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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Avian Influenza Surveillance with FTA Cards: Field Methods, Biosafety, and Transportation Issues Solved
Institutions: Wageningen University, Linnaeus University, Simon Fraser University .
Avian Influenza Viruses (AIVs) infect many mammals, including humans1
. These AIVs are diverse in their natural hosts, harboring almost all possible viral subtypes2
. Human pandemics of flu originally stem from AIVs3
. Many fatal human cases during the H5N1 outbreaks in recent years were reported. Lately, a new AIV related strain swept through the human population, causing the 'swine flu epidemic'4
. Although human trading and transportation activity seems to be responsible for the spread of highly pathogenic strains5
, dispersal can also partly be attributed to wild birds6, 7
. However, the actual reservoir of all AIV strains is wild birds.
In reaction to this and in face of severe commercial losses in the poultry industry, large surveillance programs have been implemented globally to collect information on the ecology of AIVs, and to install early warning systems to detect certain highly pathogenic strains8-12
. Traditional virological methods require viruses to be intact and cultivated before analysis. This necessitates strict cold chains with deep freezers and heavy biosafety procedures to be in place during transport. Long-term surveillance is therefore usually restricted to a few field stations close to well equipped laboratories. Remote areas cannot be sampled unless logistically cumbersome procedures are implemented. These problems have been recognised13, 14
and the use of alternative storage and transport strategies investigated (alcohols or guanidine)15-17
. Recently, Kraus et al
introduced a method to collect, store and transport AIV samples, based on a special filter paper. FTA cards19
preserve RNA on a dry storage basis20
and render pathogens inactive upon contact21
. This study showed that FTA cards can be used to detect AIV RNA in reverse-transcription PCR and that the resulting cDNA could be sequenced and virus genes and determined.
In the study of Kraus et al
a laboratory isolate of AIV was used, and samples were handled individually. In the extension presented here, faecal samples from wild birds from the duck trap at the Ottenby Bird Observatory (SE Sweden) were tested directly to illustrate the usefulness of the methods under field conditions. Catching of ducks and sample collection by cloacal swabs is demonstrated. The current protocol includes up-scaling of the work flow from single tube handling to a 96-well design. Although less sensitive than the traditional methods, the method of FTA cards provides an excellent supplement to large surveillance schemes. It allows collection and analysis of samples from anywhere in the world, without the need to maintaining a cool chain or safety regulations with respect to shipping of hazardous reagents, such as alcohol or guanidine.
Immunology, Issue 54, AI, Influenza A Virus, zoonoses, reverse transcription PCR, viral RNA, surveillance, duck trap, RNA preservation and storage, infection, mallard
Impulsive Pressurization of Neuronal Cells for Traumatic Brain Injury Study
Institutions: University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
A novel impulsive cell pressurization experiment has been developed using a Kolsky bar device to investigate blast-induced traumatic brain injury (TBI). We demonstrate in this video article how blast TBI-relevant impulsive pressurization is applied to the neuronal cells in vitro. This is achieved by using well-controlled pressure pulse created by a specialized Kolsky bar device, with complete pressure history within the cell pressurization chamber recorded. Pressurized neuronal cells are inspected immediately after pressurization, or further incubated to examine the long-term effects of impulsive pressurization on neurite/axonal outgrowth, neuronal gene expression, apoptosis, etc. We observed that impulsive pressurization at about 2 MPa induces distinct neurite loss relative to unpressurized cells. Our technique provides a novel method to investigate the molecular/cellular mechanisms of blast TBI, via impulsive pressurization of brain cells at well-controlled pressure magnitude and duration.
Bioengineering, Issue 56, Neuroscience, Traumatic Brain Injury, Neuronal Cells, Neurons, Impulsive Pressurization, Blast-TBI
Averaging of Viral Envelope Glycoprotein Spikes from Electron Cryotomography Reconstructions using Jsubtomo
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Enveloped viruses utilize membrane glycoproteins on their surface to mediate entry into host cells. Three-dimensional structural analysis of these glycoprotein ‘spikes’ is often technically challenging but important for understanding viral pathogenesis and in drug design. Here, a protocol is presented for viral spike structure determination through computational averaging of electron cryo-tomography data. Electron cryo-tomography is a technique in electron microscopy used to derive three-dimensional tomographic volume reconstructions, or tomograms, of pleomorphic biological specimens such as membrane viruses in a near-native, frozen-hydrated state. These tomograms reveal structures of interest in three dimensions, albeit at low resolution. Computational averaging of sub-volumes, or sub-tomograms, is necessary to obtain higher resolution detail of repeating structural motifs, such as viral glycoprotein spikes. A detailed computational approach for aligning and averaging sub-tomograms using the Jsubtomo software package is outlined. This approach enables visualization of the structure of viral glycoprotein spikes to a resolution in the range of 20-40 Å and study of the study of higher order spike-to-spike interactions on the virion membrane. Typical results are presented for Bunyamwera virus, an enveloped virus from the family Bunyaviridae
. This family is a structurally diverse group of pathogens posing a threat to human and animal health.
Immunology, Issue 92, electron cryo-microscopy, cryo-electron microscopy, electron cryo-tomography, cryo-electron tomography, glycoprotein spike, enveloped virus, membrane virus, structure, subtomogram, averaging
High-throughput Functional Screening using a Homemade Dual-glow Luciferase Assay
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital.
We present a rapid and inexpensive high-throughput screening protocol to identify transcriptional regulators of alpha-synuclein, a gene associated with Parkinson's disease. 293T cells are transiently transfected with plasmids from an arrayed ORF expression library, together with luciferase reporter plasmids, in a one-gene-per-well microplate format. Firefly luciferase activity is assayed after 48 hr to determine the effects of each library gene upon alpha-synuclein transcription, normalized to expression from an internal control construct (a hCMV promoter directing Renilla
luciferase). This protocol is facilitated by a bench-top robot enclosed in a biosafety cabinet, which performs aseptic liquid handling in 96-well format. Our automated transfection protocol is readily adaptable to high-throughput lentiviral library production or other functional screening protocols requiring triple-transfections of large numbers of unique library plasmids in conjunction with a common set of helper plasmids. We also present an inexpensive and validated alternative to commercially-available, dual luciferase reagents which employs PTC124, EDTA, and pyrophosphate to suppress firefly luciferase activity prior to measurement of Renilla
luciferase. Using these methods, we screened 7,670 human genes and identified 68 regulators of alpha-synuclein. This protocol is easily modifiable to target other genes of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 88, Luciferases, Gene Transfer Techniques, Transfection, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Transfections, Robotics
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Genome-wide Screen for miRNA Targets Using the MISSION Target ID Library
The Target ID Library is designed to assist in discovery and identification of microRNA (miRNA) targets. The Target ID Library is a plasmid-based, genome-wide cDNA library cloned into the 3'UTR downstream from the dual-selection fusion protein, thymidine kinase-zeocin (TKzeo). The first round of selection is for stable transformants, followed with introduction of a miRNA of interest, and finally, selecting for cDNAs containing the miRNA's target. Selected cDNAs are identified by sequencing (see Figure 1-3 for Target ID Library Workflow and details).
To ensure broad coverage of the human transcriptome, Target ID Library cDNAs were generated via oligo-dT priming using a pool of total RNA prepared from multiple human tissues and cell lines. Resulting cDNA range from 0.5 to 4 kb, with an average size of 1.2 kb, and were cloned into the p3΄TKzeo dual-selection plasmid (see Figure 4 for plasmid map). The gene targets represented in the library can be found on the Sigma-Aldrich webpage. Results from Illumina sequencing (Table 3
), show that the library includes 16,922 of the 21,518 unique genes in UCSC RefGene (79%), or 14,000 genes with 10 or more reads (66%).
Genetics, Issue 62, Target ID, miRNA, ncRNA, RNAi, genomics
High-throughput Screening for Small-molecule Modulators of Inward Rectifier Potassium Channels
Institutions: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Specific members of the inward rectifier potassium (Kir) channel family are postulated drug targets for a variety of disorders, including hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and pain1,2
. For the most part, however, progress toward understanding their therapeutic potential or even basic physiological functions has been slowed by the lack of good pharmacological tools. Indeed, the molecular pharmacology of the inward rectifier family has lagged far behind that of the S4 superfamily of voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels, for which a number of nanomolar-affinity and highly selective peptide toxin modulators have been discovered3
. The bee venom toxin tertiapin and its derivatives are potent inhibitors of Kir1.1 and Kir3 channels4,5
, but peptides are of limited use therapeutically as well as experimentally due to their antigenic properties and poor bioavailability, metabolic stability and tissue penetrance. The development of potent and selective small-molecule probes with improved pharmacological properties will be a key to fully understanding the physiology and therapeutic potential of Kir channels.
The Molecular Libraries Probes Production Center Network (MLPCN) supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund has created opportunities for academic scientists to initiate probe discovery campaigns for molecular targets and signaling pathways in need of better pharmacology6
. The MLPCN provides researchers access to industry-scale screening centers and medicinal chemistry and informatics support to develop small-molecule probes to elucidate the function of genes and gene networks. The critical step in gaining entry to the MLPCN is the development of a robust target- or pathway-specific assay that is amenable for high-throughput screening (HTS).
Here, we describe how to develop a fluorescence-based thallium (Tl+
) flux assay of Kir channel function for high-throughput compound screening7,8,9,10
.The assay is based on the permeability of the K+
channel pore to the K+
. A commercially available fluorescent Tl+
reporter dye is used to detect transmembrane flux of Tl+
through the pore. There are at least three commercially available dyes that are suitable for Tl+
flux assays: BTC, FluoZin-2, and FluxOR7,8
. This protocol describes assay development using FluoZin-2. Although originally developed and marketed as a zinc indicator, FluoZin-2 exhibits a robust and dose-dependent increase in fluorescence emission upon Tl+
binding. We began working with FluoZin-2 before FluxOR was available7,8
and have continued to do so9,10
. However, the steps in assay development are essentially identical for all three dyes, and users should determine which dye is most appropriate for their specific needs. We also discuss the assay's performance benchmarks that must be reached to be considered for entry to the MLPCN. Since Tl+
readily permeates most K+
channels, the assay should be adaptable to most K+
Biochemistry, Issue 71, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Cellular Biology, Chemical Biology, Pharmacology, Molecular Pharmacology, Potassium channels, drug discovery, drug screening, high throughput, small molecules, fluorescence, thallium flux, checkerboard analysis, DMSO, cell lines, screen, assay, assay development
High-throughput Screening for Broad-spectrum Chemical Inhibitors of RNA Viruses
Institutions: Institut Pasteur, CNRS UMR3569, Institut Pasteur, CNRS UMR3523, Institut Pasteur.
RNA viruses are responsible for major human diseases such as flu, bronchitis, dengue, Hepatitis C or measles. They also represent an emerging threat because of increased worldwide exchanges and human populations penetrating more and more natural ecosystems. A good example of such an emerging situation is chikungunya virus epidemics of 2005-2006 in the Indian Ocean. Recent progresses in our understanding of cellular pathways controlling viral replication suggest that compounds targeting host cell functions, rather than the virus itself, could inhibit a large panel of RNA viruses. Some broad-spectrum antiviral compounds have been identified with host target-oriented assays. However, measuring the inhibition of viral replication in cell cultures using reduction of cytopathic effects as a readout still represents a paramount screening strategy. Such functional screens have been greatly improved by the development of recombinant viruses expressing reporter enzymes capable of bioluminescence such as luciferase. In the present report, we detail a high-throughput screening pipeline, which combines recombinant measles and chikungunya viruses with cellular viability assays, to identify compounds with a broad-spectrum antiviral profile.
Immunology, Issue 87, Viral infections, high-throughput screening assays, broad-spectrum antivirals, chikungunya virus, measles virus, luciferase reporter, chemical libraries
Improving the Success Rate of Protein Crystallization by Random Microseed Matrix Screening
Institutions: University of Bristol, Douglas Instruments.
Random microseed matrix screening (rMMS) is a protein crystallization technique in which seed crystals are added to random screens. By increasing the likelihood that crystals will grow in the metastable zone of a protein's phase diagram, extra crystallization leads are often obtained, the quality of crystals produced may be increased, and a good supply of crystals for data collection and soaking experiments is provided. Here we describe a general method for rMMS that may be applied to either sitting drop or hanging drop vapor diffusion experiments, established either by hand or using liquid handling robotics, in 96-well or 24-well tray format.
Structural Biology, Issue 78, Crystallography, X-Ray, Biochemical Phenomena, Molecular Structure, Molecular Conformation, protein crystallization, seeding, protein structure
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e.
biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc
.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not
expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis
; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Pyrosequencing for Microbial Identification and Characterization
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University, Qiagen Sciences, Inc..
Pyrosequencing is a versatile technique that facilitates microbial genome sequencing that can be used to identify bacterial species, discriminate bacterial strains and detect genetic mutations that confer resistance to anti-microbial agents. The advantages of pyrosequencing for microbiology applications include rapid and reliable high-throughput screening and accurate identification of microbes and microbial genome mutations. Pyrosequencing involves sequencing of DNA by synthesizing the complementary strand a single base at a time, while determining the specific nucleotide being incorporated during the synthesis reaction. The reaction occurs on immobilized single stranded template DNA where the four deoxyribonucleotides (dNTP) are added sequentially and the unincorporated dNTPs are enzymatically degraded before addition of the next dNTP to the synthesis reaction. Detection of the specific base incorporated into the template is monitored by generation of chemiluminescent signals. The order of dNTPs that produce the chemiluminescent signals determines the DNA sequence of the template. The real-time sequencing capability of pyrosequencing technology enables rapid microbial identification in a single assay. In addition, the pyrosequencing instrument, can analyze the full genetic diversity of anti-microbial drug resistance, including typing of SNPs, point mutations, insertions, and deletions, as well as quantification of multiple gene copies that may occur in some anti-microbial resistance patterns.
Microbiology, Issue 78, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Basic Protocols, Genomics, Eukaryota, Bacteria, Viruses, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Virus Diseases, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Equipment and Supplies, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Life Sciences (General), Pyrosequencing, DNA, Microbe, PCR, primers, Next-Generation, high-throughput, sequencing
A Chemical Screening Procedure for Glucocorticoid Signaling with a Zebrafish Larva Luciferase Reporter System
Institutions: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology - Campus North, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology - Campus North, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology - Campus South.
Glucocorticoid stress hormones and their artificial derivatives are widely used drugs to treat inflammation, but long-term treatment with glucocorticoids can lead to severe side effects. Test systems are needed to search for novel compounds influencing glucocorticoid signaling in vivo
or to determine unwanted effects of compounds on the glucocorticoid signaling pathway. We have established a transgenic zebrafish assay which allows the measurement of glucocorticoid signaling activity in vivo
and in real-time, the GRIZLY assay (Glucocorticoid Responsive In vivo
Zebrafish Luciferase activitY). The luciferase-based assay detects effects on glucocorticoid signaling with high sensitivity and specificity, including effects by compounds that require metabolization or affect endogenous glucocorticoid production. We present here a detailed protocol for conducting chemical screens with this assay. We describe data acquisition, normalization, and analysis, placing a focus on quality control and data visualization. The assay provides a simple, time-resolved, and quantitative readout. It can be operated as a stand-alone platform, but is also easily integrated into high-throughput screening workflows. It furthermore allows for many applications beyond chemical screening, such as environmental monitoring of endocrine disruptors or stress research.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Biochemistry, Vertebrates, Zebrafish, environmental effects (biological and animal), genetics (animal), life sciences, animal biology, animal models, biochemistry, bioengineering (general), Hormones, Hormone Substitutes, and Hormone Antagonists, zebrafish, Danio rerio, chemical screening, luciferase, glucocorticoid, stress, high-throughput screening, receiver operating characteristic curve, in vivo, animal model
Generation of Enterobacter sp. YSU Auxotrophs Using Transposon Mutagenesis
Institutions: Youngstown State University.
Prototrophic bacteria grow on M-9 minimal salts medium supplemented with glucose (M-9 medium), which is used as a carbon and energy source. Auxotrophs can be generated using a transposome. The commercially available, Tn5
-derived transposome used in this protocol consists of a linear segment of DNA containing an R6Kγ
replication origin, a gene for kanamycin resistance and two mosaic sequence ends, which serve as transposase binding sites. The transposome, provided as a DNA/transposase protein complex, is introduced by electroporation into the prototrophic strain, Enterobacter
sp. YSU, and randomly incorporates itself into this host’s genome. Transformants are replica plated onto Luria-Bertani agar plates containing kanamycin, (LB-kan) and onto M-9 medium agar plates containing kanamycin (M-9-kan). The transformants that grow on LB-kan plates but not on M-9-kan plates are considered to be auxotrophs. Purified genomic DNA from an auxotroph is partially digested, ligated and transformed into a pir+ Escherichia coli
) strain. The R6Kγ
replication origin allows the plasmid to replicate in pir+ E. coli
strains, and the kanamycin resistance marker allows for plasmid selection. Each transformant possesses a new plasmid containing the transposon flanked by the interrupted chromosomal region. Sanger sequencing and the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) suggest a putative identity of the interrupted gene. There are three advantages to using this transposome mutagenesis strategy. First, it does not rely on the expression of a transposase gene by the host. Second, the transposome is introduced into the target host by electroporation, rather than by conjugation or by transduction and therefore is more efficient. Third, the R6Kγ
replication origin makes it easy to identify the mutated gene which is partially recovered in a recombinant plasmid. This technique can be used to investigate the genes involved in other characteristics of Enterobacter
sp. YSU or of a wider variety of bacterial strains.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Auxotroph, transposome, transposon, mutagenesis, replica plating, glucose minimal medium, complex medium, Enterobacter
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
High-throughput Physical Mapping of Chromosomes using Automated in situ Hybridization
Institutions: Virginia Tech.
Projects to obtain whole-genome sequences for 10,000 vertebrate species1
and for 5,000 insect and related arthropod species2
are expected to take place over the next 5 years. For example, the sequencing of the genomes for 15 malaria mosquitospecies is currently being done using an Illumina platform3,4
. This Anopheles
species cluster includes both vectors and non-vectors of malaria. When the genome assemblies become available, researchers will have the unique opportunity to perform comparative analysis for inferring evolutionary changes relevant to vector ability. However, it has proven difficult to use next-generation sequencing reads to generate high-quality de novo
. Moreover, the existing genome assemblies for Anopheles gambiae
, although obtained using the Sanger method, are gapped or fragmented4,6
Success of comparative genomic analyses will be limited if researchers deal with numerous sequencing contigs, rather than with chromosome-based genome assemblies. Fragmented, unmapped sequences create problems for genomic analyses because: (i) unidentified gaps cause incorrect or incomplete annotation of genomic sequences; (ii) unmapped sequences lead to confusion between paralogous genes and genes from different haplotypes; and (iii) the lack of chromosome assignment and orientation of the sequencing contigs does not allow for reconstructing rearrangement phylogeny and studying chromosome evolution. Developing high-resolution physical maps for species with newly sequenced genomes is a timely and cost-effective investment that will facilitate genome annotation, evolutionary analysis, and re-sequencing of individual genomes from natural populations7,8
Here, we present innovative approaches to chromosome preparation, fluorescent in situ
hybridization (FISH), and imaging that facilitate rapid development of physical maps. Using An. gambiae
as an example, we demonstrate that the development of physical chromosome maps can potentially improve genome assemblies and, thus, the quality of genomic analyses. First, we use a high-pressure method to prepare polytene chromosome spreads. This method, originally developed for Drosophila9
, allows the user to visualize more details on chromosomes than the regular squashing technique10
. Second, a fully automated, front-end system for FISH is used for high-throughput physical genome mapping. The automated slide staining system runs multiple assays simultaneously and dramatically reduces hands-on time11
. Third, an automatic fluorescent imaging system, which includes a motorized slide stage, automatically scans and photographs labeled chromosomes after FISH12
. This system is especially useful for identifying and visualizing multiple chromosomal plates on the same slide. In addition, the scanning process captures a more uniform FISH result. Overall, the automated high-throughput physical mapping protocol is more efficient than a standard manual protocol.
Genetics, Issue 64, Entomology, Molecular Biology, Genomics, automation, chromosome, genome, hybridization, labeling, mapping, mosquito
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1
. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1
. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2
to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4
and has been used in other studies5-8
The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9
, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10
, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11
, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well.
Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor.
Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run.
Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif