The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8.
The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
In vivo and In vitro Rearing of Entomopathogenic Nematodes (Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae)
Institutions: University of Arizona, University of Arizona.
Entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN) (Steinernematidae
) have a mutualistic partnership with Gram-negative Gamma-Proteobacteria in the family Enterobacteriaceae. Xenorhabdus
bacteria are associated with steinernematids nematodes while Photorhabdus
are symbionts of heterorhabditids. Together nematodes and bacteria form a potent insecticidal complex that kills a wide range of insect species in an intimate and specific partnership. Herein, we demonstrate in vivo
and in vitro
techniques commonly used in the rearing of these nematodes under laboratory conditions. Furthermore, these techniques represent key steps for the successful establishment of EPN cultures and also form the basis for other bioassays that utilize these organisms for research. The production of aposymbiotic (symbiont–free) nematodes is often critical for an in-depth and multifaceted approach to the study of symbiosis. This protocol does not require the addition of antibiotics and can be accomplished in a short amount of time with standard laboratory equipment. Nematodes produced in this manner are relatively robust, although their survivorship in storage may vary depending on the species used. The techniques detailed in this presentation correspond to those described by various authors and refined by P. Stock’s Laboratory, University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ, USA). These techniques are distinct from the body of techniques that are used in the mass production of these organisms for pest management purposes.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, entomology, nematology, microbiology, entomopathogenic, nematodes, bacteria, rearing, in vivo, in vitro
Ex Vivo Preparations of the Intact Vomeronasal Organ and Accessory Olfactory Bulb
Institutions: UT Southwestern Medical Center, Washington University in St. Louis.
The mouse accessory olfactory system (AOS) is a specialized sensory pathway for detecting nonvolatile social odors, pheromones, and kairomones. The first neural circuit in the AOS pathway, called the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB), plays an important role in establishing sex-typical behaviors such as territorial aggression and mating. This small (<1 mm3
) circuit possesses the capacity to distinguish unique behavioral states, such as sex, strain, and stress from chemosensory cues in the secretions and excretions of conspecifics. While the compact organization of this system presents unique opportunities for recording from large portions of the circuit simultaneously, investigation of sensory processing in the AOB remains challenging, largely due to its experimentally disadvantageous location in the brain. Here, we demonstrate a multi-stage dissection that removes the intact AOB inside a single hemisphere of the anterior mouse skull, leaving connections to both the peripheral vomeronasal sensory neurons (VSNs) and local neuronal circuitry intact. The procedure exposes the AOB surface to direct visual inspection, facilitating electrophysiological and optical recordings from AOB circuit elements in the absence of anesthetics. Upon inserting a thin cannula into the vomeronasal organ (VNO), which houses the VSNs, one can directly expose the periphery to social odors and pheromones while recording downstream activity in the AOB. This procedure enables controlled inquiries into AOS information processing, which can shed light on mechanisms linking pheromone exposure to changes in behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, vomeronasal organ, accessory olfactory bulb, ex vivo, mouse, olfaction
Analyzing Craniofacial Morphogenesis in Zebrafish Using 4D Confocal Microscopy
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin.
Time-lapse imaging is a technique that allows for the direct observation of the process of morphogenesis, or the generation of shape. Due to their optical clarity and amenability to genetic manipulation, the zebrafish embryo has become a popular model organism with which to perform time-lapse analysis of morphogenesis in living embryos. Confocal imaging of a live zebrafish embryo requires that a tissue of interest is persistently labeled with a fluorescent marker, such as a transgene or injected dye. The process demands that the embryo is anesthetized and held in place in such a way that healthy development proceeds normally. Parameters for imaging must be set to account for three-dimensional growth and to balance the demands of resolving individual cells while getting quick snapshots of development. Our results demonstrate the ability to perform long-term in vivo
imaging of fluorescence-labeled zebrafish embryos and to detect varied tissue behaviors in the cranial neural crest that cause craniofacial abnormalities. Developmental delays caused by anesthesia and mounting are minimal, and embryos are unharmed by the process. Time-lapse imaged embryos can be returned to liquid medium and subsequently imaged or fixed at later points in development. With an increasing abundance of transgenic zebrafish lines and well-characterized fate mapping and transplantation techniques, imaging any desired tissue is possible. As such, time-lapse in vivo
imaging combines powerfully with zebrafish genetic methods, including analyses of mutant and microinjected embryos.
Developmental Biology, Issue 83, zebrafish, neural crest, time-lapse, transgenic, morphogenesis, craniofacial, head, development, confocal, Microscopy, In vivo, movie
Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo
, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata,
however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e.
teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e.
urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio
), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae
. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum
) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
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
Using Whole Mount in situ Hybridization to Link Molecular and Organismal Biology
Institutions: Syracuse University, Syracuse University.
Whole mount in situ
hybridization (WISH) is a common technique in molecular biology laboratories used to study gene expression through the localization of specific mRNA transcripts within whole mount specimen. This technique (adapted from Albertson and Yelick, 2005) was used in an upper level undergraduate Comparative Vertebrate Biology laboratory classroom at Syracuse University. The first two thirds of the Comparative Vertebrate Biology lab course gave students the opportunity to study the embryology and gross anatomy of several organisms representing various chordate taxa primarily via traditional dissections and the use of models. The final portion of the course involved an innovative approach to teaching anatomy through observation of vertebrate development employing molecular techniques in which WISH was performed on zebrafish embryos. A heterozygous fibroblast growth factor 8 a (fgf8a
) mutant line, ace
, was used. Due to Mendelian inheritance, ace intercrosses produced wild type, heterozygous, and homozygous ace/fgf8a
mutants in a 1:2:1 ratio. RNA probes with known expression patterns in the midline and in developing anatomical structures such as the heart, somites, tailbud, myotome, and brain were used. WISH was performed using zebrafish at the 13 somite and prim-6 stages, with students performing the staining reaction in class. The study of zebrafish embryos at different stages of development gave students the ability to observe how these anatomical structures changed over ontogeny. In addition, some ace/fgf8a
mutants displayed improper heart looping, and defects in somite and brain development. The students in this lab observed the normal development of various organ systems using both external anatomy as well as gene expression patterns. They also identified and described embryos displaying improper anatomical development and gene expression (i.e., putative mutants).
For instructors at institutions that do not already own the necessary equipment or where funds for lab and curricular innovation are limited, the financial cost of the reagents and apparatus may be a factor to consider, as will the time and effort required on the part of the instructor regardless of the setting. Nevertheless, we contend that the use of WISH in this type of classroom laboratory setting can provide an important link between developmental genetics and anatomy. As technology advances and the ability to study organismal development at the molecular level becomes easier, cheaper, and increasingly popular, many evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and physiologists are turning to research strategies in the field of molecular biology. Using WISH in a Comparative Vertebrate Biology laboratory classroom is one example of how molecules and anatomy can converge within a single course. This gives upper level college students the opportunity to practice modern biological research techniques, leading to a more diversified education and the promotion of future interdisciplinary scientific research.
Developmental Biology, Issue 49, in situ hybridization, genetics, development, anatomy, vertebrate, undergraduate, education, interdisciplinary
A Full Skin Defect Model to Evaluate Vascularization of Biomaterials In Vivo
Institutions: Technische Universität München, University of Lübeck, University Hospital Zürich, Universidad de Chile.
Insufficient vascularization is considered to be one of the main factors limiting the clinical success of tissue-engineered constructs. In order to evaluate new strategies that aim at improving vascularization, reliable methods are required to make the in-growth of new blood vessels into bio-artificial scaffolds visible and quantify the results. Over the past couple of years, our group has introduced a full skin defect model that enables the direct visualization of blood vessels by transillumination and provides the possibility of quantification through digital segmentation. In this model, one surgically creates full skin defects in the back of mice and replaces them with the material tested. Molecules or cells of interest can also be incorporated in such materials to study their potential effect. After an observation time of one’s own choice, materials are explanted for evaluation. Bilateral wounds provide the possibility of making internal comparisons that minimize artifacts among individuals as well as of decreasing the number of animals needed for the study. In comparison to other approaches, our method offers a simple, reliable and cost effective analysis. We have implemented this model as a routine tool to perform high-resolution screening when testing vascularization of different biomaterials and bio-activation approaches.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, Biomaterials, vascularization, tissue engineering, transillumination, digital segmentation, skin defect, scaffold, matrix, in vivo model
Isolation of Viable Multicellular Glands from Tissue of the Carnivorous Plant, Nepenthes
Institutions: Université de Lorraine, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, aura optik.
Many plants possess specialized structures that are involved in the production and secretion of specific low molecular weight compounds and proteins. These structures are almost always localized on plant surfaces. Among them are nectaries or glandular trichomes. The secreted compounds are often employed in interactions with the biotic environment, for example as attractants for pollinators or deterrents against herbivores.
Glands that are unique in several aspects can be found in carnivorous plants. In so-called pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthe
s, bifunctional glands inside the pitfall-trap on the one hand secrete the digestive fluid, including all enzymes necessary for prey digestion, and on the other hand take-up the released nutrients. Thus, these glands represent an ideal, specialized tissue predestinated to study the underlying molecular, biochemical, and physiological mechanisms of protein secretion and nutrient uptake in plants. Moreover, generally the biosynthesis of secondary compounds produced by many plants equipped with glandular structures could be investigated directly in glands.
In order to work on such specialized structures, they need to be isolated efficiently, fast, metabolically active, and without contamination with other tissues. Therefore, a mechanical micropreparation technique was developed and applied for studies on Nepenthes
digestion fluid. Here, a protocol is presented that was used to successfully prepare single bifunctional glands from Nepenthes
traps, based on a mechanized microsampling platform. The glands could be isolated and directly used further for gene expression analysis by PCR techniques after preparation of RNA.
Plant Biology, Issue 82, Plant, Plant Preparations, Plant Physiological Processes, Plant Pathology, micropreparation, mechanical dissection, glands, carnivory, Nepenthes, PCR, RNA
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Production of Haploid Zebrafish Embryos by In Vitro Fertilization
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish has become a mainstream vertebrate model that is relevant for many disciplines of scientific study. Zebrafish are especially well suited for forward genetic analysis of developmental processes due to their external fertilization, embryonic size, rapid ontogeny, and optical clarity – a constellation of traits that enable the direct observation of events ranging from gastrulation to organogenesis with a basic stereomicroscope. Further, zebrafish embryos can survive for several days in the haploid state. The production of haploid embryos in vitro
is a powerful tool for mutational analysis, as it enables the identification of recessive mutant alleles present in first generation (F1) female carriers following mutagenesis in the parental (P) generation. This approach eliminates the necessity to raise multiple generations (F2, F3, etc.
) which involves breeding of mutant families, thus saving the researcher time along with reducing the needs for zebrafish colony space, labor, and the husbandry costs. Although zebrafish have been used to conduct forward screens for the past several decades, there has been a steady expansion of transgenic and genome editing tools. These tools now offer a plethora of ways to create nuanced assays for next generation screens that can be used to further dissect the gene regulatory networks that drive vertebrate ontogeny. Here, we describe how to prepare haploid zebrafish embryos. This protocol can be implemented for novel future haploid screens, such as in enhancer and suppressor screens, to address the mechanisms of development for a broad number of processes and tissues that form during early embryonic stages.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, zebrafish, haploid, in vitro fertilization, forward genetic screen, saturation, recessive mutation, mutagenesis
Obtaining Specimens with Slowed, Accelerated and Reversed Aging in the Honey Bee Model
Institutions: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Arizona State University.
Societies of highly social animals feature vast lifespan differences between closely related individuals. Among social insects, the honey bee is the best established model to study how plasticity in lifespan and aging is explained by social factors.
The worker caste of honey bees includes nurse bees, which tend the brood, and forager bees, which collect nectar and pollen. Previous work has shown that brain functions and flight performance senesce more rapidly in foragers than in nurses. However, brain functions can recover, when foragers revert back to nursing tasks. Such patterns of accelerated and reversed functional senescence are linked to changed metabolic resource levels, to alterations in protein abundance and to immune function. Vitellogenin, a yolk protein with adapted functions in hormonal control and cellular defense, may serve as a major regulatory element in a network that controls the different aging dynamics in workers.
Here we describe how the emergence of nurses and foragers can be monitored, and manipulated, including the reversal from typically short-lived foragers into longer-lived nurses. Our representative results show how individuals with similar chronological age differentiate into foragers and nurse bees under experimental conditions. We exemplify how behavioral reversal from foragers back to nurses can be validated. Last, we show how different cellular senescence can be assessed by measuring the accumulation of lipofuscin, a universal biomarker of senescence.
For studying mechanisms that may link social influences and aging plasticity, this protocol provides a standardized tool set to acquire relevant sample material, and to improve data comparability among future studies.
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Insects, Microscopy, Confocal, Aging, Gerontology, Neurobiology, Insect, Invertebrate, Brain, Lipofuscin, Confocal Microscopy
Helminth Collection and Identification from Wildlife
Institutions: Purdue University, Helm West Laboratory.
Wild animals are commonly parasitized by a wide range of helminths. The four major types of helminths are "roundworms" (nematodes), "thorny-headed worms" (acanthocephalans), "flukes" (trematodes), and "tapeworms" (cestodes). The optimum method for collecting helminths is to examine a host that has been dead less than 4-6 hr since most helminths will still be alive. A thorough necropsy should be conducted and all major organs examined. Organs are washed over a 106 μm sieve under running water and contents examined under a stereo microscope. All helminths are counted and a representative number are fixed (either in 70% ethanol, 10% buffered formalin, or alcohol-formalin-acetic acid). For species identification, helminths are either cleared in lactophenol (nematodes and small acanthocephalans) or stained (trematodes, cestodes, and large acanthocephalans) using Harris' hematoxylin or Semichon's carmine. Helminths are keyed to species by examining different structures (e.g
. male spicules in nematodes or the rostellum in cestodes). The protocols outlined here can be applied to any vertebrate animal. They require some expertise on recognizing the different organs and being able to differentiate helminths from other tissue debris or gut contents. Collection, preservation, and staining are straightforward techniques that require minimal equipment and reagents. Taxonomic identification, especially to species, can be very time consuming and might require the submission of specimens to an expert or DNA analysis.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, Helminths, eukaryotic parasites, worms, nematodes, cestodes, trematodes, acanthocephalans, wildlife
In situ Protocol for Butterfly Pupal Wings Using Riboprobes
Institutions: SUNY-University at Buffalo, Yale University.
Here we present, in video format, a protocol for in situ hybridizations in pupal wings of the butterfly Bicyclus anynana using riboprobes. In situ hybridizations, a mainstay of developmental biology, are useful to study the spatial and temporal patterns of gene expression in developing tissues at the level of transcription. If antibodies that target the protein products of gene transcription have not yet been developed, and/or there are multiple gene copies of a particular protein in the genome that cannot be differentiated using available antibodies, in situs can be used instead. While an in situ technique for larval wing discs has been available to the butterfly community for several years, the current protocol has been optimized for the larger and more fragile pupal wings.
Developmental Biology, issue 4, hybridization, wing, staining
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
Ex vivo Culture of Drosophila Pupal Testis and Single Male Germ-line Cysts: Dissection, Imaging, and Pharmacological Treatment
Institutions: Philipps-Universität Marburg, Philipps-Universität Marburg.
During spermatogenesis in mammals and in Drosophila melanogaster,
male germ cells develop in a series of essential developmental processes. This includes differentiation from a stem cell population, mitotic amplification, and meiosis. In addition, post-meiotic germ cells undergo a dramatic morphological reshaping process as well as a global epigenetic reconfiguration of the germ line chromatin—the histone-to-protamine switch.
Studying the role of a protein in post-meiotic spermatogenesis using mutagenesis or other genetic tools is often impeded by essential embryonic, pre-meiotic, or meiotic functions of the protein under investigation. The post-meiotic phenotype of a mutant of such a protein could be obscured through an earlier developmental block, or the interpretation of the phenotype could be complicated. The model organism Drosophila melanogaster
offers a bypass to this problem: intact testes and even cysts of germ cells dissected from early pupae are able to develop ex vivo
in culture medium. Making use of such cultures allows microscopic imaging of living germ cells in testes and of germ-line cysts. Importantly, the cultivated testes and germ cells also become accessible to pharmacological inhibitors, thereby permitting manipulation of enzymatic functions during spermatogenesis, including post-meiotic stages.
The protocol presented describes how to dissect and cultivate pupal testes and germ-line cysts. Information on the development of pupal testes and culture conditions are provided alongside microscope imaging data of live testes and germ-line cysts in culture. We also describe a pharmacological assay to study post-meiotic spermatogenesis, exemplified by an assay targeting the histone-to-protamine switch using the histone acetyltransferase inhibitor anacardic acid. In principle, this cultivation method could be adapted to address many other research questions in pre- and post-meiotic spermatogenesis.
Developmental Biology, Issue 91,
Ex vivo culture, testis, male germ-line cells, Drosophila, imaging, pharmacological assay
An Ex Vivo Laser-induced Spinal Cord Injury Model to Assess Mechanisms of Axonal Degeneration in Real-time
Institutions: University of Louisville, University of Calgary.
Injured CNS axons fail to regenerate and often retract away from the injury site. Axons spared from the initial injury may later undergo secondary axonal degeneration. Lack of growth cone formation, regeneration, and loss of additional myelinated axonal projections within the spinal cord greatly limits neurological recovery following injury. To assess how central myelinated axons of the spinal cord respond to injury, we developed an ex vivo
living spinal cord model utilizing transgenic mice that express yellow fluorescent protein in axons and a focal and highly reproducible laser-induced spinal cord injury to document the fate of axons and myelin (lipophilic fluorescent dye Nile Red) over time using two-photon excitation time-lapse microscopy. Dynamic processes such as acute axonal injury, axonal retraction, and myelin degeneration are best studied in real-time. However, the non-focal nature of contusion-based injuries and movement artifacts encountered during in vivo
spinal cord imaging make differentiating primary and secondary axonal injury responses using high resolution microscopy challenging. The ex vivo
spinal cord model described here mimics several aspects of clinically relevant contusion/compression-induced axonal pathologies including axonal swelling, spheroid formation, axonal transection, and peri-axonal swelling providing a useful model to study these dynamic processes in real-time. Major advantages of this model are excellent spatiotemporal resolution that allows differentiation between the primary insult that directly injures axons and secondary injury mechanisms; controlled infusion of reagents directly to the perfusate bathing the cord; precise alterations of the environmental milieu (e.g.,
calcium, sodium ions, known contributors to axonal injury, but near impossible to manipulate in vivo
); and murine models also offer an advantage as they provide an opportunity to visualize and manipulate genetically identified cell populations and subcellular structures. Here, we describe how to isolate and image the living spinal cord from mice to capture dynamics of acute axonal injury.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, spinal cord injury, axon, myelin, two-photon excitation microscopy, Nile Red, axonal degeneration, axonal dieback, axonal retraction
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7
. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4
Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9
. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10
. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12
Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14
) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila
, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
Gross Dissection of the Stomach of the Lobster, Homarus Americanus
The stomach of the American lobster (Homarus americanus
) is located in the cephalothorax, between the rostrum and the cervical groove. The anterior end of the stomach is defined by the mouth opening and the posterior end by the bottom of the pylorus. Along the dorsal side of the stomach lies the stomatogastric nervous system (STNS). This nervous system, which contains rhythmic networks that underlie feeding behavior, is an established model system for studying rhythm generating networks and neuromodulation 1,2
. While it is possible to study this system in vivo 3
, the STNS continues to produce its rhythmic activity when isolated in vitro
. In order to study this system in vitro
the stomach must be removed from the animal. This video article describes how the stomach can be dissected from the American lobster. In an accompanying video article4
we demonstrate how the STNS can be isolated from the stomach.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, lobster, stomach, neural network, dissection, central pattern generator
Brain Banking: Making the Most of your Research Specimens
Institutions: University of Montreal, University of Montreal.
Unbiased stereology is a method for accurately and efficiently estimating the total neuron number (or other cell type) in a given area of interest1
. To achieve this goal 6-10 systematic sections should be probed covering the entire structure. Typically this involves processing 1/5 sections which leaves a significant amount of material unprocessed. In order to maximize the material, we propose an inexpensive method for preserving fixed tissue as part of a long-term storage research plan. As tissue is sliced and processed for the desired stain or antibody, alternate sections should be systematically placed in antigen preserve at -20°C for future processing. Using 24-well plates, sections can be placed in order for future retrieval. Using this method, tissue can be stored and processed for immunohistochemistry over the course of years.
Neuroscience, Issue 29, brain bank, systematic sampling, stereology, cryostat, antigen preserve
A Rapid High-throughput Method for Mapping Ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) on Human pre-mRNA
Institutions: Brown University, Brown University.
Sequencing RNAs that co-immunoprecipitate (co-IP) with RNA binding proteins has increased our understanding of splicing by demonstrating that binding location often influences function of a splicing factor. However, as with any sampling strategy the chance of identifying an RNA bound to a splicing factor is proportional to its cellular abundance. We have developed a novel in vitro approach for surveying binding specificity on otherwise transient pre-mRNA. This approach utilizes a specifically designed oligonucleotide pool that tiles across introns, exons, splice junctions, or other pre-mRNA. The pool is subjected to some kind of molecular selection. Here, we demonstrate the method by separating the oligonucleotide into a bound and unbound fraction and utilize a two color array strategy to record the enrichment of each oligonucleotide in the bound fraction. The array data generates high-resolution maps with the ability to identify sequence-specific and structural determinates of ribonucleoprotein (RNP) binding on pre-mRNA. A unique advantage to this method is its ability to avoid the sampling bias towards mRNA associated with current IP and SELEX techniques, as the pool is specifically designed and synthesized from pre-mRNA sequence. The flexibility of the oligonucleotide pool is another advantage since the experimenter chooses which regions to study and tile across, tailoring the pool to their individual needs. Using this technique, one can assay the effects of polymorphisms or mutations on binding on a large scale or clone the library into a functional splicing reporter and identify oligonucleotides that are enriched in the included fraction. This novel in vitro high-resolution mapping scheme provides a unique way to study RNP interactions with transient pre-mRNA species, whose low abundance makes them difficult to study with current in vivo techniques.
Cellular Biology, Issue 34, pre-mRNA, splicing factors, tiling array, ribonucleoprotein (RNP), binding maps