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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
A Microplate Assay to Assess Chemical Effects on RBL-2H3 Mast Cell Degranulation: Effects of Triclosan without Use of an Organic Solvent
Institutions: University of Maine, Orono, University of Maine, Orono.
Mast cells play important roles in allergic disease and immune defense against parasites. Once activated (e.g.
by an allergen), they degranulate, a process that results in the exocytosis of allergic mediators. Modulation of mast cell degranulation by drugs and toxicants may have positive or adverse effects on human health. Mast cell function has been dissected in detail with the use of rat basophilic leukemia mast cells (RBL-2H3), a widely accepted model of human mucosal mast cells3-5
. Mast cell granule component and the allergic mediator β-hexosaminidase, which is released linearly in tandem with histamine from mast cells6
, can easily and reliably be measured through reaction with a fluorogenic substrate, yielding measurable fluorescence intensity in a microplate assay that is amenable to high-throughput studies1
. Originally published by Naal et al.1
, we have adapted this degranulation assay for the screening of drugs and toxicants and demonstrate its use here.
Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent that is present in many consumer products and has been found to be a therapeutic aid in human allergic skin disease7-11
, although the mechanism for this effect is unknown. Here we demonstrate an assay for the effect of triclosan on mast cell degranulation. We recently showed that triclosan strongly affects mast cell function2
. In an effort to avoid use of an organic solvent, triclosan is dissolved directly into aqueous buffer with heat and stirring, and resultant concentration is confirmed using UV-Vis spectrophotometry (using ε280
= 4,200 L/M/cm)12
. This protocol has the potential to be used with a variety of chemicals to determine their effects on mast cell degranulation, and more broadly, their allergic potential.
Immunology, Issue 81, mast cell, basophil, degranulation, RBL-2H3, triclosan, irgasan, antibacterial, β-hexosaminidase, allergy, Asthma, toxicants, ionophore, antigen, fluorescence, microplate, UV-Vis
In Vitro Assay to Evaluate the Impact of Immunoregulatory Pathways on HIV-specific CD4 T Cell Effector Function
Institutions: The Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CRCHUM).
T cell exhaustion is a major factor in failed pathogen clearance during chronic viral infections. Immunoregulatory pathways, such as PD-1 and IL-10, are upregulated upon this ongoing antigen exposure and contribute to loss of proliferation, reduced cytolytic function, and impaired cytokine production by CD4 and CD8 T cells. In the murine model of LCMV infection, administration of blocking antibodies against these two pathways augmented T cell responses. However, there is currently no in vitro
assay to measure the impact of such blockade on cytokine secretion in cells from human samples. Our protocol and experimental approach enable us to accurately and efficiently quantify the restoration of cytokine production by HIV-specific CD4 T cells from HIV infected subjects.
Here, we depict an in vitro
experimental design that enables measurements of cytokine secretion by HIV-specific CD4 T cells and their impact on other cell subsets. CD8 T cells were depleted from whole blood and remaining PBMCs were isolated via Ficoll separation method. CD8-depleted PBMCs were then incubated with blocking antibodies against PD-L1 and/or IL-10Rα and, after stimulation with an HIV-1 Gag peptide pool, cells were incubated at 37 °C, 5% CO2
. After 48 hr, supernatant was collected for cytokine analysis by beads arrays and cell pellets were collected for either phenotypic analysis using flow cytometry or transcriptional analysis using qRT-PCR. For more detailed analysis, different cell populations were obtained by selective subset depletion from PBMCs or by sorting using flow cytometry before being assessed in the same assays. These methods provide a highly sensitive and specific approach to determine the modulation of cytokine production by antigen-specific T-helper cells and to determine functional interactions between different populations of immune cells.
Immunology, Issue 80, Virus Diseases, Immune System Diseases, HIV, CD4 T cell, CD8 T cell, antigen-presenting cell, Cytokines, immunoregulatory networks, PD-1: IL-10, exhaustion, monocytes
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Histochemical Staining of Arabidopsis thaliana Secondary Cell Wall Elements
Institutions: Joint Bioenergy Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
is a model organism commonly used to understand and manipulate various cellular processes in plants, and it has been used extensively in the study of secondary cell wall formation. Secondary cell wall deposition occurs after the primary cell wall is laid down, a process carried out exclusively by specialized cells such as those forming vessel and fiber tissues. Most secondary cell walls are composed of cellulose (40–50%), hemicellulose (25–30%), and lignin (20–30%). Several mutations affecting secondary cell wall biosynthesis have been isolated, and the corresponding mutants may or may not exhibit obvious biochemical composition changes or visual phenotypes since these mutations could be masked by compensatory responses. Staining procedures have historically been used to show differences on a cellular basis. These methods are exclusively visual means of analysis; nevertheless their role in rapid and critical analysis is of great importance. Congo red and calcofluor white are stains used to detect polysaccharides, whereas Mäule and phloroglucinol are commonly used to determine differences in lignin, and toluidine blue O is used to differentially stain polysaccharides and lignin. The seemingly simple techniques of sectioning, staining, and imaging can be a challenge for beginners. Starting with sample preparation using the A. thaliana
model, this study details the protocols of a variety of staining methodologies that can be easily implemented for observation of cell and tissue organization in secondary cell walls of plants.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Xylem, Fibers, Lignin, polysaccharides, Plant cell wall, Mäule staining, Phloroglucinol, Congo red, Toluidine blue O, Calcofluor white, Cell wall staining methods
Thin-layer Chromatographic (TLC) Separations and Bioassays of Plant Extracts to Identify Antimicrobial Compounds
Institutions: United States Department of Agriculture.
A common screen for plant antimicrobial compounds consists of separating plant extracts by paper or thin-layer chromatography (PC or TLC), exposing the chromatograms to microbial suspensions (e.g.
fungi or bacteria in broth or agar), allowing time for the microbes to grow in a humid environment, and visualizing zones with no microbial growth. The effectiveness of this screening method, known as bioautography, depends on both the quality of the chromatographic separation and the care taken with microbial culture conditions. This paper describes standard protocols for TLC and contact bioautography with a novel application to amino acid-fermenting bacteria. The extract is separated on flexible (aluminum-backed) silica TLC plates, and bands are visualized under ultraviolet (UV) light. Zones are cut out and incubated face down onto agar inoculated with the test microorganism. Inhibitory bands are visualized by staining the agar plates with tetrazolium red. The method is applied to the separation of red clover (Trifolium pratense
cv. Kenland) phenolic compounds and their screening for activity against Clostridium sticklandii
, a hyper ammonia-producing bacterium (HAB) that is native to the bovine rumen. The TLC methods apply to many types of plant extracts and other bacterial species (aerobic or anaerobic), as well as fungi, can be used as test organisms if culture conditions are modified to fit the growth requirements of the species.
Chemistry, Issue 85, Thin-layer chromatography, bioautography, anaerobic bacteria, tetrazolium red, phenolic compounds, plant
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
Assessing Anti-fungal Activity of Isolated Alveolar Macrophages by Confocal Microscopy
Institutions: Roswell Park Cancer Institute, University of Buffalo.
The lung is an interface where host cells are routinely exposed to microbes and microbial products. Alveolar macrophages are the first-line phagocytic cells that encounter inhaled fungi and other microbes. Macrophages and other immune cells recognize Aspergillus
motifs by pathogen recognition receptors and initiate downstream inflammatory responses. The phagocyte NADPH oxidase generates reactive oxygen intermediates (ROIs) and is critical for host defense. Although NADPH oxidase is critical for neutrophil-mediated host defense1-3
, the importance of NADPH oxidase in macrophages is not well defined. The goal of this study was to delineate the specific role of NADPH oxidase in macrophages in mediating host defense against A. fumigatus
. We found that NADPH oxidase in alveolar macrophages controls the growth of phagocytosed A. fumigatus
. Here, we describe a method for assessing the ability of mouse alveolar macrophages (AMs) to control the growth of phagocytosed Aspergillus
spores (conidia). Alveolar macrophages are stained in vivo
and ten days later isolated from mice by bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). Macrophages are plated onto glass coverslips, then seeded with green fluorescent protein (GFP)-expressing A. fumigatus
spores. At specified times, cells are fixed and the number of intact macrophages with phagocytosed spores is assessed by confocal microscopy.
Immunology, Issue 89, macrophage, bronchoalveolar lavage, Aspergillus, confocal microscopy, phagocytosis, anti-fungal activity, NADPH oxidase
Using the Overlay Assay to Qualitatively Measure Bacterial Production of and Sensitivity to Pneumococcal Bacteriocins
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
colonizes the highly diverse polymicrobial community of the nasopharynx where it must compete with resident organisms. We have shown that bacterially produced antimicrobial peptides (bacteriocins) dictate the outcome of these competitive interactions. All fully-sequenced pneumococcal strains harbor a bacteriocin-like peptide
) locus. The blp
locus encodes for a range of diverse bacteriocins and all of the highly conserved components needed for their regulation, processing, and secretion. The diversity of the bacteriocins found in the bacteriocin immunity region (BIR) of the locus is a major contributor of pneumococcal competition. Along with the bacteriocins, immunity genes are found in the BIR and are needed to protect the producer cell from the effects of its own bacteriocin. The overlay assay is a quick method for examining a large number of strains for competitive interactions mediated by bacteriocins. The overlay assay also allows for the characterization of bacteriocin-specific immunity, and detection of secreted quorum sensing peptides. The assay is performed by pre-inoculating an agar plate with a strain to be tested for bacteriocin production followed by application of a soft agar overlay containing a strain to be tested for bacteriocin sensitivity. A zone of clearance surrounding the stab indicates that the overlay strain is sensitive to the bacteriocins produced by the pre-inoculated strain. If no zone of clearance is observed, either the overlay strain is immune to the bacteriocins being produced or the pre-inoculated strain does not produce bacteriocins. To determine if the blp
locus is functional in a given strain, the overlay assay can be adapted to evaluate for peptide pheromone secretion by the pre-inoculated strain. In this case, a series of four lacZ-
reporter strains with different pheromone specificity are used in the overlay.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 91, bacteriocins, antimicrobial peptides, blp locus, bacterial competition, Streptococcus pneumoniae, overlay assay
Isolation and Culture of Dissociated Sensory Neurons From Chick Embryos
Institutions: Assumption College.
Neurons are multifaceted cells that carry information essential for a variety of functions including sensation, motor movement, learning, and memory. Studying neurons in vivo
can be challenging due to their complexity, their varied and dynamic environments, and technical limitations. For these reasons, studying neurons in vitro
can prove beneficial to unravel the complex mysteries of neurons. The well-defined nature of cell culture models provides detailed control over environmental conditions and variables. Here we describe how to isolate, dissociate, and culture primary neurons from chick embryos. This technique is rapid, inexpensive, and generates robustly growing sensory neurons. The procedure consistently produces cultures that are highly enriched for neurons and has very few non-neuronal cells (less than 5%). Primary neurons do not adhere well to untreated glass or tissue culture plastic, therefore detailed procedures to create two distinct, well-defined laminin-containing substrata for neuronal plating are described. Cultured neurons are highly amenable to multiple cellular and molecular techniques, including co-immunoprecipitation, live cell imagining, RNAi, and immunocytochemistry. Procedures for double immunocytochemistry on these cultured neurons have been optimized and described here.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, dorsal root gangia, DRG, chicken, in vitro, avian, laminin-1, embryonic, primary
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
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
Establishing Fungal Entomopathogens as Endophytes: Towards Endophytic Biological Control
Institutions: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia , United States Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.
is a fungal entomopathogen with the ability to colonize plants endophytically. As an endophyte, B. bassiana
may play a role in protecting plants from herbivory and disease. This protocol demonstrates two inoculation methods to establish B. bassiana
endophytically in the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris
), in preparation for subsequent evaluations of endophytic biological control. Plants are grown from surface-sterilized seeds for two weeks before receiving a B. bassiana
treatment of 108
conidia/ml (or water) applied either as a foliar spray or a soil drench. Two weeks later, the plants are harvested and their leaves, stems and roots are sampled to evaluate endophytic fungal colonization. For this, samples are individually surface sterilized, cut into multiple sections, and incubated in potato dextrose agar media for 20 days. The media is inspected every 2-3 days to observe fungal growth associated with plant sections and record the occurrence of B. bassiana
to estimate the extent of its endophytic colonization. Analyses of inoculation success compare the occurrence of B. bassiana
within a given plant part (i.e.
leaves, stems or roots) across treatments and controls. In addition to the inoculation method, the specific outcome of the experiment may depend on the target crop species or variety, the fungal entomopathogen species strain or isolate used, and the plant's growing conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 74, Plant Biology, Microbiology, Infection, Environmental Sciences, Molecular Biology, Mycology, Entomology, Botany, Pathology, Agriculture, Pest Control, Fungi, Entomopathogen, Endophyte, Pest, Pathogen, Phaseolus vulgaris, Beauveria bassiana, Sustainable Agriculture, hemocytometer, inoculation, fungus
The Logic, Experimental Steps, and Potential of Heterologous Natural Product Biosynthesis Featuring the Complex Antibiotic Erythromycin A Produced Through E. coli
Institutions: State University of New York at Buffalo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The heterologous production of complex natural products is an approach designed to address current limitations and future possibilities. It is particularly useful for those compounds which possess therapeutic value but cannot be sufficiently produced or would benefit from an improved form of production. The experimental procedures involved can be subdivided into three components: 1) genetic transfer; 2) heterologous reconstitution; and 3) product analysis. Each experimental component is under continual optimization to meet the challenges and anticipate the opportunities associated with this emerging approach.
Heterologous biosynthesis begins with the identification of a genetic sequence responsible for a valuable natural product. Transferring this sequence to a heterologous host is complicated by the biosynthetic pathway complexity responsible for product formation. The antibiotic erythromycin A is a good example. Twenty genes (totaling >50 kb) are required for eventual biosynthesis. In addition, three of these genes encode megasynthases, multi-domain enzymes each ~300 kDa in size. This genetic material must be designed and transferred to E. coli
for reconstituted biosynthesis. The use of PCR isolation, operon construction, multi-cystronic plasmids, and electro-transformation will be described in transferring the erythromycin A genetic cluster to E. coli
Once transferred, the E. coli
cell must support eventual biosynthesis. This process is also challenging given the substantial differences between E. coli
and most original hosts responsible for complex natural product formation. The cell must provide necessary substrates to support biosynthesis and coordinately express the transferred genetic cluster to produce active enzymes. In the case of erythromycin A, the E. coli
cell had to be engineered to provide the two precursors (propionyl-CoA and (2S)-methylmalonyl-CoA) required for biosynthesis. In addition, gene sequence modifications, plasmid copy number, chaperonin co-expression, post-translational enzymatic modification, and process temperature were also required to allow final erythromycin A formation.
Finally, successful production must be assessed. For the erythromycin A case, we will present two methods. The first is liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to confirm and quantify production. The bioactivity of erythromycin A will also be confirmed through use of a bioassay in which the antibiotic activity is tested against Bacillus subtilis
. The assessment assays establish erythromycin A biosynthesis from E. coli
and set the stage for future engineering efforts to improve or diversify production and for the production of new complex natural compounds using this approach.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 71, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Basic Protocols, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Heterologous biosynthesis, natural products, antibiotics, erythromycin A, metabolic engineering, E. coli
High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1
. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2
. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8
, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing.
Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli
the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9
, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli
expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10
and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12
We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli
. (Fig 1
) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness.
Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13
involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14
for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes
, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus
and Penicillium decumbens
(shown in Figure 2
), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Detection of Invasive Pulmonary Aspergillosis in Haematological Malignancy Patients by using Lateral-flow Technology
Institutions: University of Exeter, Queen Mary University of London, St. Bartholomew's Hospital and The London NHS Trust.
Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in haematological malignancy patients and hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients1
. Detection of IPA represents a formidable diagnostic challenge and, in the absence of a 'gold standard', relies on a combination of clinical data and microbiology and histopathology where feasible. Diagnosis of IPA must conform to the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Mycology Study Group (EORTC/MSG) consensus defining "proven", "probable", and "possible" invasive fungal diseases2
. Currently, no nucleic acid-based tests have been externally validated for IPA detection and so polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is not included in current EORTC/MSG diagnostic criteria.
Identification of Aspergillus
in histological sections is problematic because of similarities in hyphal morphologies with other invasive fungal pathogens3
, and proven identification requires isolation of the etiologic agent in pure culture. Culture-based approaches rely on the availability of biopsy samples, but these are not always accessible in sick patients, and do not always yield viable propagules for culture when obtained.
An important feature in the pathogenesis of Aspergillus
is angio-invasion, a trait that provides opportunities to track the fungus immunologically using tests that detect characteristic antigenic signatures molecules in serum and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluids. This has led to the development of the Platelia enzyme immunoassay (GM-EIA) that detects Aspergillus
galactomannan and a 'pan-fungal' assay (Fungitell test) that detects the conserved fungal cell wall component (1 →3)-β-D-glucan, but not in the mucorales that lack this component in their cell walls1,4
. Issues surrounding the accuracy of these tests1,4-6
has led to the recent development of next-generation monoclonal antibody (MAb)-based assays that detect surrogate markers of infection1,5
recently described the generation of an Aspergillus
-specific MAb (JF5) using hybridoma technology and its use to develop an immuno-chromatographic lateral-flow device (LFD) for the point-of-care (POC) diagnosis of IPA. A major advantage of the LFD is its ability to detect activity since MAb JF5 binds to an extracellular glycoprotein antigen that is secreted during active growth of the fungus only5
. This is an important consideration when using fluids such as lung BAL for diagnosing IPA since Aspergillus
spores are a common component of inhaled air. The utility of the device in diagnosing IPA has been demonstrated using an animal model of infection, where the LFD displayed improved sensitivity and specificity compared to the Platelia GM and Fungitell (1 → 3)-β-D-glucan assays7
Here, we present a simple LFD procedure to detect Aspergillus
antigen in human serum and BAL fluids. Its speed and accuracy provides a novel adjunct point-of-care test for diagnosis of IPA in haematological malignancy patients.
Immunology, Issue 61, Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis, acute myeloid leukemia, bone marrow transplant, diagnosis, monoclonal antibody, lateral-flow technology
Quantification of Fungal Colonization, Sporogenesis, and Production of Mycotoxins Using Kernel Bioassays
Institutions: Texas A&M University.
The rotting of grains by seed-infecting fungi poses one of the greatest economic challenges to cereal production worldwide, not to mention serious risks to human and animal health. Among cereal production, maize is arguably the most affected crop, due to pathogen-induced losses in grain integrity and mycotoxin seed contamination. The two most prevalent and problematic mycotoxins for maize growers and food and feed processors are aflatoxin and fumonisin, produced by Aspergillus flavus
and Fusarium verticillioides
Recent studies in molecular plant-pathogen interactions have demonstrated promise in understanding specific mechanisms associated with plant responses to fungal infection and mycotoxin contamination1,2,3,4,5,6
. Because many labs are using kernel assays to study plant-pathogen interactions, there is a need for a standardized method for quantifying different biological parameters, so results from different laboratories can be cross-interpreted. For a robust and reproducible means for quantitative analyses on seeds, we have developed in-lab kernel assays and subsequent methods to quantify fungal growth, biomass, and mycotoxin contamination. Four sterilized maize kernels are inoculated in glass vials with a fungal suspension (106
) and incubated for a predetermined period. Sample vials are then selected for enumeration of conidia by hemocytometer, ergosterol-based biomass analysis by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), aflatoxin quantification using an AflaTest fluorometer method, and fumonisin quantification by HPLC.
Immunology, Issue 62, Mycotoxins, sporogenesis, Aspergillus flavus, Fusarium verticillioides, aflatoxin, fumonisin, plant-microbe interactions, plant biology
Use of Artificial Sputum Medium to Test Antibiotic Efficacy Against Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Conditions More Relevant to the Cystic Fibrosis Lung
Institutions: University of Liverpool , University of Liverpool .
There is growing concern about the relevance of in vitro
antimicrobial susceptibility tests when applied to isolates of P. aeruginosa
from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Existing methods rely on single or a few isolates grown aerobically and planktonically. Predetermined cut-offs are used to define whether the bacteria are sensitive or resistant to any given antibiotic1
. However, during chronic lung infections in CF, P. aeruginosa
populations exist in biofilms and there is evidence that the environment is largely microaerophilic2
. The stark difference in conditions between bacteria in the lung and those during diagnostic testing has called into question the reliability and even relevance of these tests3
Artificial sputum medium (ASM) is a culture medium containing the components of CF patient sputum, including amino acids, mucin and free DNA. P. aeruginosa
growth in ASM mimics growth during CF infections, with the formation of self-aggregating biofilm structures and population divergence4,5,6
. The aim of this study was to develop a microtitre-plate assay to study antimicrobial susceptibility of P. aeruginosa
based on growth in ASM, which is applicable to both microaerophilic and aerobic conditions.
An ASM assay was developed in a microtitre plate format. P. aeruginosa
biofilms were allowed to develop for 3 days prior to incubation with antimicrobial agents at different concentrations for 24 hours. After biofilm disruption, cell viability was measured by staining with resazurin. This assay was used to ascertain the sessile cell minimum inhibitory concentration (SMIC) of tobramycin for 15 different P. aeruginosa
isolates under aerobic and microaerophilic conditions and SMIC values were compared to those obtained with standard broth growth. Whilst there was some evidence for increased MIC values for isolates grown in ASM when compared to their planktonic counterparts, the biggest differences were found with bacteria tested in microaerophilic conditions, which showed a much increased resistance up to a >128 fold, towards tobramycin in the ASM system when compared to assays carried out in aerobic conditions.
The lack of association between current susceptibility testing methods and clinical outcome has questioned the validity of current methods3
. Several in vitro
models have been used previously to study P. aeruginosa
. However, these methods rely on surface attached biofilms, whereas the ASM biofilms resemble those observed in the CF lung9
. In addition, reduced oxygen concentration in the mucus has been shown to alter the behavior of P. aeruginosa2
and affect antibiotic susceptibility10
. Therefore using ASM under microaerophilic conditions may provide a more realistic environment in which to study antimicrobial susceptibility.
Immunology, Issue 64, Microbiology, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, antimicrobial susceptibility, artificial sputum media, lung infection, cystic fibrosis, diagnostics, plankton
Odorant-induced Responses Recorded from Olfactory Receptor Neurons using the Suction Pipette Technique
Institutions: Monell Chemical Senses Center, University of Cambridge .
Animals sample the odorous environment around them through the chemosensory systems located in the nasal cavity. Chemosensory signals affect complex behaviors such as food choice, predator, conspecific and mate recognition and other socially relevant cues. Olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) are located in the dorsal part of the nasal cavity embedded in the olfactory epithelium. These bipolar neurons send an axon to the olfactory bulb (see Fig. 1
, Reisert & Zhao1
, originally published in the Journal of General Physiology) and extend a single dendrite to the epithelial border from where cilia radiate into the mucus that covers the olfactory epithelium. The cilia contain the signal transduction machinery that ultimately leads to excitatory current influx through the ciliary transduction channels, a cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) channel and a Ca2+
channel (Fig. 1
). The ensuing depolarization triggers action potential generation at the cell body2-4
In this video we describe the use of the "suction pipette technique" to record odorant-induced responses from ORNs. This method was originally developed to record from rod photoreceptors5
and a variant of this method can be found at jove.com modified to record from mouse cone photoreceptors6
. The suction pipette technique was later adapted to also record from ORNs7,8
. Briefly, following dissociation of the olfactory epithelium and cell isolation, the entire cell body of an ORN is sucked into the tip of a recording pipette. The dendrite and the cilia remain exposed to the bath solution and thus accessible to solution changes to enable e.g. odorant or pharmacological blocker application. In this configuration, no access to the intracellular environment is gained (no whole-cell voltage clamp) and the intracellular voltage remains free to vary. This allows the simultaneous recording of the slow receptor current that originates at the cilia and fast action potentials fired by the cell body9
. The difference in kinetics between these two signals allows them to be separated using different filter settings. This technique can be used on any wild type or knockout mouse or to record selectively from ORNs that also express GFP to label specific subsets of ORNs, e.g. expressing a given odorant receptor or ion channel.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Olfactory receptor neurons, ORN, suction pipette technique, receptor current, action potentials, signal transduction, electrophysiology, chemoreceptors
Using Unfixed, Frozen Tissues to Study Natural Mucin Distribution
Institutions: University of California, San Diego , Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Mucins are complex and heavily glycosylated O
-linked glycoproteins, which contain more than 70% carbohydrate by weight1-3
. Secreted mucins, produced by goblet cells and the gastric mucosa, provide the scaffold for a micrometers-thick mucus layer that lines the epithelia of the gut and respiratory tract3,4
. In addition to mucins, mucus layers also contain antimicrobial peptides, cytokines, and immunoglobulins5-9
. The mucus layer is an important part of host innate immunity, and forms the first line of defense against invading microorganisms8,10-12
. As such, the mucus is subject to numerous interactions with microbes, both pathogens and symbionts, and secreted mucins form an important interface for these interactions. The study of such biological interactions usually involves histological methods for tissue collection and staining. The two most commonly used histological methods for tissue collection and preservation in the clinic and in research laboratories are: formalin fixation followed by paraffin embedding, and tissue freezing, followed by embedding in cryo-protectant media.
Paraffin-embedded tissue samples produce sections with optimal qualities for histological visualization including clarity and well-defined morphology. However, during the paraffin embedding process a number of epitopes become altered and in order to study these epitopes, tissue sections have to be further processed with one of many epitope retrieval methods13
. Secreted mucins and lipids are extracted from the tissue during the paraffin-embedding clearing step, which requires prolong incubation with organic solvents (xylene or Citrisolv). Therefore this approach is sub-optimal for studies focusing on the nature and distribution of mucins and mucus in vivo
In contrast, freezing tissues in Optimal Cutting Temperature (OCT) embedding medium avoids dehydration and clearing of the sample, and maintains the sample hydration. This allows for better preservation of the hydrated mucus layer, and thus permits the study of the numerous roles of mucins in epithelial biology. As this method requires minimal processing of the tissue, the tissue is preserved in a more natural state. Therefore frozen tissues sections do not require any additional processing prior to staining and can be readily analyzed using immunohistochemistry methods.
We demonstrate the preservation of micrometers-thick secreted mucus layer in frozen colon samples. This layer is drastically reduced when the same tissues are embedded in paraffin. We also demonstrate immunofluorescence staining of glycan epitopes presented on mucins using plant lectins. The advantage of this approach is that it does not require the use of special fixatives and allows utilizing frozen tissues that may already be preserved in the laboratory.
Medicine, Issue 67, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Biomedical Engineering, mucus, lectins, OCT, imaging, sialic acids, glycosylation
Customization of Aspergillus niger Morphology Through Addition of Talc Micro Particles
Institutions: Technische Universität Braunschweig.
The filamentous fungus A. niger
is a widely used strain in a broad range of industrial processes from food to pharmaceutical industry. One of the most intriguing and often uncontrollable characteristics of this filamentous organism is its complex morphology. It ranges from dense spherical pellets to viscous mycelia (Figure 1
). Various process parameters and ingredients are known to influence fungal morphology 1
. Since optimal productivity correlates strongly with a specific morphological form, the fungal morphology often represents the bottleneck of productivity in industrial production.
A straight forward and elegant approach to precisely control morphological shape is the addition of inorganic insoluble micro particles (like hydrous magnesium silicate, aluminum oxide or titanium silicate oxide) to the culture medium contributing to increased enzyme production 2-6
. Since there is an obvious correlation between micro particle dependent morphology and enzyme production it is desirable to mathematically link productivity and morphological appearance. Therefore a quantitative precise and holistic morphological description is targeted.
Thus, we present a method to generate and characterize micro particle dependent morphological structures and to correlate fungal morphology with productivity (Figure 1
) which possibly contributes to a better understanding of the morphogenesis of filamentous microorganisms.
The recombinant strain A. niger
SKAn1015 is cultivated for 72 h in a 3 L stirred tank bioreactor. By addition of talc micro particles in concentrations of 1 g/L, 3 g/L and 10 g/L prior to inoculation a variety of morphological structures is reproducibly generated. Sterile samples are taken after 24, 48 and 72 hours for determination of growth progress and activity of the produced enzyme. The formed product is the high-value enzyme β-fructofuranosidase, an important biocatalyst for neo-sugar formation in food or pharmaceutical industry, which catalyzes among others the reaction of sucrose to glucose 7-9
. Therefore, the quantification of glucose after adding sucrose implies the amount of produced β-fructofuranosidase. Glucose quantification is made by a GOD/POD-Assay 10
, which is modified for high-throughput analysis in 96-well micro titer plates.
Fungal morphology after 72 hours is examined by microscope and characterized by digital image analysis. In doing so, particle shape factors for fungal macro morphology like Feret's diameter, projected area, perimeter, circularity, aspect ratio, roundness und solidity are calculated with the open source image processing program ImageJ. Relevant parameters are combined to a dimensionless Morphology number (Mn) 11
, which enables a comprehensive characterization of fungal morphology. The close correlation of the Morphology number and productivity are highlighted by mathematical regression.
Immunology, Issue 61, morphology engineering, Morphology number (Mn), filamentous fungi, fructofuranosidase, micro particles, image analysis
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
Proper Care and Cleaning of the Microscope
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).
Keeping the microscope optics clean is important for high-quality imaging. Dust, fingerprints, excess immersion oil, or mounting medium on or in a microscope causes reduction in contrast and resolution. DIC is especially sensitive to contamination and scratches on the lens surfaces. This protocol details the procedure for keeping the microscope clean.
Basic Protocols, Issue 18, Current Protocols Wiley, Microscopy, Cleaning the Microscope
Interview: Glycolipid Antigen Presentation by CD1d and the Therapeutic Potential of NKT cell Activation
Institutions: La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
Natural Killer T cells (NKT) are critical determinants of the immune response to cancer, regulation of autioimmune disease, clearance of infectious agents, and the development of artheriosclerotic plaques. In this interview, Mitch Kronenberg discusses his laboratory's efforts to understand the mechanism through which NKT cells are activated by glycolipid antigens. Central to these studies is CD1d - the antigen presenting molecule that presents glycolipids to NKT cells. The advent of CD1d tetramer technology, a technique developed by the Kronenberg lab, is critical for the sorting and identification of subsets of specific glycolipid-reactive T cells. Mitch explains how glycolipid agonists are being used as therapeutic agents to activate NKT cells in cancer patients and how CD1d tetramers can be used to assess the state of the NKT cell population in vivo following glycolipid agonist therapy. Current status of ongoing clinical trials using these agonists are discussed as well as Mitch's prediction for areas in the field of immunology that will have emerging importance in the near future.
Immunology, Issue 10, Natural Killer T cells, NKT cells, CD1 Tetramers, antigen presentation, glycolipid antigens, CD1d, Mucosal Immunity, Translational Research