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Pubmed Article
In situ natural product discovery via an artificial marine sponge.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
There is continuing international interest in exploring and developing the therapeutic potential of marine-derived small molecules. Balancing the strategies for ocean based sampling of source organisms versus the potential to endanger fragile ecosystems poses a substantial challenge. In order to mitigate such environmental impacts, we have developed a deployable artificial sponge. This report provides details on its design followed by evidence that it faithfully recapitulates traditional natural product collection protocols. Retrieving this artificial sponge from a tropical ecosystem after deployment for 320 hours afforded three actin-targeting jasplakinolide depsipeptides that had been discovered two decades earlier using traditional sponge specimen collection and isolation procedures. The successful outcome achieved here could reinvigorate marine natural products research, by producing new environmentally innocuous sources of natural products and providing a means to probe the true biosynthetic origins of complex marine-derived scaffolds.
The heterologous production of complex natural products is an approach designed to address current limitations and future possibilities. It is particularly useful for those compounds which possess therapeutic value but cannot be sufficiently produced or would benefit from an improved form of production. The experimental procedures involved can be subdivided into three components: 1) genetic transfer; 2) heterologous reconstitution; and 3) product analysis. Each experimental component is under continual optimization to meet the challenges and anticipate the opportunities associated with this emerging approach. Heterologous biosynthesis begins with the identification of a genetic sequence responsible for a valuable natural product. Transferring this sequence to a heterologous host is complicated by the biosynthetic pathway complexity responsible for product formation. The antibiotic erythromycin A is a good example. Twenty genes (totaling >50 kb) are required for eventual biosynthesis. In addition, three of these genes encode megasynthases, multi-domain enzymes each ~300 kDa in size. This genetic material must be designed and transferred to E. coli for reconstituted biosynthesis. The use of PCR isolation, operon construction, multi-cystronic plasmids, and electro-transformation will be described in transferring the erythromycin A genetic cluster to E. coli. Once transferred, the E. coli cell must support eventual biosynthesis. This process is also challenging given the substantial differences between E. coli and most original hosts responsible for complex natural product formation. The cell must provide necessary substrates to support biosynthesis and coordinately express the transferred genetic cluster to produce active enzymes. In the case of erythromycin A, the E. coli cell had to be engineered to provide the two precursors (propionyl-CoA and (2S)-methylmalonyl-CoA) required for biosynthesis. In addition, gene sequence modifications, plasmid copy number, chaperonin co-expression, post-translational enzymatic modification, and process temperature were also required to allow final erythromycin A formation. Finally, successful production must be assessed. For the erythromycin A case, we will present two methods. The first is liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to confirm and quantify production. The bioactivity of erythromycin A will also be confirmed through use of a bioassay in which the antibiotic activity is tested against Bacillus subtilis. The assessment assays establish erythromycin A biosynthesis from E. coli and set the stage for future engineering efforts to improve or diversify production and for the production of new complex natural compounds using this approach.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential
Authors: Jenna M. Dolhi, Nicholas Ketchum, Rachael M. Morgan-Kiss.
Institutions: Miami University .
Lake Bonney is one of numerous permanently ice-covered lakes located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams. Biota are exposed to numerous environmental stresses, including year-round severe nutrient deficiency, low temperatures, extreme shade, hypersalinity, and 24-hour darkness during the winter 1. These extreme environmental conditions limit the biota in Lake Bonney almost exclusively to microorganisms 2. Single-celled microbial eukaryotes (called "protists") are important players in global biogeochemical cycling 3 and play important ecological roles in the cycling of carbon in the dry valley lakes, occupying both primary and tertiary roles in the aquatic food web. In the dry valley aquatic food web, protists that fix inorganic carbon (autotrophy) are the major producers of organic carbon for organotrophic organisms 4, 2. Phagotrophic or heterotrophic protists capable of ingesting bacteria and smaller protists act as the top predators in the food web 5. Last, an unknown proportion of the protist population is capable of combined mixotrophic metabolism 6, 7. Mixotrophy in protists involves the ability to combine photosynthetic capability with phagotrophic ingestion of prey microorganisms. This form of mixotrophy differs from mixotrophic metabolism in bacterial species, which generally involves uptake dissolved carbon molecules. There are currently very few protist isolates from permanently ice-capped polar lakes, and studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited 8, 4, 9, 10, 5. A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle. We employed an enrichment culture approach to isolate potentially phototrophic and mixotrophic protists from Lake Bonney. Sampling depths in the water column were chosen based on the location of primary production maxima and protist phylogenetic diversity 4, 11, as well as variability in major abiotic factors affecting protist trophic modes: shallow sampling depths are limited for major nutrients, while deeper sampling depths are limited by light availability. In addition, lake water samples were supplemented with multiple types of growth media to promote the growth of a variety of phototrophic organisms. RubisCO catalyzes the rate limiting step in the Calvin Benson Bassham (CBB) cycle, the major pathway by which autotrophic organisms fix inorganic carbon and provide organic carbon for higher trophic levels in aquatic and terrestrial food webs 12. In this study, we applied a radioisotope assay modified for filtered samples 13 to monitor maximum carboxylase activity as a proxy for carbon fixation potential and metabolic versatility in the Lake Bonney enrichment cultures.
Microbiology, Issue 62, Antarctic lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Enrichment cultivation, Microbial eukaryotes, RubisCO
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Concentration of Metabolites from Low-density Planktonic Communities for Environmental Metabolomics using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
Authors: R. Craig Everroad, Seiji Yoshida, Yuuri Tsuboi, Yasuhiro Date, Jun Kikuchi, Shigeharu Moriya.
Institutions: RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Yokohama City University, RIKEN Plant Science Center, Nagoya University.
Environmental metabolomics is an emerging field that is promoting new understanding in how organisms respond to and interact with the environment and each other at the biochemical level1. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is one of several technologies, including gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS), with considerable promise for such studies. Advantages of NMR are that it is suitable for untargeted analyses, provides structural information and spectra can be queried in quantitative and statistical manners against recently available databases of individual metabolite spectra2,3. In addition, NMR spectral data can be combined with data from other omics levels (e.g. transcriptomics, genomics) to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the physiological responses of taxa to each other and the environment4,5,6. However, NMR is less sensitive than other metabolomic techniques, making it difficult to apply to natural microbial systems where sample populations can be low-density and metabolite concentrations low compared to metabolites from well-defined and readily extractable sources such as whole tissues, biofluids or cell-cultures. Consequently, the few direct environmental metabolomic studies of microbes performed to date have been limited to culture-based or easily defined high-density ecosystems such as host-symbiont systems, constructed co-cultures or manipulations of the gut environment where stable isotope labeling can be additionally used to enhance NMR signals7,8,9,10,11,12. Methods that facilitate the concentration and collection of environmental metabolites at concentrations suitable for NMR are lacking. Since recent attention has been given to the environmental metabolomics of organisms within the aquatic environment, where much of the energy and material flow is mediated by the planktonic community13,14, we have developed a method for the concentration and extraction of whole-community metabolites from planktonic microbial systems by filtration. Commercially available hydrophilic poly-1,1-difluoroethene (PVDF) filters are specially treated to completely remove extractables, which can otherwise appear as contaminants in subsequent analyses. These treated filters are then used to filter environmental or experimental samples of interest. Filters containing the wet sample material are lyophilized and aqueous-soluble metabolites are extracted directly for conventional NMR spectroscopy using a standardized potassium phosphate extraction buffer2. Data derived from these methods can be analyzed statistically to identify meaningful patterns, or integrated with other omics levels for comprehensive understanding of community and ecosystem function.
Molecular Biology, Issue 62, environmental metabolomics, metabolic profiling, microbial ecology, plankton, NMR spectroscopy, PCA
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The Polyvinyl Alcohol Sponge Model Implantation
Authors: Desirae L. Deskins, Shidrokh Ardestani, Pampee P. Young.
Institutions: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Wound healing is a complicated, multistep process involving many cell types, growth factors and compounds1-3. Because of this complexity, wound healing studies are most comprehensive when carried out in vivo. There are many in vivo models available to study acute wound healing, including incisional, excisional, dead space, and burns. Dead space models are artificial, porous implants which are used to study tissue formation and the effects of substances on the wound. Some of the commonly used dead space models include polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) sponges, steel wire mesh cylinders, expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) material, and the Cellstick1,2. Each dead space model has its own limitations based on its material's composition and implantation methods. The steel wire mesh cylinder model has a lag phase of infiltration after implantation and requires a long amount of time before granulation tissue formation begins1. Later stages of wound healing are best analyzed using the ePTFE model1,4. The Cellstick is a cellulose sponge inside a silicon tube model which is typically used for studying human surgery wounds and wound fluid2. The PVA sponge is limited to acute studies because with time it begins to provoke a foreign body response which causes a giant cell reaction in the animal5. Unlike other materials, PVA sponges are easy to insert and remove, made of inert and non-biodegradable materials and yet are soft enough to be sectioned for histological analysis2,5. In wound healing the PVA sponge is very useful for analyzing granulation tissue formation, collagen deposition, wound fluid composition, and the effects of substances on the healing process1,2,5. In addition to its use in studying a wide array of attributes of wound healing, the PVA sponge has also been used in many other types of studies. It has been utilized to investigate tumor angiogenesis, drug delivery and stem cell survival and engraftment1,2,6,7. With its great alterability, prior extensive use, and reproducible results, the PVA sponge is an ideal model for many studies1,2. Here, we will describe the preparation, implantation and retrieval of PVA sponge disks (Figure 1) in a mouse model of wound healing.
Medicine, Issue 62, Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) sponge, engraftment, stem cells, granulation tissue, vascularization, tumorgenesis, drug delivery, wound model, physiology
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Analyzing Gene Expression from Marine Microbial Communities using Environmental Transcriptomics
Authors: Rachel S. Poretsky, Scott Gifford, Johanna Rinta-Kanto, Maria Vila-Costa, Mary Ann Moran.
Institutions: University of Georgia (UGA).
Analogous to metagenomics, environmental transcriptomics (metatranscriptomics) retrieves and sequences environmental mRNAs from a microbial assemblage without prior knowledge of what genes the community might be expressing. Thus it provides the most unbiased perspective on community gene expression in situ. Environmental transcriptomics protocols are technically difficult since prokaryotic mRNAs generally lack the poly(A) tails that make isolation of eukaryotic messages relatively straightforward 1 and because of the relatively short half lives of mRNAs 2. In addition, mRNAs are much less abundant than rRNAs in total RNA extracts, thus an rRNA background often overwhelms mRNA signals. However, techniques for overcoming some of these difficulties have recently been developed. A procedure for analyzing environmental transcriptomes by creating clone libraries using random primers to reverse-transcribe and amplify environmental mRNAs was recently described was successful in two different natural environments, but results were biased by selection of the random primers used to initiate cDNA synthesis 3. Advances in linear amplification of mRNA obviate the need for random primers in the amplification step and make it possible to use less starting material decreasing the collection and processing time of samples and thereby minimizing RNA degradation 4. In vitro transcription methods for amplifying mRNA involve polyadenylating the mRNA and incorporating a T7 promoter onto the 3 end of the transcript. Amplified RNA (aRNA) can then be converted to double stranded cDNA using random hexamers and directly sequenced by pyrosequencing 5. A first use of this method at Station ALOHA demonstrated its utility for characterizing microbial community gene expression 6.
Microbiology, Issue 24, transcriptomics, bacterioplankton, mRNA, microbial communities, gene expression
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An Improved Method for the Preparation of Type I Collagen From Skin
Authors: Christina A. Pacak, Allison A. MacKay, Douglas B. Cowan.
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Soluble type 1 collagen (COL1) is used extensively as an adhesive substrate for cell cultures and as a cellular scaffold for regenerative applications. Clinically, this protein is widely used for cosmetic surgery, dermal injections, bone grafting, and reconstructive surgery. The sources of COL1 for these procedures are commonly nonhuman, which increases the potential for inflammation and rejection as well as xenobiotic disease transmission. In view of this, a method to efficiently and quickly purify COL1 from limited quantities of autologously-derived tissues would circumvent many of these issues; however, standard isolation protocols are lengthy and often require large quantities of collagenous tissues. Here, we demonstrate an efficient COL1 extraction method that reduces the time needed to isolate and purify this protein from about 10 days to less than 3 hr. We chose the dermis as our tissue source because of its availability during many surgical procedures. This method uses traditional extraction buffers combined with forceful agitation and centrifugal filtration to obtain highly-pure, soluble COL1 from small amounts of corium. Briefly, dermal biopsies are washed thoroughly in ice-cold dH2O after removing fat, connective tissue, and hair. The skin samples are stripped of noncollagenous proteins and polysaccharides using 0.5 M sodium acetate and a high speed bench-top homogenizer. Collagen from residual solids is subsequently extracted with a 0.075 M sodium citrate buffer using the homogenizer. These extracts are purified using 100,000 MW cut-off centrifugal filters that yield COL1 preparations of comparable or superior quality to commercial products or those obtained using traditional procedures. We anticipate this method will facilitate the utilization of autologously-derived COL1 for a multitude of research and clinical applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, type 1 collagen, extracellular matrix, tissue engineering, scaffold protein, dermis, corium
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RNA In situ Hybridization in Whole Mount Embryos and Cell Histology Adapted for Marine Elasmobranchs
Authors: Nicole A. Theodosiou.
Institutions: Union College.
Marine elasmobranchs are valued animal models for biomedical and genomic studies as they are the most primitive vertebrates to have adaptive immunity and have unique mechanisms for osmoregulation 1-3. As the most primitive living jawed-vertebrates with paired appendages, elasmobranchs are an evolutionarily important model, especially for studies in evolution and development. Marine elasmobranchs have also been used to study aquatic toxicology and stress physiology in relationship to climate change 4. Thus, development and adaptation of methodologies is needed to facilitate and expand the use of these primitive vertebrates to multiple biological disciplines. Here I present the successful adaptation of RNA whole mount in situ hybridization and histological techniques to study gene expression and cell histology in elasmobranchs. Monitoring gene expression is a hallmark tool of developmental biologists, and is widely used to investigate developmental processes 5. RNA whole mount in situ hybridization allows for the visualization and localization of specific gene transcripts in tissues of the developing embryo. The expression pattern of a gene's message can provide insight into what developmental processes and cell fate decisions a gene may control. By comparing the expression pattern of a gene at different developmental stages, insight can be gained into how the role of a gene changes during development. While whole mount in situ's provides a means to localize gene expression to tissue, histological techniques allow for the identification of differentiated cell types and tissues. Histological stains have varied functions. General stains are used to highlight cell morphology, for example hematoxylin and eosin for general staining of nuclei and cytoplasm, respectively. Other stains can highlight specific cell types. For example, the alcian blue stain reported in this paper is a widely used cationic stain to identify mucosaccharides. Staining of the digestive tract with alcian blue can identify the distribution of goblet cells that produce mucosaccharides. Variations in mucosaccharide constituents on short peptides distinguish goblet cells by function within the digestive tract 6. By using RNA whole mount in situ's and histochemical methods concurrently, cell fate decisions can be linked to gene-specific expression. Although RNA in situ's and histochemistry are widely used by researchers, their adaptation and use in marine elasmobranchs have met limited and varied success. Here I present protocols developed for elasmobranchs and used on a regular basis in my laboratory. Although further modification of the RNA in situ's hybridization method may be needed to adapt to different species, the protocols described here provide a strong starting point for researchers wanting to adapt the use of marine elasmobranchs to their scientific inquiries.
Genetics, Issue 74, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Marine Biology, Disciplines and Occupations, whole mount in situ hybridization, RNA in situs, RNA, acid mucins, alcian blue, nuclear fast red stain, elasmobranch, marine elasmobranchs, L. erinacea, Shh, Hoxa13, gene expression, hybridization, histology, skate, embryos, animal model
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Split-and-pool Synthesis and Characterization of Peptide Tertiary Amide Library
Authors: Yu Gao, Thomas Kodadek.
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute.
Peptidomimetics are great sources of protein ligands. The oligomeric nature of these compounds enables us to access large synthetic libraries on solid phase by using combinatorial chemistry. One of the most well studied classes of peptidomimetics is peptoids. Peptoids are easy to synthesize and have been shown to be proteolysis-resistant and cell-permeable. Over the past decade, many useful protein ligands have been identified through screening of peptoid libraries. However, most of the ligands identified from peptoid libraries do not display high affinity, with rare exceptions. This may be due, in part, to the lack of chiral centers and conformational constraints in peptoid molecules. Recently, we described a new synthetic route to access peptide tertiary amides (PTAs). PTAs are a superfamily of peptidomimetics that include but are not limited to peptides, peptoids and N-methylated peptides. With side chains on both α-carbon and main chain nitrogen atoms, the conformation of these molecules are greatly constrained by sterical hindrance and allylic 1,3 strain. (Figure 1) Our study suggests that these PTA molecules are highly structured in solution and can be used to identify protein ligands. We believe that these molecules can be a future source of high-affinity protein ligands. Here we describe the synthetic method combining the power of both split-and-pool and sub-monomer strategies to synthesize a sample one-bead one-compound (OBOC) library of PTAs.
Chemistry, Issue 88, Split-and-pool synthesis, peptide tertiary amide, PTA, peptoid, high-throughput screening, combinatorial library, solid phase, triphosgene (BTC), one-bead one-compound, OBOC
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Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Authors: Anna Karlgren, Jenny Carlsson, Niclas Gyllenstrand, Ulf Lagercrantz, Jens F. Sundström.
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies). Here we present a modified DIG in situ hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica napus. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3 and BnAP3 were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana and B. napus and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies. For P. abies the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film. Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study. Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at and Jens F. Sundström at
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
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Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Authors: Todd C. Lorenz.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, consequently the name Taq DNA polymerase. PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to: ● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment ● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment ● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template ● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
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Seawater Sampling and Collection
Authors: Elena Zaikova, Alyse Hawley, David A. Walsh, Steven J. Hallam.
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
This video documents methods for collecting coastal marine water samples and processing them for various downstream applications including biomass concentration, nucleic acid purification, cell abundance, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For today's demonstration samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. An A-frame derrick, with a multi-purpose winch and cable system, is used in combination with Niskin or Go-Flo water sampling bottles. Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) sensors are also used to sample the underlying water mass. To minimize outgassing, trace gas samples are collected first. Then, nutrients, water chemistry, and cell counts are determined. Finally, waters are collected for biomass filtration. The set-up and collection time for a single cast is ~1.5 hours at a maximum depth of 215 meters. Therefore, a total of 6 hours is generally needed to complete the collection series described here.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbial biomass, nucleic acids, nutrients, trace gas, ammonia, sulfide, seawater, fjord, hypoxic, Saanich Inlet
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Chemotactic Response of Marine Micro-Organisms to Micro-Scale Nutrient Layers
Authors: Justin R. Seymour, Marcos, Roman Stocker.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The degree to which planktonic microbes can exploit microscale resource patches will have considerable implications for oceanic trophodynamics and biogeochemical flux. However, to take advantage of nutrient patches in the ocean, swimming microbes must overcome the influences of physical forces including molecular diffusion and turbulent shear, which will limit the availability of patches and the ability of bacteria to locate them. Until recently, methodological limitations have precluded direct examinations of microbial behaviour within patchy habitats and realistic small-scale flow conditions. Hence, much of our current knowledge regarding microbial behaviour in the ocean has been procured from theoretical predictions. To obtain new information on microbial foraging behaviour in the ocean we have applied soft lithographic fabrication techniques to develop 2 microfluidic devices, which we have used to create (i) microscale nutrient patches with dimensions and diffusive characteristics relevant to oceanic processes and (ii) microscale vortices, with shear rates corresponding to those expected in the ocean. These microfluidic devices have permitted a first direct examination of microbial swimming and chemotactic behaviour within a heterogeneous and dynamic seascape. The combined use of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy allow direct examinations of the physical dimensions and diffusive characteristics of nutrient patches, while observing the population-level aggregative response, in addition to the swimming behaviour of individual microbes. These experiments have revealed that some species of phytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and phagotrophic protists are adept at locating and exploiting diffusing microscale resource patches within very short time frames. We have also shown that up to moderate shear rates, marine bacteria are able to fight the flow and swim through their environment at their own accord. However, beyond a threshold high shear level, bacteria are aligned in the shear flow and are less capable of swimming without disturbance from the flow. Microfluidics represents a novel and inexpensive approach for studying aquatic microbial ecology, and due to its suitability for accurately creating realistic flow fields and substrate gradients at the microscale, is ideally applicable to examinations of microbial behaviour at the smallest scales of interaction. We therefore suggest that microfluidics represents a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of the ecology of microorganisms in the ocean.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
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Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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Ablation of a Single Cell From Eight-cell Embryos of the Amphipod Crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis
Authors: Anastasia R. Nast, Cassandra G. Extavour.
Institutions: Harvard University.
The amphipod Parhyale hawaiensis is a small crustacean found in intertidal marine habitats worldwide. Over the past decade, Parhyale has emerged as a promising model organism for laboratory studies of development, providing a useful outgroup comparison to the well studied arthropod model organism Drosophila melanogaster. In contrast to the syncytial cleavages of Drosophila, the early cleavages of Parhyale are holoblastic. Fate mapping using tracer dyes injected into early blastomeres have shown that all three germ layers and the germ line are established by the eight-cell stage. At this stage, three blastomeres are fated to give rise to the ectoderm, three are fated to give rise to the mesoderm, and the remaining two blastomeres are the precursors of the endoderm and germ line respectively. However, blastomere ablation experiments have shown that Parhyale embryos also possess significant regulatory capabilities, such that the fates of blastomeres ablated at the eight-cell stage can be taken over by the descendants of some of the remaining blastomeres. Blastomere ablation has previously been described by one of two methods: injection and subsequent activation of phototoxic dyes or manual ablation. However, photoablation kills blastomeres but does not remove the dead cell body from the embryo. Complete physical removal of specific blastomeres may therefore be a preferred method of ablation for some applications. Here we present a protocol for manual removal of single blastomeres from the eight-cell stage of Parhyale embryos, illustrating the instruments and manual procedures necessary for complete removal of the cell body while keeping the remaining blastomeres alive and intact. This protocol can be applied to any Parhyale cell at the eight-cell stage, or to blastomeres of other early cleavage stages. In addition, in principle this protocol could be applicable to early cleavage stage embryos of other holoblastically cleaving marine invertebrates.
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, Amphipod, experimental embryology, micromere, germ line, ablation, developmental potential, vasa
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Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
Authors: Colin R. Jackson, Heather L. Tyler, Justin J. Millar.
Institutions: The University of Mississippi.
Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological and Environmental Processes, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, extracellular enzymes, freshwater microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial activity, enzyme activity
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Authors: Graham Bailes, Margaret Lind, Andrew Ely, Marianne Powell, Jennifer Moore-Kucera, Carol Miles, Debra Inglis, Marion Brodhagen.
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g. fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
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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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Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Authors: Mayandi Sivaguru, Glenn A. Fried, Carly A. H. Miller, Bruce W. Fouke.
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
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Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments
Authors: Eric T. Parker, James H. Cleaves, Aaron S. Burton, Daniel P. Glavin, Jason P. Dworkin, Manshui Zhou, Jeffrey L. Bada, Facundo M. Fernández.
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Institute for Advanced Study, NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of California at San Diego.
In 1953, Stanley Miller reported the production of biomolecules from simple gaseous starting materials, using an apparatus constructed to simulate the primordial Earth's atmosphere-ocean system. Miller introduced 200 ml of water, 100 mmHg of H2, 200 mmHg of CH4, and 200 mmHg of NH3 into the apparatus, then subjected this mixture, under reflux, to an electric discharge for a week, while the water was simultaneously heated. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide the reader with a general experimental protocol that can be used to conduct a Miller-Urey type spark discharge experiment, using a simplified 3 L reaction flask. Since the experiment involves exposing inflammable gases to a high voltage electric discharge, it is worth highlighting important steps that reduce the risk of explosion. The general procedures described in this work can be extrapolated to design and conduct a wide variety of electric discharge experiments simulating primitive planetary environments.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Geosciences (General), Exobiology, Miller-Urey, Prebiotic chemistry, amino acids, spark discharge
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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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Towards Biomimicking Wood: Fabricated Free-standing Films of Nanocellulose, Lignin, and a Synthetic Polycation
Authors: Karthik Pillai, Fernando Navarro Arzate, Wei Zhang, Scott Renneckar.
Institutions: Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, Illinois Institute of Technology- Moffett Campus, University of Guadalajara, Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech.
Woody materials are comprised of plant cell walls that contain a layered secondary cell wall composed of structural polymers of polysaccharides and lignin. Layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly process which relies on the assembly of oppositely charged molecules from aqueous solutions was used to build a freestanding composite film of isolated wood polymers of lignin and oxidized nanofibril cellulose (NFC). To facilitate the assembly of these negatively charged polymers, a positively charged polyelectrolyte, poly(diallyldimethylammomium chloride) (PDDA), was used as a linking layer to create this simplified model cell wall. The layered adsorption process was studied quantitatively using quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring (QCM-D) and ellipsometry. The results showed that layer mass/thickness per adsorbed layer increased as a function of total number of layers. The surface coverage of the adsorbed layers was studied with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Complete coverage of the surface with lignin in all the deposition cycles was found for the system, however, surface coverage by NFC increased with the number of layers. The adsorption process was carried out for 250 cycles (500 bilayers) on a cellulose acetate (CA) substrate. Transparent free-standing LBL assembled nanocomposite films were obtained when the CA substrate was later dissolved in acetone. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the fractured cross-sections showed a lamellar structure, and the thickness per adsorption cycle (PDDA-Lignin-PDDA-NC) was estimated to be 17 nm for two different lignin types used in the study. The data indicates a film with highly controlled architecture where nanocellulose and lignin are spatially deposited on the nanoscale (a polymer-polymer nanocomposites), similar to what is observed in the native cell wall.
Plant Biology, Issue 88, nanocellulose, thin films, quartz crystal microbalance, layer-by-layer, LbL
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Interview: Glycolipid Antigen Presentation by CD1d and the Therapeutic Potential of NKT cell Activation
Authors: Mitchell Kronenberg.
Institutions: La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
Natural Killer T cells (NKT) are critical determinants of the immune response to cancer, regulation of autioimmune disease, clearance of infectious agents, and the development of artheriosclerotic plaques. In this interview, Mitch Kronenberg discusses his laboratory's efforts to understand the mechanism through which NKT cells are activated by glycolipid antigens. Central to these studies is CD1d - the antigen presenting molecule that presents glycolipids to NKT cells. The advent of CD1d tetramer technology, a technique developed by the Kronenberg lab, is critical for the sorting and identification of subsets of specific glycolipid-reactive T cells. Mitch explains how glycolipid agonists are being used as therapeutic agents to activate NKT cells in cancer patients and how CD1d tetramers can be used to assess the state of the NKT cell population in vivo following glycolipid agonist therapy. Current status of ongoing clinical trials using these agonists are discussed as well as Mitch's prediction for areas in the field of immunology that will have emerging importance in the near future.
Immunology, Issue 10, Natural Killer T cells, NKT cells, CD1 Tetramers, antigen presentation, glycolipid antigens, CD1d, Mucosal Immunity, Translational Research
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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