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.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Testing Visual Sensitivity to the Speed and Direction of Motion in Lizards
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Visual sensitivity, motion perception, operant conditioning, speed, coherence, Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus)
Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential
Institutions: Miami University .
Lake Bonney is one of numerous permanently ice-covered lakes located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams. Biota are exposed to numerous environmental stresses, including year-round severe nutrient deficiency, low temperatures, extreme shade, hypersalinity, and 24-hour darkness during the winter 1
. These extreme environmental conditions limit the biota in Lake Bonney almost exclusively to microorganisms 2
Single-celled microbial eukaryotes (called "protists") are important players in global biogeochemical cycling 3
and play important ecological roles in the cycling of carbon in the dry valley lakes, occupying both primary and tertiary roles in the aquatic food web. In the dry valley aquatic food web, protists that fix inorganic carbon (autotrophy) are the major producers of organic carbon for organotrophic organisms 4, 2
. Phagotrophic or heterotrophic protists capable of ingesting bacteria and smaller protists act as the top predators in the food web 5
. Last, an unknown proportion of the protist population is capable of combined mixotrophic metabolism 6, 7
. Mixotrophy in protists involves the ability to combine photosynthetic capability with phagotrophic ingestion of prey microorganisms. This form of mixotrophy differs from mixotrophic metabolism in bacterial species, which generally involves uptake dissolved carbon molecules. There are currently very few protist isolates from permanently ice-capped polar lakes, and studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited 8, 4, 9, 10, 5
. A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle.
We employed an enrichment culture approach to isolate potentially phototrophic and mixotrophic protists from Lake Bonney. Sampling depths in the water column were chosen based on the location of primary production maxima and protist phylogenetic diversity 4, 11
, as well as variability in major abiotic factors affecting protist trophic modes: shallow sampling depths are limited for major nutrients, while deeper sampling depths are limited by light availability. In addition, lake water samples were supplemented with multiple types of growth media to promote the growth of a variety of phototrophic organisms.
RubisCO catalyzes the rate limiting step in the Calvin Benson Bassham (CBB) cycle, the major pathway by which autotrophic organisms fix inorganic carbon and provide organic carbon for higher trophic levels in aquatic and terrestrial food webs 12
. In this study, we applied a radioisotope assay modified for filtered samples 13
to monitor maximum carboxylase activity as a proxy for carbon fixation potential and metabolic versatility in the Lake Bonney enrichment cultures.
Microbiology, Issue 62, Antarctic lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Enrichment cultivation, Microbial eukaryotes, RubisCO
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
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.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
DNA Stable-Isotope Probing (DNA-SIP)
Institutions: University of Waterloo.
DNA stable-isotope probing (DNA-SIP) is a powerful technique for identifying active microorganisms that assimilate particular carbon substrates and nutrients into cellular biomass. As such, this cultivation-independent technique has been an important methodology for assigning metabolic function to the diverse communities inhabiting a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic environments. Following the incubation of an environmental sample with stable-isotope labelled compounds, extracted nucleic acid is subjected to density gradient ultracentrifugation and subsequent gradient fractionation to separate nucleic acids of differing densities. Purification of DNA from cesium chloride retrieves labelled and unlabelled DNA for subsequent molecular characterization (e.g. fingerprinting, microarrays, clone libraries, metagenomics). This JoVE video protocol provides visual step-by-step explanations of the protocol for density gradient ultracentrifugation, gradient fractionation and recovery of labelled DNA. The protocol also includes sample SIP data and highlights important tips and cautions that must be considered to ensure a successful DNA-SIP analysis.
Microbiology, Issue 42, DNA stable-isotope probing, microbiology, microbial ecology, cultivation-independent, metagenomics, 16S rRNA gene community analysis, substrates, microbial ecology, enrichment
Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Institute for Advanced Study, NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of California at San Diego.
In 1953, Stanley Miller reported the production of biomolecules from simple gaseous starting materials, using an apparatus constructed to simulate the primordial Earth's atmosphere-ocean system. Miller introduced 200 ml of water, 100 mmHg of H2
, 200 mmHg of CH4
, and 200 mmHg of NH3
into the apparatus, then subjected this mixture, under reflux, to an electric discharge for a week, while the water was simultaneously heated. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide the reader with a general experimental protocol that can be used to conduct a Miller-Urey type spark discharge experiment, using a simplified 3 L reaction flask. Since the experiment involves exposing inflammable gases to a high voltage electric discharge, it is worth highlighting important steps that reduce the risk of explosion. The general procedures described in this work can be extrapolated to design and conduct a wide variety of electric discharge experiments simulating primitive planetary environments.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Geosciences (General), Exobiology, Miller-Urey, Prebiotic chemistry, amino acids, spark discharge
Laboratory Drop Towers for the Experimental Simulation of Dust-aggregate Collisions in the Early Solar System
Institutions: Technische Universität Braunschweig.
For the purpose of investigating the evolution of dust aggregates in the early Solar System, we developed two vacuum drop towers in which fragile dust aggregates with sizes up to ~10 cm and porosities up to 70% can be collided. One of the drop towers is primarily used for very low impact speeds down to below 0.01 m/sec and makes use of a double release mechanism. Collisions are recorded in stereo-view by two high-speed cameras, which fall along the glass vacuum tube in the center-of-mass frame of the two dust aggregates. The other free-fall tower makes use of an electromagnetic accelerator that is capable of gently accelerating dust aggregates to up to 5 m/sec. In combination with the release of another dust aggregate to free fall, collision speeds up to ~10 m/sec can be achieved. Here, two fixed high-speed cameras record the collision events. In both drop towers, the dust aggregates are in free fall during the collision so that they are weightless and match the conditions in the early Solar System.
Physics, Issue 88, astrophysics, planet formation, collisions, granular matter, high-speed imaging, microgravity drop tower
Simulation of the Planetary Interior Differentiation Processes in the Laboratory
Institutions: Carnegie Institution of Washington.
A planetary interior is under high-pressure and high-temperature conditions and it has a layered structure. There are two important processes that led to that layered structure, (1) percolation of liquid metal in a solid silicate matrix by planet differentiation, and (2) inner core crystallization by subsequent planet cooling. We conduct high-pressure and high-temperature experiments to simulate both processes in the laboratory. Formation of percolative planetary core depends on the efficiency of melt percolation, which is controlled by the dihedral (wetting) angle. The percolation simulation includes heating the sample at high pressure to a target temperature at which iron-sulfur alloy is molten while the silicate remains solid, and then determining the true dihedral angle to evaluate the style of liquid migration in a crystalline matrix by 3D visualization. The 3D volume rendering is achieved by slicing the recovered sample with a focused ion beam (FIB) and taking SEM image of each slice with a FIB/SEM crossbeam instrument. The second set of experiments is designed to understand the inner core crystallization and element distribution between the liquid outer core and solid inner core by determining the melting temperature and element partitioning at high pressure. The melting experiments are conducted in the multi-anvil apparatus up to 27 GPa and extended to higher pressure in the diamond-anvil cell with laser-heating. We have developed techniques to recover small heated samples by precision FIB milling and obtain high-resolution images of the laser-heated spot that show melting texture at high pressure. By analyzing the chemical compositions of the coexisting liquid and solid phases, we precisely determine the liquidus curve, providing necessary data to understand the inner core crystallization process.
Physics, Issue 81, Geophysics, Planetary Science, Geochemistry, Planetary interior, high-pressure, planet differentiation, 3D tomography
Analysis of Fatty Acid Content and Composition in Microalgae
Institutions: Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center.
A method to determine the content and composition of total fatty acids present in microalgae is described. Fatty acids are a major constituent of microalgal biomass. These fatty acids can be present in different acyl-lipid classes. Especially the fatty acids present in triacylglycerol (TAG) are of commercial interest, because they can be used for production of transportation fuels, bulk chemicals, nutraceuticals (ω-3 fatty acids), and food commodities. To develop commercial applications, reliable analytical methods for quantification of fatty acid content and composition are needed. Microalgae are single cells surrounded by a rigid cell wall. A fatty acid analysis method should provide sufficient cell disruption to liberate all acyl lipids and the extraction procedure used should be able to extract all acyl lipid classes.
With the method presented here all fatty acids present in microalgae can be accurately and reproducibly identified and quantified using small amounts of sample (5 mg) independent of their chain length, degree of unsaturation, or the lipid class they are part of.
This method does not provide information about the relative abundance of different lipid classes, but can be extended to separate lipid classes from each other.
The method is based on a sequence of mechanical cell disruption, solvent based lipid extraction, transesterification of fatty acids to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), and quantification and identification of FAMEs using gas chromatography (GC-FID). A TAG internal standard (tripentadecanoin) is added prior to the analytical procedure to correct for losses during extraction and incomplete transesterification.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, chemical analysis techniques, Microalgae, fatty acid, triacylglycerol, lipid, gas chromatography, cell disruption
Aplysia Ganglia Preparation for Electrophysiological and Molecular Analyses of Single Neurons
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute, Florida.
A major challenge in neurobiology is to understand the molecular underpinnings of neural circuitry that govern a specific behavior. Once the specific molecular mechanisms are identified, new therapeutic strategies can be developed to treat abnormalities in specific behaviors caused by degenerative diseases or aging of the nervous system. The marine snail Aplysia californica
is well suited for the investigations of cellular and molecular basis of behavior because neural circuitry underlying a specific behavior could be easily determined and the individual components of the circuitry could be easily manipulated. These advantages of Aplysia
have led to several fundamental discoveries of neurobiology of learning and memory. Here we describe a preparation of the Aplysia
nervous system for the electrophysiological and molecular analyses of individual neurons. Briefly, ganglion dissected from the nervous system is exposed to protease to remove the ganglion sheath such that neurons are exposed but retain neuronal activity as in the intact animal. This preparation is used to carry out electrophysiological measurements of single or multiple neurons. Importantly, following the recording using a simple methodology, the neurons could be isolated directly from the ganglia for gene expression analysis. These protocols were used to carry out simultaneous electrophysiological recordings from L7 and R15 neurons, study their response to acetylcholine and quantitating expression of CREB1 gene in isolated single L7, L11, R15, and R2 neurons of Aplysia
Neurobiology, Issue 83, intracellular recording, identified neuron, neural circuitry, gene expression, action potential, CREB, Aplysia californica, genomics
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Harvesting Sperm and Artificial Insemination of Mice
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Rodents of the genus Peromyscus (deer mice) are the most prevalent native North American mammals. Peromyscus species are used in a wide range of research including toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, behavioral, and genetic studies. Here they provide a useful model for demonstrations of artificial insemination.
Methods similar to those displayed here have previously been used in several deer mouse studies, yet no detailed protocol has been published. Here we demonstrate the basic method of artificial insemination. This method entails extracting the testes from the rodent, then isolating the sperm from the epididymis and vas deferens. The mature sperm, now in a milk mixture, are placed in the female’s reproductive tract at the time of ovulation. Fertilization is counted as day 0 for timing of embryo development. Embryos can then be retrieved at the desired time-point and manipulated.
Artificial insemination can be used in a variety of rodent species where exact embryo timing is crucial or hard to obtain. This technique is vital for species or strains (including most Peromyscus) which may not mate immediately and/or where mating is hard to assess. In addition, artificial insemination provides exact timing for embryo development either in mapping developmental progress and/or transgenic work. Reduced numbers of animals can be used since fertilization is guaranteed. This method has been vital to furthering the Peromyscus system, and will hopefully benefit others as well.
Developmental Biology, Issue 3, sperm, mouse, artificial insemination, dissection
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
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Laboratory Estimation of Net Trophic Transfer Efficiencies of PCB Congeners to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) from Its Prey
Institutions: U. S. Geological Survey, Grand Valley State University, Shedd Aquarium.
A technique for laboratory estimation of net trophic transfer efficiency (γ) of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners to piscivorous fish from their prey is described herein. During a 135-day laboratory experiment, we fed bloater (Coregonus hoyi
) that had been caught in Lake Michigan to lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush
) kept in eight laboratory tanks. Bloater is a natural prey for lake trout. In four of the tanks, a relatively high flow rate was used to ensure relatively high activity by the lake trout, whereas a low flow rate was used in the other four tanks, allowing for low lake trout activity. On a tank-by-tank basis, the amount of food eaten by the lake trout on each day of the experiment was recorded. Each lake trout was weighed at the start and end of the experiment. Four to nine lake trout from each of the eight tanks were sacrificed at the start of the experiment, and all 10 lake trout remaining in each of the tanks were euthanized at the end of the experiment. We determined concentrations of 75 PCB congeners in the lake trout at the start of the experiment, in the lake trout at the end of the experiment, and in bloaters fed to the lake trout during the experiment. Based on these measurements, γ was calculated for each of 75 PCB congeners in each of the eight tanks. Mean γ was calculated for each of the 75 PCB congeners for both active and inactive lake trout. Because the experiment was replicated in eight tanks, the standard error about mean γ could be estimated. Results from this type of experiment are useful in risk assessment models to predict future risk to humans and wildlife eating contaminated fish under various scenarios of environmental contamination.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, trophic transfer efficiency, polychlorinated biphenyl congeners, lake trout, activity, contaminants, accumulation, risk assessment, toxic equivalents
Expression, Isolation, and Purification of Soluble and Insoluble Biotinylated Proteins for Nerve Tissue Regeneration
Institutions: University of Akron.
Recombinant protein engineering has utilized Escherichia coli (E. coli)
expression systems for nearly 4 decades, and today E. coli
is still the most widely used host organism. The flexibility of the system allows for the addition of moieties such as a biotin tag (for streptavidin interactions) and larger functional proteins like green fluorescent protein or cherry red protein. Also, the integration of unnatural amino acids like metal ion chelators, uniquely reactive functional groups, spectroscopic probes, and molecules imparting post-translational modifications has enabled better manipulation of protein properties and functionalities. As a result this technique creates customizable fusion proteins that offer significant utility for various fields of research. More specifically, the biotinylatable protein sequence has been incorporated into many target proteins because of the high affinity interaction between biotin with avidin and streptavidin. This addition has aided in enhancing detection and purification of tagged proteins as well as opening the way for secondary applications such as cell sorting. Thus, biotin-labeled molecules show an increasing and widespread influence in bioindustrial and biomedical fields. For the purpose of our research we have engineered recombinant biotinylated fusion proteins containing nerve growth factor (NGF) and semaphorin3A (Sema3A) functional regions. We have reported previously how these biotinylated fusion proteins, along with other active protein sequences, can be tethered to biomaterials for tissue engineering and regenerative purposes. This protocol outlines the basics of engineering biotinylatable proteins at the milligram scale, utilizing a T7 lac
inducible vector and E. coli
expression hosts, starting from transformation to scale-up and purification.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, protein engineering, recombinant protein production, AviTag, BirA, biotinylation, pET vector system, E. coli, inclusion bodies, Ni-NTA, size exclusion chromatography
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e.
biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc
.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not
expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis
; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e.
helping in insect reproduction1
, boosting the immune response2
, pheromone production3
, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4,
Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms.
To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo
C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5
. The incorporation of 13
C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12
C) one. In the end, the 13
C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12
C-unlabeled similar one6
. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species.
Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis
). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13
C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
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
A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1
. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2
. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps
). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo
, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871
, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro
starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro
reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g.,
pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g.,
protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro
currently used in our laboratory,
and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1
. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1
. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2
to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4
and has been used in other studies5-8
The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9
, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10
, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11
, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well.
Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor.
Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run.
Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
Assessing Burrowing, Nest Construction, and Hoarding in Mice
Institutions: University of Oxford .
Deterioration in the ability to perform "Activities of daily living" (ADL) is an early sign of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Preclinical behavioural screening of possible treatments for AD currently largely focuses on cognitive testing, which frequently demands expensive equipment and lots of experimenter time. However, human episodic memory (the most severely affected aspect of memory in AD) is different to rodent memory, which seems to be largely non-episodic. Therefore the present ways of screening for new AD treatments for AD in rodents are intrinsically unlikely to succeed. A new approach to preclinical screening would be to characterise the ADL of mice. Fortuitously, several such assays have recently been developed at Oxford, and here the three most sensitive and well-characterised are presented.
Burrowing was first developed in Oxford13
. It evolved from a need to develop a mouse hoarding paradigm. Most published rodent hoarding paradigms required a distant food source to be linked to the home cage by a connecting passage. This would involve modifying the home cage as well as making a mouse-proof connecting passage and food source. So it was considered whether it would be possible to put the food source inside the cage. It was found that if a container was placed on the floor it was emptied by the next morning., The food pellets were, however, simply deposited in a heap at the container entrance, rather than placed in a discrete place away from the container, as might be expected if the mice were truly hoarding them. Close inspection showed that the mice were performing digging ("burrowing") movements, not carrying the pellets in their mouths to a selected place as they would if truly hoarding them.6
Food pellets are not an essential substrate for burrowing; mice will empty tubes filled with sand, gravel, even soiled bedding from their own cage. Moreover, they will empty a full tube even if an empty one is placed next to it8
Several nesting protocols exist in the literature. The present Oxford one simplifies the procedure and has a well-defined scoring system for nest quality5
A hoarding paradigm was later developed in which the mice, rather than hoarding back to the real home cage, were adapted to living in the "home base" of a hoarding apparatus. This home base was connected to a tube made of wire mesh, the distal end of which contained the food source. This arrangement proved to yield good hoarding behaviour, as long as the mice were adapted to living in the "home base" during the day and only allowed to enter the hoarding tube at night.
Neuroscience, Issue 59, Mice, murine, burrowing, nesting, hoarding, hippocampus, Alzheimer’s, prion, species-typical, welfare, 3Rs
Electroporation of Mycobacteria
Institutions: Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
Microbiology, Issue 15, Springer Protocols, Mycobacteria, Electroporation, Bacterial Transformation, Transformation Efficiency, Bacteria, Tuberculosis, M. Smegmatis, Springer Protocols
The Structure of Skilled Forelimb Reaching in the Rat: A Movement Rating Scale
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Skilled reaching for food is an evolutionary ancient act and is displayed by many animal species, including those in the sister clades of rodents and primates. The video describes a test situation that allows filming of repeated acts of reaching for food by the rat that has been mildly food deprived. A rat is trained to reach through a slot in a holding box for food pellet that it grasps and then places in its mouth for eating. Reaching is accomplished in the main by proximally driven movements of the limb but distal limb movements are used for pronating the paw, grasping the food, and releasing the food into the mouth. Each reach is divided into at least 10 movements of the forelimb and the reaching act is facilitated by postural adjustments. Each of the movements is described and examples of the movements are given from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation. Because the reaching act for the rat is very similar to that displayed by humans and nonhuman primates, the scale can be used for comparative purposes. from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation.
Experiments on animals were performed in accordance with the guidelines and regulations set forth by the University of Lethbridge Animal Care Committee in accordance with the regulations of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, rat skilled reaching, rat reaching scale, rat, rat movement element rating scale, reaching elements