Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Chemotactic Response of Marine Micro-Organisms to Micro-Scale Nutrient Layers
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The degree to which planktonic microbes can exploit microscale resource patches will have considerable implications for oceanic trophodynamics and biogeochemical flux. However, to take advantage of nutrient patches in the ocean, swimming microbes must overcome the influences of physical forces including molecular diffusion and turbulent shear, which will limit the availability of patches and the ability of bacteria to locate them. Until recently, methodological limitations have precluded direct examinations of microbial behaviour within patchy habitats and realistic small-scale flow conditions. Hence, much of our current knowledge regarding microbial behaviour in the ocean has been procured from theoretical predictions. To obtain new information on microbial foraging behaviour in the ocean we have applied soft lithographic fabrication techniques to develop 2 microfluidic devices, which we have used to create (i) microscale nutrient patches with dimensions and diffusive characteristics relevant to oceanic processes and (ii) microscale vortices, with shear rates corresponding to those expected in the ocean. These microfluidic devices have permitted a first direct examination of microbial swimming and chemotactic behaviour within a heterogeneous and dynamic seascape. The combined use of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy allow direct examinations of the physical dimensions and diffusive characteristics of nutrient patches, while observing the population-level aggregative response, in addition to the swimming behaviour of individual microbes. These experiments have revealed that some species of phytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and phagotrophic protists are adept at locating and exploiting diffusing microscale resource patches within very short time frames. We have also shown that up to moderate shear rates, marine bacteria are able to fight the flow and swim through their environment at their own accord. However, beyond a threshold high shear level, bacteria are aligned in the shear flow and are less capable of swimming without disturbance from the flow. Microfluidics represents a novel and inexpensive approach for studying aquatic microbial ecology, and due to its suitability for accurately creating realistic flow fields and substrate gradients at the microscale, is ideally applicable to examinations of microbial behaviour at the smallest scales of interaction. We therefore suggest that microfluidics represents a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of the ecology of microorganisms in the ocean.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
Estimating Virus Production Rates in Aquatic Systems
Institutions: University of Tennessee.
Viruses are pervasive components of marine and freshwater systems, and are known to be significant agents of microbial mortality. Developing quantitative estimates of this process is critical as we can then develop better models of microbial community structure and function as well as advance our understanding of how viruses work to alter aquatic biogeochemical cycles. The virus reduction technique allows researchers to estimate the rate at which virus particles are released from the endemic microbial community. In brief, the abundance of free (extracellular) viruses is reduced in a sample while the microbial community is maintained at near ambient concentration. The microbial community is then incubated in the absence of free viruses and the rate at which viruses reoccur in the sample (through the lysis of already infected members of the community) can be quantified by epifluorescence microscopy or, in the case of specific viruses, quantitative PCR. These rates can then be used to estimate the rate of microbial mortality due to virus-mediated cell lysis.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 43, Viruses, seawater, lakes, viral lysis, marine microbiology, freshwater microbiology, epifluorescence microscopy
Environmentally Induced Heritable Changes in Flax
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Some flax varieties respond to nutrient stress by modifying their genome and these modifications can be inherited through many generations. Also associated with these genomic changes are heritable phenotypic variations 1,2
. The flax variety Stormont Cirrus (Pl) when grown under three different nutrient conditions can either remain inducible (under the control conditions), or become stably modified to either the large or small genotroph by growth under high or low nutrient conditions respectively. The lines resulting from the initial growth under each of these conditions appear to grow better when grown under the same conditions in subsequent generations, notably the Pl line grows best under the control treatment indicating that the plants growing under both the high and low nutrients are under stress. One of the genomic changes that are associated with the induction of heritable changes is the appearance of an insertion element (LIS-1) 3, 4
while the plants are growing under the nutrient stress. With respect to this insertion event, the flax variety Stormont Cirrus (Pl) when grown under three different nutrient conditions can either remain unchanged (under the control conditions), have the insertion appear in all the plants (under low nutrients) and have this transmitted to the next generation, or have the insertion (or parts of it) appear but not be transmitted through generations (under high nutrients) 4
. The frequency of the appearance of this insertion indicates that it is under positive selection, which is also consistent with the growth response in subsequent generations. Leaves or meristems harvested at various stages of growth are used for DNA and RNA isolation. The RNA is used to identify variation in expression associated with the various growth environments and/or t he presence/absence of LIS-1. The isolated DNA is used to identify those plants in which the insertion has occurred.
Plant Biology, Issue 47, Flax, genome variation, environmental stress, small RNAs, altered gene expression
Long-term Lethal Toxicity Test with the Crustacean Artemia franciscana
Institutions: Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, Regional Agency for Environmental Protection in Emilia-Romagna.
Our research activities target the use of biological methods for the evaluation of environmental quality, with particular reference to saltwater/brackish water and sediment. The choice of biological indicators must be based on reliable scientific knowledge and, possibly, on the availability of standardized procedures. In this article, we present a standardized protocol that used the marine crustacean Artemia
to evaluate the toxicity of chemicals and/or of marine environmental matrices. Scientists propose that the brine shrimp (Artemia
) is a suitable candidate for the development of a standard bioassay for worldwide utilization. A number of papers have been published on the toxic effects of various chemicals and toxicants on brine shrimp (Artemia
). The major advantage of this crustacean for toxicity studies is the overall availability of the dry cysts; these can be immediately used in testing and difficult cultivation is not demanded1,2
. Cyst-based toxicity assays are cheap, continuously available, simple and reliable and are thus an important answer to routine needs of toxicity screening, for industrial monitoring requirements or for regulatory purposes3
. The proposed method involves the mortality as an endpoint. The numbers of survivors were counted and percentage of deaths were calculated. Larvae were considered dead if they did not exhibit any internal or external movement during several seconds of observation4
. This procedure was standardized testing a reference substance (Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate); some results are reported in this work. This article accompanies a video that describes the performance of procedural toxicity testing, showing all the steps related to the protocol.
Chemistry, Issue 62, Artemia franciscana, bioassays, chemical substances, crustaceans, marine environment
Cryosectioning Yeast Communities for Examining Fluorescence Patterns
Institutions: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Microbes typically live in communities. The spatial organization of cells within a community is believed to impact the survival and function of the community1
. Optical sectioning techniques, including confocal and two-photon microscopy, have proven useful for observing spatial organization of bacterial and archaeal communities2,3
. A combination of confocal imaging and physical sectioning of yeast colonies has revealed internal organization of cells4
. However, direct optical sectioning using confocal or two-photon microscopy has been only able to reach a few cell layers deep into yeast colonies. This limitation is likely because of strong scattering of light from yeast cells4
Here, we present a method based on fixing and cryosectioning to obtain spatial distribution of fluorescent cells within Saccharomyces cerevisiae
communities. We use methanol as the fixative agent to preserve the spatial distribution of cells. Fixed communities are infiltrated with OCT compound, frozen, and cryosectioned in a cryostat. Fluorescence imaging of the sections reveals the internal organization of fluorescent cells within the community.
Examples of yeast communities consisting of strains expressing red and green fluorescent proteins demonstrate the potentials of the cryosectioning method to reveal the spatial distribution of fluorescent cells as well as that of gene expression within yeast colonies2,3
. Even though our focus has been on Saccharomyces cerevisiae
communities, the same method can potentially be applied to examine other microbial communities.
Microbiology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Basic Protocols, Yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Cytological Techniques, Environmental Microbiology, Investigative Techniques, Life Sciences, cryosectioning, sectioning, cryotome, fixing, microbial community, yeast colonies, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, community interactions
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
The Use of Chemostats in Microbial Systems Biology
Institutions: New York University .
Cells regulate their rate of growth in response to signals from the external world. As the cell grows, diverse cellular processes must be coordinated including macromolecular synthesis, metabolism and ultimately, commitment to the cell division cycle. The chemostat, a method of experimentally controlling cell growth rate, provides a powerful means of systematically studying how growth rate impacts cellular processes - including gene expression and metabolism - and the regulatory networks that control the rate of cell growth. When maintained for hundreds of generations chemostats can be used to study adaptive evolution of microbes in environmental conditions that limit cell growth. We describe the principle of chemostat cultures, demonstrate their operation and provide examples of their various applications. Following a period of disuse after their introduction in the middle of the twentieth century, the convergence of genome-scale methodologies with a renewed interest in the regulation of cell growth and the molecular basis of adaptive evolution is stimulating a renaissance in the use of chemostats in biological research.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Molecular Biology, Computational Biology, Systems Biology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Environmental Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemostat, growth-rate, steady state, nutrient limitation, adaptive evolution
Culturing Caenorhabditis elegans in Axenic Liquid Media and Creation of Transgenic Worms by Microparticle Bombardment
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
In this protocol, we present the required materials, and the procedure for making modified C. elegans
Habituation and Reproduction media (mCeHR). Additionally, the steps for exposing and acclimatizing C. elegans
grown on E. coli
to axenic liquid media are described. Finally, downstream experiments that utilize axenic C. elegans
illustrate the benefits of this procedure. The ability to analyze and determine C. elegans
nutrient requirement was illustrated by growing N2 wild type worms in axenic liquid media with varying heme concentrations. This procedure can be replicated with other nutrients to determine the optimal concentration for worm growth and development or, to determine the toxicological effects of drug treatments. The effects of varied heme concentrations on the growth of wild type worms were determined through qualitative microscopic observation and by quantitating the number of worms that grew in each heme concentration. In addition, the effect of varied nutrient concentrations can be assayed by utilizing worms that express fluorescent sensors that respond to changes in the nutrient of interest. Furthermore, a large number of worms were easily produced for the generation of transgenic C. elegans
using microparticle bombardment.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, C. elegans, axenic media, transgenics, microparticle bombardment, heme, nutrition
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
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
Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential
Institutions: Miami University .
Lake Bonney is one of numerous permanently ice-covered lakes located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams. Biota are exposed to numerous environmental stresses, including year-round severe nutrient deficiency, low temperatures, extreme shade, hypersalinity, and 24-hour darkness during the winter 1
. These extreme environmental conditions limit the biota in Lake Bonney almost exclusively to microorganisms 2
Single-celled microbial eukaryotes (called "protists") are important players in global biogeochemical cycling 3
and play important ecological roles in the cycling of carbon in the dry valley lakes, occupying both primary and tertiary roles in the aquatic food web. In the dry valley aquatic food web, protists that fix inorganic carbon (autotrophy) are the major producers of organic carbon for organotrophic organisms 4, 2
. Phagotrophic or heterotrophic protists capable of ingesting bacteria and smaller protists act as the top predators in the food web 5
. Last, an unknown proportion of the protist population is capable of combined mixotrophic metabolism 6, 7
. Mixotrophy in protists involves the ability to combine photosynthetic capability with phagotrophic ingestion of prey microorganisms. This form of mixotrophy differs from mixotrophic metabolism in bacterial species, which generally involves uptake dissolved carbon molecules. There are currently very few protist isolates from permanently ice-capped polar lakes, and studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited 8, 4, 9, 10, 5
. A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle.
We employed an enrichment culture approach to isolate potentially phototrophic and mixotrophic protists from Lake Bonney. Sampling depths in the water column were chosen based on the location of primary production maxima and protist phylogenetic diversity 4, 11
, as well as variability in major abiotic factors affecting protist trophic modes: shallow sampling depths are limited for major nutrients, while deeper sampling depths are limited by light availability. In addition, lake water samples were supplemented with multiple types of growth media to promote the growth of a variety of phototrophic organisms.
RubisCO catalyzes the rate limiting step in the Calvin Benson Bassham (CBB) cycle, the major pathway by which autotrophic organisms fix inorganic carbon and provide organic carbon for higher trophic levels in aquatic and terrestrial food webs 12
. In this study, we applied a radioisotope assay modified for filtered samples 13
to monitor maximum carboxylase activity as a proxy for carbon fixation potential and metabolic versatility in the Lake Bonney enrichment cultures.
Microbiology, Issue 62, Antarctic lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Enrichment cultivation, Microbial eukaryotes, RubisCO
Mechanical Expansion of Steel Tubing as a Solution to Leaky Wellbores
Institutions: Louisiana State University.
Wellbore cement, a procedural component of wellbore completion operations, primarily provides zonal isolation and mechanical support of the metal pipe (casing), and protects metal components from corrosive fluids. These are essential for uncompromised wellbore integrity. Cements can undergo multiple forms of failure, such as debonding at the cement/rock and cement/metal interfaces, fracturing, and defects within the cement matrix. Failures and defects within the cement will ultimately lead to fluid migration, resulting in inter-zonal fluid migration and premature well abandonment. Currently, there are over 1.8 million operating wells worldwide and over one third of these wells have leak related problems defined as Sustained Casing Pressure (SCP)1
The focus of this research was to develop an experimental setup at bench-scale to explore the effect of mechanical manipulation of wellbore casing-cement composite samples as a potential technology for the remediation of gas leaks.
The experimental methodology utilized in this study enabled formation of an impermeable seal at the pipe/cement interface in a simulated wellbore system. Successful nitrogen gas flow-through measurements demonstrated that an existing microannulus was sealed at laboratory experimental conditions and fluid flow prevented by mechanical manipulation of the metal/cement composite sample. Furthermore, this methodology can be applied not only for the remediation of leaky wellbores, but also in plugging and abandonment procedures as well as wellbore completions technology, and potentially preventing negative impacts of wellbores on subsurface and surface environments.
Physics, Issue 93, Leaky wellbores, Wellbore cement, Microannular gas flow, Sustained casing pressure, Expandable casing technology.
Measuring Fluxes of Mineral Nutrients and Toxicants in Plants with Radioactive Tracers
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Unidirectional influx and efflux of nutrients and toxicants, and their resultant net fluxes, are central to the nutrition and toxicology of plants. Radioisotope tracing is a major technique used to measure such fluxes, both within plants, and between plants and their environments. Flux data obtained with radiotracer protocols can help elucidate the capacity, mechanism, regulation, and energetics of transport systems for specific mineral nutrients or toxicants, and can provide insight into compartmentation and turnover rates of subcellular mineral and metabolite pools. Here, we describe two major radioisotope protocols used in plant biology: direct influx (DI) and compartmental analysis by tracer efflux (CATE). We focus on flux measurement of potassium (K+
) as a nutrient, and ammonia/ammonium (NH3
) as a toxicant, in intact seedlings of the model species barley (Hordeum vulgare
L.). These protocols can be readily adapted to other experimental systems (e.g.
, different species, excised plant material, and other nutrients/toxicants). Advantages and limitations of these protocols are discussed.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90,
influx, efflux, net flux, compartmental analysis, radiotracers, potassium, ammonia, ammonium
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2
facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2
field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4
, and Ca2+
had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
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
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
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity