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.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
A Comparative Approach to Characterize the Landscape of Host-Pathogen Protein-Protein Interactions
Institutions: Institut Pasteur , Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Significant efforts were gathered to generate large-scale comprehensive protein-protein interaction network maps. This is instrumental to understand the pathogen-host relationships and was essentially performed by genetic screenings in yeast two-hybrid systems. The recent improvement of protein-protein interaction detection by a Gaussia
luciferase-based fragment complementation assay now offers the opportunity to develop integrative comparative interactomic approaches necessary to rigorously compare interaction profiles of proteins from different pathogen strain variants against a common set of cellular factors.
This paper specifically focuses on the utility of combining two orthogonal methods to generate protein-protein interaction datasets: yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) and a new assay, high-throughput Gaussia princeps
protein complementation assay (HT-GPCA) performed in mammalian cells.
A large-scale identification of cellular partners of a pathogen protein is performed by mating-based yeast two-hybrid screenings of cDNA libraries using multiple pathogen strain variants. A subset of interacting partners selected on a high-confidence statistical scoring is further validated in mammalian cells for pair-wise interactions with the whole set of pathogen variants proteins using HT-GPCA. This combination of two complementary methods improves the robustness of the interaction dataset, and allows the performance of a stringent comparative interaction analysis. Such comparative interactomics constitute a reliable and powerful strategy to decipher any pathogen-host interplays.
Immunology, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Infection, Cancer Biology, Virology, Medicine, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Protein-protein interaction, High-throughput screening, Luminescence, Yeast two-hybrid, HT-GPCA, Network, protein, yeast, cell, culture
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
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
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
Single-cell Profiling of Developing and Mature Retinal Neurons
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Highly specialized, but exceedingly small populations of cells play important roles in many tissues. The identification of cell-type specific markers and gene expression programs for extremely rare cell subsets has been a challenge using standard whole-tissue approaches. Gene expression profiling of individual cells allows for unprecedented access to cell types that comprise only a small percentage of the total tissue1-7
. In addition, this technique can be used to examine the gene expression programs that are transiently expressed in small numbers of cells during dynamic developmental transitions8
This issue of cellular diversity arises repeatedly in the central nervous system (CNS) where neuronal connections can occur between quite diverse cells9
. The exact number of distinct cell types is not precisely known, but it has been estimated that there may be as many as 1000 different types in the cortex itself10
. The function(s) of complex neural circuits may rely on some of the rare neuronal types and the genes they express. By identifying new markers and helping to molecularly classify different neurons, the single-cell approach is particularly useful in the analysis of cell types in the nervous system. It may also help to elucidate mechanisms of neural development by identifying differentially expressed genes and gene pathways during early stages of neuronal progenitor development.
As a simple, easily accessed tissue with considerable neuronal diversity, the vertebrate retina is an excellent model system for studying the processes of cellular development, neuronal differentiation and neuronal diversification. However, as in other parts of the CNS, this cellular diversity can present a problem for determining the genetic pathways that drive retinal progenitors to adopt a specific cell fate, especially given that rod photoreceptors make up the majority of the total retinal cell population11
. Here we report a method for the identification of the transcripts expressed in single retinal cells (Figure 1
). The single-cell profiling technique allows for the assessment of the amount of heterogeneity present within different cellular populations of the retina2,4,5,12
. In addition, this method has revealed a host of new candidate genes that may play role(s) in the cell fate decision-making processes that occur in subsets of retinal progenitor cells8
. With some simple adjustments to the protocol, this technique can be utilized for many different tissues and cell types.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Single-cells, transcriptomics, gene expression, cell-type markers, retina, neurons, genetics
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2
used the ab initio
accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio
folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5
. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
Visualization of Mitochondrial DNA Replication in Individual Cells by EdU Signal Amplification
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Mitochondria are key regulators of cellular energy and mitochondrial biogenesis is an essential component of regulating mitochondria numbers in healthy cells1-3
. One approach for monitoring mitochondrial biogenesis is to measure the rate of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replication4
. We developed a sensitive technique to label newly synthesized mtDNA in individual cells in order to study mtDNA biogenesis. The technique combines the incorporation of 5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine (EdU)5-7
with a tyramide signal amplification (TSA)8
protocol to visualize mtDNA replication within subcellular compartments of neurons. EdU is superior to other thymidine analogs, such as 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdU), because the initial click reaction to label EdU5-7
does not require the harsh acid treatments or enzyme digests that are required for exposing the BrdU epitope. The milder labeling of EdU allows for direct comparison of its incorporation with other cellular markers9-10
. The ability to visualize and quantify mtDNA biogenesis provides an essential tool for investigating the mechanisms used to regulate mitochondrial biogenesis and would provide insight into the pathogenesis associated with drug toxicity, aging, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Our technique is applicable to sensory neurons as well as other cell types. The use of this technique to measure mtDNA biogenesis has significant implications in furthering the understanding of both normal cellular physiology as well as impaired disease states.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, mitochondria, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), 5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine (EdU), labeling, tyramide signal amplification, mtDNA biogenesis, dorsal root ganglion neurons
Whole-mount Immunohistochemical Analysis for Embryonic Limb Skin Vasculature: a Model System to Study Vascular Branching Morphogenesis in Embryo
Institutions: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health.
Whole-mount immunohistochemical analysis for imaging the entire vasculature is pivotal for understanding the cellular mechanisms of branching morphogenesis. We have developed the limb skin vasculature model to study vascular development in which a pre-existing primitive capillary plexus is reorganized into a hierarchically branched vascular network. Whole-mount confocal microscopy with multiple labelling allows for robust imaging of intact blood vessels as well as their cellular components including endothelial cells, pericytes and smooth muscle cells, using specific fluorescent markers. Advances in this limb skin vasculature model with genetic studies have improved understanding molecular mechanisms of vascular development and patterning. The limb skin vasculature model has been used to study how peripheral nerves provide a spatial template for the differentiation and patterning of arteries. This video article describes a simple and robust protocol to stain intact blood vessels with vascular specific antibodies and fluorescent secondary antibodies, which is applicable for vascularized embryonic organs where we are able to follow the process of vascular development.
Developmental Biology, Issue 51, Confocal microscopy, whole-mount immunohistochemistry, mouse embryo, blood vessel, lymphatic vessel, vascular patterning, arterial differentiation
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Visualization of Mitochondrial Respiratory Function using Cytochrome C Oxidase / Succinate Dehydrogenase (COX/SDH) Double-labeling Histochemistry
Institutions: Karolinska Institutet, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) defects are an important cause of disease and may underlie aging and aging-related alterations 1,2
. The mitochondrial theory of aging suggests a role for mtDNA mutations, which can alter bioenergetics homeostasis and cellular function, in the aging process 3
. A wealth of evidence has been compiled in support of this theory 1,4
, an example being the mtDNA mutator mouse 5
; however, the precise role of mtDNA damage in aging is not entirely understood 6,7
Observing the activity of respiratory enzymes is a straightforward approach for investigating mitochondrial dysfunction. Complex IV, or cytochrome c
oxidase (COX), is essential for mitochondrial function. The catalytic subunits of COX are encoded by mtDNA and are essential for assembly of the complex (Figure 1). Thus, proper synthesis and function are largely based on mtDNA integrity 2
. Although other respiratory complexes could be investigated, Complexes IV and II are the most amenable to histochemical examination 8,9
. Complex II, or succinate dehydrogenase (SDH), is entirely encoded by nuclear DNA (Figure 1), and its activity is typically not affected by impaired mtDNA, although an increase might indicate mitochondrial biogenesis 10-12
. The impaired mtDNA observed in mitochondrial diseases, aging, and age-related diseases often leads to the presence of cells with low or absent COX activity 2,12-14
. Although COX and SDH activities can be investigated individually, the sequential double-labeling method 15,16
has proved to be advantageous in locating cells with mitochondrial dysfunction 12,17-21
Many of the optimal constitutions of the assay have been determined, such as substrate concentration, electron acceptors/donors, intermediate electron carriers, influence of pH, and reaction time 9,22,23
. 3,3'-diaminobenzidine (DAB) is an effective and reliable electron donor 22
. In cells with functioning COX, the brown indamine polymer product will localize in mitochondrial cristae and saturate cells 22
. Those cells with dysfunctional COX will therefore not be saturated by the DAB product, allowing for the visualization of SDH activity by reduction of nitroblue tetrazolium (NBT), an electron acceptor, to a blue formazan end product 9,24
. Cytochrome c
and sodium succinate substrates are added to normalize endogenous levels between control and diseased/mutant tissues 9
. Catalase is added as a precaution to avoid possible contaminating reactions from peroxidase activity 9,22
. Phenazine methosulfate (PMS), an intermediate electron carrier, is used in conjunction with sodium azide, a respiratory chain inhibitor, to increase the formation of the final reaction products 9,25
. Despite this information, some critical details affecting the result of this seemly straightforward assay, in addition to specificity controls and advances in the technique, have not yet been presented.
Cellular Biology, Issue 57, aging, brain, COX/SDH, histochemistry, mitochondria, mitochondrial disease, mitochondrial dysfunction, mtDNA, mtDNA mutations, respiratory chain
Primer Extension Capture: Targeted Sequence Retrieval from Heavily Degraded DNA Sources
Institutions: Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig.
We present a method of targeted DNA sequence retrieval from DNA sources which are heavily degraded and contaminated with microbial DNA, as is typical of ancient bones. The method greatly reduces sample destruction and sequencing demands relative to direct PCR or shotgun sequencing approaches. We used this method to reconstruct the complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genomes of five Neandertals from across their geographic range. The mtDNA genetic diversity of the late Neandertals was approximately three times lower than that of contemporary modern humans. Together with analyses of mtDNA protein evolution, these data suggest that the long-term effective population size of Neandertals was smaller than that of modern humans and extant great apes.
Cellular Biology, Issue 31, Neandertal, anthropology, evolution, ancient DNA, DNA sequencing, targeted sequencing, capture
Cell Block Preparation from Cytology Specimen with Predominance of Individually Scattered Cells
Institutions: University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
This video demonstrates Shidham's method for preparation of cell blocks from liquid based cervicovaginal cytology specimens containing individually scattered cells and small cell groups. This technique uses HistoGel (Thermo Scientific) with conventional laboratory equipment.
The use of cell block sections is a valuable ancillary tool for evaluation of non-gynecologic cytology. They enable the cytopathologist to study additional morphologic specimen detail including the architecture of the lesion. Most importantly, they allow for the evaluation of ancillary studies such as immunocytochemistry, in-situ hybridization tests (FISH/CISH) and in-situ polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Traditional cell block preparation techniques have mostly been applied to non-gynecologic cytology specimens, typically for body fluid effusions and fine needle aspiration biopsies.
Liquid based cervicovaginal specimens are relatively less cellular than their non-gynecologic counterparts with many individual scattered cells. Because of this, adequate cellularity within the cell block sections is difficult to achieve. In addition, the histotechnologist sectioning the block cannot visualize the level at which the cells are at the highest concentration. Therefore, it is difficult to monitor the appropriate level at which sections can be selected to be transferred to the glass slides for testing. As a result, the area of the cell block with the cells of interest may be missed, either by cutting past or not cutting deep enough. Current protocol for Shidham's method addresses these issues. Although this protocol is standardized and reported for gynecologic liquid based cytology specimens, it can also be applied to non-gynecologic specimens such as effusion fluids, FNA, brushings, cyst contents etc for improved quality of diagnostic material in cell block sections.
Cellular Biology, Issue 29, surgical pathology, cytopathology, FNA, cellblocks, SCIP. immunohistochemistry
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Deep Neuromuscular Blockade Leads to a Larger Intraabdominal Volume During Laparoscopy
Institutions: Aleris-Hamlet Hospitals, Soeborg, Denmark, Aleris-Hamlet Hospitals, Soeborg, Denmark.
Shoulder pain is a commonly reported symptom following laparoscopic procedures such as myomectomy or hysterectomy, and recent studies have shown that lowering the insufflation pressure during surgery may reduce the risk of post-operative pain. In this pilot study, a method is presented for measuring the intra-abdominal space available to the surgeon during laproscopy, in order to examine whether the relaxation produced by deep neuromuscular blockade can increase the working surgical space sufficiently to permit a reduction in the CO2
insufflation pressure. Using the laproscopic grasper, the distance from the promontory to the skin is measured at two different insufflation pressures: 8 mm Hg and 12 mm Hg. After the initial measurements, a neuromuscular blocking agent (rocuronium) is administered to the patient and the intra-abdominal volume is measured again. Pilot data collected from 15 patients shows that the intra-abdominal space at 8 mm Hg with blockade is comparable to the intra-abdominal space measured at 12 mm Hg without blockade. The impact of neuromuscular blockade was not correlated with patient height, weight, BMI, and age. Thus, using neuromuscular blockade to maintain a steady volume while reducing insufflation pressure may produce improved patient outcomes.
Medicine, Issue 76, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurobiology, Surgery, gynecology, laparoscopy, deep neuromuscular blockade, reversal, rocuronium, sugammadex, laparoscopic surgery, clinical techniques, surgical techniques
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut