Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
28 Related JoVE Articles!
Helminth Collection and Identification from Wildlife
Institutions: Purdue University, Helm West Laboratory.
Wild animals are commonly parasitized by a wide range of helminths. The four major types of helminths are "roundworms" (nematodes), "thorny-headed worms" (acanthocephalans), "flukes" (trematodes), and "tapeworms" (cestodes). The optimum method for collecting helminths is to examine a host that has been dead less than 4-6 hr since most helminths will still be alive. A thorough necropsy should be conducted and all major organs examined. Organs are washed over a 106 μm sieve under running water and contents examined under a stereo microscope. All helminths are counted and a representative number are fixed (either in 70% ethanol, 10% buffered formalin, or alcohol-formalin-acetic acid). For species identification, helminths are either cleared in lactophenol (nematodes and small acanthocephalans) or stained (trematodes, cestodes, and large acanthocephalans) using Harris' hematoxylin or Semichon's carmine. Helminths are keyed to species by examining different structures (e.g
. male spicules in nematodes or the rostellum in cestodes). The protocols outlined here can be applied to any vertebrate animal. They require some expertise on recognizing the different organs and being able to differentiate helminths from other tissue debris or gut contents. Collection, preservation, and staining are straightforward techniques that require minimal equipment and reagents. Taxonomic identification, especially to species, can be very time consuming and might require the submission of specimens to an expert or DNA analysis.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, Helminths, eukaryotic parasites, worms, nematodes, cestodes, trematodes, acanthocephalans, wildlife
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Using Neutron Spin Echo Resolved Grazing Incidence Scattering to Investigate Organic Solar Cell Materials
Institutions: University of Sheffield, The University of Sheffield, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
The spin echo resolved grazing incidence scattering (SERGIS) technique has been used to probe the length-scales associated with irregularly shaped crystallites. Neutrons are passed through two well defined regions of magnetic field; one before and one after the sample. The two magnetic field regions have opposite polarity and are tuned such that neutrons travelling through both regions, without being perturbed, will undergo the same number of precessions in opposing directions. In this case the neutron precession in the second arm is said to "echo" the first, and the original polarization of the beam is preserved. If the neutron interacts with a sample and scatters elastically the path through the second arm is not the same as the first and the original polarization is not recovered. Depolarization of the neutron beam is a highly sensitive probe at very small angles (<50 μrad) but still allows a high intensity, divergent beam to be used. The decrease in polarization of the beam reflected from the sample as compared to that from the reference sample can be directly related to structure within the sample.
In comparison to scattering observed in neutron reflection measurements the SERGIS signals are often weak and are unlikely to be observed if the in-plane structures within the sample under investigation are dilute, disordered, small in size and polydisperse or the neutron scattering contrast is low. Therefore, good results will most likely be obtained using the SERGIS technique if the sample being measured consist of thin films on a flat substrate and contain scattering features that contains a high density of moderately sized features (30 nm to 5 µm) which scatter neutrons strongly or the features are arranged on a lattice. An advantage of the SERGIS technique is that it can probe structures in the plane of the sample.
Physics, Issue 83, Spin Echo Resolved Grazing Incidence Scattering, Neutron, Crystallite, Organic solar cell, PCBM, P3HT
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Rapid Analysis and Exploration of Fluorescence Microscopy Images
Institutions: UT Southwestern Medical Center, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Princeton University.
Despite rapid advances in high-throughput microscopy, quantitative image-based assays still pose significant challenges. While a variety of specialized image analysis tools are available, most traditional image-analysis-based workflows have steep learning curves (for fine tuning of analysis parameters) and result in long turnaround times between imaging and analysis. In particular, cell segmentation, the process of identifying individual cells in an image, is a major bottleneck in this regard.
Here we present an alternate, cell-segmentation-free workflow based on PhenoRipper, an open-source software platform designed for the rapid analysis and exploration of microscopy images. The pipeline presented here is optimized for immunofluorescence microscopy images of cell cultures and requires minimal user intervention. Within half an hour, PhenoRipper can analyze data from a typical 96-well experiment and generate image profiles. Users can then visually explore their data, perform quality control on their experiment, ensure response to perturbations and check reproducibility of replicates. This facilitates a rapid feedback cycle between analysis and experiment, which is crucial during assay optimization. This protocol is useful not just as a first pass analysis for quality control, but also may be used as an end-to-end solution, especially for screening. The workflow described here scales to large data sets such as those generated by high-throughput screens, and has been shown to group experimental conditions by phenotype accurately over a wide range of biological systems. The PhenoBrowser interface provides an intuitive framework to explore the phenotypic space and relate image properties to biological annotations. Taken together, the protocol described here will lower the barriers to adopting quantitative analysis of image based screens.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, PhenoRipper, fluorescence microscopy, image analysis, High-content analysis, high-throughput screening, Open-source, Phenotype
Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications. For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately. To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models. To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models. This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2
) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented. The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix. With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions. The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures. This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models. Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created. An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material. In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures. One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
High-throughput Image Analysis of Tumor Spheroids: A User-friendly Software Application to Measure the Size of Spheroids Automatically and Accurately
Institutions: Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation, New Jersey, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Institute for Advanced Study, New Jersey.
The increasing number of applications of three-dimensional (3D) tumor spheroids as an in vitro
model for drug discovery requires their adaptation to large-scale screening formats in every step of a drug screen, including large-scale image analysis. Currently there is no ready-to-use and free image analysis software to meet this large-scale format. Most existing methods involve manually drawing the length and width of the imaged 3D spheroids, which is a tedious and time-consuming process. This study presents a high-throughput image analysis software application – SpheroidSizer, which measures the major and minor axial length of the imaged 3D tumor spheroids automatically and accurately; calculates the volume of each individual 3D tumor spheroid; then outputs the results in two different forms in spreadsheets for easy manipulations in the subsequent data analysis. The main advantage of this software is its powerful image analysis application that is adapted for large numbers of images. It provides high-throughput computation and quality-control workflow. The estimated time to process 1,000 images is about 15 min on a minimally configured laptop, or around 1 min on a multi-core performance workstation. The graphical user interface (GUI) is also designed for easy quality control, and users can manually override the computer results. The key method used in this software is adapted from the active contour algorithm, also known as Snakes, which is especially suitable for images with uneven illumination and noisy background that often plagues automated imaging processing in high-throughput screens. The complimentary “Manual Initialize” and “Hand Draw” tools provide the flexibility to SpheroidSizer in dealing with various types of spheroids and diverse quality images. This high-throughput image analysis software remarkably reduces labor and speeds up the analysis process. Implementing this software is beneficial for 3D tumor spheroids to become a routine in vitro
model for drug screens in industry and academia.
Cancer Biology, Issue 89, computer programming, high-throughput, image analysis, tumor spheroids, 3D, software application, cancer therapy, drug screen, neuroendocrine tumor cell line, BON-1, cancer research
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
An Experimental and Bioinformatics Protocol for RNA-seq Analyses of Photoperiodic Diapause in the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus
Institutions: Georgetown University, The Ohio State University.
Photoperiodic diapause is an important adaptation that allows individuals to escape harsh seasonal environments via a series of physiological changes, most notably developmental arrest and reduced metabolism. Global gene expression profiling via RNA-Seq can provide important insights into the transcriptional mechanisms of photoperiodic diapause. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus
, is an outstanding organism for studying the transcriptional bases of diapause due to its ease of rearing, easily induced diapause, and the genomic resources available. This manuscript presents a general experimental workflow for identifying diapause-induced transcriptional differences in A. albopictus.
Rearing techniques, conditions necessary to induce diapause and non-diapause development, methods to estimate percent diapause in a population, and RNA extraction and integrity assessment for mosquitoes are documented. A workflow to process RNA-Seq data from Illumina sequencers culminates in a list of differentially expressed genes. The representative results demonstrate that this protocol can be used to effectively identify genes differentially regulated at the transcriptional level in A. albopictus
due to photoperiodic differences. With modest adjustments, this workflow can be readily adapted to study the transcriptional bases of diapause or other important life history traits in other mosquitoes.
Genetics, Issue 93, Aedes albopictus Asian tiger mosquito, photoperiodic diapause, RNA-Seq de novo transcriptome assembly, mosquito husbandry
Quantification of Orofacial Phenotypes in Xenopus
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University.
has become an important tool for dissecting the mechanisms governing craniofacial development and defects. A method to quantify orofacial development will allow for more rigorous analysis of orofacial phenotypes upon abrogation with substances that can genetically or molecularly manipulate gene expression or protein function. Using two dimensional images of the embryonic heads, traditional size dimensions-such as orofacial width, height and area- are measured. In addition, a roundness measure of the embryonic mouth opening is used to describe the shape of the mouth. Geometric morphometrics of these two dimensional images is also performed to provide a more sophisticated view of changes in the shape of the orofacial region. Landmarks are assigned to specific points in the orofacial region and coordinates are created. A principle component analysis is used to reduce landmark coordinates to principle components that then discriminate the treatment groups. These results are displayed as a scatter plot in which individuals with similar orofacial shapes cluster together. It is also useful to perform a discriminant function analysis, which statistically compares the positions of the landmarks between two treatment groups. This analysis is displayed on a transformation grid where changes in landmark position are viewed as vectors. A grid is superimposed on these vectors so that a warping pattern is displayed to show where significant landmark positions have changed. Shape changes in the discriminant function analysis are based on a statistical measure, and therefore can be evaluated by a p-value. This analysis is simple and accessible, requiring only a stereoscope and freeware software, and thus will be a valuable research and teaching resource.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Orofacial quantification, geometric morphometrics, Xenopus, orofacial development, orofacial defects, shape changes, facial dimensions
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
Using Continuous Data Tracking Technology to Study Exercise Adherence in Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Institutions: Concordia University, Concordia University, Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal.
Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is an important component in the management of respiratory diseases. The effectiveness of PR is dependent upon adherence to exercise training recommendations. The study of exercise adherence is thus a key step towards the optimization of PR programs. To date, mostly indirect measures, such as rates of participation, completion, and attendance, have been used to determine adherence to PR. The purpose of the present protocol is to describe how continuous data tracking technology can be used to measure adherence to a prescribed aerobic training intensity on a second-by-second basis.
In our investigations, adherence has been defined as the percent time spent within a specified target heart rate range. As such, using a combination of hardware and software, heart rate is measured, tracked, and recorded during cycling second-by-second for each participant, for each exercise session. Using statistical software, the data is subsequently extracted and analyzed. The same protocol can be applied to determine adherence to other measures of exercise intensity, such as time spent at a specified wattage, level, or speed on the cycle ergometer. Furthermore, the hardware and software is also available to measure adherence to other modes of training, such as the treadmill, elliptical, stepper, and arm ergometer. The present protocol, therefore, has a vast applicability to directly measure adherence to aerobic exercise.
Medicine, Issue 81, Data tracking, exercise, rehabilitation, adherence, patient compliance, health behavior, user-computer interface.
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
A PCR-based Genotyping Method to Distinguish Between Wild-type and Ornamental Varieties of Imperata cylindrica
Institutions: The University of Alabama, Huntsville, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology.
Wild-type I. cylindrica
(cogongrass) is one of the top ten worst invasive plants in the world, negatively impacting agricultural and natural resources in 73 different countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, New Zealand, Oceania and the Americas1-2
. Cogongrass forms rapidly-spreading, monodominant stands that displace a large variety of native plant species and in turn threaten the native animals that depend on the displaced native plant species for forage and shelter. To add to the problem, an ornamental variety [I. cylindrica
(Retzius)] is widely marketed under the names of Imperata cylindrica
'Rubra', Red Baron, and Japanese blood grass (JBG). This variety is putatively sterile and noninvasive and is considered a desirable ornamental for its red-colored leaves. However, under the correct conditions, JBG can produce viable seed (Carol Holko, 2009 personal communication) and can revert to a green invasive form that is often indistinguishable from cogongrass as it takes on the distinguishing characteristics of the wild-type invasive variety4
). This makes identification using morphology a difficult task even for well-trained plant taxonomists. Reversion of JBG to an aggressive green phenotype is also not a rare occurrence. Using sequence comparisons of coding and variable regions in both nuclear and chloroplast DNA, we have confirmed that JBG has reverted to the green invasive within the states of Maryland, South Carolina, and Missouri. JBG has been sold and planted in just about every state in the continental U.S. where there is not an active cogongrass infestation. The extent of the revert problem in not well understood because reverted plants are undocumented and often destroyed.
Application of this molecular protocol provides a method to identify JBG reverts and can help keep these varieties from co-occurring and possibly hybridizing. Cogongrass is an obligate outcrosser and, when crossed with a different genotype, can produce viable wind-dispersed seeds that spread cogongrass over wide distances5-7
. JBG has a slightly different genotype than cogongrass and may be able to form viable hybrids with cogongrass. To add to the problem, JBG is more cold and shade tolerant than cogongrass8-10
, and gene flow between these two varieties is likely to generate hybrids that are more aggressive, shade tolerant, and cold hardy than wild-type cogongrass. While wild-type cogongrass currently infests over 490 million hectares worldwide, in the Southeast U.S. it infests over 500,000 hectares and is capable of occupying most of the U.S. as it rapidly spreads northward due to its broad niche and geographic potential3,7,11
. The potential of a genetic crossing is a serious concern for the USDA-APHIS Federal Noxious Week Program. Currently, the USDA-APHIS prohibits JBG in states where there are major cogongrass infestations (e.g., Florida, Alabama, Mississippi). However, preventing the two varieties from combining can prove more difficult as cogongrass and JBG expand their distributions. Furthermore, the distribution of the JBG revert is currently unknown and without the ability to identify these varieties through morphology, some cogongrass infestations may be the result of JBG reverts. Unfortunately, current molecular methods of identification typically rely on AFLP (Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms) and DNA sequencing, both of which are time consuming and costly. Here, we present the first cost-effective and reliable PCR-based molecular genotyping method to accurately distinguish between cogongrass and JBG revert.
Molecular Biology, Issue 60, Molecular genotyping, Japanese blood grass, Red Baron, cogongrass, invasive plants
Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1
. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes
) with such properties2
Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6
(also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings.
First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10
, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints.
Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13
. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases.
Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms.
Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14
. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13
. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16
. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13
. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper.
We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have.
Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
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
A Quantitative Fitness Analysis Workflow
Institutions: Newcastle University Medical School.
Quantitative Fitness Analysis (QFA) is an experimental and computational workflow for comparing fitnesses of microbial cultures grown in parallel1,2,3,4
. QFA can be applied to focused observations of single cultures but is most useful for genome-wide genetic interaction or drug screens investigating up to thousands of independent cultures. The central experimental method is the inoculation of independent, dilute liquid microbial cultures onto solid agar plates which are incubated and regularly photographed. Photographs from each time-point are analyzed, producing quantitative cell density estimates, which are used to construct growth curves, allowing quantitative fitness measures to be derived. Culture fitnesses can be compared to quantify and rank genetic interaction strengths or drug sensitivities. The effect on culture fitness of any treatments added into substrate agar (e.g.
small molecules, antibiotics or nutrients) or applied to plates externally (e.g.
UV irradiation, temperature) can be quantified by QFA.
The QFA workflow produces growth rate estimates analogous to those obtained by spectrophotometric measurement of parallel liquid cultures in 96-well or 200-well plate readers. Importantly, QFA has significantly higher throughput compared with such methods. QFA cultures grow on a solid agar surface and are therefore well aerated during growth without the need for stirring or shaking.
QFA throughput is not as high as that of some Synthetic Genetic Array (SGA) screening methods5,6
. However, since QFA cultures are heavily diluted before being inoculated onto agar, QFA can capture more complete growth curves, including exponential and saturation phases3
. For example, growth curve observations allow culture doubling times to be estimated directly with high precision, as discussed previously1
Here we present a specific QFA protocol applied to thousands of S. cerevisiae
cultures which are automatically handled by robots during inoculation, incubation and imaging. Any of these automated steps can be replaced by an equivalent, manual procedure, with an associated reduction in throughput, and we also present a lower throughput manual protocol. The same QFA software tools can be applied to images captured in either workflow.
We have extensive experience applying QFA to cultures of the budding yeast S. cerevisiae
but we expect that QFA will prove equally useful for examining cultures of the fission yeast S. pombe
and bacterial cultures.
Physiology, Issue 66, Medicine, Robotic, microbial, culture, yeast, array, library, high-throughput, analysis, fitness, growth rate, quantitative, solid agar
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
A Novel Bayesian Change-point Algorithm for Genome-wide Analysis of Diverse ChIPseq Data Types
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Texas at Dallas.
ChIPseq is a widely used technique for investigating protein-DNA interactions. Read density profiles are generated by using next-sequencing of protein-bound DNA and aligning the short reads to a reference genome. Enriched regions are revealed as peaks, which often differ dramatically in shape, depending on the target protein1
. For example, transcription factors often bind in a site- and sequence-specific manner and tend to produce punctate peaks, while histone modifications are more pervasive and are characterized by broad, diffuse islands of enrichment2
. Reliably identifying these regions was the focus of our work.
Algorithms for analyzing ChIPseq data have employed various methodologies, from heuristics3-5
to more rigorous statistical models, e.g.
Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)6-8
. We sought a solution that minimized the necessity for difficult-to-define, ad hoc parameters that often compromise resolution and lessen the intuitive usability of the tool. With respect to HMM-based methods, we aimed to curtail parameter estimation procedures and simple, finite state classifications that are often utilized.
Additionally, conventional ChIPseq data analysis involves categorization of the expected read density profiles as either punctate or diffuse followed by subsequent application of the appropriate tool. We further aimed to replace the need for these two distinct models with a single, more versatile model, which can capably address the entire spectrum of data types.
To meet these objectives, we first constructed a statistical framework that naturally modeled ChIPseq data structures using a cutting edge advance in HMMs9
, which utilizes only explicit formulas-an innovation crucial to its performance advantages. More sophisticated then heuristic models, our HMM accommodates infinite hidden states through a Bayesian model. We applied it to identifying reasonable change points in read density, which further define segments of enrichment. Our analysis revealed how our Bayesian Change Point (BCP) algorithm had a reduced computational complexity-evidenced by an abridged run time and memory footprint. The BCP algorithm was successfully applied to both punctate peak and diffuse island identification with robust accuracy and limited user-defined parameters. This illustrated both its versatility and ease of use. Consequently, we believe it can be implemented readily across broad ranges of data types and end users in a manner that is easily compared and contrasted, making it a great tool for ChIPseq data analysis that can aid in collaboration and corroboration between research groups. Here, we demonstrate the application of BCP to existing transcription factor10,11
and epigenetic data12
to illustrate its usefulness.
Genetics, Issue 70, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Immunology, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP-Seq, histone modifications, segmentation, Bayesian, Hidden Markov Models, epigenetics
Visualizing Bacteria in Nematodes using Fluorescent Microscopy
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Symbioses, the living together of two or more organisms, are widespread throughout all kingdoms of life. As two of the most ubiquitous organisms on earth, nematodes and bacteria form a wide array of symbiotic associations that range from beneficial to pathogenic 1-3
. One such association is the mutually beneficial relationship between Xenorhabdus
bacteria and Steinernema
nematodes, which has emerged as a model system of symbiosis 4
nematodes are entomopathogenic, using their bacterial symbiont to kill insects 5
. For transmission between insect hosts, the bacteria colonize the intestine of the nematode's infective juvenile stage 6-8
. Recently, several other nematode species have been shown to utilize bacteria to kill insects 9-13
, and investigations have begun examining the interactions between the nematodes and bacteria in these systems 9
We describe a method for visualization of a bacterial symbiont within or on a nematode host, taking advantage of the optical transparency of nematodes when viewed by microscopy. The bacteria are engineered to express a fluorescent protein, allowing their visualization by fluorescence microscopy. Many plasmids are available that carry genes encoding proteins that fluoresce at different wavelengths (i.e.
green or red), and conjugation of plasmids from a donor Escherichia coli
strain into a recipient bacterial symbiont is successful for a broad range of bacteria. The methods described were developed to investigate the association between Steinernema carpocapsae
and Xenorhabdus nematophila 14
. Similar methods have been used to investigate other nematode-bacterium associations 9,15-18
and the approach therefore is generally applicable.
The method allows characterization of bacterial presence and localization within nematodes at different stages of development, providing insights into the nature of the association and the process of colonization 14,16,19
. Microscopic analysis reveals both colonization frequency within a population and localization of bacteria to host tissues 14,16,19-21
. This is an advantage over other methods of monitoring bacteria within nematode populations, such as sonication 22
or grinding 23
, which can provide average levels of colonization, but may not, for example, discriminate populations with a high frequency of low symbiont loads from populations with a low frequency of high symbiont loads. Discriminating the frequency and load of colonizing bacteria can be especially important when screening or characterizing bacterial mutants for colonization phenotypes 21,24
. Indeed, fluorescence microscopy has been used in high throughput screening of bacterial mutants for defects in colonization 17,18
, and is less laborious than other methods, including sonication 22,25-27
and individual nematode dissection 28,29
Microbiology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Bacteriology, Developmental Biology, Colonization, Xenorhabdus, Steinernema, symbiosis, nematode, bacteria, fluorescence microscopy
Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion.
Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via
quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
Setting Limits on Supersymmetry Using Simplified Models
Institutions: University College London, CERN, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
Experimental limits on supersymmetry and similar theories are difficult to set because of the enormous available parameter space and difficult to generalize because of the complexity of single points. Therefore, more phenomenological, simplified models are becoming popular for setting experimental limits, as they have clearer physical interpretations. The use of these simplified model limits to set a real limit on a concrete theory has not, however, been demonstrated. This paper recasts simplified model limits into limits on a specific and complete supersymmetry model, minimal supergravity. Limits obtained under various physical assumptions are comparable to those produced by directed searches. A prescription is provided for calculating conservative and aggressive limits on additional theories. Using acceptance and efficiency tables along with the expected and observed numbers of events in various signal regions, LHC experimental results can be recast in this manner into almost any theoretical framework, including nonsupersymmetric theories with supersymmetry-like signatures.
Physics, Issue 81, high energy physics, particle physics, Supersymmetry, LHC, ATLAS, CMS, New Physics Limits, Simplified Models
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
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
Facilitating the Analysis of Immunological Data with Visual Analytic Techniques
Institutions: University of British Columbia, University of British Columbia, University of British Columbia.
Visual analytics (VA) has emerged as a new way to analyze large dataset through interactive visual display. We demonstrated the utility and the flexibility of a VA approach in the analysis of biological datasets. Examples of these datasets in immunology include flow cytometry, Luminex data, and genotyping (e.g., single nucleotide polymorphism) data. Contrary to the traditional information visualization approach, VA restores the analysis power in the hands of analyst by allowing the analyst to engage in real-time data exploration process. We selected the VA software called Tableau after evaluating several VA tools. Two types of analysis tasks analysis within and between datasets were demonstrated in the video presentation using an approach called paired analysis. Paired analysis, as defined in VA, is an analysis approach in which a VA tool expert works side-by-side with a domain expert during the analysis. The domain expert is the one who understands the significance of the data, and asks the questions that the collected data might address. The tool expert then creates visualizations to help find patterns in the data that might answer these questions. The short lag-time between the hypothesis generation and the rapid visual display of the data is the main advantage of a VA approach.
Immunology, Issue 47, Visual analytics, flow cytometry, Luminex, Tableau, cytokine, innate immunity, single nucleotide polymorphism
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
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
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity