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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Analysis of Fatty Acid Content and Composition in Microalgae
Institutions: Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center.
A method to determine the content and composition of total fatty acids present in microalgae is described. Fatty acids are a major constituent of microalgal biomass. These fatty acids can be present in different acyl-lipid classes. Especially the fatty acids present in triacylglycerol (TAG) are of commercial interest, because they can be used for production of transportation fuels, bulk chemicals, nutraceuticals (ω-3 fatty acids), and food commodities. To develop commercial applications, reliable analytical methods for quantification of fatty acid content and composition are needed. Microalgae are single cells surrounded by a rigid cell wall. A fatty acid analysis method should provide sufficient cell disruption to liberate all acyl lipids and the extraction procedure used should be able to extract all acyl lipid classes.
With the method presented here all fatty acids present in microalgae can be accurately and reproducibly identified and quantified using small amounts of sample (5 mg) independent of their chain length, degree of unsaturation, or the lipid class they are part of.
This method does not provide information about the relative abundance of different lipid classes, but can be extended to separate lipid classes from each other.
The method is based on a sequence of mechanical cell disruption, solvent based lipid extraction, transesterification of fatty acids to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), and quantification and identification of FAMEs using gas chromatography (GC-FID). A TAG internal standard (tripentadecanoin) is added prior to the analytical procedure to correct for losses during extraction and incomplete transesterification.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, chemical analysis techniques, Microalgae, fatty acid, triacylglycerol, lipid, gas chromatography, cell disruption
Polymalic Acid-based Nano Biopolymers for Targeting of Multiple Tumor Markers: An Opportunity for Personalized Medicine?
Institutions: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Tumors with similar grade and morphology often respond differently to the same treatment because of variations in molecular profiling. To account for this diversity, personalized medicine is developed for silencing malignancy associated genes. Nano drugs fit these needs by targeting tumor and delivering antisense oligonucleotides for silencing of genes. As drugs for the treatment are often administered repeatedly, absence of toxicity and negligible immune response are desirable. In the example presented here, a nano medicine is synthesized from the biodegradable, non-toxic and non-immunogenic platform polymalic acid by controlled chemical ligation of antisense oligonucleotides and tumor targeting molecules. The synthesis and treatment is exemplified for human Her2-positive breast cancer using an experimental mouse model. The case can be translated towards synthesis and treatment of other tumors.
Chemistry, Issue 88, Cancer treatment, personalized medicine, polymalic acid, nanodrug, biopolymer, targeting, host compatibility, biodegradability
Optimize Flue Gas Settings to Promote Microalgae Growth in Photobioreactors via Computer Simulations
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Wuhan University of China, Washington University in St. Louis.
Flue gas from power plants can promote algal cultivation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions1
. Microalgae not only capture solar energy more efficiently than plants3
, but also synthesize advanced biofuels2-4
. Generally, atmospheric CO2
is not a sufficient source for supporting maximal algal growth5
. On the other hand, the high concentrations of CO2
in industrial exhaust gases have adverse effects on algal physiology. Consequently, both cultivation conditions (such as nutrients and light) and the control of the flue gas flow into the photo-bioreactors are important to develop an efficient “flue gas to algae” system. Researchers have proposed different photobioreactor configurations4,6
and cultivation strategies7,8
with flue gas. Here, we present a protocol that demonstrates how to use models to predict the microalgal growth in response to flue gas settings. We perform both experimental illustration and model simulations to determine the favorable conditions for algal growth with flue gas. We develop a Monod-based model coupled with mass transfer and light intensity equations to simulate the microalgal growth in a homogenous photo-bioreactor. The model simulation compares algal growth and flue gas consumptions under different flue-gas settings. The model illustrates: 1) how algal growth is influenced by different volumetric mass transfer coefficients of CO2
; 2) how we can find optimal CO2
concentration for algal growth via the dynamic optimization approach (DOA); 3) how we can design a rectangular on-off flue gas pulse to promote algal biomass growth and to reduce the usage of flue gas. On the experimental side, we present a protocol for growing Chlorella
under the flue gas (generated by natural gas combustion). The experimental results qualitatively validate the model predictions that the high frequency flue gas pulses can significantly improve algal cultivation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Marine Biology, Primary Cell Culture, Chlorella, CO2, mass transfer, Monod model, On-off pulse, Simulink
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
Study of Phagolysosome Biogenesis in Live Macrophages
Institutions: Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, National Institute for Medical Research.
Phagocytic cells play a major role in the innate immune system by removing and eliminating invading microorganisms in their phagosomes. Phagosome maturation is the complex and tightly regulated process during which a nascent phagosome undergoes drastic transformation through well-orchestrated interactions with various cellular organelles and compartments in the cytoplasm. This process, which is essential for the physiological function of phagocytic cells by endowing phagosomes with their lytic and bactericidal properties, culminates in fusion of phagosomes with lysosomes and biogenesis of phagolysosomes which is considered to be the last and critical stage of maturation for phagosomes. In this report, we describe a live cell imaging based method for qualitative and quantitative analysis of the dynamic process of lysosome to phagosome content delivery, which is a hallmark of phagolysosome biogenesis. This approach uses IgG-coated microbeads as a model for phagocytosis and fluorophore-conjugated dextran molecules as a luminal lysosomal cargo probe, in order to follow the dynamic delivery of lysosmal content to the phagosomes in real time in live macrophages using time-lapse imaging and confocal laser scanning microscopy. Here we describe in detail the background, the preparation steps and the step-by-step experimental setup to enable easy and precise deployment of this method in other labs. Our described method is simple, robust, and most importantly, can be easily adapted to study phagosomal interactions and maturation in different systems and under various experimental settings such as use of various phagocytic cells types, loss-of-function experiments, different probes, and phagocytic particles.
Immunology, Issue 85, Lysosome, Phagosome, phagolysosome, live-cell imaging, phagocytes, macrophages
In vivo Imaging of Optic Nerve Fiber Integrity by Contrast-Enhanced MRI in Mice
Institutions: Jena University Hospital, Fritz Lipmann Institute, Jena, Jena University Hospital.
The rodent visual system encompasses retinal ganglion cells and their axons that form the optic nerve to enter thalamic and midbrain centers, and postsynaptic projections to the visual cortex. Based on its distinct anatomical structure and convenient accessibility, it has become the favored structure for studies on neuronal survival, axonal regeneration, and synaptic plasticity. Recent advancements in MR imaging have enabled the in vivo
visualization of the retino-tectal part of this projection using manganese mediated contrast enhancement (MEMRI). Here, we present a MEMRI protocol for illustration of the visual projection in mice, by which resolutions of (200 µm)3
can be achieved using common 3 Tesla scanners. We demonstrate how intravitreal injection of a single dosage of 15 nmol MnCl2
leads to a saturated enhancement of the intact projection within 24 hr. With exception of the retina, changes in signal intensity are independent of coincided visual stimulation or physiological aging. We further apply this technique to longitudinally monitor axonal degeneration in response to acute optic nerve injury, a paradigm by which Mn2+
transport completely arrests at the lesion site. Conversely, active Mn2+
transport is quantitatively proportionate to the viability, number, and electrical activity of axon fibers. For such an analysis, we exemplify Mn2+
transport kinetics along the visual path in a transgenic mouse model (NF-κB p50KO
) displaying spontaneous atrophy of sensory, including visual, projections. In these mice, MEMRI indicates reduced but not delayed Mn2+
transport as compared to wild type mice, thus revealing signs of structural and/or functional impairments by NF-κB mutations.
In summary, MEMRI conveniently bridges in vivo
assays and post mortem
histology for the characterization of nerve fiber integrity and activity. It is highly useful for longitudinal studies on axonal degeneration and regeneration, and investigations of mutant mice for genuine or inducible phenotypes.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, manganese-enhanced MRI, mouse retino-tectal projection, visual system, neurodegeneration, optic nerve injury, NF-κB
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Hot Biological Catalysis: Isothermal Titration Calorimetry to Characterize Enzymatic Reactions
Institutions: University of Bologna.
Isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) is a well-described technique that measures the heat released or absorbed during a chemical reaction, using it as an intrinsic probe to characterize virtually every chemical process. Nowadays, this technique is extensively applied to determine thermodynamic parameters of biomolecular binding equilibria. In addition, ITC has been demonstrated to be able of directly measuring kinetics and thermodynamic parameters (kcat, KM, ΔH
) of enzymatic reactions, even though this application is still underexploited. As heat changes spontaneously occur during enzymatic catalysis, ITC does not require any modification or labeling of the system under analysis and can be performed in solution. Moreover, the method needs little amount of material. These properties make ITC an invaluable, powerful and unique tool to study enzyme kinetics in several applications, such as, for example, drug discovery.
In this work an experimental ITC-based method to quantify kinetics and thermodynamics of enzymatic reactions is thoroughly described. This method is applied to determine kcat
of the enzymatic hydrolysis of urea by Canavalia ensiformis
(jack bean) urease. Calculation of intrinsic molar enthalpy (ΔHint
) of the reaction is performed. The values thus obtained are consistent with previous data reported in literature, demonstrating the reliability of the methodology.
Chemistry, Issue 86, Isothermal titration calorimetry, enzymatic catalysis, kinetics, thermodynamics, enthalpy, Michaelis constant, catalytic rate constant, urease
A Protocol for Conducting Rainfall Simulation to Study Soil Runoff
Institutions: University of Maryland Eastern Shore, USDA - Agricultural Research Service, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Rainfall is a driving force for the transport of environmental contaminants from agricultural soils to surficial water bodies via surface runoff. The objective of this study was to characterize the effects of antecedent soil moisture content on the fate and transport of surface applied commercial urea, a common form of nitrogen (N) fertilizer, following a rainfall event that occurs within 24 hr after fertilizer application. Although urea is assumed to be readily hydrolyzed to ammonium and therefore not often available for transport, recent studies suggest that urea can be transported from agricultural soils to coastal waters where it is implicated in harmful algal blooms. A rainfall simulator was used to apply a consistent rate of uniform rainfall across packed soil boxes that had been prewetted to different soil moisture contents. By controlling rainfall and soil physical characteristics, the effects of antecedent soil moisture on urea loss were isolated. Wetter soils exhibited shorter time from rainfall initiation to runoff initiation, greater total volume of runoff, higher urea concentrations in runoff, and greater mass loadings of urea in runoff. These results also demonstrate the importance of controlling for antecedent soil moisture content in studies designed to isolate other variables, such as soil physical or chemical characteristics, slope, soil cover, management, or rainfall characteristics. Because rainfall simulators are designed to deliver raindrops of similar size and velocity as natural rainfall, studies conducted under a standardized protocol can yield valuable data that, in turn, can be used to develop models for predicting the fate and transport of pollutants in runoff.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Agriculture, Water Pollution, Water Quality, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Rainfall Simulator, Artificial Rainfall, Runoff, Packed Soil Boxes, Nonpoint Source, Urea
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
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
Measuring Cation Transport by Na,K- and H,K-ATPase in Xenopus Oocytes by Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry: An Alternative to Radioisotope Assays
Institutions: Technical University of Berlin, Oregon Health & Science University.
Whereas cation transport by the electrogenic membrane transporter Na+
-ATPase can be measured by electrophysiology, the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase is more difficult to investigate. Many transport assays utilize radioisotopes to achieve a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio, however, the necessary security measures impose severe restrictions regarding human exposure or assay design. Furthermore, ion transport across cell membranes is critically influenced by the membrane potential, which is not straightforwardly controlled in cell culture or in proteoliposome preparations. Here, we make use of the outstanding sensitivity of atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) towards trace amounts of chemical elements to measure Rb+
transport by Na+
- or gastric H+
-ATPase in single cells. Using Xenopus
oocytes as expression system, we determine the amount of Rb+
) transported into the cells by measuring samples of single-oocyte homogenates in an AAS device equipped with a transversely heated graphite atomizer (THGA) furnace, which is loaded from an autosampler. Since the background of unspecific Rb+
uptake into control oocytes or during application of ATPase-specific inhibitors is very small, it is possible to implement complex kinetic assay schemes involving a large number of experimental conditions simultaneously, or to compare the transport capacity and kinetics of site-specifically mutated transporters with high precision. Furthermore, since cation uptake is determined on single cells, the flux experiments can be carried out in combination with two-electrode voltage-clamping (TEVC) to achieve accurate control of the membrane potential and current. This allowed e.g.
to quantitatively determine the 3Na+
transport stoichiometry of the Na+
-ATPase and enabled for the first time to investigate the voltage dependence of cation transport by the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase. In principle, the assay is not limited to K+
-transporting membrane proteins, but it may work equally well to address the activity of heavy or transition metal transporters, or uptake of chemical elements by endocytotic processes.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Chemistry, Biophysics, Bioengineering, Physiology, Molecular Biology, electrochemical processes, physical chemistry, spectrophotometry (application), spectroscopic chemical analysis (application), life sciences, temperature effects (biological, animal and plant), Life Sciences (General), Na+,K+-ATPase, H+,K+-ATPase, Cation Uptake, P-type ATPases, Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS), Two-Electrode Voltage-Clamp, Xenopus Oocytes, Rb+ Flux, Transversely Heated Graphite Atomizer (THGA) Furnace, electrophysiology, animal model
Quantitative Phosphoproteomics in Fatty Acid Stimulated Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Institute for Systems Biology.
This protocol describes the growth and stimulation, with the fatty acid oleate, of isotopically heavy and light S. cerevisiae cells. Cells are ground using a cryolysis procedure in a ball mill grinder and the resulting grindate brought into solution by urea solubilization. This procedure allows for the lysis of the cells in a metabolically inactive state, preserving phosphorylation and preventing reorientation of the phosphoproteome during cell lysis. Following reduction, alkylation, trypsin digestion of the proteins, the samples are desalted on C18 columns and the sample complexity reduced by fractionation using hydrophilic interaction chromatography (HILIC). HILIC columns preferentially retain hydrophilic molecules which is well suited for phosphoproteomics. Phosphorylated peptides tend to elute later in the chromatographic profile than the non phosphorylated counterparts. After fractionation, phosphopeptides are enriched using immobilized metal chromatography, which relies on charge-based affinities for phosphopeptide enrichment. At the end of this procedure the samples are ready to be quantitatively analyzed by mass spectrometry.
Cellular Biology, Issue 32, Phosphorylation, Proteomics, Cryolysis, Yeast, HILIC, IMAC, Oleate, SILAC
Thermodynamics of Membrane Protein Folding Measured by Fluorescence Spectroscopy
Institutions: University of California San Diego - UCSD.
Membrane protein folding is an emerging topic with both fundamental and health-related significance. The abundance of membrane proteins in cells underlies the need for comprehensive study of the folding of this ubiquitous family of proteins. Additionally, advances in our ability to characterize diseases associated with misfolded proteins have motivated significant experimental and theoretical efforts in the field of protein folding. Rapid progress in this important field is unfortunately hindered by the inherent challenges associated with membrane proteins and the complexity of the folding mechanism. Here, we outline an experimental procedure for measuring the thermodynamic property of the Gibbs free energy of unfolding in the absence of denaturant, ΔG°H2O
, for a representative integral membrane protein from E. coli
. This protocol focuses on the application of fluorescence spectroscopy to determine equilibrium populations of folded and unfolded states as a function of denaturant concentration. Experimental considerations for the preparation of synthetic lipid vesicles as well as key steps in the data analysis procedure are highlighted. This technique is versatile and may be pursued with different types of denaturant, including temperature and pH, as well as in various folding environments of lipids and micelles. The current protocol is one that can be generalized to any membrane or soluble protein that meets the set of criteria discussed below.
Bioengineering, Issue 50, tryptophan, peptides, Gibbs free energy, protein stability, vesicles
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
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
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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
Metabolic Labeling of Newly Transcribed RNA for High Resolution Gene Expression Profiling of RNA Synthesis, Processing and Decay in Cell Culture
Institutions: Max von Pettenkofer Institute, University of Cambridge, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich.
The development of whole-transcriptome microarrays and next-generation sequencing has revolutionized our understanding of the complexity of cellular gene expression. Along with a better understanding of the involved molecular mechanisms, precise measurements of the underlying kinetics have become increasingly important. Here, these powerful methodologies face major limitations due to intrinsic properties of the template samples they study, i.e.
total cellular RNA. In many cases changes in total cellular RNA occur either too slowly or too quickly to represent the underlying molecular events and their kinetics with sufficient resolution. In addition, the contribution of alterations in RNA synthesis, processing, and decay are not readily differentiated.
We recently developed high-resolution gene expression profiling to overcome these limitations. Our approach is based on metabolic labeling of newly transcribed RNA with 4-thiouridine (thus also referred to as 4sU-tagging) followed by rigorous purification of newly transcribed RNA using thiol-specific biotinylation and streptavidin-coated magnetic beads. It is applicable to a broad range of organisms including vertebrates, Drosophila
, and yeast. We successfully applied 4sU-tagging to study real-time kinetics of transcription factor activities, provide precise measurements of RNA half-lives, and obtain novel insights into the kinetics of RNA processing. Finally, computational modeling can be employed to generate an integrated, comprehensive analysis of the underlying molecular mechanisms.
Genetics, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Eukaryota, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Gene expression profiling, RNA synthesis, RNA processing, RNA decay, 4-thiouridine, 4sU-tagging, microarray analysis, RNA-seq, RNA, DNA, PCR, sequencing
Genetic Studies of Human DNA Repair Proteins Using Yeast as a Model System
Institutions: National Institute on Aging, NIH.
Understanding the roles of human DNA repair proteins in genetic pathways is a formidable challenge to many researchers. Genetic studies in mammalian systems have been limited due to the lack of readily available tools including defined mutant genetic cell lines, regulatory expression systems, and appropriate selectable markers. To circumvent these difficulties, model genetic systems in lower eukaryotes have become an attractive choice for the study of functionally conserved DNA repair proteins and pathways. We have developed a model yeast system to study the poorly defined genetic functions of the Werner syndrome helicase-nuclease (WRN
) in nucleic acid metabolism. Cellular phenotypes associated with defined genetic mutant backgrounds can be investigated to clarify the cellular and molecular functions of WRN
through its catalytic activities and protein interactions. The human WRN
gene and associated variants, cloned into DNA plasmids for expression in yeast, can be placed under the control of a regulatory plasmid element. The expression construct can then be transformed into the appropriate yeast mutant background, and genetic function assayed by a variety of methodologies. Using this approach, we determined that WRN
, like its related RecQ family members BLM and Sgs1, operates in a Top3-dependent pathway that is likely to be important for genomic stability. This is described in our recent publication  at www.impactaging.com. Detailed methods of specific assays for genetic complementation studies in yeast are provided in this paper.
Microbiology, Issue 37, Werner syndrome, helicase, topoisomerase, RecQ, Bloom's syndrome, Sgs1, genomic instability, genetics, DNA repair, yeast
Trypsinizing and Subculturing Mammalian Cells
Institutions: Molecular Pathology Laboratory Network, Inc.
As cells reach confluency, they must be subcultured or passaged. Failure to subculture confluent cells results in reduced mitotic index and eventually in cell death. The first step in subculturing is to detach cells from the surface of the primary culture vessel by trypsinization or mechanical means. The resultant cell suspension is then subdivided, or reseeded, into fresh cultures. Secondary cultures are checked for growth and fed periodically, and may be subsequently subcultured to produce tertiary cultures. The time between passaging of cells varies with the cell line and depends on the growth rate.
Basic Protocols, Issue 16, Current Protocols Wiley, Cell Culture, Cell Passaging, Trypsinizing Cells, Adherent Cells, Suspension Cells
Organotypic Slice Culture of E18 Rat Brains
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
Organotypic slice cultures from embryonic rodent brains are widely used to study brain development. While there are often advantages to an in-vivo system, organotypic slice cultures allow one to perform a number of manipulations that are not presently feasible in-vivo. To date, organtotypic embryonic brain slice cultures have been used to follow individual cells using time-lapse microscopy, manipulate the expression of genes in the ganglionic emanances (a region that is hard to target by in-utero electroporation), as well as for pharmacological studies. In this video protocol we demonstrate how to make organotypic slice cultures from rat embryonic day 18 embryos. The protocol involves dissecting the embryos, embedding them on ice in low melt agarose, slicing the embedded brains on the vibratome, and finally plating the slices onto filters in culture dishes. This protocol is also applicable in its present form to making organotypic slice cultures from different embryonic ages for both rats and mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, brain, culture, dissection, rat