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Structural and Biophysical Characterization of Bacillus thuringiensis Insecticidal Proteins Cry34Ab1 and Cry35Ab1.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
Bacillus thuringiensis strains are well known for the production of insecticidal proteins upon sporulation and these proteins are deposited in parasporal crystalline inclusions. The majority of these insect-specific toxins exhibit three domains in the mature toxin sequence. However, other Cry toxins are structurally and evolutionarily unrelated to this three-domain family and little is known of their three dimensional structures, limiting our understanding of their mechanisms of action and our ability to engineer the proteins to enhance their function. Among the non-three domain Cry toxins, the Cry34Ab1 and Cry35Ab1 proteins from B. thuringiensis strain PS149B1 are required to act together to produce toxicity to the western corn rootworm (WCR) Diabrotica virgifera virgifera Le Conte via a pore forming mechanism of action. Cry34Ab1 is a protein of ?14 kDa with features of the aegerolysin family (Pfam06355) of proteins that have known membrane disrupting activity, while Cry35Ab1 is a ?44 kDa member of the toxin_10 family (Pfam05431) that includes other insecticidal proteins such as the binary toxin BinA/BinB. The Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1 proteins represent an important seed trait technology having been developed as insect resistance traits in commercialized corn hybrids for control of WCR. The structures of Cry34Ab1 and Cry35Ab1 have been elucidated to 2.15 Å and 1.80 Å resolution, respectively. The solution structures of the toxins were further studied by small angle X-ray scattering and native electrospray ion mobility mass spectrometry. We present here the first published structure from the aegerolysin protein domain family and the structural comparisons of Cry34Ab1 and Cry35Ab1 with other pore forming toxins.
Authors: Nalini Ramarao, Christina Nielsen-Leroux, Didier Lereclus.
Published: 12-11-2012
The study of bacterial virulence often requires a suitable animal model. Mammalian models of infection are costly and may raise ethical issues. The use of insects as infection models provides a valuable alternative. Compared to other non-vertebrate model hosts such as nematodes, insects have a relatively advanced system of antimicrobial defenses and are thus more likely to produce information relevant to the mammalian infection process. Like mammals, insects possess a complex innate immune system1. Cells in the hemolymph are capable of phagocytosing or encapsulating microbial invaders, and humoral responses include the inducible production of lysozyme and small antibacterial peptides2,3. In addition, analogies are found between the epithelial cells of insect larval midguts and intestinal cells of mammalian digestive systems. Finally, several basic components essential for the bacterial infection process such as cell adhesion, resistance to antimicrobial peptides, tissue degradation and adaptation to oxidative stress are likely to be important in both insects and mammals1. Thus, insects are polyvalent tools for the identification and characterization of microbial virulence factors involved in mammalian infections. Larvae of the greater wax moth Galleria mellonella have been shown to provide a useful insight into the pathogenesis of a wide range of microbial infections including mammalian fungal (Fusarium oxysporum, Aspergillus fumigatus, Candida albicans) and bacterial pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Proteus vulgaris, Serratia marcescens Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Listeria monocytogenes or Enterococcus faecalis4-7. Regardless of the bacterial species, results obtained with Galleria larvae infected by direct injection through the cuticle consistently correlate with those of similar mammalian studies: bacterial strains that are attenuated in mammalian models demonstrate lower virulence in Galleria, and strains causing severe human infections are also highly virulent in the Galleria model8-11. Oral infection of Galleria is much less used and additional compounds, like specific toxins, are needed to reach mortality. G. mellonella larvae present several technical advantages: they are relatively large (last instar larvae before pupation are about 2 cm long and weight 250 mg), thus enabling the injection of defined doses of bacteria; they can be reared at various temperatures (20 °C to 30 °C) and infection studies can be conducted between 15 °C to above 37 °C12,13, allowing experiments that mimic a mammalian environment. In addition, insect rearing is easy and relatively cheap. Infection of the larvae allows monitoring bacterial virulence by several means, including calculation of LD5014, measurement of bacterial survival15,16 and examination of the infection process17. Here, we describe the rearing of the insects, covering all life stages of G. mellonella. We provide a detailed protocol of infection by two routes of inoculation: oral and intra haemocoelic. The bacterial model used in this protocol is Bacillus cereus, a Gram positive pathogen implicated in gastrointestinal as well as in other severe local or systemic opportunistic infections18,19.
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Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Authors: Sungsoo Lee, Hui Zheng, Liang Shi, Qiu-Xing Jiang.
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Live Imaging Assay for Assessing the Roles of Ca2+ and Sphingomyelinase in the Repair of Pore-forming Toxin Wounds
Authors: Christina Tam, Andrew R. Flannery, Norma Andrews.
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Plasma membrane injury is a frequent event, and wounds have to be rapidly repaired to ensure cellular survival. Influx of Ca2+ is a key signaling event that triggers the repair of mechanical wounds on the plasma membrane within ~30 sec. Recent studies revealed that mammalian cells also reseal their plasma membrane after permeabilization with pore forming toxins in a Ca2+-dependent process that involves exocytosis of the lysosomal enzyme acid sphingomyelinase followed by pore endocytosis. Here, we describe the methodology used to demonstrate that the resealing of cells permeabilized by the toxin streptolysin O is also rapid and dependent on Ca2+ influx. The assay design allows synchronization of the injury event and a precise kinetic measurement of the ability of cells to restore plasma membrane integrity by imaging and quantifying the extent by which the liphophilic dye FM1-43 reaches intracellular membranes. This live assay also allows a sensitive assessment of the ability of exogenously added soluble factors such as sphingomyelinase to inhibit FM1-43 influx, reflecting the ability of cells to repair their plasma membrane. This assay allowed us to show for the first time that sphingomyelinase acts downstream of Ca2+-dependent exocytosis, since extracellular addition of the enzyme promotes resealing of cells permeabilized in the absence of Ca2+.
Cellular Biology, Issue 78, Molecular Biology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Biophysics, Genetics, Bacterial Toxins, Microscopy, Video, Endocytosis, Biology, Cell Biology, streptolysin O, plasma membrane repair, ceramide, endocytosis, Ca2+, wounds
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FtsZ Polymerization Assays: Simple Protocols and Considerations
Authors: Ewa Król, Dirk-Jan Scheffers.
Institutions: University of Groningen.
During bacterial cell division, the essential protein FtsZ assembles in the middle of the cell to form the so-called Z-ring. FtsZ polymerizes into long filaments in the presence of GTP in vitro, and polymerization is regulated by several accessory proteins. FtsZ polymerization has been extensively studied in vitro using basic methods including light scattering, sedimentation, GTP hydrolysis assays and electron microscopy. Buffer conditions influence both the polymerization properties of FtsZ, and the ability of FtsZ to interact with regulatory proteins. Here, we describe protocols for FtsZ polymerization studies and validate conditions and controls using Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis FtsZ as model proteins. A low speed sedimentation assay is introduced that allows the study of the interaction of FtsZ with proteins that bundle or tubulate FtsZ polymers. An improved GTPase assay protocol is described that allows testing of GTP hydrolysis over time using various conditions in a 96-well plate setup, with standardized incubation times that abolish variation in color development in the phosphate detection reaction. The preparation of samples for light scattering studies and electron microscopy is described. Several buffers are used to establish suitable buffer pH and salt concentration for FtsZ polymerization studies. A high concentration of KCl is the best for most of the experiments. Our methods provide a starting point for the in vitro characterization of FtsZ, not only from E. coli and B. subtilis but from any other bacterium. As such, the methods can be used for studies of the interaction of FtsZ with regulatory proteins or the testing of antibacterial drugs which may affect FtsZ polymerization.
Basic Protocols, Issue 81, FtsZ, protein polymerization, cell division, GTPase, sedimentation assay, light scattering
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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Authors: Matthew Rames, Yadong Yu, Gang Ren.
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3 . Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
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Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Authors: F. Mark Dunning, Timothy M. Piazza, Füsûn N. Zeytin, Ward C. Tucker.
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
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Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Authors: Lorena Stannek, Richard Egelkamp, Katrin Gunka, Fabian M. Commichau.
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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Efficient Production and Purification of Recombinant Murine Kindlin-3 from Insect Cells for Biophysical Studies
Authors: Luke A. Yates, Robert J. C. Gilbert.
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Kindlins are essential coactivators, with talin, of the cell surface receptors integrins and also participate in integrin outside-in signalling, and the control of gene transcription in the cell nucleus. The kindlins are ~75 kDa multidomain proteins and bind to an NPxY motif and upstream T/S cluster of the integrin β-subunit cytoplasmic tail. The hematopoietically-important kindlin isoform, kindlin-3, is critical for platelet aggregation during thrombus formation, leukocyte rolling in response to infection and inflammation and osteoclast podocyte formation in bone resorption. Kindlin-3's role in these processes has resulted in extensive cellular and physiological studies. However, there is a need for an efficient method of acquiring high quality milligram quantities of the protein for further studies. We have developed a protocol, here described, for the efficient expression and purification of recombinant murine kindlin-3 by use of a baculovirus-driven expression system in Sf9 cells yielding sufficient amounts of high purity full-length protein to allow its biophysical characterization. The same approach could be taken in the study of the other mammalian kindlin isoforms.
Virology, Issue 85, Heterologous protein expression, insect cells, Spodoptera frugiperda, baculovirus, protein purification, kindlin, cell adhesion
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Sequence-specific Labeling of Nucleic Acids and Proteins with Methyltransferases and Cofactor Analogues
Authors: Gisela Maria Hanz, Britta Jung, Anna Giesbertz, Matyas Juhasz, Elmar Weinhold.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University.
S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (AdoMet or SAM)-dependent methyltransferases (MTase) catalyze the transfer of the activated methyl group from AdoMet to specific positions in DNA, RNA, proteins and small biomolecules. This natural methylation reaction can be expanded to a wide variety of alkylation reactions using synthetic cofactor analogues. Replacement of the reactive sulfonium center of AdoMet with an aziridine ring leads to cofactors which can be coupled with DNA by various DNA MTases. These aziridine cofactors can be equipped with reporter groups at different positions of the adenine moiety and used for Sequence-specific Methyltransferase-Induced Labeling of DNA (SMILing DNA). As a typical example we give a protocol for biotinylation of pBR322 plasmid DNA at the 5’-ATCGAT-3’ sequence with the DNA MTase M.BseCI and the aziridine cofactor 6BAz in one step. Extension of the activated methyl group with unsaturated alkyl groups results in another class of AdoMet analogues which are used for methyltransferase-directed Transfer of Activated Groups (mTAG). Since the extended side chains are activated by the sulfonium center and the unsaturated bond, these cofactors are called double-activated AdoMet analogues. These analogues not only function as cofactors for DNA MTases, like the aziridine cofactors, but also for RNA, protein and small molecule MTases. They are typically used for enzymatic modification of MTase substrates with unique functional groups which are labeled with reporter groups in a second chemical step. This is exemplified in a protocol for fluorescence labeling of histone H3 protein. A small propargyl group is transferred from the cofactor analogue SeAdoYn to the protein by the histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) MTase Set7/9 followed by click labeling of the alkynylated histone H3 with TAMRA azide. MTase-mediated labeling with cofactor analogues is an enabling technology for many exciting applications including identification and functional study of MTase substrates as well as DNA genotyping and methylation detection.
Biochemistry, Issue 93, S-adenosyl-l-methionine, AdoMet, SAM, aziridine cofactor, double activated cofactor, methyltransferase, DNA methylation, protein methylation, biotin labeling, fluorescence labeling, SMILing, mTAG
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A Visual Assay to Monitor T6SS-mediated Bacterial Competition
Authors: Abderrahman Hachani, Nadine S. Lossi, Alain Filloux.
Institutions: Imperial College London .
Type VI secretion systems (T6SSs) are molecular nanomachines allowing Gram-negative bacteria to transport and inject proteins into a wide variety of target cells1,2. The T6SS is composed of 13 core components and displays structural similarities with the tail-tube of bacteriophages3. The phage uses a tube and a puncturing device to penetrate the cell envelope of target bacteria and inject DNA. It is proposed that the T6SS is an inverted bacteriophage device creating a specific path in the bacterial cell envelope to drive effectors and toxins to the surface. The process could be taken further and the T6SS device could perforate other cells with which the bacterium is in contact, thus injecting the effectors into these targets. The tail tube and puncturing device parts of the T6SS are made with Hcp and VgrG proteins, respectively4,5. The versatility of the T6SS has been demonstrated through studies using various bacterial pathogens. The Vibrio cholerae T6SS can remodel the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic host cells by injecting an "evolved" VgrG carrying a C-terminal actin cross-linking domain6,7. Another striking example was recently documented using Pseudomonas aeruginosa which is able to target and kill bacteria in a T6SS-dependent manner, therefore promoting the establishment of bacteria in specific microbial niches and competitive environment8,9,10. In the latter case, three T6SS-secreted proteins, namely Tse1, Tse2 and Tse3 have been identified as the toxins injected in the target bacteria (Figure 1). The donor cell is protected from the deleterious effect of these effectors via an anti-toxin mechanism, mediated by the Tsi1, Tsi2 and Tsi3 immunity proteins8,9,10. This antimicrobial activity can be monitored when T6SS-proficient bacteria are co-cultivated on solid surfaces in competition with other bacterial species or with T6SS-inactive bacteria of the same species8,11,12,13. The data available emphasized a numerical approach to the bacterial competition assay, including time-consuming CFU counting that depends greatly on antibiotic makers. In the case of antibiotic resistant strains like P. aeruginosa, these methods can be inappropriate. Moreover, with the identification of about 200 different T6SS loci in more than 100 bacterial genomes14, a convenient screening tool is highly desirable. We developed an assay that is easy to use and requires standard laboratory material and reagents. The method offers a rapid and qualitative technique to monitor the T6SS-dependent bactericidal/bacteriostasis activity by using a reporter strain as a prey (in this case Escherichia coli DH5α) allowing a-complementation of the lacZ gene. Overall, this method is graphic and allows rapid identification of T6SS-related phenotypes on agar plates. This experimental protocol may be adapted to other strains or bacterial species taking into account specific conditions such as growth media, temperature or time of contact.
Infection, Issue 73, Microbiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Bacteriology, Bacteria, Type Six Secretion System, T6SS, Bacterial Competition, Killing Assay, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, E. coli, lacZ, CFU, bacterial screen, pathogens, assay
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Rearing and Injection of Manduca sexta Larvae to Assess Bacterial Virulence
Authors: Elizabeth Hussa, Heidi Goodrich-Blair.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Manduca sexta, commonly known as the tobacco hornworm, is considered a significant agricultural pest, feeding on solanaceous plants including tobacco and tomato. The susceptibility of M. sexta larvae to a variety of entomopathogenic bacterial species1-5, as well as the wealth of information available regarding the insect's immune system6-8, and the pending genome sequence9 make it a good model organism for use in studying host-microbe interactions during pathogenesis. In addition, M. sexta larvae are relatively large and easy to manipulate and maintain in the laboratory relative to other susceptible insect species. Their large size also facilitates efficient tissue/hemolymph extraction for analysis of the host response to infection. The method presented here describes the direct injection of bacteria into the hemocoel (blood cavity) of M. sexta larvae. This approach can be used to analyze and compare the virulence characteristics of various bacterial species, strains, or mutants by simply monitoring the time to insect death after injection. This method was developed to study the pathogenicity of Xenorhabdus and Photorhabdus species, which typically associate with nematode vectors as a means to gain entry into the insect. Entomopathogenic nematodes typically infect larvae via natural digestive or respiratory openings, and release their symbiotic bacterial contents into the insect hemolymph (blood) shortly thereafter10. The injection method described here bypasses the need for a nematode vector, thus uncoupling the effects of bacteria and nematode on the insect. This method allows for accurate enumeration of infectious material (cells or protein) within the inoculum, which is not possible using other existing methods for analyzing entomopathogenesis, including nicking11 and oral toxicity assays12. Also, oral toxicity assays address the virulence of secreted toxins introduced into the digestive system of larvae, whereas the direct injection method addresses the virulence of whole-cell inocula. The utility of the direct injection method as described here is to analyze bacterial pathogenesis by monitoring insect mortality. However, this method can easily be expanded for use in studying the effects of infection on the M. sexta immune system. The insect responds to infection via both humoral and cellular responses. The humoral response includes recognition of bacterial-associated patterns and subsequent production of various antimicrobial peptides7; the expression of genes encoding these peptides can be monitored subsequent to direct infection via RNA extraction and quantitative PCR13. The cellular response to infection involves nodulation, encapsulation, and phagocytosis of infectious agents by hemocytes6. To analyze these responses, injected insects can be dissected and visualized by microscopy13, 14.
Infection, Issue 70, Microbiology, Immunology, Bacteriology, Entomology, Bacteria, injection, pathogenesis, insect larvae, instar, Manduca sexta, tobacco hornworm, animal model, host pathogen interactions
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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Detection of Toxin Translocation into the Host Cytosol by Surface Plasmon Resonance
Authors: Michael Taylor, Tuhina Banerjee, Neyda VanBennekom, Ken Teter.
Institutions: University of Central Florida.
AB toxins consist of an enzymatic A subunit and a cell-binding B subunit1. These toxins are secreted into the extracellular milieu, but they act upon targets within the eukaryotic cytosol. Some AB toxins travel by vesicle carriers from the cell surface to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) before entering the cytosol2-4. In the ER, the catalytic A chain dissociates from the rest of the toxin and moves through a protein-conducting channel to reach its cytosolic target5. The translocated, cytosolic A chain is difficult to detect because toxin trafficking to the ER is an extremely inefficient process: most internalized toxin is routed to the lysosomes for degradation, so only a small fraction of surface-bound toxin reaches the Golgi apparatus and ER6-12. To monitor toxin translocation from the ER to the cytosol in cultured cells, we combined a subcellular fractionation protocol with the highly sensitive detection method of surface plasmon resonance (SPR)13-15. The plasma membrane of toxin-treated cells is selectively permeabilized with digitonin, allowing collection of a cytosolic fraction which is subsequently perfused over an SPR sensor coated with an anti-toxin A chain antibody. The antibody-coated sensor can capture and detect pg/mL quantities of cytosolic toxin. With this protocol, it is possible to follow the kinetics of toxin entry into the cytosol and to characterize inhibitory effects on the translocation event. The concentration of cytosolic toxin can also be calculated from a standard curve generated with known quantities of A chain standards that have been perfused over the sensor. Our method represents a rapid, sensitive, and quantitative detection system that does not require radiolabeling or other modifications to the target toxin.
Immunology, Issue 59, Surface plasmon resonance, AB toxin, translocation, endoplasmic reticulum, cell culture, cholera toxin, pertussis toxin
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Single-cell Analysis of Bacillus subtilis Biofilms Using Fluorescence Microscopy and Flow Cytometry
Authors: Juan C. Garcia-Betancur, Ana Yepes, Johannes Schneider, Daniel Lopez.
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
Biofilm formation is a general attribute to almost all bacteria 1-6. When bacteria form biofilms, cells are encased in extracellular matrix that is mostly constituted by proteins and exopolysaccharides, among other factors 7-10. The microbial community encased within the biofilm often shows the differentiation of distinct subpopulation of specialized cells 11-17. These subpopulations coexist and often show spatial and temporal organization within the biofilm 18-21. Biofilm formation in the model organism Bacillus subtilis requires the differentiation of distinct subpopulations of specialized cells. Among them, the subpopulation of matrix producers, responsible to produce and secrete the extracellular matrix of the biofilm is essential for biofilm formation 11,19. Hence, differentiation of matrix producers is a hallmark of biofilm formation in B. subtilis. We have used fluorescent reporters to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers in biofilms of B. subtilis 15,19,22-24. Concretely, we have observed that the subpopulation of matrix producers differentiates in response to the presence of self-produced extracellular signal surfactin 25. Interestingly, surfactin is produced by a subpopulation of specialized cells different from the subpopulation of matrix producers 15. We have detailed in this report the technical approach necessary to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers and surfactin producers within the biofilms of B. subtilis. To do this, fluorescent reporters of genes required for matrix production and surfactin production are inserted into the chromosome of B. subtilis. Reporters are expressed only in a subpopulation of specialized cells. Then, the subpopulations can be monitored using fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry (See Fig 1). The fact that different subpopulations of specialized cells coexist within multicellular communities of bacteria gives us a different perspective about the regulation of gene expression in prokaryotes. This protocol addresses this phenomenon experimentally and it can be easily adapted to any other working model, to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypic heterogeneity within a microbial community.
Immunology, Issue 60, Bacillus subtilis, biofilm formation, gene expression, cell differentiation, single-cell analysis
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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Visualization of Bacterial Toxin Induced Responses Using Live Cell Fluorescence Microscopy
Authors: Peter A. Keyel, Michelle E. Heid, Simon C. Watkins, Russell D. Salter.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Bacterial toxins bind to cholesterol in membranes, forming pores that allow for leakage of cellular contents and influx of materials from the external environment. The cell can either recover from this insult, which requires active membrane repair processes, or else die depending on the amount of toxin exposure and cell type1. In addition, these toxins induce strong inflammatory responses in infected hosts through activation of immune cells, including macrophages, which produce an array of pro-inflammatory cytokines2. Many Gram positive bacteria produce cholesterol binding toxins which have been shown to contribute to their virulence through largely uncharacterized mechanisms. Morphologic changes in the plasma membrane of cells exposed to these toxins include their sequestration into cholesterol-enriched surface protrusions, which can be shed into the extracellular space, suggesting an intrinsic cellular defense mechanism3,4. This process occurs on all cells in the absence of metabolic activity, and can be visualized using EM after chemical fixation4. In immune cells such as macrophages that mediate inflammation in response to toxin exposure, induced membrane vesicles are suggested to contain cytokines of the IL-1 family and may be responsible both for shedding toxin and disseminating these pro-inflammatory cytokines5,6,7. A link between IL-1β release and a specific type of cell death, termed pyroptosis has been suggested, as both are caspase-1 dependent processes8. To sort out the complexities of this macrophage response, which includes toxin binding, shedding of membrane vesicles, cytokine release, and potentially cell death, we have developed labeling techniques and fluorescence microscopy methods that allow for real time visualization of toxin-cell interactions, including measurements of dysfunction and death (Figure 1). Use of live cell imaging is necessary due to limitations in other techniques. Biochemical approaches cannot resolve effects occurring in individual cells, while flow cytometry does not offer high resolution, real-time visualization of individual cells. The methods described here can be applied to kinetic analysis of responses induced by other stimuli involving complex phenotypic changes in cells.
Immunology, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Physiology, streptolysin O, pore-forming toxin, cholesterol-dependent cytolysin, live cell imaging, fluorescence microscopy
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Protocols for Microapplicator-assisted Infection of Lepidopteran Larvae with Baculovirus
Authors: Huarong Li, Wendy Sparks, Bryony Bonning.
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Baculoviruses are widely used both as protein expression vectors and as insect pest control agents. . This video shows how lepidopteran larvae can be infected with microapplicator techniques in the gut with baculovirus polyhedra and in the hemolymph with budded virus. This accompanying Springer Protocols section provides an overview of the baculovirus lifecycle and use of baculoviruses as insecticidal agents. Formulation and application of baculoviruses for pest control purposes are described elsewhere.
Plant Biology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Baculovirus insecticides, recombinant baculovirus, insect pest management
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Protocols for Oral Infection of Lepidopteran Larvae with Baculovirus
Authors: Wendy Sparks, Huarong Li, Bryony Bonning.
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Baculoviruses are widely used both as protein expression vectors and as insect pest control agents. This video shows how lepidopteran larvae can be infected with polyhedra by droplet feeding and diet plug-based bioassays. This accompanying Springer Protocols section provides an overview of the baculovirus lifecycle and use of baculoviruses as insecticidal agents, including discussion of the pros and cons for use of baculoviruses as insecticides, and progress made in genetic enhancement of baculoviruses for improved insecticidal efficacy.
Plant Biology, Issue 19, Springer Protocols, Baculovirus insecticides, recombinant baculovirus, insect pest management
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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Electrophoretic Separation of Proteins
Authors: Bulbul Chakavarti, Deb Chakavarti.
Institutions: Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
Electrophoresis is used to separate complex mixtures of proteins (e.g., from cells, subcellular fractions, column fractions, or immunoprecipitates), to investigate subunit compositions, and to verify homogeneity of protein samples. It can also serve to purify proteins for use in further applications. In polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, proteins migrate in response to an electrical field through pores in a polyacrylamide gel matrix; pore size decreases with increasing acrylamide concentration. The combination of pore size and protein charge, size, and shape determines the migration rate of the protein. In this unit, the standard Laemmli method is described for discontinuous gel electrophoresis under denaturing conditions, i.e., in the presence of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS).
Basic Protocols, Issue 16, Current Protocols Wiley, Electrophoresis, Biochemistry, Protein Separage, Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis, PAGE
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Testing Nicotine Tolerance in Aphids Using an Artificial Diet Experiment
Authors: John Sawyer Ramsey, Georg Jander.
Institutions: Cornell University.
Plants may upregulate the production of many different seconday metabolites in response to insect feeding. One of these metabolites, nicotine, is well know to have insecticidal properties. One response of tobacco plants to herbivory, or being gnawed upon by insects, is to increase the production of this neurotoxic alkaloid. Here, we will demonstrate how to set up an experiment to address this question of whether a tobacco-adapted strain of the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, can tolerate higher levels of nicotine than the a strain of this insect that does not infest tobacco in the field.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Nicotine, Aphids, Plant Feeding Resistance, Tobacco
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