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Bromeliad selection by two salamander species in a harsh environment.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
Bromeliad phytotelmata are frequently used by several Neotropical amphibian taxa, possibly due to their high humidity, microclimatic stability, and role as a refuge from predators. Indeed, the ability of phytotelmata to buffer against adverse environmental conditions may be instrumental in allowing some amphibian species to survive during periods of environmental change or to colonize sub-optimal habitats. Association between bromeliad traits and salamanders has not been studied at a fine scale, despite the intimate association of many salamander species with bromeliads. Here, we identify microhabitat characteristics of epiphytic bromeliads used by two species of the Bolitoglossa morio group (B. morio and B. pacaya) in forest disturbed by volcanic activity in Guatemala. Specifically, we measured multiple variables for bromeliads (height and position in tree, phytotelma water temperature and pH, canopy cover, phytotelma size, leaf size, and tree diameter at breast height), as well as salamander size. We employed a DNA barcoding approach to identify salamanders. We found that B. morio and B. pacaya occurred in microsympatry in bromeliads and that phytotelmata size and temperature of bromeliad microhabitat were the most important factors associated with the presence of salamanders. Moreover, phytotelmata with higher pH contained larger salamanders, suggesting that larger salamanders or aggregated individuals might modify pH. These results show that bromeliad selection is nonrandom with respect to microhabitat characteristics, and provide insight into the relationship between salamanders and this unique arboreal environment.
One of the central tasks in retinal neuroscience is to understand the circuitry of retinal neurons and how those connections are responsible for shaping the signals transmitted to the brain. Photons are detected in the retina by rod and cone photoreceptors, which convert that energy into an electrical signal, transmitting it to other retinal neurons, where it is processed and communicated to central targets in the brain via the optic nerve. Important early insights into retinal circuitry and visual processing came from the histological studies of Cajal1,2 and, later, from electrophysiological recordings of the spiking activity of retinal ganglion cells - the output cells of the retina3,4. A detailed understanding of visual processing in the retina requires an understanding of the signaling at each step in the pathway from photoreceptor to retinal ganglion cell. However, many retinal cell types are buried deep in the tissue and therefore relatively inaccessible for electrophysiological recording. This limitation can be overcome by working with vertical slices, in which cells residing within each of the retinal layers are clearly visible and accessible for electrophysiological recording. Here, we describe a method for making vertical sections of retinas from larval tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum). While this preparation was originally developed for recordings with sharp microelectrodes5,6, we describe a method for dual whole-cell voltage clamp recordings from photoreceptors and second-order horizontal and bipolar cells in which we manipulate the photoreceptor's membrane potential while simultaneously recording post-synaptic responses in horizontal or bipolar cells. The photoreceptors of the tiger salamander are considerably larger than those of mammalian species, making this an ideal preparation in which to undertake this technically challenging experimental approach. These experiments are described with an eye toward probing the signaling properties of the synaptic ribbon - a specialized synaptic structure found in a only a handful of neurons, including rod and cone photoreceptors, that is well suited for maintaining a high rate of tonic neurotransmitter release7,8 - and how it contributes to the unique signaling properties of this first retinal synapse.
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Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Authors: Mackenzie J. Denyes, Michèle A. Parisien, Allison Rutter, Barbara A. Zeeb.
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
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.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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A Venturi Effect Can Help Cure Our Trees
Authors: Lucio Montecchio.
Institutions: Unversity of Padova.
In woody plants, xylem sap moves upwards through the vessels due to a decreasing gradient of water potential from the groundwater to the foliage. According to these factors and their dynamics, small amounts of sap-compatible liquids (i.e. pesticides) can be injected into the xylem system, reaching their target from inside. This endotherapic method, called "trunk injection" or "trunk infusion" (depending on whether the user supplies an external pressure or not), confines the applied chemicals only within the target tree, thereby making it particularly useful in urban situations. The main factors limiting wider use of the traditional drilling methods are related to negative side effects of the holes that must be drilled around the trunk circumference in order to gain access to the xylem vessels beneath the bark. The University of Padova (Italy) recently developed a manual, drill-free instrument with a small, perforated blade that enters the trunk by separating the woody fibers with minimal friction. Furthermore, the lenticular shaped blade reduces the vessels' cross section, increasing sap velocity and allowing the natural uptake of an external liquid up to the leaves, when transpiration rate is substantial. Ports partially close soon after the removal of the blade due to the natural elasticity and turgidity of the plant tissues, and the cambial activity completes the healing process in few weeks.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Trunk injection, systemic injection, xylematic injection, endotherapy, sap flow, Bernoulli principle, plant diseases, pesticides, desiccants
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Authors: Grant E. Johnson, K. Don Dasitha Gunaratne, Julia Laskin.
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3]2+ (bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
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Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Authors: Jacob Michael Froehlich, Iban Seiliez, Jean-Charles Gabillard, Peggy R. Biga.
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata, however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e. teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e. urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4.
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
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Combined DNA-RNA Fluorescent In situ Hybridization (FISH) to Study X Chromosome Inactivation in Differentiated Female Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells
Authors: Tahsin Stefan Barakat, Joost Gribnau.
Institutions: Erasmus MC - University Medical Center.
Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) is a molecular technique which enables the detection of nucleic acids in cells. DNA FISH is often used in cytogenetics and cancer diagnostics, and can detect aberrations of the genome, which often has important clinical implications. RNA FISH can be used to detect RNA molecules in cells and has provided important insights in regulation of gene expression. Combining DNA and RNA FISH within the same cell is technically challenging, as conditions suitable for DNA FISH might be too harsh for fragile, single stranded RNA molecules. We here present an easily applicable protocol which enables the combined, simultaneous detection of Xist RNA and DNA encoded by the X chromosomes. This combined DNA-RNA FISH protocol can likely be applied to other systems where both RNA and DNA need to be detected.
Biochemistry, Issue 88, Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH), combined DNA-RNA FISH, ES cell, cytogenetics, single cell analysis, X chromosome inactivation (XCI), Xist, Bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC), DNA-probe, Rnf12
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Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Authors: Kristen K. McCampbell, Kristin N. Springer, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90, zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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An Experimental and Bioinformatics Protocol for RNA-seq Analyses of Photoperiodic Diapause in the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus
Authors: Monica F. Poelchau, Xin Huang, Allison Goff, Julie Reynolds, Peter Armbruster.
Institutions: Georgetown University, The Ohio State University.
Photoperiodic diapause is an important adaptation that allows individuals to escape harsh seasonal environments via a series of physiological changes, most notably developmental arrest and reduced metabolism. Global gene expression profiling via RNA-Seq can provide important insights into the transcriptional mechanisms of photoperiodic diapause. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, is an outstanding organism for studying the transcriptional bases of diapause due to its ease of rearing, easily induced diapause, and the genomic resources available. This manuscript presents a general experimental workflow for identifying diapause-induced transcriptional differences in A. albopictus. Rearing techniques, conditions necessary to induce diapause and non-diapause development, methods to estimate percent diapause in a population, and RNA extraction and integrity assessment for mosquitoes are documented. A workflow to process RNA-Seq data from Illumina sequencers culminates in a list of differentially expressed genes. The representative results demonstrate that this protocol can be used to effectively identify genes differentially regulated at the transcriptional level in A. albopictus due to photoperiodic differences. With modest adjustments, this workflow can be readily adapted to study the transcriptional bases of diapause or other important life history traits in other mosquitoes.
Genetics, Issue 93, Aedes albopictus Asian tiger mosquito, photoperiodic diapause, RNA-Seq de novo transcriptome assembly, mosquito husbandry
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Reduced Itraconazole Concentration and Durations Are Successful in Treating Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis Infection in Amphibians
Authors: Laura A. Brannelly.
Institutions: James Cook University.
Amphibians are experiencing the greatest decline of any vertebrate class and a leading cause of these declines is a fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which causes the disease chytridiomycosis. Captive assurance colonies are important worldwide for threatened amphibian species and may be the only lifeline for those in critical threat of extinction. Maintaining disease free colonies is a priority of captive managers, yet safe and effective treatments for all species and across life stages have not been identified. The most widely used chemotherapeutic treatment is itraconazole, although the dosage commonly used can be harmful to some individuals and species. We performed a clinical treatment trial to assess whether a lower and safer but effective dose of itraconazole could be found to cure Bd infections. We found that by reducing the treatment concentration from 0.01-0.0025% and reducing the treatment duration from 11-6 days of 5 min baths, frogs could be cured of Bd infection with fewer side effects and less treatment-associated mortality.
Immunology, Issue 85, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, itraconazole, chytridiomycosis, captive assurance colonies, amphibian conservation
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g., food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides. We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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Using Laser Tweezers For Manipulating Isolated Neurons In Vitro
Authors: Robert Clarke, Jianfeng Wang, Ellen Townes-Anderson.
Institutions: University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey - UMDNJ.
In this paper and video, we describe the protocols used in our laboratory to study the targeting preferences of regenerating cell processes of adult retinal neurons in vitro. Procedures for preparing retinal cell cultures start with the dissection, digestion and trituration of the retina, and end with the plating of isolated retinal cells on dishes made especially for use with laser tweezers. These dishes are divided into a cell adhesive half and a cell repellant half. The cell adhesive side is coated with a layer of Sal-1 antibodies, which provide a substrate upon which our cells grow. Other adhesive substrates could be used for other cell types. The cell repellant side is coated with a thin layer of poly-HEMA. The cells plated on the poly-HEMA side of the dish are trapped with the laser tweezers, transported and then placed adjacent to a cell on the Sal-1 side to create a pair. Formation of cell groups of any size should be possible with this technique. "Laser-tweezers-controlled micromanipulation" means that the investigator can choose which cells to move, and the desired distance between the cells can be standardized. Because the laser beam goes through transparent surfaces of the culture dish, cell selection and placement are done in an enclosed, sterile environment. Cells can be monitored by video time-lapse and used with any cell biological technique required. This technique may help investigations of cell-cell interactions.
cell biology, Issue 19, neuron, laser, in vitro, culture dish,
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Environmentally Induced Heritable Changes in Flax
Authors: Cory Johnson, Tiffanie Moss, Christopher Cullis.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Some flax varieties respond to nutrient stress by modifying their genome and these modifications can be inherited through many generations. Also associated with these genomic changes are heritable phenotypic variations 1,2. The flax variety Stormont Cirrus (Pl) when grown under three different nutrient conditions can either remain inducible (under the control conditions), or become stably modified to either the large or small genotroph by growth under high or low nutrient conditions respectively. The lines resulting from the initial growth under each of these conditions appear to grow better when grown under the same conditions in subsequent generations, notably the Pl line grows best under the control treatment indicating that the plants growing under both the high and low nutrients are under stress. One of the genomic changes that are associated with the induction of heritable changes is the appearance of an insertion element (LIS-1) 3, 4 while the plants are growing under the nutrient stress. With respect to this insertion event, the flax variety Stormont Cirrus (Pl) when grown under three different nutrient conditions can either remain unchanged (under the control conditions), have the insertion appear in all the plants (under low nutrients) and have this transmitted to the next generation, or have the insertion (or parts of it) appear but not be transmitted through generations (under high nutrients) 4. The frequency of the appearance of this insertion indicates that it is under positive selection, which is also consistent with the growth response in subsequent generations. Leaves or meristems harvested at various stages of growth are used for DNA and RNA isolation. The RNA is used to identify variation in expression associated with the various growth environments and/or t he presence/absence of LIS-1. The isolated DNA is used to identify those plants in which the insertion has occurred.
Plant Biology, Issue 47, Flax, genome variation, environmental stress, small RNAs, altered gene expression
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A System for Culturing Iris Pigment Epithelial Cells to Study Lens Regeneration in Newt
Authors: Rital B. Bhavsar, Kenta Nakamura, Panagiotis A. Tsonis.
Institutions: University of Dayton, University of Dayton.
Salamanders like newt and axolotl possess the ability to regenerate many of its lost body parts such as limbs, the tail with spinal cord, eye, brain, heart, the jaw 1. Specifically, newts are unique for its lens regeneration capability. Upon lens removal, IPE cells of the dorsal iris transdifferentiate to lens cells and eventually form a new lens in about a month 2,3. This property of regeneration is never exhibited by the ventral iris cells. The regeneration potential of the iris cells can be studied by making transplants of the in vitro cultured IPE cells. For the culture, the dorsal and ventral iris cells are first isolated from the eye and cultured separately for a time period of 2 weeks (Figure 1). These cultured cells are reaggregated and implanted back to the newt eye. Past studies have shown that the dorsal reaggregate maintains its lens forming capacity whereas the ventral aggregate does not form a lens, recapitulating, thus the in vivo process (Figure 2) 4,5. This system of determining regeneration potential of dorsal and ventral iris cells is very useful in studying the role of genes and proteins involved in lens regeneration.
Cellular Biology, Issue 52, IPE cells, lens, regeneration, newt
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Preparation of Living Isolated Vertebrate Photoreceptor Cells for Fluorescence Imaging
Authors: Nicholas P. Boyer, Chunhe Chen, Yiannis Koutalos.
Institutions: Medical University of South Carolina.
In the vertebrate retina, phototransduction, the conversion of light to an electrical signal, is carried out by the rod and cone photoreceptor cells1-4. Rod photoreceptors are responsible for vision in dim light, cones in bright light. Phototransduction takes place in the outer segment of the photoreceptor cell, a specialized compartment that contains a high concentration of visual pigment, the primary light detector. The visual pigment is composed of a chromophore, 11-cis retinal, attached to a protein, opsin. A photon absorbed by the visual pigment isomerizes the chromophore from 11-cis to all-trans. This photoisomerization brings about a conformational change in the visual pigment that initiates a cascade of reactions culminating in a change in membrane potential, and bringing about the transduction of the light stimulus to an electrical signal. The recovery of the cell from light stimulation involves the deactivation of the intermediates activated by light, and the reestablishment of the membrane potential. Ca2+ modulates the activity of several of the enzymes involved in phototransduction, and its concentration is reduced upon light stimulation. In this way, Ca2+ plays an important role in the recovery of the cell from light stimulation and its adaptation to background light. Another essential part of the recovery process is the regeneration of the visual pigment that has been destroyed during light-detection by the photoisomerization of its 11-cis chromophore to all-trans5-7. This regeneration begins with the release of all-trans retinal by the photoactivated pigment, leaving behind the apo-protein opsin. The released all-trans retinal is rapidly reduced in a reaction utilizing NADPH to all- trans retinol, and opsin combines with fresh 11-cis retinal brought into the outer segment to reform the visual pigment. All-trans retinol is then transferred out of the outer segment and into neighboring cells by the specialized carrier Interphotoreceptor Retinoid Binding Protein (IRBP). Fluorescence imaging of single photoreceptor cells can be used to study their physiology and cell biology. Ca2+-sensitive fluorescent dyes can be used to examine in detail the interplay between outer segment Ca2+ changes and response to light8-12 as well as the role of inner segment Ca2+ stores in Ca2+ homeostasis13,14. Fluorescent dyes can also be used for measuring Mg2+ concentration15, pH, and as tracers of aqueous and membrane compartments16. Finally, the intrinsic fluorescence of all-trans retinol (vitamin A) can be used to monitor the kinetics of its formation and removal in single photoreceptor cells17-19.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, retina, rods, cones, vision, fluorescence
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
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
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
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 (, 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
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A Protocol for Phage Display and Affinity Selection Using Recombinant Protein Baits
Authors: Rekha Kushwaha, Kim R. Schäfermeyer, A. Bruce Downie.
Institutions: University of Kentucky .
Using recombinant phage as a scaffold to present various protein portions encoded by a directionally cloned cDNA library to immobilized bait molecules is an efficient means to discover interactions. The technique has largely been used to discover protein-protein interactions but the bait molecule to be challenged need not be restricted to proteins. The protocol presented here has been optimized to allow a modest number of baits to be screened in replicates to maximize the identification of independent clones presenting the same protein. This permits greater confidence that interacting proteins identified are legitimate interactors of the bait molecule. Monitoring the phage titer after each affinity selection round provides information on how the affinity selection is progressing as well as on the efficacy of negative controls. One means of titering the phage, and how and what to prepare in advance to allow this process to progress as efficiently as possible, is presented. Attributes of amplicons retrieved following isolation of independent plaque are highlighted that can be used to ascertain how well the affinity selection has progressed. Trouble shooting techniques to minimize false positives or to bypass persistently recovered phage are explained. Means of reducing viral contamination flare up are discussed.
Biochemistry, Issue 84, Affinity selection, Phage display, protein-protein interaction
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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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Measurement of Leaf Hydraulic Conductance and Stomatal Conductance and Their Responses to Irradiance and Dehydration Using the Evaporative Flux Method (EFM)
Authors: Lawren Sack, Christine Scoffoni.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Water is a key resource, and the plant water transport system sets limits on maximum growth and drought tolerance. When plants open their stomata to achieve a high stomatal conductance (gs) to capture CO2 for photosynthesis, water is lost by transpiration1,2. Water evaporating from the airspaces is replaced from cell walls, in turn drawing water from the xylem of leaf veins, in turn drawing from xylem in the stems and roots. As water is pulled through the system, it experiences hydraulic resistance, creating tension throughout the system and a low leaf water potential (Ψleaf). The leaf itself is a critical bottleneck in the whole plant system, accounting for on average 30% of the plant hydraulic resistance3. Leaf hydraulic conductance (Kleaf = 1/ leaf hydraulic resistance) is the ratio of the water flow rate to the water potential gradient across the leaf, and summarizes the behavior of a complex system: water moves through the petiole and through several orders of veins, exits into the bundle sheath and passes through or around mesophyll cells before evaporating into the airspace and being transpired from the stomata. Kleaf is of strong interest as an important physiological trait to compare species, quantifying the effectiveness of the leaf structure and physiology for water transport, and a key variable to investigate for its relationship to variation in structure (e.g., in leaf venation architecture) and its impacts on photosynthetic gas exchange. Further, Kleaf responds strongly to the internal and external leaf environment3. Kleaf can increase dramatically with irradiance apparently due to changes in the expression and activation of aquaporins, the proteins involved in water transport through membranes4, and Kleaf declines strongly during drought, due to cavitation and/or collapse of xylem conduits, and/or loss of permeability in the extra-xylem tissues due to mesophyll and bundle sheath cell shrinkage or aquaporin deactivation5-10. Because Kleaf can constrain gs and photosynthetic rate across species in well watered conditions and during drought, and thus limit whole-plant performance they may possibly determine species distributions especially as droughts increase in frequency and severity11-14. We present a simple method for simultaneous determination of Kleaf and gs on excised leaves. A transpiring leaf is connected by its petiole to tubing running to a water source on a balance. The loss of water from the balance is recorded to calculate the flow rate through the leaf. When steady state transpiration (E, mmol • m-2 • s-1) is reached, gs is determined by dividing by vapor pressure deficit, and Kleaf by dividing by the water potential driving force determined using a pressure chamber (Kleaf= E /- Δψleaf, MPa)15. This method can be used to assess Kleaf responses to different irradiances and the vulnerability of Kleaf to dehydration14,16,17.
Plant Biology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Ecology, Biology, Botany, Leaf traits, hydraulics, stomata, transpiration, xylem, conductance, leaf hydraulic conductance, resistance, evaporative flux method, whole plant
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Whole-cell Recordings of Light Evoked Excitatory Synaptic Currents in the Retinal Slice
Authors: Birgit Werner, Paul B. Cook, Christopher L. Passaglia.
Institutions: Boston University, Boston University, Boston University.
We use the whole-cell patch clamp technique to study the synaptic circuitry that underlies visual information processing in the retina. In this video, we will guide you through the process of performing whole-cell recordings of light evoked currents of individual cells in the retinal slice preparation. We use the aquatic tiger salamander as an animal model. We begin by describing the dissection of the eye and show how slices are mounted for electrophysiological recordings. Once the slice is placed in the recording chamber, we demonstrate how to perform whole-cell voltage clamp recordings. We then project visual stimuli onto the photoreceptors in the slice to elicit light-evoked current responses. During the recording we perfuse the slice with pharmacological agents, whereby an 8-channel perfusion system allows us to quickly switch between different agents. The retinal slice preparation is widely used for patch clamp recordings in the retina, in particular to study amacrine or bipolar cells, which are not accessible in a whole-mount preparation.
Neuroscience, Issue 17, Retina, Whole-cell recording, Tiger salamander, Light-evoked currents
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Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
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
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