The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Quantitative Optical Microscopy: Measurement of Cellular Biophysical Features with a Standard Optical Microscope
Institutions: Oregon Health & Science University, School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, School of Medicine.
We describe the use of a standard optical microscope to perform quantitative measurements of mass, volume, and density on cellular specimens through a combination of bright field and differential interference contrast imagery. Two primary approaches are presented: noninterferometric quantitative phase microscopy (NIQPM), to perform measurements of total cell mass and subcellular density distribution, and Hilbert transform differential interference contrast microscopy (HTDIC) to determine volume. NIQPM is based on a simplified model of wave propagation, termed the paraxial approximation, with three underlying assumptions: low numerical aperture (NA) illumination, weak scattering, and weak absorption of light by the specimen. Fortunately, unstained cellular specimens satisfy these assumptions and low NA illumination is easily achieved on commercial microscopes. HTDIC is used to obtain volumetric information from through-focus DIC imagery under high NA illumination conditions. High NA illumination enables enhanced sectioning of the specimen along the optical axis. Hilbert transform processing on the DIC image stacks greatly enhances edge detection algorithms for localization of the specimen borders in three dimensions by separating the gray values of the specimen intensity from those of the background. The primary advantages of NIQPM and HTDIC lay in their technological accessibility using “off-the-shelf” microscopes. There are two basic limitations of these methods: slow z-stack acquisition time on commercial scopes currently abrogates the investigation of phenomena faster than 1 frame/minute, and secondly, diffraction effects restrict the utility of NIQPM and HTDIC to objects from 0.2 up to 10 (NIQPM) and 20 (HTDIC) μm in diameter, respectively. Hence, the specimen and its associated time dynamics of interest must meet certain size and temporal constraints to enable the use of these methods. Excitingly, most fixed cellular specimens are readily investigated with these methods.
Bioengineering, Issue 86, Label-free optics, quantitative microscopy, cellular biophysics, cell mass, cell volume, cell density
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Fine-tuning the Size and Minimizing the Noise of Solid-state Nanopores
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Solid-state nanopores have emerged as a versatile tool for the characterization of single biomolecules such as nucleic acids and proteins1
. However, the creation of a nanopore in a thin insulating membrane remains challenging. Fabrication methods involving specialized focused electron beam systems can produce well-defined nanopores, but yield of reliable and low-noise nanopores in commercially available membranes remains low2,3
and size control is nontrivial4,5
. Here, the application of high electric fields to fine-tune the size of the nanopore while ensuring optimal low-noise performance is demonstrated. These short pulses of high electric field are used to produce a pristine electrical signal and allow for enlarging of nanopores with subnanometer precision upon prolonged exposure. This method is performed in situ
in an aqueous environment using standard laboratory equipment, improving the yield and reproducibility of solid-state nanopore fabrication.
Physics, Issue 80, Nanopore, Solid-State, Size Control, Noise Reduction, Translocation, DNA, High Electric Fields, Nanopore Conditioning
Time Multiplexing Super Resolving Technique for Imaging from a Moving Platform
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University, Kfar Saba, Israel.
We propose a method for increasing the resolution of an object and overcoming the diffraction limit of an optical system installed on top of a moving imaging system, such as an airborne platform or satellite. The resolution improvement is obtained in a two-step process. First, three low resolution differently defocused images are being captured and the optical phase is retrieved using an improved iterative Gerchberg-Saxton based algorithm. The phase retrieval allows to numerically back propagate the field to the aperture plane. Second, the imaging system is shifted and the first step is repeated. The obtained optical fields at the aperture plane are combined and a synthetically increased lens aperture is generated along the direction of movement, yielding higher imaging resolution. The method resembles a well-known approach from the microwave regime called the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in which the antenna size is synthetically increased along the platform propagation direction. The proposed method is demonstrated through laboratory experiment.
Physics, Issue 84, Superresolution, Fourier optics, Remote Sensing and Sensors, Digital Image Processing, optics, resolution
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
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
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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
Using Flatbed Scanners to Collect High-resolution Time-lapsed Images of the Arabidopsis Root Gravitropic Response
Institutions: Doane College, Doane College.
Research efforts in biology increasingly require use of methodologies that enable high-volume collection of high-resolution data. A challenge laboratories can face is the development and attainment of these methods. Observation of phenotypes in a process of interest is a typical objective of research labs studying gene function and this is often achieved through image capture. A particular process that is amenable to observation using imaging approaches is the corrective growth of a seedling root that has been displaced from alignment with the gravity vector. Imaging platforms used to measure the root gravitropic response can be expensive, relatively low in throughput, and/or labor intensive. These issues have been addressed by developing a high-throughput image capture method using inexpensive, yet high-resolution, flatbed scanners. Using this method, images can be captured every few minutes at 4,800 dpi. The current setup enables collection of 216 individual responses per day. The image data collected is of ample quality for image analysis applications.
Basic Protocol, Issue 83, root gravitropism, Arabidopsis, high-throughput phenotyping, flatbed scanners, image analysis, undergraduate research
Surface Renewal: An Advanced Micrometeorological Method for Measuring and Processing Field-Scale Energy Flux Density Data
Institutions: United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, University of California, Davis, University of Chile, University of California, Davis, URS Corporation Australia Pty. Ltd..
Advanced micrometeorological methods have become increasingly important in soil, crop, and environmental sciences. For many scientists without formal training in atmospheric science, these techniques are relatively inaccessible. Surface renewal and other flux measurement methods require an understanding of boundary layer meteorology and extensive training in instrumentation and multiple data management programs. To improve accessibility of these techniques, we describe the underlying theory of surface renewal measurements, demonstrate how to set up a field station for surface renewal with eddy covariance calibration, and utilize our open-source turnkey data logger program to perform flux data acquisition and processing. The new turnkey program returns to the user a simple data table with the corrected fluxes and quality control parameters, and eliminates the need for researchers to shuttle between multiple processing programs to obtain the final flux data. An example of data generated from these measurements demonstrates how crop water use is measured with this technique. The output information is useful to growers for making irrigation decisions in a variety of agricultural ecosystems. These stations are currently deployed in numerous field experiments by researchers in our group and the California Department of Water Resources in the following crops: rice, wine and raisin grape vineyards, alfalfa, almond, walnut, peach, lemon, avocado, and corn.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, Conservation of Natural Resources, Engineering, Agriculture, plants, energy balance, irrigated agriculture, flux data, evapotranspiration, agrometeorology
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
Clinical Testing and Spinal Cord Removal in a Mouse Model for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Institutions: University Medicine Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder resulting in progressive degeneration of motoneurons. Peak of onset is around 60 years for the sporadic disease and around 50 years for the familial disease. Due to its progressive course, 50% of the patients die within 30 months of symptom onset. In order to evaluate novel treatment options for this disease, genetic mouse models of ALS have been generated based on human familial mutations in the SOD gene, such as the SOD1 (G93A) mutation. Most important aspects that have to be evaluated in the model are overall survival, clinical course and motor function. Here, we demonstrate the clinical evaluation, show the conduction of two behavioural motor tests and provide quantitative scoring systems for all parameters. Because an in depth analysis of the ALS mouse model usually requires an immunohistochemical examination of the spinal cord, we demonstrate its preparation in detail applying the dorsal laminectomy method. Exemplary histological findings are demonstrated. The comprehensive application of the depicted examination methods in studies on the mouse model of ALS will enable the researcher to reliably test future therapeutic options which can provide a basis for later human clinical trials.
Medicine, Issue 61, neuroscience, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, spinal cord, mouse, rotarod, hanging wire
Detection of Bacteria Using Fluorogenic DNAzymes
Institutions: McMaster University , McMaster University .
Outbreaks linked to food-borne and hospital-acquired pathogens account for millions of deaths and hospitalizations as well as colossal economic losses each and every year. Prevention of such outbreaks and minimization of the impact of an ongoing epidemic place an ever-increasing demand for analytical methods that can accurately identify culprit pathogens at the earliest stage. Although there is a large array of effective methods for pathogen detection, none of them can satisfy all the following five premier requirements embodied for an ideal detection method: high specificity (detecting only the bacterium of interest), high sensitivity (capable of detecting as low as a single live bacterial cell), short time-to-results (minutes to hours), great operational simplicity (no need for lengthy sampling procedures and the use of specialized equipment), and cost effectiveness. For example, classical microbiological methods are highly specific but require a long time (days to weeks) to acquire a definitive result.1
PCR- and antibody-based techniques offer shorter waiting times (hours to days), but they require the use of expensive reagents and/or sophisticated equipment.2-4
Consequently, there is still a great demand for scientific research towards developing innovative bacterial detection methods that offer improved characteristics in one or more of the aforementioned requirements. Our laboratory is interested in examining the potential of DNAzymes as a novel class of molecular probes for biosensing applications including bacterial detection.5
DNAzymes (also known as deoxyribozymes or DNA enzymes) are man-made single-stranded DNA molecules with the capability of catalyzing chemical reactions.6-8
These molecules can be isolated from a vast random-sequence DNA pool (which contains as many as 1016
individual sequences) by a process known as "in vitro
selection" or "SELEX" (systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment).9-16
These special DNA molecules have been widely examined in recent years as molecular tools for biosensing applications.6-8
Our laboratory has established in vitro
selection procedures for isolating RNA-cleaving fluorescent DNAzymes (RFDs; Fig. 1
) and investigated the use of RFDs as analytical tools.17-29
RFDs catalyze the cleavage of a DNA-RNA chimeric substrate at a single ribonucleotide junction (R) that is flanked by a fluorophore (F) and a quencher (Q). The close proximity of F and Q renders the uncleaved substrate minimal fluorescence. However, the cleavage event leads to the separation of F and Q, which is accompanied by significant increase of fluorescence intensity.
More recently, we developed a method of isolating RFDs for bacterial detection.5
These special RFDs were isolated to "light up" in the presence of the crude extracellular mixture (CEM) left behind by a specific type of bacteria in their environment or in the media they are cultured (Fig. 1
). The use of crude mixture circumvents the tedious process of purifying and identifying a suitable target from the microbe of interest for biosensor development (which could take months or years to complete). The use of extracellular targets means the assaying procedure is simple because there is no need for steps to obtain intracellular targets.
Using the above approach, we derived an RFD that cleaves its substrate (FS1; Fig. 2A
) only in the presence of the CEM produced by E. coli
This E. coli
-sensing RFD, named RFD-EC1 (Fig. 2A
), was found to be strictly responsive to CEM-EC but nonresponsive to CEMs from a host of other bacteria (Fig. 3
Here we present the key experimental procedures for setting up E. coli
detection assays using RFD-EC1 and representative results.
Biochemistry, Issue 63, Immunology, Fluorogenic DNAzymes, E. coli, biosensor, bacterial detection
Mapping the After-effects of Theta Burst Stimulation on the Human Auditory Cortex with Functional Imaging
Institutions: McGill University .
Auditory cortex pertains to the processing of sound, which is at the basis of speech or music-related processing1
. However, despite considerable recent progress, the functional properties and lateralization of the human auditory cortex are far from being fully understood. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive technique that can transiently or lastingly modulate cortical excitability via the application of localized magnetic field pulses, and represents a unique method of exploring plasticity and connectivity. It has only recently begun to be applied to understand auditory cortical function 2
An important issue in using TMS is that the physiological consequences of the stimulation are difficult to establish. Although many TMS studies make the implicit assumption that the area targeted by the coil is the area affected, this need not be the case, particularly for complex cognitive functions which depend on interactions across many brain regions 3
. One solution to this problem is to combine TMS with functional Magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The idea here is that fMRI will provide an index of changes in brain activity associated with TMS. Thus, fMRI would give an independent means of assessing which areas are affected by TMS and how they are modulated 4
. In addition, fMRI allows the assessment of functional connectivity, which represents a measure of the temporal coupling between distant regions. It can thus be useful not only to measure the net activity modulation induced by TMS in given locations, but also the degree to which the network properties are affected by TMS, via any observed changes in functional connectivity.
Different approaches exist to combine TMS and functional imaging according to the temporal order of the methods. Functional MRI can be applied before, during, after, or both before and after TMS. Recently, some studies interleaved TMS and fMRI in order to provide online mapping of the functional changes induced by TMS 5-7
. However, this online combination has many technical problems, including the static artifacts resulting from the presence of the TMS coil in the scanner room, or the effects of TMS pulses on the process of MR image formation. But more importantly, the loud acoustic noise induced by TMS (increased compared with standard use because of the resonance of the scanner bore) and the increased TMS coil vibrations (caused by the strong mechanical forces due to the static magnetic field of the MR scanner) constitute a crucial problem when studying auditory processing.
This is one reason why fMRI was carried out before and after TMS in the present study. Similar approaches have been used to target the motor cortex 8,9
, premotor cortex 10
, primary somatosensory cortex 11,12
and language-related areas 13
, but so far no combined TMS-fMRI study has investigated the auditory cortex. The purpose of this article is to provide details concerning the protocol and considerations necessary to successfully combine these two neuroscientific tools to investigate auditory processing.
Previously we showed that repetitive TMS (rTMS) at high and low frequencies (resp. 10 Hz and 1 Hz) applied over the auditory cortex modulated response time (RT) in a melody discrimination task 2
. We also showed that RT modulation was correlated with functional connectivity in the auditory network assessed using fMRI: the higher the functional connectivity between left and right auditory cortices during task performance, the higher the facilitatory effect (i.e.
decreased RT) observed with rTMS. However those findings were mainly correlational, as fMRI was performed before rTMS. Here, fMRI was carried out before and immediately after TMS to provide direct measures of the functional organization of the auditory cortex, and more specifically of the plastic reorganization of the auditory neural network occurring after the neural intervention provided by TMS.
Combined fMRI and TMS applied over the auditory cortex should enable a better understanding of brain mechanisms of auditory processing, providing physiological information about functional effects of TMS. This knowledge could be useful for many cognitive neuroscience applications, as well as for optimizing therapeutic applications of TMS, particularly in auditory-related disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Physiology, Physics, Theta burst stimulation, functional magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, auditory cortex, frameless stereotaxy, sound, transcranial magnetic stimulation
Eye Movement Monitoring of Memory
Institutions: Rotman Research Institute, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Explicit (often verbal) reports are typically used to investigate memory (e.g. "Tell me what you remember about the person you saw at the bank yesterday."), however such reports can often be unreliable or sensitive to response bias 1
, and may be unobtainable in some participant populations. Furthermore, explicit reports only reveal when information has reached consciousness and cannot comment on when memories were accessed during processing, regardless of whether the information is subsequently accessed in a conscious manner. Eye movement monitoring (eye tracking) provides a tool by which memory can be probed without asking participants to comment on the contents of their memories, and access of such memories can be revealed on-line 2,3
. Video-based eye trackers (either head-mounted or remote) use a system of cameras and infrared markers to examine the pupil and corneal reflection in each eye as the participant views a display monitor. For head-mounted eye trackers, infrared markers are also used to determine head position to allow for head movement and more precise localization of eye position. Here, we demonstrate the use of a head-mounted eye tracking system to investigate memory performance in neurologically-intact and neurologically-impaired adults. Eye movement monitoring procedures begin with the placement of the eye tracker on the participant, and setup of the head and eye cameras. Calibration and validation procedures are conducted to ensure accuracy of eye position recording. Real-time recordings of X,Y-coordinate positions on the display monitor are then converted and used to describe periods of time in which the eye is static (i.e. fixations) versus in motion (i.e., saccades). Fixations and saccades are time-locked with respect to the onset/offset of a visual display or another external event (e.g. button press). Experimental manipulations are constructed to examine how and when patterns of fixations and saccades are altered through different types of prior experience. The influence of memory is revealed in the extent to which scanning patterns to new images differ from scanning patterns to images that have been previously studied 2, 4-5
. Memory can also be interrogated for its specificity; for instance, eye movement patterns that differ between an identical and an altered version of a previously studied image reveal the storage of the altered detail in memory 2-3, 6-8
. These indices of memory can be compared across participant populations, thereby providing a powerful tool by which to examine the organization of memory in healthy individuals, and the specific changes that occur to memory with neurological insult or decline 2-3, 8-10
Neuroscience, Issue 42, eye movement monitoring, eye tracking, memory, aging, amnesia, visual processing
Tilt Testing with Combined Lower Body Negative Pressure: a "Gold Standard" for Measuring Orthostatic Tolerance
Institutions: Simon Fraser University .
Orthostatic tolerance (OT) refers to the ability to maintain cardiovascular stability when upright, against the hydrostatic effects of gravity, and hence to maintain cerebral perfusion and prevent syncope (fainting). Various techniques are available to assess OT and the effects of gravitational stress upon the circulation, typically by reproducing a presyncopal event (near-fainting episode) in a controlled laboratory environment. The time and/or degree of stress required to provoke this response provides the measure of OT. Any technique used to determine OT should: enable distinction between patients with orthostatic intolerance (of various causes) and asymptomatic control subjects; be highly reproducible, enabling evaluation of therapeutic interventions; avoid invasive procedures, which are known to impair OT1
In the late 1980s head-upright tilt testing was first utilized for diagnosing syncope2
. Since then it has been used to assess OT in patients with syncope of unknown cause, as well as in healthy subjects to study postural cardiovascular reflexes2-6
. Tilting protocols comprise three categories: passive tilt; passive tilt accompanied by pharmacological provocation; and passive tilt with combined lower body negative pressure (LBNP). However, the effects of tilt testing (and other orthostatic stress testing modalities) are often poorly reproducible, with low sensitivity and specificity to diagnose orthostatic intolerance7
Typically, a passive tilt includes 20-60 min of orthostatic stress continued until the onset of presyncope in patients2-6
. However, the main drawback of this procedure is its inability to invoke presyncope in all individuals undergoing the test, and corresponding low sensitivity8,9
. Thus, different methods were explored to increase the orthostatic stress and improve sensitivity.
Pharmacological provocation has been used to increase the orthostatic challenge, for example using isoprenaline4,7,10,11
or sublingual nitrate12,13
. However, the main drawback of these approaches are increases in sensitivity at the cost of unacceptable decreases in specificity10,14
, with a high positive response rate immediately after administration15
. Furthermore, invasive procedures associated with some pharmacological provocations greatly increase the false positive rate1
Another approach is to combine passive tilt testing with LBNP, providing a stronger orthostatic stress without invasive procedures or drug side-effects, using the technique pioneered by Professor Roger Hainsworth in the 1990s16-18
. This approach provokes presyncope in almost all subjects (allowing for symptom recognition in patients with syncope), while discriminating between patients with syncope and healthy controls, with a specificity of 92%, sensitivity of 85%, and repeatability of 1.1±0.6 min16,17
. This allows not only diagnosis and pathophysiological assessment19-22
, but also the evaluation of treatments for orthostatic intolerance due to its high repeatability23-30
. For these reasons, we argue this should be the "gold standard" for orthostatic stress testing, and accordingly this will be the method described in this paper.
Medicine, Issue 73, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Kinesiology, Cardiology, tilt test, lower body negative pressure, orthostatic stress, syncope, orthostatic tolerance, fainting, gravitational stress, head upright, stroke, clinical techniques
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
Live-cell Video Microscopy of Fungal Pathogen Phagocytosis
Institutions: University of Aberdeen, University of Aberdeen.
Phagocytic clearance of fungal pathogens, and microorganisms more generally, may be considered to consist of four distinct stages: (i) migration of phagocytes to the site where pathogens are located; (ii) recognition of pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) through pattern recognition receptors (PRRs); (iii) engulfment of microorganisms bound to the phagocyte cell membrane, and (iv) processing of engulfed cells within maturing phagosomes and digestion of the ingested particle. Studies that assess phagocytosis in its entirety are informative1, 2, 3, 4, 5
but are limited in that they do not normally break the process down into migration, engulfment and phagosome maturation, which may be affected differentially. Furthermore, such studies assess uptake as a single event, rather than as a continuous dynamic process. We have recently developed advanced live-cell imaging technologies, and have combined these with genetic functional analysis of both pathogen and host cells to create a cross-disciplinary platform for the analysis of innate immune cell function and fungal pathogenesis. These studies have revealed novel aspects of phagocytosis that could only be observed using systematic temporal analysis of the molecular and cellular interactions between human phagocytes and fungal pathogens and infectious microorganisms more generally. For example, we have begun to define the following: (a) the components of the cell surface required for each stage of the process of recognition, engulfment and killing of fungal cells1, 6, 7, 8
; (b) how surface geometry influences the efficiency of macrophage uptake and killing of yeast and hyphal cells7
; and (c) how engulfment leads to alteration of the cell cycle and behavior of macrophages 9, 10
In contrast to single time point snapshots, live-cell video microscopy enables a wide variety of host cells and pathogens to be studied as continuous sequences over lengthy time periods, providing spatial and temporal information on a broad range of dynamic processes, including cell migration, replication and vesicular trafficking. Here we describe in detail how to prepare host and fungal cells, and to conduct the video microscopy experiments. These methods can provide a user-guide for future studies with other phagocytes and microorganisms.
Infection, Issue 71, Immunology, Microbiology, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Infectious Diseases, Mycoses, Candidiasis, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Immune System Diseases, Live-cell imaging, phagocytosis, Candida albicans, host-pathogen interaction, pathogen, pathogen-associated molecular patterns, pattern recognition receptors, macrophage, fungus
Synthesis and Operation of Fluorescent-core Microcavities for Refractometric Sensing
Institutions: University of Alberta.
This paper discusses fluorescent core microcavity-based sensors that can operate in a microfluidic analysis setup. These structures are based on the formation of a fluorescent quantum-dot (QD) coating on the channel surface of a conventional microcapillary. Silicon QDs are especially attractive for this application, owing in part to their negligible toxicity compared to the II-VI and II-VI compound QDs, which are legislatively controlled substances in many countries. While the ensemble emission spectrum is broad and featureless, an Si-QD film on the channel wall of a capillary features a set of sharp, narrow peaks in the fluorescence spectrum, corresponding to the electromagnetic resonances for light trapped within the film. The peak wavelength of these resonances is sensitive to the external medium, thus permitting the device to function as a refractometric sensor in which the QDs never come into physical contact with the analyte. The experimental methods associated with the fabrication of the fluorescent-core microcapillaries are discussed in detail, as well as the analysis methods. Finally, a comparison is made between these structures and the more widely investigated liquid-core optical ring resonators, in terms of microfluidic sensing capabilities.
Physics, Issue 73, Microfluidics, Optics, Quantum Dots, Optics and Photonics, fluid flow sensors (general), luminescence (optics), optical waveguides, photonics, condensed matter physics, microcavities, whispering gallery modes, refractometric sensor, fluorescence, microcapillary, quantum dots
Template Directed Synthesis of Plasmonic Gold Nanotubes with Tunable IR Absorbance
Institutions: University of Toronto.
A nearly parallel array of pores can be produced by anodizing aluminum foils in acidic environments1, 2
. Applications of anodic aluminum oxide (AAO) membranes have been under development since the 1990's and have become a common method to template the synthesis of high aspect ratio nanostructures, mostly by electrochemical growth or pore-wetting. Recently, these membranes have become commercially available in a wide range of pore sizes and densities, leading to an extensive library of functional nanostructures being synthesized from AAO membranes. These include composite nanorods, nanowires and nanotubes made of metals, inorganic materials or polymers 3-10
. Nanoporous membranes have been used to synthesize nanoparticle and nanotube arrays that perform well as refractive index sensors, plasmonic biosensors, or surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) substrates 11-16
, as well as a wide range of other fields such as photo-thermal heating 17
, permselective transport 18, 19
, catalysis 20
, microfluidics 21
, and electrochemical sensing 22, 23
. Here, we report a novel procedure to prepare gold nanotubes in AAO membranes. Hollow nanostructures have potential application in plasmonic and SERS sensing, and we anticipate these gold nanotubes will allow for high sensitivity and strong plasmon signals, arising from decreased material dampening 15
Chemistry, Issue 74, Chemical Engineering, Materials Science, Physics, Nanotechnology, Chemistry and Materials (General), Composite Materials, Inorganic, Organic and Physical Chemistry, Metals and Metallic Materials, Gold, nanotubes, anodic aluminum oxide templates, surface plasmon resonance, sensing, refractive index, template directed synthesis, nano
Measurement of Factor V Activity in Human Plasma Using a Microplate Coagulation Assay
Institutions: University of Ontario Institute of Technology , University of Ontario Institute of Technology , University of Ontario Institute of Technology .
In response to injury, blood coagulation is activated and results in generation of the clotting protease, thrombin. Thrombin cleaves fibrinogen to fibrin which forms an insoluble clot that stops hemorrhage. Factor V (FV) in its activated form, FVa, is a critical cofactor for the protease FXa and accelerator of thrombin generation during fibrin clot formation as part of prothrombinase 1, 2
. Manual FV assays have been described 3, 4
, but they are time consuming and subjective. Automated FV assays have been reported 5-7
, but the analyzer and reagents are expensive and generally provide only the clot time, not the rate and extent of fibrin formation. The microplate platform is preferred for measuring enzyme-catalyzed events because of convenience, time, cost, small volume, continuous monitoring, and high-throughput 8, 9
. Microplate assays have been reported for clot lysis 10
, platelet aggregation 11
, and coagulation Factors 12
, but not for FV activity in human plasma. The goal of the method was to develop a microplate assay that measures FV activity during fibrin formation in human plasma.
This novel microplate method outlines a simple, inexpensive, and rapid assay of FV activity in human plasma. The assay utilizes a kinetic microplate reader to monitor the absorbance change at 405nm during fibrin formation in human plasma (Figure 1
. The assay accurately measures the time, initial rate, and extent of fibrin clot formation. It requires only μl quantities of plasma, is complete in 6 min, has high-throughput, is sensitive to 24-80pM FV, and measures the amount of unintentionally activated (1-stage activity) and thrombin-activated FV (2-stage activity) to obtain a complete assessment of its total functional activity (2-stage activity - 1-stage activity).
Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is an acquired coagulopathy that most often develops from pre-existing infections 14
. DIC is associated with a poor prognosis and increases mortality above the pre-existing pathology 15
. The assay was used to show that in 9 patients with DIC, the FV 1-stage, 2-stage, and total activities were decreased, on average, by 54%, 44%, and 42%, respectively, compared with normal pooled human reference plasma (NHP).
The FV microplate assay is easily adaptable to measure the activity of any coagulation factor. This assay will increase our understanding of FV biochemistry through a more accurate and complete measurement of its activity in research and clinical settings. This information will positively impact healthcare environments through earlier diagnosis and development of more effective treatments for coagulation disorders, such as DIC.
Immunology, Issue 67, Factor V, Microplate, Coagulation assay, Human plasma, Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), blood clotting
Spatial Multiobjective Optimization of Agricultural Conservation Practices using a SWAT Model and an Evolutionary Algorithm
Institutions: University of Washington, Iowa State University, North Carolina A&T University, Iowa Geological and Water Survey.
Finding the cost-efficient (i.e.
, lowest-cost) ways of targeting conservation practice investments for the achievement of specific water quality goals across the landscape is of primary importance in watershed management. Traditional economics methods of finding the lowest-cost solution in the watershed context (e.g.
) assume that off-site impacts can be accurately described as a proportion of on-site pollution generated. Such approaches are unlikely to be representative of the actual pollution process in a watershed, where the impacts of polluting sources are often determined by complex biophysical processes. The use of modern physically-based, spatially distributed hydrologic simulation models allows for a greater degree of realism in terms of process representation but requires a development of a simulation-optimization framework where the model becomes an integral part of optimization.
Evolutionary algorithms appear to be a particularly useful optimization tool, able to deal with the combinatorial nature of a watershed simulation-optimization problem and allowing the use of the full water quality model. Evolutionary algorithms treat a particular spatial allocation of conservation practices in a watershed as a candidate solution and utilize sets (populations) of candidate solutions iteratively applying stochastic operators of selection, recombination, and mutation to find improvements with respect to the optimization objectives. The optimization objectives in this case are to minimize nonpoint-source pollution in the watershed, simultaneously minimizing the cost of conservation practices. A recent and expanding set of research is attempting to use similar methods and integrates water quality models with broadly defined evolutionary optimization methods3,4,9,10,13-15,17-19,22,23,25
. In this application, we demonstrate a program which follows Rabotyagov et al.'s approach and integrates a modern and commonly used SWAT water quality model7
with a multiobjective evolutionary algorithm SPEA226
, and user-specified set of conservation practices and their costs to search for the complete tradeoff frontiers between costs of conservation practices and user-specified water quality objectives. The frontiers quantify the tradeoffs faced by the watershed managers by presenting the full range of costs associated with various water quality improvement goals. The program allows for a selection of watershed configurations achieving specified water quality improvement goals and a production of maps of optimized placement of conservation practices.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 70, Plant Biology, Civil Engineering, Forest Sciences, Water quality, multiobjective optimization, evolutionary algorithms, cost efficiency, agriculture, development
The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology