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!
Characteristics of Precipitation-formed Polyethylene Glycol Microgels Are Controlled by Molecular Weight of Reactants
Institutions: The University of Akron, Saint Vincent Saint Mary's High School.
This work describes the formation of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) microgels via a photopolymerized precipitation reaction. Precipitation reactions offer several advantages over traditional microsphere fabrication techniques. Contrary to emulsion, suspension, and dispersion techniques, microgels formed by precipitation are of uniform shape and size, i.e.
low polydispersity index, without the use of organic solvents or stabilizers. The mild conditions of the precipitation reaction, customizable properties of the microgels, and low viscosity for injections make them applicable for in vivo
purposes. Unlike other fabrication techniques, microgel characteristics can be modified by changing the starting polymer molecular weight. Increasing the starting PEG molecular weight increased microgel diameter and swelling ratio. Further modifications are suggested such as encapsulating molecules during microgel crosslinking. Simple adaptations to the PEG microgel building blocks are explored for future applications of microgels as drug delivery vehicles and tissue engineering scaffolds.
Bioengineering, Issue 82, hydrogels, microgels, polyethylene glycol, molecuar weight, photopolymerized precipitation reaction, polymers, polydispersity index
PLGA Nanoparticles Formed by Single- or Double-emulsion with Vitamin E-TPGS
Institutions: Barrow Neurological Institute.
Poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) is a biocompatible member of the aliphatic polyester family of biodegradable polymers. PLGA has long been a popular choice for drug delivery applications, particularly since it is already FDA-approved for use in humans in the form of resorbable sutures. Hydrophobic and hydrophilic drugs are encapsulated in PLGA particles via single- or double-emulsion. Briefly, the drug is dissolved with polymer or emulsified with polymer in an organic phase that is then emulsified with the aqueous phase. After the solvent has evaporated, particles are washed and collected via centrifugation for lyophilization and long term storage. PLGA degrades slowly via hydrolysis in aqueous environments, and encapsulated agents are released over a period of weeks to months. Although PLGA is a material that possesses many advantages for drug delivery, reproducible formation of nanoparticles can be challenging; considerable variability is introduced by the use of different equipment, reagents batch, and precise method of emulsification. Here, we describe in great detail the formation and characterization of microparticles and nanoparticles formed by single- or double-emulsion using the emulsifying agent vitamin E-TPGS. Particle morphology and size are determined with scanning electron microscopy (SEM). We provide representative SEM images for nanoparticles produced with varying emulsifier concentration, as well as examples of imaging artifacts and failed emulsifications. This protocol can be readily adapted to use alternative emulsifiers (e.g.
poly(vinyl alcohol), PVA) or solvents (e.g.
Chemistry, Issue 82, Nanoparticles, Microparticles, PLGA, TPGS, drug delivery, scanning electron microscopy, emulsion, polymers
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
Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis
. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
Lignin Down-regulation of Zea mays via dsRNAi and Klason Lignin Analysis
Institutions: University of Arizona, Michigan State University, The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Michigan State University.
To facilitate the use of lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative bioenergy resource, during biological conversion processes, a pretreatment step is needed to open up the structure of the plant cell wall, increasing the accessibility of the cell wall carbohydrates. Lignin, a polyphenolic material present in many cell wall types, is known to be a significant hindrance to enzyme access. Reduction in lignin content to a level that does not interfere with the structural integrity and defense system of the plant might be a valuable step to reduce the costs of bioethanol production. In this study, we have genetically down-regulated one of the lignin biosynthesis-related genes, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (ZmCCR1
) via a double stranded RNA interference technique. The ZmCCR1_RNAi
construct was integrated into the maize genome using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic maize plants grew normally as compared to the wild-type control plants without interfering with biomass growth or defense mechanisms, with the exception of displaying of brown-coloration in transgenic plants leaf mid-ribs, husks, and stems. The microscopic analyses, in conjunction with the histological assay, revealed that the leaf sclerenchyma fibers were thinned but the structure and size of other major vascular system components was not altered. The lignin content in the transgenic maize was reduced by 7-8.7%, the crystalline cellulose content was increased in response to lignin reduction, and hemicelluloses remained unchanged. The analyses may indicate that carbon flow might have been shifted from lignin biosynthesis to cellulose biosynthesis. This article delineates the procedures used to down-regulate the lignin content in maize via RNAi technology, and the cell wall compositional analyses used to verify the effect of the modifications on the cell wall structure.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Zea mays, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), dsRNAi, Klason lignin measurement, cell wall carbohydrate analysis, gas chromatography (GC)
A Strategy for Sensitive, Large Scale Quantitative Metabolomics
Institutions: Cornell University, Cornell University.
Metabolite profiling has been a valuable asset in the study of metabolism in health and disease. However, current platforms have different limiting factors, such as labor intensive sample preparations, low detection limits, slow scan speeds, intensive method optimization for each metabolite, and the inability to measure both positively and negatively charged ions in single experiments. Therefore, a novel metabolomics protocol could advance metabolomics studies. Amide-based hydrophilic chromatography enables polar metabolite analysis without any chemical derivatization. High resolution MS using the Q-Exactive (QE-MS) has improved ion optics, increased scan speeds (256 msec at resolution 70,000), and has the capability of carrying out positive/negative switching. Using a cold methanol extraction strategy, and coupling an amide column with QE-MS enables robust detection of 168 targeted polar metabolites and thousands of additional features simultaneously. Data processing is carried out with commercially available software in a highly efficient way, and unknown features extracted from the mass spectra can be queried in databases.
Chemistry, Issue 87, high-resolution mass spectrometry, metabolomics, positive/negative switching, low mass calibration, Orbitrap
Electrospinning Growth Factor Releasing Microspheres into Fibrous Scaffolds
Institutions: Wayne State University.
This procedure describes a method to fabricate a multifaceted substrate to direct nerve cell growth. This system incorporates mechanical, topographical, adhesive and chemical signals. Mechanical properties are controlled by the type of material used to fabricate the electrospun fibers. In this protocol we use 30% methacrylated Hyaluronic Acid (HA), which has a tensile modulus of ~500 Pa, to produce a soft fibrous scaffold. Electrospinning on to a rotating mandrel produces aligned fibers to create a topographical cue. Adhesion is achieved by coating the scaffold with fibronectin. The primary challenge addressed herein is providing a chemical signal throughout the depth of the scaffold for extended periods. This procedure describes fabricating poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) microspheres that contain Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and directly impregnating the scaffold with these microspheres during the electrospinning process. Due to the harsh production environment, including high sheer forces and electrical charges, protein viability is measured after production. The system provides protein release for over 60 days and has been shown to promote primary nerve cell growth.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, Electrospinning, Hyaluronic Acid, PLGA, Microspheres, Controlled Release, Neural Tissue Engineering, Directed Cell Migration
Evaluation of Integrated Anaerobic Digestion and Hydrothermal Carbonization for Bioenergy Production
Institutions: Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering.
Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4
(VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4
at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar
was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, Biomethane, Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC), Calorific Value, Lignocellulosic Biomass, UASS, Anaerobic Digestion
Culturing Caenorhabditis elegans in Axenic Liquid Media and Creation of Transgenic Worms by Microparticle Bombardment
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
In this protocol, we present the required materials, and the procedure for making modified C. elegans
Habituation and Reproduction media (mCeHR). Additionally, the steps for exposing and acclimatizing C. elegans
grown on E. coli
to axenic liquid media are described. Finally, downstream experiments that utilize axenic C. elegans
illustrate the benefits of this procedure. The ability to analyze and determine C. elegans
nutrient requirement was illustrated by growing N2 wild type worms in axenic liquid media with varying heme concentrations. This procedure can be replicated with other nutrients to determine the optimal concentration for worm growth and development or, to determine the toxicological effects of drug treatments. The effects of varied heme concentrations on the growth of wild type worms were determined through qualitative microscopic observation and by quantitating the number of worms that grew in each heme concentration. In addition, the effect of varied nutrient concentrations can be assayed by utilizing worms that express fluorescent sensors that respond to changes in the nutrient of interest. Furthermore, a large number of worms were easily produced for the generation of transgenic C. elegans
using microparticle bombardment.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, C. elegans, axenic media, transgenics, microparticle bombardment, heme, nutrition
Generation of Enterobacter sp. YSU Auxotrophs Using Transposon Mutagenesis
Institutions: Youngstown State University.
Prototrophic bacteria grow on M-9 minimal salts medium supplemented with glucose (M-9 medium), which is used as a carbon and energy source. Auxotrophs can be generated using a transposome. The commercially available, Tn5
-derived transposome used in this protocol consists of a linear segment of DNA containing an R6Kγ
replication origin, a gene for kanamycin resistance and two mosaic sequence ends, which serve as transposase binding sites. The transposome, provided as a DNA/transposase protein complex, is introduced by electroporation into the prototrophic strain, Enterobacter
sp. YSU, and randomly incorporates itself into this host’s genome. Transformants are replica plated onto Luria-Bertani agar plates containing kanamycin, (LB-kan) and onto M-9 medium agar plates containing kanamycin (M-9-kan). The transformants that grow on LB-kan plates but not on M-9-kan plates are considered to be auxotrophs. Purified genomic DNA from an auxotroph is partially digested, ligated and transformed into a pir+ Escherichia coli
) strain. The R6Kγ
replication origin allows the plasmid to replicate in pir+ E. coli
strains, and the kanamycin resistance marker allows for plasmid selection. Each transformant possesses a new plasmid containing the transposon flanked by the interrupted chromosomal region. Sanger sequencing and the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) suggest a putative identity of the interrupted gene. There are three advantages to using this transposome mutagenesis strategy. First, it does not rely on the expression of a transposase gene by the host. Second, the transposome is introduced into the target host by electroporation, rather than by conjugation or by transduction and therefore is more efficient. Third, the R6Kγ
replication origin makes it easy to identify the mutated gene which is partially recovered in a recombinant plasmid. This technique can be used to investigate the genes involved in other characteristics of Enterobacter
sp. YSU or of a wider variety of bacterial strains.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Auxotroph, transposome, transposon, mutagenesis, replica plating, glucose minimal medium, complex medium, Enterobacter
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
A Guided Materials Screening Approach for Developing Quantitative Sol-gel Derived Protein Microarrays
Institutions: McMaster University .
Microarrays have found use in the development of high-throughput assays for new materials and discovery of small-molecule drug leads. Herein we describe a guided material screening approach to identify sol-gel based materials that are suitable for producing three-dimensional protein microarrays. The approach first identifies materials that can be printed as microarrays, narrows down the number of materials by identifying those that are compatible with a given enzyme assay, and then hones in on optimal materials based on retention of maximum enzyme activity. This approach is applied to develop microarrays suitable for two different enzyme assays, one using acetylcholinesterase and the other using a set of four key kinases involved in cancer. In each case, it was possible to produce microarrays that could be used for quantitative small-molecule screening assays and production of dose-dependent inhibitor response curves. Importantly, the ability to screen many materials produced information on the types of materials that best suited both microarray production and retention of enzyme activity. The materials data provide insight into basic material requirements necessary for tailoring optimal, high-density sol-gel derived microarrays.
Chemistry, Issue 78, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Biology, Biocompatible Materials, Siloxanes, Enzymes, Immobilized, chemical analysis techniques, chemistry (general), materials (general), spectroscopic analysis (chemistry), polymer matrix composites, testing of materials (composite materials), Sol-gel, microarray, high-throughput screening, acetylcholinesterase, kinase, drug discovery, assay
Self-reporting Scaffolds for 3-Dimensional Cell Culture
Institutions: University of Nottingham, University of Nottingham, University of Nottingham.
Culturing cells in 3D on appropriate scaffolds is thought to better mimic the in vivo
microenvironment and increase cell-cell interactions. The resulting 3D cellular construct can often be more relevant to studying the molecular events and cell-cell interactions than similar experiments studied in 2D. To create effective 3D cultures with high cell viability throughout the scaffold the culture conditions such as oxygen and pH need to be carefully controlled as gradients in analyte concentration can exist throughout the 3D construct. Here we describe the methods of preparing biocompatible pH responsive sol-gel nanosensors and their incorporation into poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) electrospun scaffolds along with their subsequent preparation for the culture of mammalian cells. The pH responsive scaffolds can be used as tools to determine microenvironmental pH within a 3D cellular construct. Furthermore, we detail the delivery of pH responsive nanosensors to the intracellular environment of mammalian cells whose growth was supported by electrospun PLGA scaffolds. The cytoplasmic location of the pH responsive nanosensors can be utilized to monitor intracellular pH (pHi) during ongoing experimentation.
Bioengineering, Issue 81, Biocompatible Materials, Nanosensors, scaffold, electrospinning, 3D cell culture, PLGA
The Culture of Primary Motor and Sensory Neurons in Defined Media on Electrospun Poly-L-lactide Nanofiber Scaffolds
Institutions: University of Michigan, Southeast University, University of Michigan , Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Health System.
Electrospinning is a technique for producing micro- to nano-scale fibers. Fibers can be electrospun with varying degrees of alignment, from highly aligned to completely random. In addition, fibers can be spun from a variety of materials, including biodegradable polymers such as poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA). These characteristics make electrospun fibers suitable for a variety of scaffolding applications in tissue engineering. Our focus is on the use of aligned electrospun fibers for nerve regeneration. We have previously shown that aligned electrospun PLLA fibers direct the outgrowth of both primary sensory and motor neurons in vitro
. We maintain that the use of a primary cell culture system is essential when evaluating biomaterials to model real neurons found in vivo
as closely as possible. Here, we describe techniques used in our laboratory to electrospin fibrous scaffolds and culture dorsal root ganglia explants, as well as dissociated sensory and motor neurons, on electrospun scaffolds. However, the electrospinning and/or culture techniques presented here are easily adapted for use in other applications.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Electrospinning, motor neurons, nanofibers, scaffold, primary cell culture, DRG
Electrospinning Fundamentals: Optimizing Solution and Apparatus Parameters
Institutions: University of Michigan, Southeast University, University of Michigan, Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare Center.
Electrospun nanofiber scaffolds have been shown to accelerate the maturation, improve the growth, and direct the migration of cells in vitro
. Electrospinning is a process in which a charged polymer jet is collected on a grounded collector; a rapidly rotating collector results in aligned nanofibers while stationary collectors result in randomly oriented fiber mats. The polymer jet is formed when an applied electrostatic charge overcomes the surface tension of the solution. There is a minimum concentration for a given polymer, termed the critical entanglement concentration, below which a stable jet cannot be achieved and no nanofibers will form - although nanoparticles may be achieved (electrospray). A stable jet has two domains, a streaming segment and a whipping segment. While the whipping jet is usually invisible to the naked eye, the streaming segment is often visible under appropriate lighting conditions. Observing the length, thickness, consistency and movement of the stream is useful to predict the alignment and morphology of the nanofibers being formed. A short, non-uniform, inconsistent, and/or oscillating stream is indicative of a variety of problems, including poor fiber alignment, beading, splattering, and curlicue or wavy patterns. The stream can be optimized by adjusting the composition of the solution and the configuration of the electrospinning apparatus, thus optimizing the alignment and morphology of the fibers being produced. In this protocol, we present a procedure for setting up a basic electrospinning apparatus, empirically approximating the critical entanglement concentration of a polymer solution and optimizing the electrospinning process. In addition, we discuss some common problems and troubleshooting techniques.
Bioengineering, Issue 47, electrospinning, nanofibers, scaffold, alignment
High-throughput Saccharification Assay for Lignocellulosic Materials
Institutions: University of York.
Polysaccharides that make up plant lignocellulosic biomass can be broken down to produce a range of sugars that subsequently can be
used in establishing a biorefinery. These raw materials would constitute a new industrial platform, which is both sustainable and carbon neutral, to replace
the current dependency on fossil fuel. The recalcitrance to deconstruction observed in lignocellulosic materials is produced by several intrinsic properties
of plant cell walls. Crystalline cellulose is embedded in matrix polysaccharides such as xylans and arabinoxylans, and the whole structure is encased by the
phenolic polymer lignin, that is also difficult to digest 1
. In order to improve the digestibility of plant materials we need to discover the main bottlenecks
for the saccharification of cell walls and also screen mutant and breeding populations to evaluate the variability in saccharification 2
. These tasks require
a high throughput approach and here we present an analytical platform that can perform saccharification analysis in a 96-well plate format. This platform has
been developed to allow the screening of lignocellulose digestibility of large populations from varied plant species. We have scaled down the reaction volumes
for gentle pretreatment, partial enzymatic hydrolysis and sugar determination, to allow large numbers to be assessed rapidly in an automated system.
This automated platform works with milligram amounts of biomass, performing ball milling under controlled conditions to reduce the plant
materials to a standardised particle size in a reproducible manner. Once the samples are ground, the automated formatting robot dispenses specified and recorded
amounts of material into the corresponding wells of 96 deep well plate (Figure 1). Normally, we dispense the same material into 4 wells to have 4 replicates for
analysis. Once the plates are filled with the plant material in the desired layout, they are manually moved to a liquid handling station (Figure 2). In this
station the samples are subjected to a mild pretreatment with either dilute acid or alkaline and incubated at temperatures of up to 90°C. The pretreatment solution
is subsequently removed and the samples are rinsed with buffer to return them to a suitable pH for hydrolysis. The samples are then incubated with an enzyme
mixture for a variable length of time at 50°C. An aliquot is taken from the hydrolyzate and the reducing sugars are automatically determined by the MBTH
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Saccharification, lignocellulose, high-throughput, glycosyl hydrolases, biomass, biofuels
Determining the Contribution of the Energy Systems During Exercise
Institutions: University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo.
One of the most important aspects of the metabolic demand is the relative contribution of the energy systems to the total energy required for a given physical activity. Although some sports are relatively easy to be reproduced in a laboratory (e.g., running and cycling), a number of sports are much more difficult to be reproduced and studied in controlled situations. This method presents how to assess the differential contribution of the energy systems in sports that are difficult to mimic in controlled laboratory conditions. The concepts shown here can be adapted to virtually any sport.
The following physiologic variables will be needed: rest oxygen consumption, exercise oxygen consumption, post-exercise oxygen consumption, rest plasma lactate concentration and post-exercise plasma peak lactate. To calculate the contribution of the aerobic metabolism, you will need the oxygen consumption at rest and during the exercise. By using the trapezoidal method, calculate the area under the curve of oxygen consumption during exercise, subtracting the area corresponding to the rest oxygen consumption. To calculate the contribution of the alactic anaerobic metabolism, the post-exercise oxygen consumption curve has to be adjusted to a mono or a bi-exponential model (chosen by the one that best fits). Then, use the terms of the fitted equation to calculate anaerobic alactic metabolism, as follows: ATP-CP metabolism = A1
(mL . s-1
) x t1
(s). Finally, to calculate the contribution of the lactic anaerobic system, multiply peak plasma lactate by 3 and by the athlete’s body mass (the result in mL is then converted to L and into kJ).
The method can be used for both continuous and intermittent exercise. This is a very interesting approach as it can be adapted to exercises and sports that are difficult to be mimicked in controlled environments. Also, this is the only available method capable of distinguishing the contribution of three different energy systems. Thus, the method allows the study of sports with great similarity to real situations, providing desirable ecological validity to the study.
Physiology, Issue 61, aerobic metabolism, anaerobic alactic metabolism, anaerobic lactic metabolism, exercise, athletes, mathematical model
Single-cell Analysis of Bacillus subtilis Biofilms Using Fluorescence Microscopy and Flow Cytometry
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
Biofilm formation is a general attribute to almost all bacteria 1-6
. When bacteria form biofilms, cells are encased in extracellular matrix that is mostly constituted by proteins and exopolysaccharides, among other factors 7-10
. The microbial community encased within the biofilm often shows the differentiation of distinct subpopulation of specialized cells 11-17
. These subpopulations coexist and often show spatial and temporal organization within the biofilm 18-21
Biofilm formation in the model organism Bacillus subtilis
requires the differentiation of distinct subpopulations of specialized cells. Among them, the subpopulation of matrix producers, responsible to produce and secrete the extracellular matrix of the biofilm is essential for biofilm formation 11,19
. Hence, differentiation of matrix producers is a hallmark of biofilm formation in B. subtilis.
We have used fluorescent reporters to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers in biofilms of B. subtilis 15,19,22-24
. Concretely, we have observed that the subpopulation of matrix producers differentiates in response to the presence of self-produced extracellular signal surfactin 25
. Interestingly, surfactin is produced by a subpopulation of specialized cells different from the subpopulation of matrix producers 15
We have detailed in this report the technical approach necessary to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers and surfactin producers within the biofilms of B. subtilis
. To do this, fluorescent reporters of genes required for matrix production and surfactin production are inserted into the chromosome of B. subtilis
. Reporters are expressed only in a subpopulation of specialized cells. Then, the subpopulations can be monitored using fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry (See Fig 1).
The fact that different subpopulations of specialized cells coexist within multicellular communities of bacteria gives us a different perspective about the regulation of gene expression in prokaryotes. This protocol addresses this phenomenon experimentally and it can be easily adapted to any other working model, to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypic heterogeneity within a microbial community.
Immunology, Issue 60, Bacillus subtilis, biofilm formation, gene expression, cell differentiation, single-cell analysis
Postproduction Processing of Electrospun Fibres for Tissue Engineering
Institutions: University of Sheffield , University of Sheffield , University of Sheffield .
Electrospinning is a commonly used and versatile method to produce scaffolds (often biodegradable) for 3D tissue engineering.1, 2, 3
Many tissues in vivo
undergo biaxial distension to varying extents such as skin, bladder, pelvic floor and even the hard palate as children grow. In producing scaffolds for these purposes there is a need to develop scaffolds of appropriate biomechanical properties (whether achieved without or with cells) and which are sterile for clinical use. The focus of this paper is not how to establish basic electrospinning parameters (as there is extensive literature on electrospinning) but on how to modify spun scaffolds post production to make them fit for tissue engineering purposes - here thickness, mechanical properties and sterilisation (required for clinical use) are considered and we also describe how cells can be cultured on scaffolds and subjected to biaxial strain to condition them for specific applications.
Electrospinning tends to produce thin sheets; as the electrospinning collector becomes coated with insulating fibres it becomes a poor conductor such that fibres no longer deposit on it. Hence we describe approaches to produce thicker structures by heat or vapour annealing increasing the strength of scaffolds but not necessarily the elasticity. Sequential spinning of scaffolds of different polymers to achieve complex scaffolds is also described. Sterilisation methodologies can adversely affect strength and elasticity of scaffolds. We compare three methods for their effects on the biomechanical properties on electrospun scaffolds of poly lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA).
Imaging of cells on scaffolds and assessment of production of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins by cells on scaffolds is described. Culturing cells on scaffolds in vitro
can improve scaffold strength and elasticity but the tissue engineering literature shows that cells often fail to produce appropriate ECM when cultured under static conditions. There are few commercial systems available that allow one to culture cells on scaffolds under dynamic conditioning regimes - one example is the Bose Electroforce 3100 which can be used to exert a conditioning programme on cells in scaffolds held using mechanical grips within a media filled chamber.4
An approach to a budget cell culture bioreactor for controlled distortion in 2 dimensions is described. We show that cells can be induced to produce elastin under these conditions. Finally assessment of the biomechanical properties of processed scaffolds cultured with or without cells is described.
Bioengineering, Issue 66, Materials Science, Biomedical Engineering, Tissue Engineering, Medicine, Chemistry, Electrospinning, bilayer, biaxial distension, heat and vapour annealing, mechanical testing, fibres
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
The Insect Galleria mellonella as a Powerful Infection Model to Investigate Bacterial Pathogenesis
Institutions: INRA, Micalis UMR1319, France.
The study of bacterial virulence often requires a suitable animal model. Mammalian models of infection are costly and may raise ethical issues. The use of insects as infection models provides a valuable alternative. Compared to other non-vertebrate model hosts such as nematodes, insects have a relatively advanced system of antimicrobial defenses and are thus more likely to produce information relevant to the mammalian infection process. Like mammals, insects possess a complex innate immune system1
. Cells in the hemolymph are capable of phagocytosing or encapsulating microbial invaders, and humoral responses include the inducible production of lysozyme and small antibacterial peptides2,3
. In addition, analogies are found between the epithelial cells of insect larval midguts and intestinal cells of mammalian digestive systems. Finally, several basic components essential for the bacterial infection process such as cell adhesion, resistance to antimicrobial peptides, tissue degradation and adaptation to oxidative stress are likely to be important in both insects and mammals1
. Thus, insects are polyvalent tools for the identification and characterization of microbial virulence factors involved in mammalian infections.
Larvae of the greater wax moth Galleria mellonella
have been shown to provide a useful insight into the pathogenesis of a wide range of microbial infections including mammalian fungal (Fusarium oxysporum
, Aspergillus fumigatus
, Candida albicans
) and bacterial pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus
, Proteus vulgaris
, Serratia marcescens Pseudomonas aeruginosa
, Listeria monocytogenes
or Enterococcus faecalis4-7
. Regardless of the bacterial species, results obtained with Galleria
larvae infected by direct injection through the cuticle consistently correlate with those of similar mammalian studies: bacterial strains that are attenuated in mammalian models demonstrate lower virulence in Galleria
, and strains causing severe human infections are also highly virulent in the Galleria
. Oral infection of Galleria
is much less used and additional compounds, like specific toxins, are needed to reach mortality.
larvae present several technical advantages: they are relatively large (last instar larvae before pupation are about 2 cm long and weight 250 mg), thus enabling the injection of defined doses of bacteria; they can be reared at various temperatures (20 °C to 30 °C) and infection studies can be conducted between 15 °C to above 37 °C12,13
, allowing experiments that mimic a mammalian environment. In addition, insect rearing is easy and relatively cheap. Infection of the larvae allows monitoring bacterial virulence by several means, including calculation of LD5014
, measurement of bacterial survival15,16
and examination of the infection process17
. Here, we describe the rearing of the insects, covering all life stages of G. mellonella
. We provide a detailed protocol of infection by two routes of inoculation: oral and intra haemocoelic. The bacterial model used in this protocol is Bacillus cereus
, a Gram positive pathogen implicated in gastrointestinal as well as in other severe local or systemic opportunistic infections18,19
Infection, Issue 70, Microbiology, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Bacteriology, Entomology, Bacteria, Galleria mellonella, greater wax moth, insect larvae, intra haemocoelic injection, ingestion, animal model, host pathogen interactions
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ
degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g.
fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
Process of Making Three-dimensional Microstructures using Vaporization of a Sacrificial Component
Institutions: University of California, Irvine, University of California, Irvine.
Vascular structures in natural systems are able to provide high mass transport through high surface areas and optimized structure. Few synthetic material fabrication techniques are able to mimic the complexity of these structures while maintaining scalability. The Vaporization of a Sacrificial Component (VaSC) process is able to do so. This process uses sacrificial fibers as a template to form hollow, cylindrical microchannels embedded within a matrix. Tin (II) oxalate (SnOx) is embedded within poly(lactic) acid (PLA) fibers which facilitates the use of this process. The SnOx catalyzes the depolymerization of the PLA fibers at lower temperatures. The lactic acid monomers are gaseous at these temperatures and can be removed from the embedded matrix at temperatures that do not damage the matrix. Here we show a method for aligning these fibers using micromachined plates and a tensioning device to create complex patterns of three-dimensionally arrayed microchannels. The process allows the exploration of virtually any arrangement of fiber topologies and structures.
Physics, Issue 81, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Silicone Elastomers, Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems, Biomimetic Materials, chemical processing (general), materials (general), heat exchangers (aerospace applications), mass transfer, Massive microfabrication, high surface area structures, 3-dimensional micro exchange devices, biomimetics
Operation of a Benchtop Bioreactor
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University, ATR Biotech.
Fermentation systems are used to provide an optimal growth environment for many different types of cell cultures. The ability afforded by fermentors to carefully control temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen concentrations in particular makes them essential to efficient large scale growth and expression of fermentation products. This video will briefly describe the advantages of the fermentor over the shake flask. It will also identify key components of a typical benchtop fermentation system and give basic instruction on setup of the vessel and calibration of its probes. The viewer will be familiarized with the sterilization process and shown how to inoculate the growth medium in the vessel with culture. Basic concepts of operation, sampling, and harvesting will also be demonstrated. Simple data analysis and system cleanup will also be discussed.
Bioengineering, Issue 79, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Eukaryota, Bacteria, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, Pharmaceutical Preparations, Engineering (General), Life Sciences (General), Fermentor, Bioreactor, Microbial Culture, Cell Culture, Scale-up, Fermentation
Preparation of Drosophila Polytene Chromosome Squashes for Antibody Labeling
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Drosophila has long been a favorite model system for studying the relationship between chromatin structure and gene regulation due to the cytological advantages provided by the giant salivary gland polytene chromosomes of third instar larvae. In this tissue the chromosomes undergo many rounds of replication in the absence of cell division giving rise to approximately 1000 copies. The DNA remains aligned after each replicative cycle resulting in greatly enlarged chromosomes that provide a unique opportunity to correlate chromatin morphology with the localization of specific proteins. Consequently, there has been a high level of interest in defining the epigenetic modifications present at different genes and at different stages of the transcription process. An important tool for such studies is the labeling of polytene chromosomes with antibodies to the enzyme, transcription factor, or histone modification of interest. This video protocol illustrates the squash technique used in the Johansen laboratory to prepare Drosophila polytene chromosomes for antibody labeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 36, polytene squash preparations, antibody labeling, chromosomes, Drosophila