The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
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
Fabrication of Uniform Nanoscale Cavities via Silicon Direct Wafer Bonding
Institutions: The State University of New York at Buffalo, University of Maryland, The National Institute of Standards and Technology, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, HRL Laboratories.
Measurements of the heat capacity and superfluid fraction of confined 4
He have been performed near the lambda transition using lithographically patterned and bonded silicon wafers. Unlike confinements in porous materials often used for these types of experiments3
, bonded wafers provide predesigned uniform spaces for confinement. The geometry of each cell is well known, which removes a large source of ambiguity in the interpretation of data.
Exceptionally flat, 5 cm diameter, 375 µm thick Si wafers with about 1 µm variation over the entire wafer can be obtained commercially (from Semiconductor Processing Company, for example). Thermal oxide is grown on the wafers to define the confinement dimension in the z-direction. A pattern is then etched in the oxide using lithographic techniques so as to create a desired enclosure upon bonding. A hole is drilled in one of the wafers (the top) to allow for the introduction of the liquid to be measured. The wafers are cleaned2
in RCA solutions and then put in a microclean chamber where they are rinsed with deionized water4
. The wafers are bonded at RT and then annealed at ~1,100 °C. This forms a strong and permanent bond. This process can be used to make uniform enclosures for measuring thermal and hydrodynamic properties of confined liquids from the nanometer to the micrometer scale.
Physics, Issue 83, silicon direct wafer bonding, nanoscale, bonded wafers, silicon wafer, confined liquids, lithographic techniques
The ChroP Approach Combines ChIP and Mass Spectrometry to Dissect Locus-specific Proteomic Landscapes of Chromatin
Institutions: European Institute of Oncology.
Chromatin is a highly dynamic nucleoprotein complex made of DNA and proteins that controls various DNA-dependent processes. Chromatin structure and function at specific regions is regulated by the local enrichment of histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs) and variants, chromatin-binding proteins, including transcription factors, and DNA methylation. The proteomic characterization of chromatin composition at distinct functional regions has been so far hampered by the lack of efficient protocols to enrich such domains at the appropriate purity and amount for the subsequent in-depth analysis by Mass Spectrometry (MS). We describe here a newly designed chromatin proteomics strategy, named ChroP (Chromatin Proteomics
), whereby a preparative chromatin immunoprecipitation is used to isolate distinct chromatin regions whose features, in terms of hPTMs, variants and co-associated non-histonic proteins, are analyzed by MS. We illustrate here the setting up of ChroP for the enrichment and analysis of transcriptionally silent heterochromatic regions, marked by the presence of tri-methylation of lysine 9 on histone H3. The results achieved demonstrate the potential of ChroP
in thoroughly characterizing the heterochromatin proteome and prove it as a powerful analytical strategy for understanding how the distinct protein determinants of chromatin interact and synergize to establish locus-specific structural and functional configurations.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, chromatin, histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs), epigenetics, mass spectrometry, proteomics, SILAC, chromatin immunoprecipitation , histone variants, chromatome, hPTMs cross-talks
High-pressure Sapphire Cell for Phase Equilibria Measurements of CO2/Organic/Water Systems
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology.
The high pressure sapphire cell apparatus was constructed to visually determine the composition of multiphase systems without physical sampling. Specifically, the sapphire cell enables visual data collection from multiple loadings to solve a set of material balances to precisely determine phase composition. Ternary phase diagrams can then be established to determine the proportion of each component in each phase at a given condition. In principle, any ternary system can be studied although ternary systems (gas-liquid-liquid) are the specific examples discussed herein. For instance, the ternary THF-Water-CO2
system was studied at 25 and 40 °C and is described herein. Of key importance, this technique does not require sampling. Circumventing the possible disturbance of the system equilibrium upon sampling, inherent measurement errors, and technical difficulties of physically sampling under pressure is a significant benefit of this technique. Perhaps as important, the sapphire cell also enables the direct visual observation of the phase behavior. In fact, as the CO2
pressure is increased, the homogeneous THF-Water solution phase splits at about 2 MPa. With this technique, it was possible to easily and clearly observe the cloud point and determine the composition of the newly formed phases as a function of pressure.
The data acquired with the sapphire cell technique can be used for many applications. In our case, we measured swelling and composition for tunable solvents, like gas-expanded liquids, gas-expanded ionic liquids and Organic Aqueous Tunable Systems (OATS)1-4
. For the latest system, OATS, the high-pressure sapphire cell enabled the study of (1) phase behavior as a function of pressure and temperature, (2) composition of each phase (gas-liquid-liquid) as a function of pressure and temperature and (3) catalyst partitioning in the two liquid phases as a function of pressure and composition. Finally, the sapphire cell is an especially effective tool to gather accurate and reproducible measurements in a timely fashion.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Phase equilibria, High-pressure, green chemistry, Green Engineering, Sapphire cell, cathetometer, ternary phase diagrams
Reconstitution Of β-catenin Degradation In Xenopus Egg Extract
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
egg extract is a well-characterized, robust system for studying the biochemistry of diverse cellular processes. Xenopus
egg extract has been used to study protein turnover in many cellular contexts, including the cell cycle and signal transduction pathways1-3
. Herein, a method is described for isolating Xenopus
egg extract that has been optimized to promote the degradation of the critical Wnt pathway component, β-catenin. Two different methods are described to assess β-catenin protein degradation in Xenopus
egg extract. One method is visually informative ([35
S]-radiolabeled proteins), while the other is more readily scaled for high-throughput assays (firefly luciferase-tagged fusion proteins). The techniques described can be used to, but are not limited to, assess β-catenin protein turnover and identify molecular components contributing to its turnover. Additionally, the ability to purify large volumes of homogenous Xenopus
egg extract combined with the quantitative and facile readout of luciferase-tagged proteins allows this system to be easily adapted for high-throughput screening for modulators of β-catenin degradation.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, Xenopus laevis, Xenopus egg extracts, protein degradation, radiolabel, luciferase, autoradiography, high-throughput screening
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
A Procedure to Observe Context-induced Renewal of Pavlovian-conditioned Alcohol-seeking Behavior in Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
Environmental contexts in which drugs of abuse are consumed can trigger craving, a subjective Pavlovian-conditioned response that can facilitate drug-seeking behavior and prompt relapse in abstinent drug users. We have developed a procedure to study the behavioral and neural processes that mediate the impact of context on alcohol-seeking behavior in rats. Following acclimation to the taste and pharmacological effects of 15% ethanol in the home cage, male Long-Evans rats receive Pavlovian discrimination training (PDT) in conditioning chambers. In each daily (Mon-Fri) PDT session, 16 trials each of two different 10 sec auditory conditioned stimuli occur. During one stimulus, the CS+, 0.2 ml of 15% ethanol is delivered into a fluid port for oral consumption. The second stimulus, the CS-, is not paired with ethanol. Across sessions, entries into the fluid port during the CS+ increase, whereas entries during the CS- stabilize at a lower level, indicating that a predictive association between the CS+ and ethanol is acquired. During PDT each chamber is equipped with a specific configuration of visual, olfactory and tactile contextual stimuli. Following PDT, extinction training is conducted in the same chamber that is now equipped with a different configuration of contextual stimuli. The CS+ and CS- are presented as before, but ethanol is withheld, which causes a gradual decline in port entries during the CS+. At test, rats are placed back into the PDT context and presented with the CS+ and CS- as before, but without ethanol. This manipulation triggers a robust and selective increase in the number of port entries made during the alcohol predictive CS+, with no change in responding during the CS-. This effect, referred to as context-induced renewal, illustrates the powerful capacity of contexts associated with alcohol consumption to stimulate alcohol-seeking behavior in response to Pavlovian alcohol cues.
Behavior, Issue 91, Behavioral neuroscience, alcoholism, relapse, addiction, Pavlovian conditioning, ethanol, reinstatement, discrimination, conditioned approach
Radio Frequency Identification and Motion-sensitive Video Efficiently Automate Recording of Unrewarded Choice Behavior by Bumblebees
Institutions: University of Ottawa.
We present two methods for observing bumblebee choice behavior in an enclosed testing space. The first method consists of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) readers built into artificial flowers that display various visual cues, and RFID tags (i.e.
, passive transponders) glued to the thorax of bumblebee workers. The novelty in our implementation is that RFID readers are built directly into artificial flowers that are capable of displaying several distinct visual properties such as color, pattern type, spatial frequency (i.e.
, “busyness” of the pattern), and symmetry (spatial frequency and symmetry were not manipulated in this experiment). Additionally, these visual displays in conjunction with the automated systems are capable of recording unrewarded
choice behavior. The second method consists of recording choice behavior at artificial flowers using motion-sensitive high-definition camcorders. Bumblebees have number tags glued to their thoraces for unique identification. The advantage in this implementation over RFID is that in addition to observing landing behavior, alternate measures of preference such as hovering and antennation may also be observed. Both automation methods increase experimental control, and internal validity by allowing larger scale studies that take into account individual differences. External validity is also improved because bees can freely enter and exit the testing environment without constraints such as the availability of a research assistant on-site. Compared to human observation in real time, the automated methods are more cost-effective and possibly less error-prone.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, bumblebee, unlearned behaviors, floral choice, visual perception, Bombus spp, information processing, radio-frequency identification, motion-sensitive video
Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The folding and assembly of proteins is essential for protein function, the long-term health of the cell, and longevity of the organism. Historically, the function and regulation of protein folding was studied in vitro
, in isolated tissue culture cells and in unicellular organisms. Recent studies have uncovered links between protein homeostasis (proteostasis), metabolism, development, aging, and temperature-sensing. These findings have led to the development of new tools for monitoring protein folding in the model metazoan organism Caenorhabditis elegans
. In our laboratory, we combine behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical approaches using temperature-sensitive or naturally occurring metastable proteins as sensors of the folding environment to monitor protein misfolding. Behavioral assays that are associated with the misfolding of a specific protein provide a simple and powerful readout for protein folding, allowing for the fast screening of genes and conditions that modulate folding. Likewise, such misfolding can be associated with protein mislocalization in the cell. Monitoring protein localization can, therefore, highlight changes in cellular folding capacity occurring in different tissues, at various stages of development and in the face of changing conditions. Finally, using biochemical tools ex vivo
, we can directly monitor protein stability and conformation. Thus, by combining behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical techniques, we are able to monitor protein misfolding at the resolution of the organism, the cell, and the protein, respectively.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, aging, Caenorhabditis elegans, heat shock response, neurodegenerative diseases, protein folding homeostasis, proteostasis, stress, temperature-sensitive
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Characterization of Electrode Materials for Lithium Ion and Sodium Ion Batteries Using Synchrotron Radiation Techniques
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Haldor Topsøe A/S, PolyPlus Battery Company.
Intercalation compounds such as transition metal oxides or phosphates are the most commonly used electrode materials in Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. During insertion or removal of alkali metal ions, the redox states of transition metals in the compounds change and structural transformations such as phase transitions and/or lattice parameter increases or decreases occur. These behaviors in turn determine important characteristics of the batteries such as the potential profiles, rate capabilities, and cycle lives. The extremely bright and tunable x-rays produced by synchrotron radiation allow rapid acquisition of high-resolution data that provide information about these processes. Transformations in the bulk materials, such as phase transitions, can be directly observed using X-ray diffraction (XRD), while X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) gives information about the local electronic and geometric structures (e.g.
changes in redox states and bond lengths). In situ
experiments carried out on operating cells are particularly useful because they allow direct correlation between the electrochemical and structural properties of the materials. These experiments are time-consuming and can be challenging to design due to the reactivity and air-sensitivity of the alkali metal anodes used in the half-cell configurations, and/or the possibility of signal interference from other cell components and hardware. For these reasons, it is appropriate to carry out ex situ
on electrodes harvested from partially charged or cycled cells) in some cases. Here, we present detailed protocols for the preparation of both ex situ
and in situ
samples for experiments involving synchrotron radiation and demonstrate how these experiments are done.
Physics, Issue 81, X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, inorganic chemistry, electric batteries (applications), energy storage, Electrode materials, Li-ion battery, Na-ion battery, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD)
Measurement Of Neuromagnetic Brain Function In Pre-school Children With Custom Sized MEG
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Magnetoencephalography is a technique that detects magnetic fields associated with cortical activity . The electrophysiological activity of the brain generates electric fields - that can be recorded using electroencephalography (EEG)- and their concomitant magnetic fields - detected by MEG. MEG signals are detected by specialized sensors known as superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs). Superconducting sensors require cooling with liquid helium at -270 °C. They are contained inside a vacumm-insulated helmet called a dewar, which is filled with liquid. SQUIDS are placed in fixed positions inside the helmet dewar in the helium coolant, and a subject's head is placed inside the helmet dewar for MEG measurements. The helmet dewar must be sized to satisfy opposing constraints. Clearly, it must be large enough to fit most or all of the heads in the population that will be studied. However, the helmet must also be small enough to keep most of the SQUID sensors within range of the tiny cerebral fields that they are to measure. Conventional whole-head MEG systems are designed to accommodate more than 90% of adult heads. However adult systems are not well suited for measuring brain function in pre-school chidren whose heads have a radius several cm smaller than adults. The KIT-Macquarie Brain Research Laboratory at Macquarie University uses a MEG system custom sized to fit the heads of pre-school children. This child system has 64 first-order axial gradiometers with a 50 mm baseline and is contained inside a magnetically-shielded room (MSR) together with a conventional adult-sized MEG system [3,4]. There are three main advantages of the customized helmet dewar for studying children. First, the smaller radius of the sensor configuration brings the SQUID sensors into range of the neuromagnetic signals of children's heads. Second, the smaller helmet allows full insertion of a child's head into the dewar. Full insertion is prevented in adult dewar helmets because of the smaller crown to shoulder distance in children. These two factors are fundamental in recording brain activity using MEG because neuromagnetic signals attenuate rapidly with distance. Third, the customized child helmet aids in the symmetric positioning of the head and limits the freedom of movement of the child's head within the dewar. When used with a protocol that aligns the requirements of data collection with the motivational and behavioral capacities of children, these features significantly facilitate setup, positioning, and measurement of MEG signals.
Neuroscience, Issue 36, Magnetoencephalography, Pediatrics, Brain Mapping, Language, Brain Development, Cognitive Neuroscience, Language Acquisition, Linguistics
Linearization of the Bradford Protein Assay
Institutions: Tel Aviv University.
Determination of microgram quantities of protein in the Bradford Coomassie brilliant blue assay is accomplished by measurement of absorbance at 590 nm. This most common assay enables rapid and simple protein quantification in cell lysates, cellular fractions, or recombinant protein samples, for the purpose of normalization of biochemical measurements. However, an intrinsic nonlinearity compromises the sensitivity and accuracy of this method. It is shown that under standard assay conditions, the ratio of the absorbance measurements at 590 nm and 450 nm is strictly linear with protein concentration. This simple procedure increases the accuracy and improves the sensitivity of the assay about 10-fold, permitting quantification down to 50 ng of bovine serum albumin. Furthermore, the interference commonly introduced by detergents that are used to create the cell lysates is greatly reduced by the new protocol. A linear equation developed on the basis of mass action and Beer's law perfectly fits the experimental data.
Cellular Biology, Issue 38, Bradford, protein assay, protein quantification, Coomassie brilliant blue
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Bioenergetic Profile Experiment using C2C12 Myoblast Cells
Institutions: Novato, CA, University of Alabama at Birmingham - UAB, North Billerica, MA.
The ability to measure cellular metabolism and understand mitochondrial dysfunction, has enabled scientists worldwide to advance their research in understanding the role of mitochondrial function in obesity, diabetes, aging, cancer, cardiovascular function and safety toxicity.
Cellular metabolism is the process of substrate uptake, such as oxygen, glucose, fatty acids, and glutamine, and subsequent energy conversion through a series of enzymatically controlled oxidation and reduction reactions. These intracellular biochemical reactions result in the production of ATP, the release of heat and chemical byproducts, such as lactate and CO2
into the extracellular environment.
Valuable insight into the physiological state of cells, and the alteration of the state of those cells, can be gained through measuring the rate of oxygen consumed by the cells, an indicator of mitochondrial respiration - the Oxygen Consumption Rate - or OCR. Cells also generate ATP through glycolysis, i.e.: the conversion of glucose to lactate, independent of oxygen. In cultured wells, lactate is the primary source of protons. Measuring the lactic acid produced indirectly via protons released into the extracellular medium surrounding the cells, which causes acidification of the medium provides the Extra-Cellular Acidification Rate - or ECAR.
In this experiment, C2C12 myoblast cells are seeded at a given density in Seahorse cell culture plates. The basal oxygen consumption (OCR) and extracellular acidification (ECAR) rates are measured to establish baseline rates. The cells are then metabolically perturbed by three additions of different compounds (in succession) that shift the bioenergetic profile of the cell.
This assay is derived from a classic experiment to assess mitochondria and serves as a framework with which to build more complex experiments aimed at understanding both physiologic and pathophysiologic function of mitochondria and to predict the ability of cells to respond to stress and/or insults.
Cellular Biology, Issue 46, Mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular, bioenergetics, metabolism, cancer, obesity, diabetes, aging, neurodegeneration
Isothermal Titration Calorimetry for Measuring Macromolecule-Ligand Affinity
Institutions: University of Tennessee .
Isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) is a useful tool for understanding the complete thermodynamic picture of a binding reaction. In biological sciences, macromolecular interactions are essential in understanding the machinery of the cell. Experimental conditions, such as buffer and temperature, can be tailored to the particular binding system being studied. However, careful planning is needed since certain ligand and macromolecule concentration ranges are necessary to obtain useful data. Concentrations of the macromolecule and ligand need to be accurately determined for reliable results. Care also needs to be taken when preparing the samples as impurities can significantly affect the experiment. When ITC experiments, along with controls, are performed properly, useful binding information, such as the stoichiometry, affinity and enthalpy, are obtained. By running additional experiments under different buffer or temperature conditions, more detailed information can be obtained about the system. A protocol for the basic setup of an ITC experiment is given.
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, Isothermal titration calorimetry, thermodynamics, binding affinity, enthalpy, entropy, free energy
Voltage Biasing, Cyclic Voltammetry, & Electrical Impedance Spectroscopy for Neural Interfaces
Institutions: Purdue University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Michigan , Purdue University.
Electrical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) and cyclic voltammetry (CV) measure properties of the electrode-tissue interface without additional invasive procedures, and can be used to monitor electrode performance over the long term. EIS measures electrical impedance at multiple frequencies, and increases in impedance indicate increased glial scar formation around the device, while cyclic voltammetry measures the charge carrying capacity of the electrode, and indicates how charge is transferred at different voltage levels. As implanted electrodes age, EIS and CV data change, and electrode sites that previously recorded spiking neurons often exhibit significantly lower efficacy for neural recording. The application of a brief voltage pulse to implanted electrode arrays, known as rejuvenation, can bring back spiking activity on otherwise silent electrode sites for a period of time. Rejuvenation alters EIS and CV, and can be monitored by these complementary methods. Typically, EIS is measured daily as an indication of the tissue response at the electrode site. If spikes are absent in a channel that previously had spikes, then CV is used to determine the charge carrying capacity of the electrode site, and rejuvenation can be applied to improve the interface efficacy. CV and EIS are then repeated to check the changes at the electrode-tissue interface, and neural recordings are collected. The overall goal of rejuvenation is to extend the functional lifetime of implanted arrays.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, neuroprosthesis, electrode-tissue interface, rejuvenation, neural engineering, neuroscience, neural implant, electrode, brain-computer interface, electrochemistry
Cholesterol Efflux Assay
Institutions: Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.
Cholesterol content of cells must be maintained within the very tight limits, too much or too little cholesterol in a cell results in disruption of cellular membranes, apoptosis and necrosis 1
. Cells can source cholesterol from intracellular synthesis and from plasma lipoproteins, both sources are sufficient to fully satisfy cells' requirements for cholesterol. The processes of cholesterol synthesis and uptake are tightly regulated and deficiencies of cholesterol are rare 2
. Excessive cholesterol is more common problem 3
. With the exception of hepatocytes and to some degree adrenocortical cells, cells are unable to degrade cholesterol. Cells have two options to reduce their cholesterol content: to convert cholesterol into cholesteryl esters, an option with limited capacity as overloading cells with cholesteryl esters is also toxic, and cholesterol efflux, an option with potentially unlimited capacity. Cholesterol efflux is a specific process that is regulated by a number of intracellular transporters, such as ATP binding cassette transporter proteins A1 (ABCA1) and G1 (ABCG1) and scavenger receptor type B1. The natural acceptor of cholesterol in plasma is high density lipoprotein (HDL) and apolipoprotein A-I.
The cholesterol efflux assay is designed to quantitate the rate of cholesterol efflux from cultured cells. It measures the capacity of cells to maintain cholesterol efflux and/or the capacity of plasma acceptors to accept cholesterol released from cells. The assay consists of the following steps. Step 1: labelling cellular cholesterol by adding labelled cholesterol to serum-containing medium and incubating with cells for 24-48 h. This step may be combined with loading of cells with cholesterol. Step 2: incubation of cells in serum-free medium to equilibrate labelled cholesterol among all intracellular cholesterol pools. This stage may be combined with activation of cellular cholesterol transporters. Step 3: incubation of cells with extracellular acceptor and quantitation of movement of labelled cholesterol from cells to the acceptor. If cholesterol precursors were used to label newly synthesized cholesterol, a fourth step, purification of cholesterol, may be required.
The assay delivers the following information: (i) how a particular treatment (a mutation, a knock-down, an overexpression or a treatment) affects the capacity of cell to efflux cholesterol and (ii) how the capacity of plasma acceptors to accept cholesterol is affected by a disease or a treatment. This method is often used in context of cardiovascular research, metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders, infectious and reproductive diseases.
Medicine, Issue 61, Lipids, lipoproteins, atherosclerosis, trafficking, cholesterol
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
Fabrication of VB2/Air Cells for Electrochemical Testing
Institutions: The George Washington University, Lynntech.
A technique to investigate the properties and performance of new multi-electron metal/air battery systems is proposed and presented. A method for synthesizing nanoscopic VB2
is presented as well as step-by-step procedure for applying a zirconium oxide coating to the VB2
particles for stabilization upon discharge. The process for disassembling existing zinc/air cells is shown, in addition construction of the new working electrode to replace the conventional zinc/air cell anode with a the nanoscopic VB2
anode. Finally, discharge of the completed VB2
/air battery is reported. We show that using the zinc/air cell as a test bed is useful to provide a consistent configuration to study the performance of the high-energy high capacity nanoscopic VB2
Physics, Issue 78, Materials Science, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Inorganic Chemicals, Chemistry and Materials (General), Composite Materials, Inorganic, Organic and Physical Chemistry, Metals and Metallic Materials, Nonmetallic Materials, Engineering (General), Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Physics (General), energy storage, metal/air battery, nanoscopic vanadium diboride, VB2, multi-electron oxidation, electrochemical testing, electrode, fabrication
Single Molecule Methods for Monitoring Changes in Bilayer Elastic Properties
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University.
Membrane protein function is regulated by the cell membrane lipid composition. This regulation is due to a combination of specific lipid-protein interactions and more general lipid bilayer-protein interactions. These interactions are particularly important in pharmacological research, as many current pharmaceuticals on the market can alter the lipid bilayer material properties, which can lead to altered membrane protein function. The formation of gramicidin channels are dependent on conformational changes in gramicidin subunits which are in turn dependent on the properties of the lipid. Hence the gramicidin channel current is a reporter of altered properties of the bilayer due to certain compounds.
Cellular Biology, Issue 21, Springer Protocols, Membrane Biophysics, Gramicidin Channels, Artificial Bilayers, Bilayer Elastic Properties,
Major Components of the Light Microscope
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).
The light microscope is a basic tool for the cell biologist, who should have a thorough understanding of how it works, how it should be aligned for different applications, and how it should be maintained as required to obtain maximum image-forming capacity and resolution. The components of the microscope are described in detail here.
Basic Protocols, Issue 17, Current Protocols Wiley, Microscopy, Objectives, Condenser, Eyepiece