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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Evaluation of Integrated Anaerobic Digestion and Hydrothermal Carbonization for Bioenergy Production
Institutions: Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering.
Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4
(VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4
at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar
was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, Biomethane, Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC), Calorific Value, Lignocellulosic Biomass, UASS, Anaerobic Digestion
High-Throughput Measurement and Classification of Organic P in Environmental Samples
Institutions: University of Vermont.
Many types of organic phosphorus (P) molecules exist in environmental samples1
. Traditional P measurements do not detect these organic P compounds since they do not react with colorimetric reagents2,3
. Enzymatic hydrolysis (EH) is an emerging method for accurately characterizing organic P forms in environmental samples4,5
. This method is only trumped in accuracy by Phosphorus-31 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (31
P-NMR) -a method that is expensive and requires specialized technical training6
. We have adapted an enzymatic hydrolysis method capable of measuring three classes of phosphorus (monoester P, diester P and inorganic P) to a microplate reader system7
. This method provides researchers with a fast, accurate, affordable and user-friendly means to measure P species in soils, sediments, manures and, if concentrated, aquatic samples. This is the only high-throughput method for measuring the forms and enzyme-lability of organic P that can be performed in a standard laboratory. The resulting data provides insight to scientists studying system nutrient content and eutrophication potential.
Microbiology, Issue 52, phosphorus, enzymatic-hydrolysis, soil, manure, phosphatase, phytic acid, NaOH-EDTA, organophosphates, molybdate, organic P
Seeded Synthesis of CdSe/CdS Rod and Tetrapod Nanocrystals
Institutions: UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory.
We demonstrate a method for the synthesis of multicomponent nanostructures consisting of CdS and CdSe with rod and tetrapod morphologies. A seeded synthesis strategy is used in which spherical seeds of CdSe are prepared first using a hot-injection technique. By controlling the crystal structure of the seed to be either wurtzite or zinc-blende, the subsequent hot-injection growth of CdS off of the seed results in either a rod-shaped or tetrapod-shaped nanocrystal, respectively. The phase and morphology of the synthesized nanocrystals are confirmed using X-ray diffraction and transmission electron microscopy, demonstrating that the nanocrystals are phase-pure and have a consistent morphology. The extinction coefficient and quantum yield of the synthesized nanocrystals are calculated using UV-Vis absorption spectroscopy and photoluminescence spectroscopy. The rods and tetrapods exhibit extinction coefficients and quantum yields that are higher than that of the bare seeds. This synthesis demonstrates the precise arrangement of materials that can be achieved at the nanoscale by using a seeded synthetic approach.
Chemistry, Issue 82, nanostructures, synthesis, nanocrystals, seeded rods, tetrapods, nanoheterostructures
Compact Quantum Dots for Single-molecule Imaging
Institutions: Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology .
Single-molecule imaging is an important tool for understanding the mechanisms of biomolecular function and for visualizing the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of molecular behaviors that underlie cellular biology 1-4
. To image an individual molecule of interest, it is typically conjugated to a fluorescent tag (dye, protein, bead, or quantum dot) and observed with epifluorescence or total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy. While dyes and fluorescent proteins have been the mainstay of fluorescence imaging for decades, their fluorescence is unstable under high photon fluxes necessary to observe individual molecules, yielding only a few seconds of observation before complete loss of signal. Latex beads and dye-labeled beads provide improved signal stability but at the expense of drastically larger hydrodynamic size, which can deleteriously alter the diffusion and behavior of the molecule under study.
Quantum dots (QDs) offer a balance between these two problematic regimes. These nanoparticles are composed of semiconductor materials and can be engineered with a hydrodynamically compact size with exceptional resistance to photodegradation 5
. Thus in recent years QDs have been instrumental in enabling long-term observation of complex macromolecular behavior on the single molecule level. However these particles have still been found to exhibit impaired diffusion in crowded molecular environments such as the cellular cytoplasm and the neuronal synaptic cleft, where their sizes are still too large 4,6,7
Recently we have engineered the cores and surface coatings of QDs for minimized hydrodynamic size, while balancing offsets to colloidal stability, photostability, brightness, and nonspecific binding that have hindered the utility of compact QDs in the past 8,9
. The goal of this article is to demonstrate the synthesis, modification, and characterization of these optimized nanocrystals, composed of an alloyed Hgx
Se core coated with an insulating Cdy
S shell, further coated with a multidentate polymer ligand modified with short polyethylene glycol (PEG) chains (Figure 1
). Compared with conventional CdSe nanocrystals, Hgx
Se alloys offer greater quantum yields of fluorescence, fluorescence at red and near-infrared wavelengths for enhanced signal-to-noise in cells, and excitation at non-cytotoxic visible wavelengths. Multidentate polymer coatings bind to the nanocrystal surface in a closed and flat conformation to minimize hydrodynamic size, and PEG neutralizes the surface charge to minimize nonspecific binding to cells and biomolecules. The end result is a brightly fluorescent nanocrystal with emission between 550-800 nm and a total hydrodynamic size near 12 nm. This is in the same size range as many soluble globular proteins in cells, and substantially smaller than conventional PEGylated QDs (25-35 nm).
Physics, Issue 68, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, Nanotechnology, Nanoparticle, nanocrystal, synthesis, fluorescence, microscopy, imaging, conjugation, dynamics, intracellular, receptor
Mechanical Expansion of Steel Tubing as a Solution to Leaky Wellbores
Institutions: Louisiana State University.
Wellbore cement, a procedural component of wellbore completion operations, primarily provides zonal isolation and mechanical support of the metal pipe (casing), and protects metal components from corrosive fluids. These are essential for uncompromised wellbore integrity. Cements can undergo multiple forms of failure, such as debonding at the cement/rock and cement/metal interfaces, fracturing, and defects within the cement matrix. Failures and defects within the cement will ultimately lead to fluid migration, resulting in inter-zonal fluid migration and premature well abandonment. Currently, there are over 1.8 million operating wells worldwide and over one third of these wells have leak related problems defined as Sustained Casing Pressure (SCP)1
The focus of this research was to develop an experimental setup at bench-scale to explore the effect of mechanical manipulation of wellbore casing-cement composite samples as a potential technology for the remediation of gas leaks.
The experimental methodology utilized in this study enabled formation of an impermeable seal at the pipe/cement interface in a simulated wellbore system. Successful nitrogen gas flow-through measurements demonstrated that an existing microannulus was sealed at laboratory experimental conditions and fluid flow prevented by mechanical manipulation of the metal/cement composite sample. Furthermore, this methodology can be applied not only for the remediation of leaky wellbores, but also in plugging and abandonment procedures as well as wellbore completions technology, and potentially preventing negative impacts of wellbores on subsurface and surface environments.
Physics, Issue 93, Leaky wellbores, Wellbore cement, Microannular gas flow, Sustained casing pressure, Expandable casing technology.
Harvesting Solar Energy by Means of Charge-Separating Nanocrystals and Their Solids
Institutions: Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green State University.
Conjoining different semiconductor materials in a single nano-composite provides synthetic means for the development of novel optoelectronic materials offering a superior control over the spatial distribution of charge carriers across material interfaces. As this study demonstrates, a combination of donor-acceptor nanocrystal (NC) domains in a single nanoparticle can lead to the realization of efficient photocatalytic1-5
materials, while a layered assembly of donor- and acceptor-like nanocrystals films gives rise to photovoltaic materials.
Initially the paper focuses on the synthesis of composite inorganic nanocrystals, comprising linearly stacked ZnSe, CdS, and Pt domains, which jointly promote photoinduced charge separation. These structures are used in aqueous solutions for the photocatalysis of water under solar radiation, resulting in the production of H2
gas. To enhance the photoinduced separation of charges, a nanorod morphology with a linear gradient originating from an intrinsic electric field is used5
. The inter-domain energetics are then optimized to drive photogenerated electrons toward the Pt catalytic site while expelling the holes to the surface of ZnSe domains for sacrificial regeneration (via methanol). Here we show that the only efficient way to produce hydrogen is to use electron-donating ligands to passivate the surface states by tuning the energy level alignment at the semiconductor-ligand interface. Stable and efficient reduction of water is allowed by these ligands due to the fact that they fill vacancies in the valence band of the semiconductor domain, preventing energetic holes from degrading it. Specifically, we show that the energy of the hole is transferred to the ligand moiety, leaving the semiconductor domain functional. This enables us to return the entire nanocrystal-ligand system to a functional state, when the ligands are degraded, by simply adding fresh ligands to the system4
To promote a photovoltaic charge separation, we use a composite two-layer solid of PbS and TiO2
films. In this configuration, photoinduced electrons are injected into TiO2
and are subsequently picked up by an FTO electrode, while holes are channeled to a Au electrode via PbS layer6
. To develop the latter we introduce a Semiconductor Matrix Encapsulated Nanocrystal Arrays
(SMENA) strategy, which allows bonding PbS NCs into the surrounding matrix of CdS semiconductor. As a result, fabricated solids exhibit excellent thermal stability, attributed to the heteroepitaxial structure of nanocrystal-matrix interfaces, and show compelling light-harvesting performance in prototype solar cells7
Physics, Issue 66, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Photovoltaics, nanorods, dye-sensitized, solids, titanium dioxide, photocatalysis, quantum dots
A Simple Stimulatory Device for Evoking Point-like Tactile Stimuli: A Searchlight for LFP to Spike Transitions
Institutions: National Research Council, National Research Council, University of Manchester.
Current neurophysiological research has the aim to develop methodologies to investigate the signal route from neuron to neuron, namely in the transitions from spikes to Local Field Potentials (LFPs) and from LFPs to spikes.
LFPs have a complex dependence on spike activity and their relation is still poorly understood1
. The elucidation of these signal relations would be helpful both for clinical diagnostics (e.g.
stimulation paradigms for Deep Brain Stimulation) and for a deeper comprehension of neural coding strategies in normal and pathological conditions (e.g.
epilepsy, Parkinson disease, chronic pain). To this aim, one has to solve technical issues related to stimulation devices, stimulation paradigms and computational analyses. Therefore, a custom-made stimulation device was developed in order to deliver stimuli well regulated in space and time that does not incur in mechanical resonance. Subsequently, as an exemplification, a set of reliable LFP-spike relationships was extracted.
The performance of the device was investigated by extracellular recordings, jointly spikes and LFP responses to the applied stimuli, from the rat Primary Somatosensory cortex. Then, by means of a multi-objective optimization strategy, a predictive model for spike occurrence based on LFPs was estimated.
The application of this paradigm shows that the device is adequately suited to deliver high frequency tactile stimulation, outperforming common piezoelectric actuators. As a proof of the efficacy of the device, the following results were presented: 1) the timing and reliability of LFP responses well match the spike responses, 2) LFPs are sensitive to the stimulation history and capture not only the average response but also the trial-to-trial fluctuations in the spike activity and, finally, 3) by using the LFP signal it is possible to estimate a range of predictive models that capture different aspects of the spike activity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, LFP, spike, tactile stimulus, Multiobjective function, Neuron, somatosensory cortex
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
Measuring Material Microstructure Under Flow Using 1-2 Plane Flow-Small Angle Neutron Scattering
Institutions: University of Delaware, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Institut Laue-Langevin.
A new small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) sample environment optimized for studying the microstructure of complex fluids under simple shear flow is presented. The SANS shear cell consists of a concentric cylinder Couette geometry that is sealed and rotating about a horizontal axis so that the vorticity direction of the flow field is aligned with the neutron beam enabling scattering from the 1-2 plane of shear (velocity-velocity gradient, respectively). This approach is an advance over previous shear cell sample environments as there is a strong coupling between the bulk rheology and microstructural features in the 1-2 plane of shear. Flow-instabilities, such as shear banding, can also be studied by spatially resolved measurements. This is accomplished in this sample environment by using a narrow aperture for the neutron beam and scanning along the velocity gradient direction. Time resolved experiments, such as flow start-ups and large amplitude oscillatory shear flow are also possible by synchronization of the shear motion and time-resolved detection of scattered neutrons. Representative results using the methods outlined here demonstrate the useful nature of spatial resolution for measuring the microstructure of a wormlike micelle solution that exhibits shear banding, a phenomenon that can only be investigated by resolving the structure along the velocity gradient direction. Finally, potential improvements to the current design are discussed along with suggestions for supplementary experiments as motivation for future experiments on a broad range of complex fluids in a variety of shear motions.
Physics, Issue 84, Surfactants, Rheology, Shear Banding, Nanostructure, Neutron Scattering, Complex Fluids, Flow-induced Structure
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Steady-state, Pre-steady-state, and Single-turnover Kinetic Measurement for DNA Glycosylase Activity
Institutions: NIEHS, National Institutes of Health.
Human 8-oxoguanine DNA glycosylase (OGG1) excises the mutagenic oxidative DNA lesion 8-oxo-7,8-dihydroguanine (8-oxoG) from DNA. Kinetic characterization of OGG1 is undertaken to measure the rates of 8-oxoG excision and product release. When the OGG1 concentration is lower than substrate DNA, time courses of product formation are biphasic; a rapid exponential phase (i.e.
burst) of product formation is followed by a linear steady-state phase. The initial burst of product formation corresponds to the concentration of enzyme properly engaged on the substrate, and the burst amplitude depends on the concentration of enzyme. The first-order rate constant of the burst corresponds to the intrinsic rate of 8-oxoG excision and the slower steady-state rate measures the rate of product release (product DNA dissociation rate constant, koff
). Here, we describe steady-state, pre-steady-state, and single-turnover approaches to isolate and measure specific steps during OGG1 catalytic cycling. A fluorescent labeled lesion-containing oligonucleotide and purified OGG1 are used to facilitate precise kinetic measurements. Since low enzyme concentrations are used to make steady-state measurements, manual mixing of reagents and quenching of the reaction can be performed to ascertain the steady-state rate (koff
). Additionally, extrapolation of the steady-state rate to a point on the ordinate at zero time indicates that a burst of product formation occurred during the first turnover (i.e.
y-intercept is positive). The first-order rate constant of the exponential burst phase can be measured using a rapid mixing and quenching technique that examines the amount of product formed at short time intervals (<1 sec) before the steady-state phase and corresponds to the rate of 8-oxoG excision (i.e.
chemistry). The chemical step can also be measured using a single-turnover approach where catalytic cycling is prevented by saturating substrate DNA with enzyme (E>S). These approaches can measure elementary rate constants that influence the efficiency of removal of a DNA lesion.
Chemistry, Issue 78, Biochemistry, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Structural Biology, Chemical Biology, Eukaryota, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, Nucleic Acids, Nucleotides, and Nucleosides, Enzymes and Coenzymes, Life Sciences (General), enzymology, rapid quench-flow, active site titration, steady-state, pre-steady-state, single-turnover, kinetics, base excision repair, DNA glycosylase, 8-oxo-7,8-dihydroguanine, 8-oxoG, sequencing
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
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
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
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
Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2
facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2
field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4
, and Ca2+
had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
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
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
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
Choice and No-Choice Assays for Testing the Resistance of A. thaliana to Chewing Insects
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
Testing the Physiological Barriers to Viral Transmission in Aphids Using Microinjection
Institutions: Cornell University, Cornell University.
Potato loafroll virus (PLRV), from the family Luteoviridae infects solanaceous plants. It is transmitted by aphids, primarily, the green peach aphid. When an uninfected aphid feeds on an infected plant it contracts the virus through the plant phloem. Once ingested, the virus must pass from the insect gut to the hemolymph (the insect blood ) and then must pass through the salivary gland, in order to be transmitted back to a new plant. An aphid may take up different viruses when munching on a plant, however only a small fraction will pass through the gut and salivary gland, the two main barriers for transmission to infect more plants. In the lab, we use physalis plants to study PLRV transmission. In this host, symptoms are characterized by stunting and interveinal chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves between the veins with the veins remaining green). The video that we present demonstrates a method for performing aphid microinjection on insects that do not vector PLVR viruses and tests whether the gut is preventing viral transmission.
The video that we present demonstrates a method for performing Aphid microinjection on insects that do not vector PLVR viruses and tests whether the gut or salivary gland is preventing viral transmission.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Aphids, Plant Virus, Potato Leaf Roll Virus, Microinjection Technique
Modified Mouse Embryonic Stem Cell based Assay for Quantifying Cardiogenic Induction Efficiency
Institutions: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Veterans Administration TVHS.
Differentiation of pluripotent stem cells is tightly controlled by temporal and spatial regulation of multiple key signaling pathways. One of the hurdles to its understanding has been the varied methods in correlating changes of key signaling events to differentiation efficiency. We describe here the use of a mouse embryonic stem (ES) cell based assay to identify critical time windows for Wnt/β-catenin and BMP signal activation during cardiogenic induction. By scoring for contracting embryonic bodies (EBs) in a 96-well plate format, we can quickly quantify cardiogenic efficiency and identify crucial time windows for Wnt/β-catenin and BMP signal activation in a time course following specific modulator treatments. The principal outlined here is not limited to cardiac induction alone, and can be applied towards the study of many other cell lineages. In addition, the 96-well format has the potential to be further developed as a high throughput, automated assay to allow for the testing of more sophisticated experimental hypotheses.
Cellular Biology, Issue 50, Embryonic stem cells (ES) cells, embryonic bodies (EB), signaling pathways, modulators, 96-round bottom well microtiter plates and hanging droplets.