Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
The Multiple Sclerosis Performance Test (MSPT): An iPad-Based Disability Assessment Tool
Institutions: Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Precise measurement of neurological and neuropsychological impairment and disability in multiple sclerosis is challenging. We report a new test, the Multiple Sclerosis Performance Test (MSPT), which represents a new approach to quantifying MS related disability. The MSPT takes advantage of advances in computer technology, information technology, biomechanics, and clinical measurement science. The resulting MSPT represents a computer-based platform for precise, valid measurement of MS severity. Based on, but extending the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite (MSFC), the MSPT provides precise, quantitative data on walking speed, balance, manual dexterity, visual function, and cognitive processing speed. The MSPT was tested by 51 MS patients and 49 healthy controls (HC). MSPT scores were highly reproducible, correlated strongly with technician-administered test scores, discriminated MS from HC and severe from mild MS, and correlated with patient reported outcomes. Measures of reliability, sensitivity, and clinical meaning for MSPT scores were favorable compared with technician-based testing. The MSPT is a potentially transformative approach for collecting MS disability outcome data for patient care and research. Because the testing is computer-based, test performance can be analyzed in traditional or novel ways and data can be directly entered into research or clinical databases. The MSPT could be widely disseminated to clinicians in practice settings who are not connected to clinical trial performance sites or who are practicing in rural settings, drastically improving access to clinical trials for clinicians and patients. The MSPT could be adapted to out of clinic settings, like the patient’s home, thereby providing more meaningful real world data. The MSPT represents a new paradigm for neuroperformance testing. This method could have the same transformative effect on clinical care and research in MS as standardized computer-adapted testing has had in the education field, with clear potential to accelerate progress in clinical care and research.
Medicine, Issue 88, Multiple Sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite, computer-based testing, 25-foot walk test, 9-hole peg test, Symbol Digit Modalities Test, Low Contrast Visual Acuity, Clinical Outcome Measure
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
Developing Neuroimaging Phenotypes of the Default Mode Network in PTSD: Integrating the Resting State, Working Memory, and Structural Connectivity
Institutions: Alpert Medical School, Brown University, University of Georgia.
Complementary structural and functional neuroimaging techniques used to examine the Default Mode Network (DMN) could potentially improve assessments of psychiatric illness severity and provide added validity to the clinical diagnostic process. Recent neuroimaging research suggests that DMN processes may be disrupted in a number of stress-related psychiatric illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although specific DMN functions remain under investigation, it is generally thought to be involved in introspection and self-processing. In healthy individuals it exhibits greatest activity during periods of rest, with less activity, observed as deactivation, during cognitive tasks, e.g.
, working memory. This network consists of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, lateral parietal cortices and medial temporal regions.
Multiple functional and structural imaging approaches have been developed to study the DMN. These have unprecedented potential to further the understanding of the function and dysfunction of this network. Functional approaches, such as the evaluation of resting state connectivity and task-induced deactivation, have excellent potential to identify targeted neurocognitive and neuroaffective (functional) diagnostic markers and may indicate illness severity and prognosis with increased accuracy or specificity. Structural approaches, such as evaluation of morphometry and connectivity, may provide unique markers of etiology and long-term outcomes. Combined, functional and structural methods provide strong multimodal, complementary and synergistic approaches to develop valid DMN-based imaging phenotypes in stress-related psychiatric conditions. This protocol aims to integrate these methods to investigate DMN structure and function in PTSD, relating findings to illness severity and relevant clinical factors.
Medicine, Issue 89, default mode network, neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, structural connectivity, functional connectivity, posttraumatic stress disorder
A Dual Task Procedure Combined with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to Test Attentional Blink for Nontargets
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
When viewers search for targets in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream, if two targets are presented within about 500 msec of each other, the first target may be easy to spot but the second is likely to be missed. This phenomenon of attentional blink (AB) has been widely studied to probe the temporal capacity of attention for detecting visual targets. However, with the typical procedure of AB experiments, it is not possible to examine how the processing of non-target items in RSVP may be affected by attention. This paper describes a novel dual task procedure combined with RSVP to test effects of AB for nontargets at varied stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). In an exemplar experiment, a target category was first displayed, followed by a sequence of 8 nouns. If one of the nouns belonged to the target category, participants would respond ‘yes’ at the end of the sequence, otherwise participants would respond ‘no’. Two 2-alternative forced choice memory tasks followed the response to determine if participants remembered the words immediately before or after the target, as well as a random word from another part of the sequence. In a second exemplar experiment, the same design was used, except that 1) the memory task was counterbalanced into two groups with SOAs of either 120 or 240 msec and 2) three memory tasks followed the sequence and tested remembrance for nontarget nouns in the sequence that could be anywhere from 3 items prior the target noun position to 3 items following the target noun position. Representative results from a previously published study demonstrate that our procedure can be used to examine divergent effects of attention that not only enhance targets but also suppress nontargets. Here we show results from a representative participant that replicated the previous finding.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dual task, attentional blink, RSVP, target detection, recognition, visual psychophysics
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
A Next-generation Tissue Microarray (ngTMA) Protocol for Biomarker Studies
Institutions: University of Bern.
Biomarker research relies on tissue microarrays (TMA). TMAs are produced by repeated transfer of small tissue cores from a ‘donor’ block into a ‘recipient’ block and then used for a variety of biomarker applications. The construction of conventional TMAs is labor intensive, imprecise, and time-consuming. Here, a protocol using next-generation Tissue Microarrays (ngTMA) is outlined. ngTMA is based on TMA planning and design, digital pathology, and automated tissue microarraying. The protocol is illustrated using an example of 134 metastatic colorectal cancer patients. Histological, statistical and logistical aspects are considered, such as the tissue type, specific histological regions, and cell types for inclusion in the TMA, the number of tissue spots, sample size, statistical analysis, and number of TMA copies. Histological slides for each patient are scanned and uploaded onto a web-based digital platform. There, they are viewed and annotated (marked) using a 0.6-2.0 mm diameter tool, multiple times using various colors to distinguish tissue areas. Donor blocks and 12 ‘recipient’ blocks are loaded into the instrument. Digital slides are retrieved and matched to donor block images. Repeated arraying of annotated regions is automatically performed resulting in an ngTMA. In this example, six ngTMAs are planned containing six different tissue types/histological zones. Two copies of the ngTMAs are desired. Three to four slides for each patient are scanned; 3 scan runs are necessary and performed overnight. All slides are annotated; different colors are used to represent the different tissues/zones, namely tumor center, invasion front, tumor/stroma, lymph node metastases, liver metastases, and normal tissue. 17 annotations/case are made; time for annotation is 2-3 min/case. 12 ngTMAs are produced containing 4,556 spots. Arraying time is 15-20 hr. Due to its precision, flexibility and speed, ngTMA is a powerful tool to further improve the quality of TMAs used in clinical and translational research.
Medicine, Issue 91, tissue microarray, biomarkers, prognostic, predictive, digital pathology, slide scanning
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Measuring Frailty in HIV-infected Individuals. Identification of Frail Patients is the First Step to Amelioration and Reversal of Frailty
Institutions: University of Arizona, University of Arizona.
A simple, validated protocol consisting of a battery of tests is available to identify elderly patients with frailty syndrome. This syndrome of decreased reserve and resistance to stressors increases in incidence with increasing age. In the elderly, frailty may pursue a step-wise loss of function from non-frail to pre-frail to frail. We studied frailty in HIV-infected patients and found that ~20% are frail using the Fried phenotype using stringent criteria developed for the elderly1,2
. In HIV infection the syndrome occurs at a younger age.
HIV patients were checked for 1) unintentional weight loss; 2) slowness as determined by walking speed; 3) weakness as measured by a grip dynamometer; 4) exhaustion by responses to a depression scale; and 5) low physical activity was determined by assessing kilocalories expended in a week's time. Pre-frailty was present with any two of five criteria and frailty was present if any three of the five criteria were abnormal.
The tests take approximately 10-15 min to complete and they can be performed by medical assistants during routine clinic visits. Test results are scored by referring to standard tables. Understanding which of the five components contribute to frailty in an individual patient can allow the clinician to address relevant underlying problems, many of which are not evident in routine HIV clinic visits.
Medicine, Issue 77, Infection, Virology, Infectious Diseases, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Retroviridae Infections, Body Weight Changes, Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures, Physical Examination, Muscle Strength, Behavior, Virus Diseases, Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, Musculoskeletal and Neural Physiological Phenomena, HIV, HIV-1, AIDS, Frailty, Depression, Weight Loss, Weakness, Slowness, Exhaustion, Aging, clinical techniques
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Generation of Comprehensive Thoracic Oncology Database - Tool for Translational Research
Institutions: University of Chicago, University of Chicago, Northshore University Health Systems, University of Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Chicago.
The Thoracic Oncology Program Database Project was created to serve as a comprehensive, verified, and accessible repository for well-annotated cancer specimens and clinical data to be available to researchers within the Thoracic Oncology Research Program. This database also captures a large volume of genomic and proteomic data obtained from various tumor tissue studies. A team of clinical and basic science researchers, a biostatistician, and a bioinformatics expert was convened to design the database. Variables of interest were clearly defined and their descriptions were written within a standard operating manual to ensure consistency of data annotation. Using a protocol for prospective tissue banking and another protocol for retrospective banking, tumor and normal tissue samples from patients consented to these protocols were collected. Clinical information such as demographics, cancer characterization, and treatment plans for these patients were abstracted and entered into an Access database. Proteomic and genomic data have been included in the database and have been linked to clinical information for patients described within the database. The data from each table were linked using the relationships function in Microsoft Access to allow the database manager to connect clinical and laboratory information during a query. The queried data can then be exported for statistical analysis and hypothesis generation.
Medicine, Issue 47, Database, Thoracic oncology, Bioinformatics, Biorepository, Microsoft Access, Proteomics, Genomics
One Dimensional Turing-Like Handshake Test for Motor Intelligence
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University.
In the Turing test, a computer model is deemed to "think intelligently" if it can generate answers that are not distinguishable from those of a human. However, this test is limited to the linguistic aspects of machine intelligence. A salient function of the brain is the control of movement, and the movement of the human hand is a sophisticated demonstration of this function. Therefore, we propose a Turing-like handshake test, for machine motor intelligence. We administer the test through a telerobotic system in which the interrogator is engaged in a task of holding a robotic stylus and interacting with another party (human or artificial). Instead of asking the interrogator whether the other party is a person or a computer program, we employ a two-alternative forced choice method and ask which of two systems is more human-like. We extract a quantitative grade for each model according to its resemblance to the human handshake motion and name it "Model Human-Likeness Grade" (MHLG). We present three methods to estimate the MHLG. (i) By calculating the proportion of subjects' answers that the model is more human-like than the human; (ii) By comparing two weighted sums of human and model handshakes we fit a psychometric curve and extract the point of subjective equality (PSE); (iii) By comparing a given model with a weighted sum of human and random signal, we fit a psychometric curve to the answers of the interrogator and extract the PSE for the weight of the human in the weighted sum. Altogether, we provide a protocol to test computational models of the human handshake. We believe that building a model is a necessary step in understanding any phenomenon and, in this case, in understanding the neural mechanisms responsible for the generation of the human handshake.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Turing test, Human Machine Interface, Haptics, Teleoperation, Motor Control, Motor Behavior, Diagnostics, Perception, handshake, telepresence
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
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Best Current Practice for Obtaining High Quality EEG Data During Simultaneous fMRI
Institutions: University of Nottingham , Brain Products GmbH.
Simultaneous EEG-fMRI allows the excellent temporal resolution of EEG to be combined with the high spatial accuracy of fMRI. The data from these two modalities can be combined in a number of ways, but all rely on the acquisition of high quality EEG and fMRI data. EEG data acquired during simultaneous fMRI are affected by several artifacts, including the gradient artefact (due to the changing magnetic field gradients required for fMRI), the pulse artefact (linked to the cardiac cycle) and movement artifacts (resulting from movements in the strong magnetic field of the scanner, and muscle activity). Post-processing methods for successfully correcting the gradient and pulse artifacts require a number of criteria to be satisfied during data acquisition. Minimizing head motion during EEG-fMRI is also imperative for limiting the generation of artifacts.
Interactions between the radio frequency (RF) pulses required for MRI and the EEG hardware may occur and can cause heating. This is only a significant risk if safety guidelines are not satisfied. Hardware design and set-up, as well as careful selection of which MR sequences are run with the EEG hardware present must therefore be considered.
The above issues highlight the importance of the choice of the experimental protocol employed when performing a simultaneous EEG-fMRI experiment. Based on previous research we describe an optimal experimental set-up. This provides high quality EEG data during simultaneous fMRI when using commercial EEG and fMRI systems, with safety risks to the subject minimized. We demonstrate this set-up in an EEG-fMRI experiment using a simple visual stimulus. However, much more complex stimuli can be used. Here we show the EEG-fMRI set-up using a Brain Products GmbH (Gilching, Germany) MRplus, 32 channel EEG system in conjunction with a Philips Achieva (Best, Netherlands) 3T MR scanner, although many of the techniques are transferable to other systems.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biophysics, Medicine, Neuroimaging, Functional Neuroimaging, Investigative Techniques, neurosciences, EEG, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, simultaneous, recording, imaging, clinical techniques
Cross-Modal Multivariate Pattern Analysis
Institutions: University of Southern California.
Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) is an increasingly popular method of analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data1-4
. Typically, the method is used to identify a subject's perceptual experience from neural activity in certain regions of the brain. For instance, it has been employed to predict the orientation of visual gratings a subject perceives from activity in early visual cortices5
or, analogously, the content of speech from activity in early auditory cortices6
Here, we present an extension of the classical MVPA paradigm, according to which perceptual stimuli are not predicted within, but across sensory systems. Specifically, the method we describe addresses the question of whether stimuli that evoke memory associations in modalities other than the one through which they are presented induce content-specific activity patterns in the sensory cortices of those other modalities. For instance, seeing a muted video clip of a glass vase shattering on the ground automatically triggers in most observers an auditory image of the associated sound; is the experience of this image in the "mind's ear" correlated with a specific neural activity pattern in early auditory cortices? Furthermore, is this activity pattern distinct from the pattern that could be observed if the subject were, instead, watching a video clip of a howling dog?
In two previous studies7,8
, we were able to predict sound- and touch-implying video clips based on neural activity in early auditory and somatosensory cortices, respectively. Our results are in line with a neuroarchitectural framework proposed by Damasio9,10
, according to which the experience of mental images that are based on memories - such as hearing the shattering sound of a vase in the "mind's ear" upon seeing the corresponding video clip - is supported by the re-construction of content-specific neural activity patterns in early sensory cortices.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, perception, sensory, cross-modal, top-down, mental imagery, fMRI, MRI, neuroimaging, multivariate pattern analysis, MVPA
Using Learning Outcome Measures to assess Doctoral Nursing Education
Institutions: Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Texas Christian University.
Education programs at all levels must be able to demonstrate successful program outcomes. Grades alone do not represent a comprehensive measurement methodology for assessing student learning outcomes at either the course or program level. The development and application of assessment rubrics provides an unequivocal measurement methodology to ensure a quality learning experience by providing a foundation for improvement based on qualitative and quantitatively measurable, aggregate course and program outcomes. Learning outcomes are the embodiment of the total learning experience and should incorporate assessment of both qualitative and quantitative program outcomes. The assessment of qualitative measures represents a challenge for educators in any level of a learning program. Nursing provides a unique challenge and opportunity as it is the application of science through the art of caring. Quantification of desired student learning outcomes may be enhanced through the development of assessment rubrics designed to measure quantitative and qualitative aspects of the nursing education and learning process. They provide a mechanism for uniform assessment by nursing faculty of concepts and constructs that are otherwise difficult to describe and measure. A protocol is presented and applied to a doctoral nursing education program with recommendations for application and transformation of the assessment rubric to other education programs. Through application of these specially designed rubrics, all aspects of an education program can be adequately assessed to provide information for program assessment that facilitates the closure of the gap between desired and actual student learning outcomes for any desired educational competency.
Medicine, Issue 40, learning, outcomes, measurement, program, assessment, rubric
Interview: Bioreactors and Surfaced-Modified 3D-Scaffolds for Stem Cell Research
Institutions: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
A Nature Editorial in 2003 asked the question "Good-bye, flat biology?" What does this question imply? In the past, many in vitro culture systems, mainly monolayer cultures, often suffered from the disadvantage that differentiated primary cells had a relatively short life-span and de-differentiated during culture. As a consequence, most of their organ-specific functions were lost rapidly. Thus, in order to reproduce better conditions for these cells in vitro, modifications and adaptations have been made to conventional monolayer cultures.
The last generation of CellChips -- micro-thermoformed containers -- a specific technology was developed, which offers the additional possibility to modify the whole surface of the 3D formed containers. This allows a surface-patterning on a submicron scale with distinct signalling molecules. Sensors and signal electrodes may be incorporated. Applications range from basic research in cell biology to toxicology and pharmacology. Using biodegradable polymers, clinical applications become a possibility. Furthermore, the last generation of micro-thermoformed chips has been optimized to allow for cheap mass production.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Interview, bioreactors, cell culture systems, 3D cell culture, stem cells