Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Concentration of Metabolites from Low-density Planktonic Communities for Environmental Metabolomics using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
Institutions: RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Yokohama City University, RIKEN Plant Science Center, Nagoya University.
Environmental metabolomics is an emerging field that is promoting new understanding in how organisms respond to and interact with the environment and each other at the biochemical level1
. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is one of several technologies, including gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS), with considerable promise for such studies. Advantages of NMR are that it is suitable for untargeted analyses, provides structural information and spectra can be queried in quantitative and statistical manners against recently available databases of individual metabolite spectra2,3
. In addition, NMR spectral data can be combined with data from other omics levels (e.g. transcriptomics, genomics) to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the physiological responses of taxa to each other and the environment4,5,6
. However, NMR is less sensitive than other metabolomic techniques, making it difficult to apply to natural microbial systems where sample populations can be low-density and metabolite concentrations low compared to metabolites from well-defined and readily extractable sources such as whole tissues, biofluids or cell-cultures. Consequently, the few direct environmental metabolomic studies of microbes performed to date have been limited to culture-based or easily defined high-density ecosystems such as host-symbiont systems, constructed co-cultures or manipulations of the gut environment where stable isotope labeling can be additionally used to enhance NMR signals7,8,9,10,11,12
. Methods that facilitate the concentration and collection of environmental metabolites at concentrations suitable for NMR are lacking. Since recent attention has been given to the environmental metabolomics of organisms within the aquatic environment, where much of the energy and material flow is mediated by the planktonic community13,14
, we have developed a method for the concentration and extraction of whole-community metabolites from planktonic microbial systems by filtration. Commercially available hydrophilic poly-1,1-difluoroethene (PVDF) filters are specially treated to completely remove extractables, which can otherwise appear as contaminants in subsequent analyses. These treated filters are then used to filter environmental or experimental samples of interest. Filters containing the wet sample material are lyophilized and aqueous-soluble metabolites are extracted directly for conventional NMR spectroscopy using a standardized potassium phosphate extraction buffer2
. Data derived from these methods can be analyzed statistically to identify meaningful patterns, or integrated with other omics levels for comprehensive understanding of community and ecosystem function.
Molecular Biology, Issue 62, environmental metabolomics, metabolic profiling, microbial ecology, plankton, NMR spectroscopy, PCA
Extracting DNA from the Gut Microbes of the Termite (Zootermopsis Angusticollis) and Visualizing Gut Microbes
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Termites are among the few animals known to have the capacity to subsist solely by consuming wood. The termite gut tract contains a dense and species-rich microbial population that assists in the degradation of lignocellulose predominantly into acetate, the key nutrient fueling termite metabolism (Odelson & Breznak, 1983). Within these microbial populations are bacteria, methanogenic archaea and, in some ("lower") termites, eukaryotic protozoa. Thus, termites are excellent research subjects for studying the interactions among microbial species and the numerous biochemical functions they perform to the benefit of their host. The species composition of microbial populations in termite guts as well as key genes involved in various biochemical processes has been explored using molecular techniques (Kudo et al., 1998; Schmit-Wagner et al., 2003; Salmassi & Leadbetter, 2003). These techniques depend on the extraction and purification of high-quality nucleic acids from the termite gut environment. The extraction technique described in this video is a modified compilation of protocols developed for extraction and purification of nucleic acids from environmental samples (Mor et al., 1994; Berthelet et al., 1996; Purdy et al., 1996; Salmassi & Leadbetter, 2003; Ottesen et al. 2006) and it produces DNA from termite hindgut material suitable for use as template for polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termite
Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) Labeling and Subsequent Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting for Culture-independent Identification of Dissolved Organic Carbon-degrading Bacterioplankton
Institutions: Kent State University, University of Georgia (UGA).
Microbes are major agents mediating the degradation of numerous dissolved organic carbon (DOC) substrates in aquatic environments. However, identification of bacterial taxa that transform specific pools of DOC in nature poses a technical challenge.
Here we describe an approach that couples bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation, fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS), and 16S rRNA gene-based molecular analysis that allows culture-independent identification of bacterioplankton capable of degrading a specific DOC compound in aquatic environments. Triplicate bacterioplankton microcosms are set up to receive both BrdU and a model DOC compound (DOC amendments), or only BrdU (no-addition control). BrdU substitutes the positions of thymidine in newly synthesized bacterial DNA and BrdU-labeled DNA can be readily immunodetected 1,2
. Through a 24-hr incubation, bacterioplankton that are able to use the added DOC compound are expected to be selectively activated, and therefore have higher levels of BrdU incorporation (HI cells) than non-responsive cells in the DOC amendments and cells in no-addition controls (low BrdU incorporation cells, LI cells). After fluorescence immunodetection, HI cells are distinguished and physically separated from the LI cells by fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) 3
. Sorted DOC-responsive cells (HI cells) are extracted for DNA and taxonomically identified through subsequent 16S rRNA gene-based analyses including PCR, clone library construction and sequencing.
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, BrdU incorporation, fluorescence-activated cell sorting, FACS, flow cytometry, microbial community, culture-independent, bacterioplankton
Agar-Block Microcosms for Controlled Plant Tissue Decomposition by Aerobic Fungi
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The two principal methods for studying fungal biodegradation of lignocellulosic plant tissues were developed for wood preservative testing (soil-block; agar-block). It is well-accepted that soil-block microcosms yield higher decay rates, fewer moisture issues, lower variability among studies, and higher thresholds of preservative toxicity. Soil-block testing is thus the more utilized technique and has been standardized by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) (method D 1413-07). The soil-block design has drawbacks, however, using locally-variable soil sources and in limiting the control of nutrients external (exogenous) to the decaying tissues. These drawbacks have emerged as a problem in applying this method to other, increasingly popular research aims. These modern aims include degrading lignocellulosics for bioenergy research, testing bioremediation of co-metabolized toxics, evaluating oxidative mechanisms, and tracking translocated elements along hyphal networks. Soil-blocks do not lend enough control in these applications. A refined agar-block approach is necessary.
Here, we use the brown rot wood-degrading fungus Serpula lacrymans
to degrade wood in agar-block microcosms, using deep Petri dishes with low-calcium agar. We test the role of exogenous gypsum on decay in a time-series, to demonstrate the utility and expected variability. Blocks from a single board rip (longitudinal cut) are conditioned, weighed, autoclaved, and introduced aseptically atop plastic mesh. Fungal inoculations are at each block face, with exogenous gypsum added at interfaces. Harvests are aseptic until the final destructive harvest. These microcosms are designed to avoid block contact with agar or Petri dish walls. Condensation is minimized during plate pours and during incubation. Finally, inoculum/gypsum/wood spacing is minimized but without allowing contact. These less technical aspects of agar-block design are also the most common causes of failure and the key source of variability among studies. Video publication is therefore useful in this case, and we demonstrate low-variability, high-quality results.
Plant Biology, Issue 48, Lignocellulose, biomass, wood, fungi, filamentous, biodegradation, petri, microcosm
Analysis of Fatty Acid Content and Composition in Microalgae
Institutions: Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center.
A method to determine the content and composition of total fatty acids present in microalgae is described. Fatty acids are a major constituent of microalgal biomass. These fatty acids can be present in different acyl-lipid classes. Especially the fatty acids present in triacylglycerol (TAG) are of commercial interest, because they can be used for production of transportation fuels, bulk chemicals, nutraceuticals (ω-3 fatty acids), and food commodities. To develop commercial applications, reliable analytical methods for quantification of fatty acid content and composition are needed. Microalgae are single cells surrounded by a rigid cell wall. A fatty acid analysis method should provide sufficient cell disruption to liberate all acyl lipids and the extraction procedure used should be able to extract all acyl lipid classes.
With the method presented here all fatty acids present in microalgae can be accurately and reproducibly identified and quantified using small amounts of sample (5 mg) independent of their chain length, degree of unsaturation, or the lipid class they are part of.
This method does not provide information about the relative abundance of different lipid classes, but can be extended to separate lipid classes from each other.
The method is based on a sequence of mechanical cell disruption, solvent based lipid extraction, transesterification of fatty acids to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), and quantification and identification of FAMEs using gas chromatography (GC-FID). A TAG internal standard (tripentadecanoin) is added prior to the analytical procedure to correct for losses during extraction and incomplete transesterification.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, chemical analysis techniques, Microalgae, fatty acid, triacylglycerol, lipid, gas chromatography, cell disruption
Measuring the Effects of Bacteria on C. Elegans Behavior Using an Egg Retention Assay
Institutions: Fairleigh Dickinson University.
egg-laying behavior is affected by environmental cues such as osmolarity1
. In the total absence of food C. elegans
also cease egg-laying and retain fertilized eggs in their uterus3
. However, the effect of different sources of food, especially pathogenic bacteria and particularly Enterococcus faecalis
, on egg-laying
behavior is not well characterized. The egg-in-worm (EIW) assay is a useful tool to quantify the effects of different types of bacteria, in this case E. faecalis,
on egg- laying behavior.
EIW assays involve counting the number of eggs retained in the uterus of C. elegans4
. The EIW assay involves bleaching staged, gravid adult C. elegans
to remove the cuticle and separate the retained eggs from the animal. Prior to bleaching, worms are exposed to bacteria (or any type of environmental cue) for a fixed period of time. After bleaching, one is very easily able to count the number of eggs retained inside the uterus of the worms. In this assay, a quantifiable increase in egg retention after E. faecalis
exposure can be easily measured. The EIW assay is a behavioral assay that may be used to screen for potentially pathogenic bacteria or the presence of environmental toxins. In addition, the EIW assay may be a tool to screen for drugs that affect neurotransmitter signaling since egg-laying behavior is modulated by neurotransmitters such as serotonin and acetylcholine5-9
Developmental Biology, Issue 80, Microbiology, C. elegans, Behavior, Animal, Microbiology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Enterococcus faecalis, egg-laying behavior, animal model
Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans
has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans
triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans
. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
The Use of Gas Chromatography to Analyze Compositional Changes of Fatty Acids in Rat Liver Tissue during Pregnancy
Institutions: University of Southampton.
Gas chromatography (GC) is a highly sensitive method used to identify and quantify the fatty acid content of lipids from tissues, cells, and plasma/serum, yielding results with high accuracy and high reproducibility. In metabolic and nutrition studies GC allows assessment of changes in fatty acid concentrations following interventions or during changes in physiological state such as pregnancy. Solid phase extraction (SPE) using aminopropyl silica cartridges allows separation of the major lipid classes including triacylglycerols, different phospholipids, and cholesteryl esters (CE). GC combined with SPE was used to analyze the changes in fatty acid composition of the CE fraction in the livers of virgin and pregnant rats that had been fed various high and low fat diets. There are significant diet/pregnancy interaction effects upon the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content of liver CE, indicating that pregnant females have a different response to dietary manipulation than is seen among virgin females.
Chemistry, Issue 85, gas chromatography, fatty acid, pregnancy, cholesteryl ester, solid phase extraction, polyunsaturated fatty acids
Extraction of High Molecular Weight DNA from Microbial Mats
Institutions: Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina.
Successful and accurate analysis and interpretation of metagenomic data is dependent upon the efficient extraction of high-quality, high molecular weight (HMW) community DNA. However, environmental mat samples often pose difficulties to obtaining large concentrations of high-quality, HMW DNA. Hypersaline microbial mats contain high amounts of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)1 and salts that may inhibit downstream applications of extracted DNA. Direct and harsh methods are often used in DNA extraction from refractory samples. These methods are typically used because the EPS in mats, an adhesive matrix, binds DNA2,3
during direct lysis. As a result of harsher extraction methods, DNA becomes fragmented into small sizes4,5,6
The DNA thus becomes inappropriate for large-insert vector cloning. In order to circumvent these limitations, we report an improved methodology to extract HMW DNA of good quality and quantity from hypersaline microbial mats. We employed an indirect method involving the separation of microbial cells from the background mat matrix through blending and differential centrifugation. A combination of mechanical and chemical procedures was used to extract and purify DNA from the extracted microbial cells. Our protocol yields approximately 2 μg of HMW DNA (35-50 kb) per gram of mat sample, with an A260/280
ratio of 1.6. Furthermore, amplification of 16S rRNA genes7
suggests that the protocol is able to minimize or eliminate any inhibitory effects of contaminants. Our results provide an appropriate methodology for the extraction of HMW DNA from microbial mats for functional metagenomic studies and may be applicable to other environmental samples from which DNA extraction is challenging.
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Metagenomics, extracellular polymeric substances, DNA extraction, Microbial mats, hypersaline, extreme environment
Analytical Techniques for Assaying Nitric Oxide Bioactivity
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston , Baylor College of Medicine .
Nitric oxide (NO) is a diatomic free radical that is extremely short lived in biological systems (less than 1 second in circulating blood)1
. NO may be considered one of the most important signaling molecules produced in our body, regulating essential functions including but not limited to regulation of blood pressure, immune response and neural communication. Therefore its accurate detection and quantification in biological matrices is critical to understanding the role of NO in health and disease. With such a short physiological half life of NO, alternative strategies for the detection of reaction products of NO biochemistry have been developed. The quantification of relevant NO metabolites in multiple biological compartments provides valuable information with regards to in vivo
NO production, bioavailability and metabolism. Simply sampling a single compartment such as blood or plasma may not always provide an accurate assessment of whole body NO status, particularly in tissues. The ability to compare blood with select tissues in experimental animals will help bridge the gap between basic science and clinical medicine as far as diagnostic and prognostic utility of NO biomarkers in health and disease. Therefore, extrapolation of plasma or blood NO status to specific tissues of interest is no longer a valid approach. As a result, methods continue to be developed and validated which allow the detection and quantification of NO and NO-related products/metabolites in multiple compartments of experimental animals in vivo
. The established paradigm of NO biochemistry from production by NO synthases to activation of soluble guanylyl cyclase (sGC) to eventual oxidation to nitrite (NO2-
) and nitrate (NO3-
) may only represent part of NO's effects in vivo
. The interaction of NO and NO-derived metabolites with protein thiols, secondary amines, and metals to form S-nitrosothiols (RSNOs), N-nitrosamines (RNNOs), and nitrosyl-heme respectively represent cGMP-independent effects of NO and are likely just as important physiologically as activation of sGC by NO. A true understanding of NO in physiology is derived from in vivo
experiments sampling multiple compartments simultaneously. Nitric oxide (NO) methodology is a complex and often confusing science and the focus of many debates and discussion concerning NO biochemistry. The elucidation of new mechanisms and signaling pathways involving NO hinges on our ability to specifically, selectively and sensitively detect and quantify NO and all relevant NO products and metabolites in complex biological matrices. Here, we present a method for the rapid and sensitive analysis of nitrite and nitrate by HPLC as well as detection of free NO in biological samples using in vitro
ozone based chemiluminescence with chemical derivitazation to determine molecular source of NO as well as ex vivo
with organ bath myography.
Medicine, Issue 64, Molecular Biology, Nitric oxide, nitrite, nitrate, endothelium derived relaxing factor, HPLC, chemiluminscence
Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro
using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro
preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers.
In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo
counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure
neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic
SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
Analyzing the Movement of the Nauplius 'Artemia salina' by Optical Tracking of Plasmonic Nanoparticles
We demonstrate how optical tweezers may provide a sensitive tool to analyze the fluidic vibrations generated by the movement of small aquatic organisms. A single gold nanoparticle held by an optical tweezer is used as a sensor to quantify the rhythmic motion of a Nauplius larva (Artemia salina
) in a water sample. This is achieved by monitoring the time dependent displacement of the trapped nanoparticle as a consequence of the Nauplius activity. A Fourier analysis of the nanoparticle's position then yields a frequency spectrum that is characteristic to the motion of the observed species. This experiment demonstrates the capability of this method to measure and characterize the activity of small aquatic larvae without the requirement to observe them directly and to gain information about the position of the larvae with respect to the trapped particle. Overall, this approach could give an insight on the vitality of certain species found in an aquatic ecosystem and could expand the range of conventional methods for analyzing water samples.
Biophysics, Issue 89, optical tweezers, particle tracking, plasmonic nanoparticles, Nauplius, bioindicator, water sample analysis
Measuring Fluxes of Mineral Nutrients and Toxicants in Plants with Radioactive Tracers
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Unidirectional influx and efflux of nutrients and toxicants, and their resultant net fluxes, are central to the nutrition and toxicology of plants. Radioisotope tracing is a major technique used to measure such fluxes, both within plants, and between plants and their environments. Flux data obtained with radiotracer protocols can help elucidate the capacity, mechanism, regulation, and energetics of transport systems for specific mineral nutrients or toxicants, and can provide insight into compartmentation and turnover rates of subcellular mineral and metabolite pools. Here, we describe two major radioisotope protocols used in plant biology: direct influx (DI) and compartmental analysis by tracer efflux (CATE). We focus on flux measurement of potassium (K+
) as a nutrient, and ammonia/ammonium (NH3
) as a toxicant, in intact seedlings of the model species barley (Hordeum vulgare
L.). These protocols can be readily adapted to other experimental systems (e.g.
, different species, excised plant material, and other nutrients/toxicants). Advantages and limitations of these protocols are discussed.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90,
influx, efflux, net flux, compartmental analysis, radiotracers, potassium, ammonia, ammonium
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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
Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ
measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration.
Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release.
The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
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
Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2
facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2
field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4
, and Ca2+
had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
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
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity