violet staining as described previously 1 with both a good repeatability and reproducibility. Visualization of GFP-tagged bacteria on glass slides by fluorescence or laser confocal microscopy allows to strengthen the results obtained with the 24-well plate test by direct observation of the phenomenon.
Bioengineering, Issue 69, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, curli, cobalt, biofilm, Escherichia coli, synthetic operon, synthetic biology, adherence assay, biofilm quantification, microscopy
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A Semi-quantitative Approach to Assess Biofilm Formation Using Wrinkled Colony Development
Authors: Valerie A. Ray, Andrew R. Morris, Karen L. Visick.
Institutions: Loyola University Medical Center.
Biofilms, or surface-attached communities of cells encapsulated in an extracellular matrix, represent a common lifestyle for many bacteria. Within a biofilm, bacterial cells often exhibit altered physiology, including enhanced resistance to antibiotics and other environmental stresses 1. Additionally, biofilms can play important roles in host-microbe interactions. Biofilms develop when bacteria transition from individual, planktonic cells to form complex, multi-cellular communities 2. In the laboratory, biofilms are studied by assessing the development of specific biofilm phenotypes. A common biofilm phenotype involves the formation of wrinkled or rugose bacterial colonies on solid agar media 3. Wrinkled colony formation provides a particularly simple and useful means to identify and characterize bacterial strains exhibiting altered biofilm phenotypes, and to investigate environmental conditions that impact biofilm formation. Wrinkled colony formation serves as an indicator of biofilm formation in a variety of bacteria, including both Gram-positive bacteria, such as Bacillus subtilis 4, and Gram-negative bacteria, such as Vibrio cholerae 5, Vibrio parahaemolyticus 6, Pseudomonas aeruginosa 7, and Vibrio fischeri 8. The marine bacterium V. fischeri has become a model for biofilm formation due to the critical role of biofilms during host colonization: biofilms produced by V. fischeri promote its colonization of the Hawaiian bobtail squid Euprymna scolopes 8-10. Importantly, biofilm phenotypes observed in vitro correlate with the ability of V. fischeri cells to effectively colonize host animals: strains impaired for biofilm formation in vitro possess a colonization defect 9,11, while strains exhibiting increased biofilm phenotypes are enhanced for colonization 8,12. V. fischeri therefore provides a simple model system to assess the mechanisms by which bacteria regulate biofilm formation and how biofilms impact host colonization. In this report, we describe a semi-quantitative method to assess biofilm formation using V. fischeri as a model system. This method involves the careful spotting of bacterial cultures at defined concentrations and volumes onto solid agar media; a spotted culture is synonymous to a single bacterial colony. This 'spotted culture' technique can be utilized to compare gross biofilm phenotypes at single, specified time-points (end-point assays), or to identify and characterize subtle biofilm phenotypes through time-course assays of biofilm development and measurements of the colony diameter, which is influenced by biofilm formation. Thus, this technique provides a semi-quantitative analysis of biofilm formation, permitting evaluation of the timing and patterning of wrinkled colony development and the relative size of the developing structure, characteristics that extend beyond the simple overall morphology.
Microbiology, Issue 64, Immunology, Biofilm, wrinkled colony, rugose, Vibrio fischeri, Zeiss stemi, dissecting microscope, marine biology
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
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
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Detection of Toxin Translocation into the Host Cytosol by Surface Plasmon Resonance
Authors: Michael Taylor, Tuhina Banerjee, Neyda VanBennekom, Ken Teter.
Institutions: University of Central Florida.
AB toxins consist of an enzymatic A subunit and a cell-binding B subunit1. These toxins are secreted into the extracellular milieu, but they act upon targets within the eukaryotic cytosol. Some AB toxins travel by vesicle carriers from the cell surface to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) before entering the cytosol2-4. In the ER, the catalytic A chain dissociates from the rest of the toxin and moves through a protein-conducting channel to reach its cytosolic target5. The translocated, cytosolic A chain is difficult to detect because toxin trafficking to the ER is an extremely inefficient process: most internalized toxin is routed to the lysosomes for degradation, so only a small fraction of surface-bound toxin reaches the Golgi apparatus and ER6-12. To monitor toxin translocation from the ER to the cytosol in cultured cells, we combined a subcellular fractionation protocol with the highly sensitive detection method of surface plasmon resonance (SPR)13-15. The plasma membrane of toxin-treated cells is selectively permeabilized with digitonin, allowing collection of a cytosolic fraction which is subsequently perfused over an SPR sensor coated with an anti-toxin A chain antibody. The antibody-coated sensor can capture and detect pg/mL quantities of cytosolic toxin. With this protocol, it is possible to follow the kinetics of toxin entry into the cytosol and to characterize inhibitory effects on the translocation event. The concentration of cytosolic toxin can also be calculated from a standard curve generated with known quantities of A chain standards that have been perfused over the sensor. Our method represents a rapid, sensitive, and quantitative detection system that does not require radiolabeling or other modifications to the target toxin.
Immunology, Issue 59, Surface plasmon resonance, AB toxin, translocation, endoplasmic reticulum, cell culture, cholera toxin, pertussis toxin
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Establishing the Minimal Bactericidal Concentration of an Antimicrobial Agent for Planktonic Cells (MBC-P) and Biofilm Cells (MBC-B)
Authors: Thien-Fah Mah.
Institutions: University of Ottawa.
This protocol allows for a direct comparison between planktonic and biofilm resistance for a bacterial strain that can form a biofilm in vitro. Bacteria are inoculated into the wells of a 96-well microtiter plate. In the case of the planktonic assay, serial dilutions of the antimicrobial agent of choice are added to the bacterial suspensions. In the biofilm assay, once inoculated, the bacteria are left to form a biofilm over a set period of time. Unattached cells are removed from the wells, the media is replenished and serial dilutions of the antimicrobial agent of choice are added. After exposure to the antimicrobial agent, the planktonic cells are assayed for growth. For the biofilm assay, the media is refreshed with fresh media lacking the antimicrobial agent and the biofilm cells are left to recover. Biofilm cell viability is assayed after the recovery period. The MBC-P for the antimicrobial agent is defined as the lowest concentration of drug that kills the cells in the planktonic culture.  In contrast, the MBC-B for a strain is determined by exposing preformed biofilms to increasing concentrations of antimicrobial agent for 24 hr. The MBC-B is defined as the lowest concentration of antimicrobial agent that kills the cells in the biofilm.
Immunology, Issue 83, biofilm, planktonic, antibiotic resistance, static, antibacterial, minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC)
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Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Authors: Leah M. Rommereim, Miryam A. Hortua Triana, Alejandra Falla, Kiah L. Sanders, Rebekah B. Guevara, David J. Bzik, Barbara A. Fox.
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
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Single-cell Analysis of Bacillus subtilis Biofilms Using Fluorescence Microscopy and Flow Cytometry
Authors: Juan C. Garcia-Betancur, Ana Yepes, Johannes Schneider, Daniel Lopez.
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
Biofilm formation is a general attribute to almost all bacteria 1-6. When bacteria form biofilms, cells are encased in extracellular matrix that is mostly constituted by proteins and exopolysaccharides, among other factors 7-10. The microbial community encased within the biofilm often shows the differentiation of distinct subpopulation of specialized cells 11-17. These subpopulations coexist and often show spatial and temporal organization within the biofilm 18-21. Biofilm formation in the model organism Bacillus subtilis requires the differentiation of distinct subpopulations of specialized cells. Among them, the subpopulation of matrix producers, responsible to produce and secrete the extracellular matrix of the biofilm is essential for biofilm formation 11,19. Hence, differentiation of matrix producers is a hallmark of biofilm formation in B. subtilis. We have used fluorescent reporters to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers in biofilms of B. subtilis 15,19,22-24. Concretely, we have observed that the subpopulation of matrix producers differentiates in response to the presence of self-produced extracellular signal surfactin 25. Interestingly, surfactin is produced by a subpopulation of specialized cells different from the subpopulation of matrix producers 15. We have detailed in this report the technical approach necessary to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers and surfactin producers within the biofilms of B. subtilis. To do this, fluorescent reporters of genes required for matrix production and surfactin production are inserted into the chromosome of B. subtilis. Reporters are expressed only in a subpopulation of specialized cells. Then, the subpopulations can be monitored using fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry (See Fig 1). The fact that different subpopulations of specialized cells coexist within multicellular communities of bacteria gives us a different perspective about the regulation of gene expression in prokaryotes. This protocol addresses this phenomenon experimentally and it can be easily adapted to any other working model, to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypic heterogeneity within a microbial community.
Immunology, Issue 60, Bacillus subtilis, biofilm formation, gene expression, cell differentiation, single-cell analysis
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to: ● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media. ● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method. ● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria. ● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage. ● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure. ● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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Electricity-Free, Sequential Nucleic Acid and Protein Isolation
Authors: David R. Pawlowski, Richard J. Karalus.
Institutions: CUBRC, Inc., State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Traditional and emerging pathogens such as Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), Yersinia pestis, or prion-based diseases are of significant concern for governments, industries and medical professionals worldwide. For example, EHECs, combined with Shigella, are responsible for the deaths of approximately 325,000 children each year and are particularly prevalent in the developing world where laboratory-based identification, common in the United States, is unavailable 1. The development and distribution of low cost, field-based, point-of-care tools to aid in the rapid identification and/or diagnosis of pathogens or disease markers could dramatically alter disease progression and patient prognosis. We have developed a tool to isolate nucleic acids and proteins from a sample by solid-phase extraction (SPE) without electricity or associated laboratory equipment 2. The isolated macromolecules can be used for diagnosis either in a forward lab or using field-based point-of-care platforms. Importantly, this method provides for the direct comparison of nucleic acid and protein data from an un-split sample, offering a confidence through corroboration of genomic and proteomic analysis. Our isolation tool utilizes the industry standard for solid-phase nucleic acid isolation, the BOOM technology, which isolates nucleic acids from a chaotropic salt solution, usually guanidine isothiocyanate, through binding to silica-based particles or filters 3. CUBRC's proprietary solid-phase extraction chemistry is used to purify protein from chaotropic salt solutions, in this case, from the waste or flow-thru following nucleic acid isolation4. By packaging well-characterized chemistries into a small, inexpensive and simple platform, we have generated a portable system for nucleic acid and protein extraction that can be performed under a variety of conditions. The isolated nucleic acids are stable and can be transported to a position where power is available for PCR amplification while the protein content can immediately be analyzed by hand held or other immunological-based assays. The rapid identification of disease markers in the field could significantly alter the patient's outcome by directing the proper course of treatment at an earlier stage of disease progression. The tool and method described are suitable for use with virtually any infectious agent and offer the user the redundancy of multi-macromolecule type analyses while simultaneously reducing their logistical burden.
Chemistry, Issue 63, Solid phase extraction, nucleic acid, protein, isolation, silica, Guanidine thiocyanate, isopropanol, remote, DTRA
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Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Authors: Lorena Stannek, Richard Egelkamp, Katrin Gunka, Fabian M. Commichau.
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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Use of Artificial Sputum Medium to Test Antibiotic Efficacy Against Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Conditions More Relevant to the Cystic Fibrosis Lung
Authors: Sebastian Kirchner, Joanne L Fothergill, Elli A. Wright, Chloe E. James, Eilidh Mowat, Craig Winstanley.
Institutions: University of Liverpool , University of Liverpool .
There is growing concern about the relevance of in vitro antimicrobial susceptibility tests when applied to isolates of P. aeruginosa from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Existing methods rely on single or a few isolates grown aerobically and planktonically. Predetermined cut-offs are used to define whether the bacteria are sensitive or resistant to any given antibiotic1. However, during chronic lung infections in CF, P. aeruginosa populations exist in biofilms and there is evidence that the environment is largely microaerophilic2. The stark difference in conditions between bacteria in the lung and those during diagnostic testing has called into question the reliability and even relevance of these tests3. Artificial sputum medium (ASM) is a culture medium containing the components of CF patient sputum, including amino acids, mucin and free DNA. P. aeruginosa growth in ASM mimics growth during CF infections, with the formation of self-aggregating biofilm structures and population divergence4,5,6. The aim of this study was to develop a microtitre-plate assay to study antimicrobial susceptibility of P. aeruginosa based on growth in ASM, which is applicable to both microaerophilic and aerobic conditions. An ASM assay was developed in a microtitre plate format. P. aeruginosa biofilms were allowed to develop for 3 days prior to incubation with antimicrobial agents at different concentrations for 24 hours. After biofilm disruption, cell viability was measured by staining with resazurin. This assay was used to ascertain the sessile cell minimum inhibitory concentration (SMIC) of tobramycin for 15 different P. aeruginosa isolates under aerobic and microaerophilic conditions and SMIC values were compared to those obtained with standard broth growth. Whilst there was some evidence for increased MIC values for isolates grown in ASM when compared to their planktonic counterparts, the biggest differences were found with bacteria tested in microaerophilic conditions, which showed a much increased resistance up to a >128 fold, towards tobramycin in the ASM system when compared to assays carried out in aerobic conditions. The lack of association between current susceptibility testing methods and clinical outcome has questioned the validity of current methods3. Several in vitro models have been used previously to study P. aeruginosa biofilms7, 8. However, these methods rely on surface attached biofilms, whereas the ASM biofilms resemble those observed in the CF lung9 . In addition, reduced oxygen concentration in the mucus has been shown to alter the behavior of P. aeruginosa2 and affect antibiotic susceptibility10. Therefore using ASM under microaerophilic conditions may provide a more realistic environment in which to study antimicrobial susceptibility.
Immunology, Issue 64, Microbiology, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, antimicrobial susceptibility, artificial sputum media, lung infection, cystic fibrosis, diagnostics, plankton
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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Assay for Adhesion and Agar Invasion in S. cerevisiae
Authors: Cemile G Guldal, James Broach.
Institutions: Princeton University.
Yeasts are found in natural biofilms, where many microorganisms colonize surfaces. In artificial environments, such as surfaces of man-made objects, biofilms can reduce industrial productivity, destroy structures, and threaten human life. 1-3 On the other hand, harnessing the power of biofilms can help clean the environment and generate sustainable energy. 4-8 The ability of S. cerevisiae to colonize surfaces and participate in complex biofilms was mostly ignored until the rediscovery of the differentiation programs triggered by various signaling pathways and environmental cues in this organism. 9, 10 The continuing interest in using S. cerevisiae as a model organism to understand the interaction and convergence of signaling pathways, such as the Ras-PKA, Kss1 MAPK, and Hog1 osmolarity pathways, quickly placed S. cerevisiae in the junction of biofilm biology and signal transduction research. 11-20 To this end, differentiation of yeast cells into long, adhesive, pseudohyphal filaments became a convenient readout for the activation of signal transduction pathways upon various environmental changes. However, filamentation is a complex collection of phenotypes, which makes assaying for it as if it were a simple phenotype misleading. In the past decade, several assays were successfully adopted from bacterial biofilm studies to yeast research, such as MAT formation assays to measure colony spread on soft agar and crystal violet staining to quantitatively measure cell-surface adherence. 12, 21 However, there has been some confusion in assays developed to qualitatively assess the adhesive and invasive phenotypes of yeast in agar. Here, we present a simple and reliable method for assessing the adhesive and invasive quality of yeast strains with easy-to-understand steps to isolate the adhesion assessment from invasion assessment. Our method, adopted from previous studies, 10, 16 involves growing cells in liquid media and plating on differential nutrient conditions for growth of large spots, which we then wash with water to assess adhesion and rub cells completely off the agar surface to assess invasion into the agar. We eliminate the need for streaking cells onto agar, which affects the invasion of cells into the agar. In general, we observed that haploid strains that invade agar are always adhesive, yet not all adhesive strains can invade agar medium. Our approach can be used in conjunction with other assays to carefully dissect the differentiation steps and requirements of yeast signal transduction, differentiation, quorum sensing, and biofilm formation.
Microbiology, Issue 1, Yeast, Adhesion, Invasion
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Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Authors: Edward F. DeLong.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome
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Microfluidic Co-culture of Epithelial Cells and Bacteria for Investigating Soluble Signal-mediated Interactions
Authors: Jeongyun Kim, Manjunath Hegde, Arul Jayaraman.
Institutions: Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University.
The human gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a unique environment in which intestinal epithelial cells and non-pathogenic (commensal) bacteria coexist. It has been proposed that the microenvironment that the pathogen encounters in the commensal layer is important in determining the extent of colonization. Current culture methods for investigating pathogen colonization are not well suited for investigating this hypothesis as they do not enable co-culture of bacteria and epithelial cells in a manner that mimics the GI tract microenvironment. Here we describe a microfluidic co-culture model that enables independent culture of eukaryotic cells and bacteria, and testing the effect of the commensal microenvironment on pathogen colonization. The co-culture model is demonstrated by developing a commensal Escherichia coli biofilm among HeLa cells, followed by introduction of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) into the commensal island, in a sequence that mimics the sequence of events in GI tract infection.
Microbiology, Issue 38, Host pathogen interactions, probiotics, inter-kingdom signaling
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In vitro Biofilm Formation in an 8-well Chamber Slide
Authors: Joseph A. Jurcisek, Amanda C. Dickson, Molly E. Bruggeman, Lauren O. Bakaletz.
Institutions: The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
The chronic nature of many diseases is attributed to the formation of bacterial biofilms which are recalcitrant to traditional antibiotic therapy. Biofilms are community-associated bacteria attached to a surface and encased in a matrix. The role of the extracellular matrix is multifaceted, including facilitating nutrient acquisition, and offers significant protection against environmental stresses (e.g. host immune responses). In an effort to acquire a better understanding as to how the bacteria within a biofilm respond to environmental stresses we have used a protocol wherein we visualize bacterial biofilms which have formed in an 8-well chamber slide. The biofilms were stained with the BacLight Live/Dead stain and examined using a confocal microscope to characterize the relative biofilm size, and structure under varying incubation conditions. Z-stack images were collected via confocal microscopy and analyzed by COMSTAT. This protocol can be used to help elucidate the mechanism and kinetics by which biofilms form, as well as identify components that are important to biofilm structure and stability.
Infectious Disease, Issue 47, confocal microscopy, therapeutic approaches, chamber slide
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Microtiter Dish Biofilm Formation Assay
Authors: George A. O'Toole.
Institutions: Dartmouth Medical School.
Biofilms are communities of microbes attached to surfaces, which can be found in medical, industrial and natural settings. In fact, life in a biofilm probably represents the predominate mode of growth for microbes in most environments. Mature biofilms have a few distinct characteristics. Biofilm microbes are typically surrounded by an extracellular matrix that provides structure and protection to the community. Microbes growing in a biofilm also have a characteristic architecture generally comprised of macrocolonies (containing thousands of cells) surrounded by fluid-filled channels. Biofilm-grown microbes are also notorious for their resistance to a range of antimicrobial agents including clinically relevant antibiotics. The microtiter dish assay is an important tool for the study of the early stages in biofilm formation, and has been applied primarily for the study of bacterial biofilms, although this assay has also been used to study fungal biofilm formation. Because this assay uses static, batch-growth conditions, it does not allow for the formation of the mature biofilms typically associated with flow cell systems. However, the assay has been effective at identifying many factors required for initiation of biofilm formation (i.e, flagella, pili, adhesins, enzymes involved in cyclic-di-GMP binding and metabolism) and well as genes involved in extracellular polysaccharide production. Furthermore, published work indicates that biofilms grown in microtiter dishes do develop some properties of mature biofilms, such a antibiotic tolerance and resistance to immune system effectors. This simple microtiter dish assay allows for the formation of a biofilm on the wall and/or bottom of a microtiter dish. The high throughput nature of the assay makes it useful for genetic screens, as well as testing biofilm formation by multiple strains under various growth conditions. Variants of this assay have been used to assess early biofilm formation for a wide variety of microbes, including but not limited to, pseudomonads, Vibrio cholerae, Escherichia coli, staphylocci, enterococci, mycobacteria and fungi. In the protocol described here, we will focus on the use of this assay to study biofilm formation by the model organism Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In this assay, the extent of biofilm formation is measured using the dye crystal violet (CV). However, a number of other colorimetric and metabolic stains have been reported for the quantification of biofilm formation using the microtiter plate assay. The ease, low cost and flexibility of the microtiter plate assay has made it a critical tool for the study of biofilms.
Immunology, Issue 47, Biofilm, assay, bacteria, fungi, microtiter, static
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