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Differences in forage-acquisition and fungal enzyme activity contribute to niche segregation in Panamanian leaf-cutting ants.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
The genera Atta and Acromyrmex are often grouped as leaf-cutting ants for pest management assessments and ecological surveys, although their mature colony sizes and foraging niches may differ substantially. Few studies have addressed such interspecific differences at the same site, which prompted us to conduct a comparative study across six sympatric leaf-cutting ant species in Central Panama. We show that foraging rates during the transition between dry and wet season differ about 60 fold between genera, but are relatively constant across species within genera. These differences appear to match overall differences in colony size, especially when Atta workers that return to their nests without leaves are assumed to carry liquid food. We confirm that Panamanian Atta specialize primarily on tree-leaves whereas Acromyrmex focus on collecting flowers and herbal leaves and that species within genera are similar in these overall foraging strategies. Species within genera tended to be spaced out over the three habitat categories that we distinguished (forest, forest edge, open grassland), but each of these habitats normally had only a single predominant Atta and Acromyrmex species. We measured activities of twelve fungus garden decomposition enzymes, belonging to the amylases, cellulases, hemicellulases, pectinases and proteinases, and show that average enzyme activity per unit of fungal mass in Atta gardens is lower than in Acromyrmex gardens. Expression profiles of fungal enzymes in Atta also appeared to be more specialized than in Acromyrmex, possibly reflecting variation in forage material. Our results suggest that species- and genus-level identities of leaf-cutting ants and habitat-specific foraging profiles may give predictable differences in the expression of fungal genes coding for decomposition enzymes.
Authors: Megan Garvey, Johannes Klinger, Holger Klose, Rainer Fischer, Ulrich Commandeur.
Published: 06-13-2014
Cellulose degrading enzymes, cellulases, are targets of both research and industrial interests. The preponderance of these enzymes in difficult-to-culture organisms, such as hyphae-building fungi and anaerobic bacteria, has hastened the use of recombinant technologies in this field. Plant expression methods are a desirable system for large-scale production of enzymes and other industrially useful proteins. Herein, methods for the transient expression of a fungal endoglucanase, Trichoderma reesei Cel5A, in Nicotiana tabacum are demonstrated. Successful protein expression is shown, monitored by fluorescence using an mCherry-enzyme fusion protein. Additionally, a set of basic tests are used to examine the activity of transiently expressed T. reesei Cel5A, including SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, zymography, as well as fluorescence and dye-based substrate degradation assays. The system described here can be used to produce an active cellulase in a short time period, so as to assess the potential for further production in plants through constitutive or inducible expression systems.
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A Rapid and Efficient Method for Assessing Pathogenicity of Ustilago maydis on Maize and Teosinte Lines
Authors: Suchitra Chavan, Shavannor M. Smith.
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Maize is a major cereal crop worldwide. However, susceptibility to biotrophic pathogens is the primary constraint to increasing productivity. U. maydis is a biotrophic fungal pathogen and the causal agent of corn smut on maize. This disease is responsible for significant yield losses of approximately $1.0 billion annually in the U.S.1 Several methods including crop rotation, fungicide application and seed treatments are currently used to control corn smut2. However, host resistance is the only practical method for managing corn smut. Identification of crop plants including maize, wheat, and rice that are resistant to various biotrophic pathogens has significantly decreased yield losses annually3-5. Therefore, the use of a pathogen inoculation method that efficiently and reproducibly delivers the pathogen in between the plant leaves, would facilitate the rapid identification of maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis. As, a first step toward indentifying maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis, a needle injection inoculation method and a resistance reaction screening method was utilized to inoculate maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines with a U. maydis strain and to select resistant plants. Maize, teosinte and maize x teosinte introgression lines, consisting of about 700 plants, were planted, inoculated with a strain of U. maydis, and screened for resistance. The inoculation and screening methods successfully identified three teosinte lines resistant to U. maydis. Here a detailed needle injection inoculation and resistance reaction screening protocol for maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines is presented. This study demonstrates that needle injection inoculation is an invaluable tool in agriculture that can efficiently deliver U. maydis in between the plant leaves and has provided plant lines that are resistant to U. maydis that can now be combined and tested in breeding programs for improved disease resistance.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, Bacterial Infections, Signs and Symptoms, Eukaryota, Plant Physiological Phenomena, Ustilago maydis, needle injection inoculation, disease rating scale, plant-pathogen interactions
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
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
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g., food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides. We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Authors: Jennifer L Soong, Dan Reuss, Colin Pinney, Ty Boyack, Michelle L Haddix, Catherine E Stewart, M. Francesca Cotrufo.
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2 fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13C with 15N, 18O or 2H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13C and 15N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components. Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13C and 15N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13C and 6.7 atom%15N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13C and 0.56 atom%15N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13C-CO2 atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
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Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Authors: Moneim Shamloul, Jason Trusa, Vadim Mett, Vidadi Yusibov.
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
Agrobacterium-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana plants with Agrobacteria carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana, N. excelsiana (N. benthamiana × N. excelsior) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Authors: Jennifer L. Koch, David W. Carey.
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
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Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
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
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Obtaining Specimens with Slowed, Accelerated and Reversed Aging in the Honey Bee Model
Authors: Daniel Münch, Nicholas Baker, Erik M.K. Rasmussen, Ashish K. Shah, Claus D. Kreibich, Lars E. Heidem, Gro V. Amdam.
Institutions: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Arizona State University.
Societies of highly social animals feature vast lifespan differences between closely related individuals. Among social insects, the honey bee is the best established model to study how plasticity in lifespan and aging is explained by social factors. The worker caste of honey bees includes nurse bees, which tend the brood, and forager bees, which collect nectar and pollen. Previous work has shown that brain functions and flight performance senesce more rapidly in foragers than in nurses. However, brain functions can recover, when foragers revert back to nursing tasks. Such patterns of accelerated and reversed functional senescence are linked to changed metabolic resource levels, to alterations in protein abundance and to immune function. Vitellogenin, a yolk protein with adapted functions in hormonal control and cellular defense, may serve as a major regulatory element in a network that controls the different aging dynamics in workers. Here we describe how the emergence of nurses and foragers can be monitored, and manipulated, including the reversal from typically short-lived foragers into longer-lived nurses. Our representative results show how individuals with similar chronological age differentiate into foragers and nurse bees under experimental conditions. We exemplify how behavioral reversal from foragers back to nurses can be validated. Last, we show how different cellular senescence can be assessed by measuring the accumulation of lipofuscin, a universal biomarker of senescence. For studying mechanisms that may link social influences and aging plasticity, this protocol provides a standardized tool set to acquire relevant sample material, and to improve data comparability among future studies.
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Insects, Microscopy, Confocal, Aging, Gerontology, Neurobiology, Insect, Invertebrate, Brain, Lipofuscin, Confocal Microscopy
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Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
Authors: Colin R. Jackson, Heather L. Tyler, Justin J. Millar.
Institutions: The University of Mississippi.
Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological and Environmental Processes, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, extracellular enzymes, freshwater microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial activity, enzyme activity
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Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Authors: Graham Bailes, Margaret Lind, Andrew Ely, Marianne Powell, Jennifer Moore-Kucera, Carol Miles, Debra Inglis, Marion Brodhagen.
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g. fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
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Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Authors: Anna Karlgren, Jenny Carlsson, Niclas Gyllenstrand, Ulf Lagercrantz, Jens F. Sundström.
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies). Here we present a modified DIG in situ hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica napus. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3 and BnAP3 were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana and B. napus and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies. For P. abies the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film. Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study. Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at and Jens F. Sundström at
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
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High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Authors: Mary F. Farrow, Frances H. Arnold.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing. Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10 and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12. We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli. (Fig 1) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness. Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13 involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14 for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus and Penicillium decumbens (shown in Figure 2), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
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Genotyping of Plant and Animal Samples without Prior DNA Purification
Authors: Pak Y. Chum, Josh D. Haimes, Chas P. André, Pia K. Kuusisto, Melissa L. Kelley.
Institutions: Thermo Fisher Scientific.
The Direct PCR approach facilitates PCR amplification directly from small amounts of unpurified samples, and is demonstrated here for several plant and animal tissues (Figure 1). Direct PCR is based on specially engineered Thermo Scientific Phusion and Phire DNA Polymerases, which include a double-stranded DNA binding domain that gives them unique properties such as high tolerance of inhibitors. PCR-based target DNA detection has numerous applications in plant research, including plant genotype analysis and verification of transgenes. PCR from plant tissues traditionally involves an initial DNA isolation step, which may require expensive or toxic reagents. The process is time consuming and increases the risk of cross contamination1, 2. Conversely, by using Thermo Scientific Phire Plant Direct PCR Kit the target DNA can be easily detected, without prior DNA extraction. In the model demonstrated here, an example of derived cleaved amplified polymorphic sequence analysis (dCAPS)3,4 is performed directly from Arabidopsis plant leaves. dCAPS genotyping assays can be used to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) by SNP allele-specific restriction endonuclease digestion3. Some plant samples tend to be more challenging when using Direct PCR methods as they contain components that interfere with PCR, such as phenolic compounds. In these cases, an additional step to remove the compounds is traditionally required2,5. Here, this problem is overcome by using a quick and easy dilution protocol followed by Direct PCR amplification (Figure 1). Fifteen year-old oak leaves are used as a model for challenging plants as the specimen contains high amounts of phenolic compounds including tannins. Gene transfer into mice is broadly used to study the roles of genes in development, physiology and human disease. The use of these animals requires screening for the presence of the transgene, usually with PCR. Traditionally, this involves a time consuming DNA isolation step, during which DNA for PCR analysis is purified from ear, tail or toe tissues6,7. However, with the Thermo Scientific Phire Animal Tissue Direct PCR Kit transgenic mice can be genotyped without prior DNA purification. In this protocol transgenic mouse genotyping is achieved directly from mouse ear tissues, as demonstrated here for a challenging example where only one primer set is used for amplification of two fragments differing greatly in size.
Genetics, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Plant Biology, Medicine, Direct PCR, DNA amplification, DNA purification, dCAPS, PCR-based target DNA detection, genotyping, Arabidopsis, oak, mouse tissues
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Transmitting Plant Viruses Using Whiteflies
Authors: Jane E. Polston, H. Capobianco.
Institutions: University of Florida .
Whiteflies, Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae, Bemisia tabaci, a complex of morphologically indistinquishable species5, are vectors of many plant viruses. Several genera of these whitefly-transmitted plant viruses (Begomovirus, Carlavirus, Crinivirus, Ipomovirus, Torradovirus) include several hundred species of emerging and economically significant pathogens of important food and fiber crops (reviewed by9,10,16). These viruses do not replicate in their vector but nevertheless are moved readily from plant to plant by the adult whitefly by various means (reviewed by2,6,7,9,10,11,17). For most of these viruses whitefly feeding is required for acquisition and inoculation, while for others only probing is required. Many of these viruses are unable or cannot be easily transmitted by other means. Therefore maintenance of virus cultures, biological and molecular characterization (identification of host range and symptoms)3,13, ecology2,12, require that the viruses be transmitted to experimental hosts using the whitefly vector. In addition the development of new approaches to management, such as evaluation of new chemicals14 or compounds15, new cultural approaches1,4,19, or the selection and development of resistant cultivars7,8,18, requires the use of whiteflies for virus transmission. The use of whitefly transmission of plant viruses for the selection and development of resistant cultivars in breeding programs is particularly challenging7. Effective selection and screening for resistance employs large numbers of plants and there is a need for 100% of the plants to be inoculated in order to find the few genotypes which possess resistance genes. These studies use very large numbers of viruliferous whiteflies, often several times per year. Whitefly maintenance described here can generate hundreds or thousands of adult whiteflies on plants each week, year round, without the contamination of other plant viruses. Plants free of both whiteflies and virus must be produced to introduce into the whitefly colony each week. Whitefly cultures must be kept free of whitefly pathogens, parasites, and parasitoids that can reduce whitefly populations and/or reduce the transmission efficiency of the virus. Colonies produced in the manner described can be quickly scaled to increase or decrease population numbers as needed, and can be adjusted to accommodate the feeding preferences of the whitefly based on the plant host of the virus. There are two basic types of whitefly colonies that can be maintained: a nonviruliferous and a viruliferous whitefly colony. The nonviruliferous colony is composed of whiteflies reared on virus-free plants and allows the weekly availability of whiteflies which can be used to transmit viruses from different cultures. The viruliferous whitefly colony, composed of whiteflies reared on virus-infected plants, allows weekly availability of whiteflies which have acquired the virus thus omitting one step in the virus transmission process.
Plant Biology, Issue 81, Virology, Molecular Biology, Botany, Pathology, Infection, Plant viruses, Bemisia tabaci, Whiteflies, whitefly, insect transmission, Begomovirus, Carlavirus, Crinivirus, Ipomovirus, host pathogen interaction, virus, insect, plant
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LeafJ: An ImageJ Plugin for Semi-automated Leaf Shape Measurement
Authors: Julin N. Maloof, Kazunari Nozue, Maxwell R. Mumbach, Christine M. Palmer.
Institutions: University of California Davis.
High throughput phenotyping (phenomics) is a powerful tool for linking genes to their functions (see review1 and recent examples2-4). Leaves are the primary photosynthetic organ, and their size and shape vary developmentally and environmentally within a plant. For these reasons studies on leaf morphology require measurement of multiple parameters from numerous leaves, which is best done by semi-automated phenomics tools5,6. Canopy shade is an important environmental cue that affects plant architecture and life history; the suite of responses is collectively called the shade avoidance syndrome (SAS)7. Among SAS responses, shade induced leaf petiole elongation and changes in blade area are particularly useful as indices8. To date, leaf shape programs (e.g. SHAPE9, LAMINA10, LeafAnalyzer11, LEAFPROCESSOR12) can measure leaf outlines and categorize leaf shapes, but can not output petiole length. Lack of large-scale measurement systems of leaf petioles has inhibited phenomics approaches to SAS research. In this paper, we describe a newly developed ImageJ plugin, called LeafJ, which can rapidly measure petiole length and leaf blade parameters of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. For the occasional leaf that required manual correction of the petiole/leaf blade boundary we used a touch-screen tablet. Further, leaf cell shape and leaf cell numbers are important determinants of leaf size13. Separate from LeafJ we also present a protocol for using a touch-screen tablet for measuring cell shape, area, and size. Our leaf trait measurement system is not limited to shade-avoidance research and will accelerate leaf phenotyping of many mutants and screening plants by leaf phenotyping.
Plant Biology, Issue 71, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Computer Science, Arabidopsis, Arabidopsis thaliana, leaf shape, shade avoidance, ImageJ, LeafJ, petiole, touch-screen tablet, phenotyping, phenomics
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Establishing Fungal Entomopathogens as Endophytes: Towards Endophytic Biological Control
Authors: Soroush Parsa, Viviana Ortiz, Fernando E. Vega.
Institutions: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia , United States Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.
Beauveria bassiana is a fungal entomopathogen with the ability to colonize plants endophytically. As an endophyte, B. bassiana may play a role in protecting plants from herbivory and disease. This protocol demonstrates two inoculation methods to establish B. bassiana endophytically in the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), in preparation for subsequent evaluations of endophytic biological control. Plants are grown from surface-sterilized seeds for two weeks before receiving a B. bassiana treatment of 108 conidia/ml (or water) applied either as a foliar spray or a soil drench. Two weeks later, the plants are harvested and their leaves, stems and roots are sampled to evaluate endophytic fungal colonization. For this, samples are individually surface sterilized, cut into multiple sections, and incubated in potato dextrose agar media for 20 days. The media is inspected every 2-3 days to observe fungal growth associated with plant sections and record the occurrence of B. bassiana to estimate the extent of its endophytic colonization. Analyses of inoculation success compare the occurrence of B. bassiana within a given plant part (i.e. leaves, stems or roots) across treatments and controls. In addition to the inoculation method, the specific outcome of the experiment may depend on the target crop species or variety, the fungal entomopathogen species strain or isolate used, and the plant's growing conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 74, Plant Biology, Microbiology, Infection, Environmental Sciences, Molecular Biology, Mycology, Entomology, Botany, Pathology, Agriculture, Pest Control, Fungi, Entomopathogen, Endophyte, Pest, Pathogen, Phaseolus vulgaris, Beauveria bassiana, Sustainable Agriculture, hemocytometer, inoculation, fungus
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Measurement of Leaf Hydraulic Conductance and Stomatal Conductance and Their Responses to Irradiance and Dehydration Using the Evaporative Flux Method (EFM)
Authors: Lawren Sack, Christine Scoffoni.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Water is a key resource, and the plant water transport system sets limits on maximum growth and drought tolerance. When plants open their stomata to achieve a high stomatal conductance (gs) to capture CO2 for photosynthesis, water is lost by transpiration1,2. Water evaporating from the airspaces is replaced from cell walls, in turn drawing water from the xylem of leaf veins, in turn drawing from xylem in the stems and roots. As water is pulled through the system, it experiences hydraulic resistance, creating tension throughout the system and a low leaf water potential (Ψleaf). The leaf itself is a critical bottleneck in the whole plant system, accounting for on average 30% of the plant hydraulic resistance3. Leaf hydraulic conductance (Kleaf = 1/ leaf hydraulic resistance) is the ratio of the water flow rate to the water potential gradient across the leaf, and summarizes the behavior of a complex system: water moves through the petiole and through several orders of veins, exits into the bundle sheath and passes through or around mesophyll cells before evaporating into the airspace and being transpired from the stomata. Kleaf is of strong interest as an important physiological trait to compare species, quantifying the effectiveness of the leaf structure and physiology for water transport, and a key variable to investigate for its relationship to variation in structure (e.g., in leaf venation architecture) and its impacts on photosynthetic gas exchange. Further, Kleaf responds strongly to the internal and external leaf environment3. Kleaf can increase dramatically with irradiance apparently due to changes in the expression and activation of aquaporins, the proteins involved in water transport through membranes4, and Kleaf declines strongly during drought, due to cavitation and/or collapse of xylem conduits, and/or loss of permeability in the extra-xylem tissues due to mesophyll and bundle sheath cell shrinkage or aquaporin deactivation5-10. Because Kleaf can constrain gs and photosynthetic rate across species in well watered conditions and during drought, and thus limit whole-plant performance they may possibly determine species distributions especially as droughts increase in frequency and severity11-14. We present a simple method for simultaneous determination of Kleaf and gs on excised leaves. A transpiring leaf is connected by its petiole to tubing running to a water source on a balance. The loss of water from the balance is recorded to calculate the flow rate through the leaf. When steady state transpiration (E, mmol • m-2 • s-1) is reached, gs is determined by dividing by vapor pressure deficit, and Kleaf by dividing by the water potential driving force determined using a pressure chamber (Kleaf= E /- Δψleaf, MPa)15. This method can be used to assess Kleaf responses to different irradiances and the vulnerability of Kleaf to dehydration14,16,17.
Plant Biology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Ecology, Biology, Botany, Leaf traits, hydraulics, stomata, transpiration, xylem, conductance, leaf hydraulic conductance, resistance, evaporative flux method, whole plant
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Characterizing Herbivore Resistance Mechanisms: Spittlebugs on Brachiaria spp. as an Example
Authors: Soroush Parsa, Guillermo Sotelo, Cesar Cardona.
Institutions: CIAT.
Plants can resist herbivore damage through three broad mechanisms: antixenosis, antibiosis and tolerance1. Antixenosis is the degree to which the plant is avoided when the herbivore is able to select other plants2. Antibiosis is the degree to which the plant affects the fitness of the herbivore feeding on it1.Tolerance is the degree to which the plant can withstand or repair damage caused by the herbivore, without compromising the herbivore's growth and reproduction1. The durability of herbivore resistance in an agricultural setting depends to a great extent on the resistance mechanism favored during crop breeding efforts3. We demonstrate a no-choice experiment designed to estimate the relative contributions of antibiosis and tolerance to spittlebug resistance in Brachiaria spp. Several species of African grasses of the genus Brachiaria are valuable forage and pasture plants in the Neotropics, but they can be severely challenged by several native species of spittlebugs (Hemiptera: Cercopidae)4.To assess their resistance to spittlebugs, plants are vegetatively-propagated by stem cuttings and allowed to grow for approximately one month, allowing the growth of superficial roots on which spittlebugs can feed. At that point, each test plant is individually challenged with six spittlebug eggs near hatching. Infestations are allowed to progress for one month before evaluating plant damage and insect survival. Scoring plant damage provides an estimate of tolerance while scoring insect survival provides an estimate of antibiosis. This protocol has facilitated our plant breeding objective to enhance spittlebug resistance in commercial brachiariagrases5.
Plant Biology, Issue 52, host plant resistance, antibiosis, antixenosis, tolerance, Brachiaria, spittlebugs
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Choice and No-Choice Assays for Testing the Resistance of A. thaliana to Chewing Insects
Authors: Martin De Vos, Georg Jander.
Institutions: Cornell University.
Larvae of the small white cabbage butterfly are a pest in agricultural settings. This caterpillar species feeds from plants in the cabbage family, which include many crops such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts etc. Rearing of the insects takes place on cabbage plants in the greenhouse. At least two cages are needed for the rearing of Pieris rapae. One for the larvae and the other to contain the adults, the butterflies. In order to investigate the role of plant hormones and toxic plant chemicals in resistance to this insect pest, we demonstrate two experiments. First, determination of the role of jasmonic acid (JA - a plant hormone often indicated in resistance to insects) in resistance to the chewing insect Pieris rapae. Caterpillar growth can be compared on wild-type and mutant plants impaired in production of JA. This experiment is considered "No Choice", because larvae are forced to subsist on a single plant which synthesizes or is deficient in JA. Second, we demonstrate an experiment that investigates the role of glucosinolates, which are used as oviposition (egg-laying) signals. Here, we use WT and mutant Arabidopsis impaired in glucosinolate production in a "Choice" experiment in which female butterflies are allowed to choose to lay their eggs on plants of either genotype. This video demonstrates the experimental setup for both assays as well as representative results.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Plant Resistance, Herbivory, Arabidopsis thaliana, Pieris rapae, Caterpillars, Butterflies, Jasmonic Acid, Glucosinolates
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