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 accurately reannotated10. 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 and ProfDistS17 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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Vertical T-maze Choice Assay for Arthropod Response to Odorants
Institutions: University of Florida .
Given the economic importance of insects and arachnids as pests of agricultural crops, urban environments or as vectors of plant and human diseases, various technologies are being developed as control tools. A subset of these tools focuses on modifying the behavior of arthropods by attraction or repulsion. Therefore, arthropods are often the focus of behavioral investigations. Various tools have been developed to measure arthropod behavior, including wind tunnels, flight mills, servospheres, and various types of olfactometers. The purpose of these tools is to measure insect or arachnid response to visual or more often olfactory cues. The vertical T-maze oflactometer described here measures choices performed by insects in response to attractants or repellents. It is a high throughput assay device that takes advantage of the positive phototaxis (attraction to light) and negative geotaxis (tendency to walk or fly upward) exhibited by many arthropods. The olfactometer consists of a 30 cm glass tube that is divided in half with a Teflon strip forming a T-maze. Each half serves as an arm of the olfactometer enabling the test subjects to make a choice between two potential odor fields in assays involving attractants. In assays involving repellents, lack of normal response to known attractants can also be measured as a third variable.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Basic Protocols, Entomology, Behavior, Eukaryota, Organic Chemicals, Chemical Actions and Uses, Life Sciences (General), Behavioral Sciences, Arthropod behavior, chemical ecology, olfactometer, chemotaxis, olfaction, attraction, repulsion, odorant, T-maze, psyllid, Diaphorina citri, insect, anthropod, insect model
Single Particle Electron Microscopy Reconstruction of the Exosome Complex Using the Random Conical Tilt Method
Institutions: Yale University.
Single particle electron microscopy (EM) reconstruction has recently become a popular tool to get the three-dimensional (3D) structure of large macromolecular complexes. Compared to X-ray crystallography, it has some unique advantages. First, single particle EM reconstruction does not need to crystallize the protein sample, which is the bottleneck in X-ray crystallography, especially for large macromolecular complexes. Secondly, it does not need large amounts of protein samples. Compared with milligrams of proteins necessary for crystallization, single particle EM reconstruction only needs several micro-liters of protein solution at nano-molar concentrations, using the negative staining EM method. However, despite a few macromolecular assemblies with high symmetry, single particle EM is limited at relatively low resolution (lower than 1 nm resolution) for many specimens especially those without symmetry. This technique is also limited by the size of the molecules under study, i.e. 100 kDa for negatively stained specimens and 300 kDa for frozen-hydrated specimens in general.
For a new sample of unknown structure, we generally use a heavy metal solution to embed the molecules by negative staining. The specimen is then examined in a transmission electron microscope to take two-dimensional (2D) micrographs of the molecules. Ideally, the protein molecules have a homogeneous 3D structure but exhibit different orientations in the micrographs. These micrographs are digitized and processed in computers as "single particles". Using two-dimensional alignment and classification techniques, homogenous molecules in the same views are clustered into classes. Their averages enhance the signal of the molecule's 2D shapes. After we assign the particles with the proper relative orientation (Euler angles), we will be able to reconstruct the 2D particle images into a 3D virtual volume.
In single particle 3D reconstruction, an essential step is to correctly assign the proper orientation of each single particle. There are several methods to assign the view for each particle, including the angular reconstitution1
and random conical tilt (RCT) method2
. In this protocol, we describe our practice in getting the 3D reconstruction of yeast exosome complex using negative staining EM and RCT. It should be noted that our protocol of electron microscopy and image processing follows the basic principle of RCT but is not the only way to perform the method. We first describe how to embed the protein sample into a layer of Uranyl-Formate with a thickness comparable to the protein size, using a holey carbon grid covered with a layer of continuous thin carbon film. Then the specimen is inserted into a transmission electron microscope to collect untilted (0-degree) and tilted (55-degree) pairs of micrographs that will be used later for processing and obtaining an initial 3D model of the yeast exosome. To this end, we perform RCT and then refine the initial 3D model by using the projection matching refinement method3
Structural Biology, Issue 49, Electron microscopy, single particle three-dimensional reconstruction, exosome complex, negative staining
Application of Two-spotted Spider Mite Tetranychus urticae for Plant-pest Interaction Studies
Institutions: The University of Western Ontario, Instituto de Ciencias de la Vid y el Vino, Ghent University, University of Amsterdam.
The two-spotted spider mite, Tetranychus urticae
, is a ubiquitous polyphagous arthropod herbivore that feeds on a remarkably broad array of species, with more than 150 of economic value. It is a major pest of greenhouse crops, especially in Solanaceae
, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini) and greenhouse ornamentals (e.g.
, roses, chrysanthemum, carnations), annual field crops (such as maize, cotton, soybean, and sugar beet), and in perennial cultures (alfalfa, strawberries, grapes, citruses, and plums)1,2
. In addition to the extreme polyphagy that makes it an important agricultural pest, T. urticae
has a tendency to develop resistance to a wide array of insecticides and acaricides that are used for its control3-7
is an excellent experimental organism, as it has a rapid life cycle (7 days at 27 °C) and can be easily maintained at high density in the laboratory. Methods to assay gene expression (including in situ
hybridization and antibody staining) and to inactivate expression of spider mite endogenous genes using RNA interference have been developed8-10
. Recently, the whole genome sequence of T. urticae
has been reported, creating an opportunity to develop this pest herbivore as a model organism with equivalent genomic resources that already exist in some of its host plants (Arabidopsis thaliana
and the tomato Solanum lycopersicum
. Together, these model organisms could provide insights into molecular bases of plant-pest interactions.
Here, an efficient method for quick and easy collection of a large number of adult female mites, their application on an experimental plant host, and the assessment of the plant damage due to spider mite feeding are described. The presented protocol enables fast and efficient collection of hundreds of individuals at any developmental stage (eggs, larvae, nymphs, adult males, and females) that can be used for subsequent experimental application.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, two-spotted spider mite, plant-herbivore interaction, Tetranychus urticae, Arabidopsis thaliana, plant damage analysis, herbivory, plant pests
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
Electrophysiological Recording in the Brain of Intact Adult Zebrafish
Institutions: University of Georgia, University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University, University of Georgia, University of California, Davis.
Previously, electrophysiological studies in adult zebrafish have been limited to slice preparations or to eye cup preparations and electrorentinogram recordings. This paper describes how an adult zebrafish can be immobilized, intubated, and used for in vivo
electrophysiological experiments, allowing recording of neural activity. Immobilization of the adult requires a mechanism to deliver dissolved oxygen to the gills in lieu of buccal and opercular movement. With our technique, animals are immobilized and perfused with habitat water to fulfill this requirement. A craniotomy is performed under tricaine methanesulfonate (MS-222; tricaine) anesthesia to provide access to the brain. The primary electrode is then positioned within the craniotomy window to record extracellular brain activity. Through the use of a multitube perfusion system, a variety of pharmacological compounds can be administered to the adult fish and any alterations in the neural activity can be observed. The methodology not only allows for observations to be made regarding changes in neurological activity, but it also allows for comparisons to be made between larval and adult zebrafish. This gives researchers the ability to identify the alterations in neurological activity due to the introduction of various compounds at different life stages.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, Zebrafish, adult, Electrophysiology, in vivo, craniotomy, perfusion, neural activity
Assessment of Vascular Function in Patients With Chronic Kidney Disease
Institutions: University of Colorado, Denver, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) have significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to the general population, and this is only partially explained by traditional CVD risk factors. Vascular dysfunction is an important non-traditional risk factor, characterized by vascular endothelial dysfunction (most commonly assessed as impaired endothelium-dependent dilation [EDD]) and stiffening of the large elastic arteries. While various techniques exist to assess EDD and large elastic artery stiffness, the most commonly used are brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (FMDBA
) and aortic pulse-wave velocity (aPWV), respectively. Both of these noninvasive measures of vascular dysfunction are independent predictors of future cardiovascular events in patients with and without kidney disease. Patients with CKD demonstrate both impaired FMDBA
, and increased aPWV. While the exact mechanisms by which vascular dysfunction develops in CKD are incompletely understood, increased oxidative stress and a subsequent reduction in nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability are important contributors. Cellular changes in oxidative stress can be assessed by collecting vascular endothelial cells from the antecubital vein and measuring protein expression of markers of oxidative stress using immunofluorescence. We provide here a discussion of these methods to measure FMDBA
, aPWV, and vascular endothelial cell protein expression.
Medicine, Issue 88, chronic kidney disease, endothelial cells, flow-mediated dilation, immunofluorescence, oxidative stress, pulse-wave velocity
A Novel Method of Drug Administration to Multiple Zebrafish (Danio rerio) and the Quantification of Withdrawal
Institutions: MacEwan University.
Anxiety testing in zebrafish is often studied in combination with the application of pharmacological substances. In these studies, fish are routinely netted and transported between home aquaria and dosing tanks. In order to enhance the ease of compound administration, a novel method for transferring fish between tanks for drug administration was developed. Inserts that are designed for spawning were used to transfer groups of fish into the drug solution, allowing accurate dosing of all fish in the group. This increases the precision and efficiency of dosing, which becomes very important in long schedules of repeated drug administration. We implemented this procedure for use in a study examining the behavior of zebrafish in the light/dark test after administering ethanol with differing 21 day schedules. In fish exposed to daily-moderate amounts of alcohol there was a significant difference in location preference after 2 days of withdrawal when compared to the control group. However, a significant difference in location preference in a group exposed to weekly-binge administration was not observed.
This protocol can be generalized for use with all types of compounds that are water-soluble and may be used in any situation when the behavior of fish during or after long schedules of drug administration is being examined. The light/dark test is also a valuable method of assessing withdrawal-induced changes in anxiety.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Zebrafish, Ethanol, Behavior, Anxiety, Pharmacology, Fish, Neuroscience, Drug administration, Scototaxis
An Experimental and Bioinformatics Protocol for RNA-seq Analyses of Photoperiodic Diapause in the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus
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
Measurement of Greenhouse Gas Flux from Agricultural Soils Using Static Chambers
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems Watershed Management Research Unit.
Measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes between the soil and the atmosphere, in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems, is critical to understanding the biogeochemical drivers of climate change and to the development and evaluation of GHG mitigation strategies based on modulation of landscape management practices. The static chamber-based method described here is based on trapping gases emitted from the soil surface within a chamber and collecting samples from the chamber headspace at regular intervals for analysis by gas chromatography. Change in gas concentration over time is used to calculate flux. This method can be utilized to measure landscape-based flux of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, and to estimate differences between treatments or explore system dynamics over seasons or years. Infrastructure requirements are modest, but a comprehensive experimental design is essential. This method is easily deployed in the field, conforms to established guidelines, and produces data suitable to large-scale GHG emissions studies.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, greenhouse gas, trace gas, gas flux, static chamber, soil, field, agriculture, climate
Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
Recording Behavioral Responses to Reflection in Crayfish
Institutions: Brock University.
Social behavior depends on sensory input from the visual, mechanical and olfactory systems. One important issue concerns the relative roles of each sensory modality in guiding behavior. The role of visual inputs has been examined by isolating visual stimuli from mechanical and chemosensory stimuli. In some studies (Bruski & Dunham, 1987: Delgado-Morales et al.
, 2004) visual inputs have been removed with blindfolds or low light intensity, and effects of remaining sensory modalities have been elucidated. An alternative approach is to study the effects of visual inputs in the absence of any appropriate mechanical and chemosensory cues. This approach aims to identify the exclusive role of visual inputs.
We have used two methods to provide visual stimuli to crayfish without providing chemical and mechanical cues. In one method, crayfish are videotaped in an aquarium where half of the walls are covered in mirrors to provide a reflective environment, and the other half are covered in a non-reflective (matte finish) plastic. This gives the crayfish a choice between reflective and non-reflective environments. The reflective environment provides visual cues in the form of reflected images of the crayfish as it moves throughout half of the tank; these visual cues are missing from the non-reflective half of the tank. An alternative method is to videotape the behavior of crayfish in an aquarium separated by a smaller chamber at each end, with a crayfish in one small chamber providing visual cues and an inert object in the opposite small chamber providing visual input from a non-moving, non-crayfish source.
Our published results indicate that responses of crayfish to the reflective environment depend on socialization and dominance rank. Socialized crayfish spent more time in the reflective environment and exhibited certain behaviors more frequently there than in the non-reflective environment; isolated crayfish showed no such differences. Crayfish that were housed in same-sex pairs developed a social rank of either dominant or subordinate. Responses to reflection differed between dominant and subordinate crayfish (May & Mercier, 2006; May & Mercier, 2007). Dominant crayfish spent more time on the reflective side, entered reflective corners more frequently and spent more time in reflective corners compared to the non-reflective side. Subordinate crayfish walked in reverse more often on the reflective side than on the non-reflective side. Preliminary data suggest similar effects from visual cues provided by a crayfish in a small adjoining chamber (May et al.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 39, social, chemosensory, behavior, visual, dominance, crayfish
Microdissection of Black Widow Spider Silk-producing Glands
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Modern spiders spin high-performance silk fibers with a broad range of biological functions, including locomotion, prey capture and protection of developing offspring 1,2
. Spiders accomplish these tasks by spinning several distinct fiber types that have diverse mechanical properties. Such specialization of fiber types has occurred through the evolution of different silk-producing glands, which function as small biofactories. These biofactories manufacture and store large quantities of silk proteins for fiber production. Through a complex series of biochemical events, these silk proteins are converted from a liquid into a solid material upon extrusion.
Mechanical studies have demonstrated that spider silks are stronger than high-tensile steel 3
. Analyses to understand the relationship between the structure and function of spider silk threads have revealed that spider silk consists largely of proteins, or fibroins, that have block repeats within their protein sequences 4
. Common molecular signatures that contribute to the incredible tensile strength and extensibility of spider silks are being unraveled through the analyses of translated silk cDNAs. Given the extraordinary material properties of spider silks, research labs across the globe are racing to understand and mimic the spinning process to produce synthetic silk fibers for commercial, military and industrial applications. One of the main challenges to spinning artificial spider silk in the research lab involves a complete understanding of the biochemical processes that occur during extrusion of the fibers from the silk-producing glands.
Here we present a method for the isolation of the seven different silk-producing glands from the cobweaving black widow spider, which includes the major and minor ampullate glands [manufactures dragline and scaffolding silk] 5,6
, tubuliform [synthesizes egg case silk] 7,8
, flagelliform [unknown function in cob-weavers], aggregate [makes glue silk], aciniform [synthesizes prey wrapping and egg case threads] 9
and pyriform [produces attachment disc silk] 10
. This approach is based upon anesthetizing the spider with carbon dioxide gas, subsequent separation of the cephalothorax from the abdomen, and microdissection of the abdomen to obtain the silk-producing glands. Following the separation of the different silk-producing glands, these tissues can be used to retrieve different macromolecules for distinct biochemical analyses, including quantitative real-time PCR, northern- and western blotting, mass spectrometry (MS or MS/MS) analyses to identify new silk protein sequences, search for proteins that participate in the silk assembly pathway, or use the intact tissue for cell culture or histological experiments.
Cellular Biology, Issue 47, Spider silk, silk-producing glands, fibroins, structural proteins, spidroins
Testing Visual Sensitivity to the Speed and Direction of Motion in Lizards
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Visual sensitivity, motion perception, operant conditioning, speed, coherence, Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus)
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
Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e.
helping in insect reproduction1
, boosting the immune response2
, pheromone production3
, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4,
Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms.
To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo
C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5
. The incorporation of 13
C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12
C) one. In the end, the 13
C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12
C-unlabeled similar one6
. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species.
Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis
). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13
C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
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
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
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
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Metabolomic Analysis of Rat Brain by High Resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy of Tissue Extracts
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-Marseille Université.
Studies of gene expression on the RNA and protein levels have long been used to explore biological processes underlying disease. More recently, genomics and proteomics have been complemented by comprehensive quantitative analysis of the metabolite pool present in biological systems. This strategy, termed metabolomics, strives to provide a global characterization of the small-molecule complement involved in metabolism. While the genome and the proteome define the tasks cells can perform, the metabolome is part of the actual phenotype. Among the methods currently used in metabolomics, spectroscopic techniques are of special interest because they allow one to simultaneously analyze a large number of metabolites without prior selection for specific biochemical pathways, thus enabling a broad unbiased approach. Here, an optimized experimental protocol for metabolomic analysis by high-resolution NMR spectroscopy is presented, which is the method of choice for efficient quantification of tissue metabolites. Important strengths of this method are (i) the use of crude extracts, without the need to purify the sample and/or separate metabolites; (ii) the intrinsically quantitative nature of NMR, permitting quantitation of all metabolites represented by an NMR spectrum with one reference compound only; and (iii) the nondestructive nature of NMR enabling repeated use of the same sample for multiple measurements. The dynamic range of metabolite concentrations that can be covered is considerable due to the linear response of NMR signals, although metabolites occurring at extremely low concentrations may be difficult to detect. For the least abundant compounds, the highly sensitive mass spectrometry method may be advantageous although this technique requires more intricate sample preparation and quantification procedures than NMR spectroscopy. We present here an NMR protocol adjusted to rat brain analysis; however, the same protocol can be applied to other tissues with minor modifications.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, metabolomics, brain tissue, rodents, neurochemistry, tissue extracts, NMR spectroscopy, quantitative metabolite analysis, cerebral metabolism, metabolic profile