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Müllerian Mimicry as a Result of Codivergence between Velvet Ants and Spider Wasps.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
Recent studies have delineated a large Nearctic Müllerian mimicry complex in Dasymutilla velvet ants. Psorthaspis spider wasps live in areas where this mimicry complex is found and are phenotypically similar to Dasymutilla. We tested the idea that Psorthaspis spider wasps are participating in the Dasymutilla mimicry complex and that they codiverged with Dasymutilla. We performed morphometric analyses and human perception tests, and tabulated distributional records to determine the fit of Psorthaspis to the Dasymutilla mimicry complex. We inferred a dated phylogeny using nuclear molecular markers (28S, elongation factor 1-alpha, long-wavelength rhodopsin and wingless) for Psorthaspis species and compared it to a dated phylogeny of Dasymutilla. We tested for codivergence between the two groups using two statistical analyses. Our results show that Psorthaspis spider wasps are morphologically similar to the Dasymutilla mimicry rings. In addition, our tests indicate that Psorthaspis and Dasymutilla codiverged to produce similar color patterns. This study expands the breadth of the Dasymutilla Müllerian mimicry complex and provides insights about how codivergence influenced the evolution of mimicry in these groups.
Venoms are chemically complex secretions typically comprising numerous proteins and peptides with varied physiological activities. Functional characterization of venom proteins has important biomedical applications, including the identification of drug leads or probes for cellular receptors. Spiders are the most species rich clade of venomous organisms, but the venoms of only a few species are well-understood, in part due to the difficulty associated with collecting minute quantities of venom from small animals. This paper presents a protocol for the collection of venom from spiders using electrical stimulation, demonstrating the procedure on the Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus). The collected venom is useful for varied downstream analyses including direct protein identification via mass spectrometry, functional assays, and stimulation of venom gene expression for transcriptomic studies. This technique has the advantage over protocols that isolate venom from whole gland homogenates, which do not separate genuine venom components from cellular proteins that are not secreted as part of the venom. Representative results demonstrate the detection of known venom peptides from the collected sample using mass spectrometry. The venom collection procedure is followed by a protocol for dissecting spider venom glands, with results demonstrating that this leads to the characterization of venom-expressed proteins and peptides at the sequence level.
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In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Authors: William R. Brant, Siegbert Schmid, Guodong Du, Helen E. A. Brand, Wei Kong Pang, Vanessa K. Peterson, Zaiping Guo, Neeraj Sharma.
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2 However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3 This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries. We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ data.
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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Examining BCL-2 Family Function with Large Unilamellar Vesicles
Authors: James J. Asciolla, Thibaud T. Renault, Jerry E. Chipuk.
Institutions: Mount Sinai School of Medicine .
The BCL-2 (B cell CLL/Lymphoma) family is comprised of approximately twenty proteins that collaborate to either maintain cell survival or initiate apoptosis1. Following cellular stress (e.g., DNA damage), the pro-apoptotic BCL-2 family effectors BAK (BCL-2 antagonistic killer 1) and/or BAX (BCL-2 associated X protein) become activated and compromise the integrity of the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM), though the process referred to as mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP)1. After MOMP occurs, pro-apoptotic proteins (e.g., cytochrome c) gain access to the cytoplasm, promote caspase activation, and apoptosis rapidly ensues2. In order for BAK/BAX to induce MOMP, they require transient interactions with members of another pro-apoptotic subset of the BCL-2 family, the BCL-2 homology domain 3 (BH3)-only proteins, such as BID (BH3-interacting domain agonist)3-6. Anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family proteins (e.g., BCL-2 related gene, long isoform, BCL-xL; myeloid cell leukemia 1, MCL-1) regulate cellular survival by tightly controlling the interactions between BAK/BAX and the BH3-only proteins capable of directly inducing BAK/BAX activation7,8. In addition, anti-apoptotic BCL-2 protein availability is also dictated by sensitizer/de-repressor BH3-only proteins, such as BAD (BCL-2 antagonist of cell death) or PUMA (p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis), which bind and inhibit anti-apoptotic members7,9. As most of the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 repertoire is localized to the OMM, the cellular decision to maintain survival or induce MOMP is dictated by multiple BCL-2 family interactions at this membrane. Large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs) are a biochemical model to explore relationships between BCL-2 family interactions and membrane permeabilization10. LUVs are comprised of defined lipids that are assembled in ratios identified in lipid composition studies from solvent extracted Xenopus mitochondria (46.5% phosphatidylcholine, 28.5% phosphatidylethanoloamine, 9% phosphatidylinositol, 9% phosphatidylserine, and 7% cardiolipin)10. This is a convenient model system to directly explore BCL-2 family function because the protein and lipid components are completely defined and tractable, which is not always the case with primary mitochondria. While cardiolipin is not usually this high throughout the OMM, this model does faithfully mimic the OMM to promote BCL-2 family function. Furthermore, a more recent modification of the above protocol allows for kinetic analyses of protein interactions and real-time measurements of membrane permeabilization, which is based on LUVs containing a polyanionic dye (ANTS: 8-aminonaphthalene-1,3,6-trisulfonic acid) and cationic quencher (DPX: p-xylene-bis-pyridinium bromide)11. As the LUVs permeabilize, ANTS and DPX diffuse apart, and a gain in fluorescence is detected. Here, commonly used recombinant BCL-2 family protein combinations and controls using the LUVs containing ANTS/DPX are described.
Cancer Biology, Issue 68, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Apoptosis, BAX, BCL-2 family, large unilamellar vesicles, MOMP, outer mitochondrial membrane
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Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Authors: Olympia Colizoli, Jaap M. J. Murre, Romke Rouw.
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
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
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
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
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
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Helical Organization of Blood Coagulation Factor VIII on Lipid Nanotubes
Authors: Jaimy Miller, Daniela Dalm, Alexey Y. Koyfman, Kirill Grushin, Svetla Stoilova-McPhie.
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch.
Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM)1 is a powerful approach to investigate the functional structure of proteins and complexes in a hydrated state and membrane environment2. Coagulation Factor VIII (FVIII)3 is a multi-domain blood plasma glycoprotein. Defect or deficiency of FVIII is the cause for Hemophilia type A - a severe bleeding disorder. Upon proteolytic activation, FVIII binds to the serine protease Factor IXa on the negatively charged platelet membrane, which is critical for normal blood clotting4. Despite the pivotal role FVIII plays in coagulation, structural information for its membrane-bound state is incomplete5. Recombinant FVIII concentrate is the most effective drug against Hemophilia type A and commercially available FVIII can be expressed as human or porcine, both forming functional complexes with human Factor IXa6,7. In this study we present a combination of Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM), lipid nanotechnology and structure analysis applied to resolve the membrane-bound structure of two highly homologous FVIII forms: human and porcine. The methodology developed in our laboratory to helically organize the two functional recombinant FVIII forms on negatively charged lipid nanotubes (LNT) is described. The representative results demonstrate that our approach is sufficiently sensitive to define the differences in the helical organization between the two highly homologous in sequence (86% sequence identity) proteins. Detailed protocols for the helical organization, Cryo-EM and electron tomography (ET) data acquisition are given. The two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) structure analysis applied to obtain the 3D reconstructions of human and porcine FVIII-LNT is discussed. The presented human and porcine FVIII-LNT structures show the potential of the proposed methodology to calculate the functional, membrane-bound organization of blood coagulation Factor VIII at high resolution.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, Cryo-electron microscopy, Lipid nanotubes, Helical assembly, Membrane-bound organization, Coagulation factor VIII
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Application of Two-spotted Spider Mite Tetranychus urticae for Plant-pest Interaction Studies
Authors: Marc Cazaux, Marie Navarro, Kristie A. Bruinsma, Vladimir Zhurov, Tara Negrave, Thomas Van Leeuwen, Vojislava Grbic, Miodrag Grbic.
Institutions: The University of Western Ontario, Instituto de Ciencias de la Vid y el Vino, Ghent University, University of Amsterdam.
The two-spotted spider mite, Tetranychus urticae, is a ubiquitous polyphagous arthropod herbivore that feeds on a remarkably broad array of species, with more than 150 of economic value. It is a major pest of greenhouse crops, especially in Solanaceae and Cucurbitaceae (e.g., tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini) and greenhouse ornamentals (e.g., roses, chrysanthemum, carnations), annual field crops (such as maize, cotton, soybean, and sugar beet), and in perennial cultures (alfalfa, strawberries, grapes, citruses, and plums)1,2. In addition to the extreme polyphagy that makes it an important agricultural pest, T. urticae has a tendency to develop resistance to a wide array of insecticides and acaricides that are used for its control3-7. T. urticae is an excellent experimental organism, as it has a rapid life cycle (7 days at 27 °C) and can be easily maintained at high density in the laboratory. Methods to assay gene expression (including in situ hybridization and antibody staining) and to inactivate expression of spider mite endogenous genes using RNA interference have been developed8-10. Recently, the whole genome sequence of T. urticae has been reported, creating an opportunity to develop this pest herbivore as a model organism with equivalent genomic resources that already exist in some of its host plants (Arabidopsis thaliana and the tomato Solanum lycopersicum)11. Together, these model organisms could provide insights into molecular bases of plant-pest interactions. Here, an efficient method for quick and easy collection of a large number of adult female mites, their application on an experimental plant host, and the assessment of the plant damage due to spider mite feeding are described. The presented protocol enables fast and efficient collection of hundreds of individuals at any developmental stage (eggs, larvae, nymphs, adult males, and females) that can be used for subsequent experimental application.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, two-spotted spider mite, plant-herbivore interaction, Tetranychus urticae, Arabidopsis thaliana, plant damage analysis, herbivory, plant pests
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Quantification of Orofacial Phenotypes in Xenopus
Authors: Allyson E. Kennedy, Amanda J. Dickinson.
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University.
Xenopus has become an important tool for dissecting the mechanisms governing craniofacial development and defects. A method to quantify orofacial development will allow for more rigorous analysis of orofacial phenotypes upon abrogation with substances that can genetically or molecularly manipulate gene expression or protein function. Using two dimensional images of the embryonic heads, traditional size dimensions-such as orofacial width, height and area- are measured. In addition, a roundness measure of the embryonic mouth opening is used to describe the shape of the mouth. Geometric morphometrics of these two dimensional images is also performed to provide a more sophisticated view of changes in the shape of the orofacial region. Landmarks are assigned to specific points in the orofacial region and coordinates are created. A principle component analysis is used to reduce landmark coordinates to principle components that then discriminate the treatment groups. These results are displayed as a scatter plot in which individuals with similar orofacial shapes cluster together. It is also useful to perform a discriminant function analysis, which statistically compares the positions of the landmarks between two treatment groups. This analysis is displayed on a transformation grid where changes in landmark position are viewed as vectors. A grid is superimposed on these vectors so that a warping pattern is displayed to show where significant landmark positions have changed. Shape changes in the discriminant function analysis are based on a statistical measure, and therefore can be evaluated by a p-value. This analysis is simple and accessible, requiring only a stereoscope and freeware software, and thus will be a valuable research and teaching resource.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Orofacial quantification, geometric morphometrics, Xenopus, orofacial development, orofacial defects, shape changes, facial dimensions
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Synthetic Spider Silk Production on a Laboratory Scale
Authors: Yang Hsia, Eric Gnesa, Ryan Pacheco, Kristin Kohler, Felicia Jeffery, Craig Vierra.
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
As society progresses and resources become scarcer, it is becoming increasingly important to cultivate new technologies that engineer next generation biomaterials with high performance properties. The development of these new structural materials must be rapid, cost-efficient and involve processing methodologies and products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Spiders spin a multitude of different fiber types with diverse mechanical properties, offering a rich source of next generation engineering materials for biomimicry that rival the best manmade and natural materials. Since the collection of large quantities of natural spider silk is impractical, synthetic silk production has the ability to provide scientists with access to an unlimited supply of threads. Therefore, if the spinning process can be streamlined and perfected, artificial spider fibers have the potential use for a broad range of applications ranging from body armor, surgical sutures, ropes and cables, tires, strings for musical instruments, and composites for aviation and aerospace technology. In order to advance the synthetic silk production process and to yield fibers that display low variance in their material properties from spin to spin, we developed a wet-spinning protocol that integrates expression of recombinant spider silk proteins in bacteria, purification and concentration of the proteins, followed by fiber extrusion and a mechanical post-spin treatment. This is the first visual representation that reveals a step-by-step process to spin and analyze artificial silk fibers on a laboratory scale. It also provides details to minimize the introduction of variability among fibers spun from the same spinning dope. Collectively, these methods will propel the process of artificial silk production, leading to higher quality fibers that surpass natural spider silks.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Biochemistry, Spider silk, fibroins, synthetic spider silk, silk-producing glands, wet-spinning, post-spin draw
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Antibody Transfection into Neurons as a Tool to Study Disease Pathogenesis
Authors: Joshua N. Douglas, Lidia A. Gardner, Sangmin Lee, Yoojin Shin, Chassidy J. Groover, Michael C. Levin.
Institutions: Veterans Administration Medical Center, Memphis, TN, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN.
Antibodies provide the ability to gain novel insight into various events taking place in living systems. The ability to produce highly specific antibodies to target proteins has allowed for very precise biological questions to be addressed. Importantly, antibodies have been implicated in the pathogenesis of a number of human diseases including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), paraneoplastic syndromes, multiple sclerosis (MS) and human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP) 1-9. How antibodies cause disease is an area of ongoing investigation, and data suggests that interactions between antibodies and various intracellular molecules results in inflammation, altered cellular messaging, and apoptosis 10. It has been shown that patients with MS and HAM/TSP produce autoantibodies to the intracellular RNA binding protein heterogeneous ribonuclear protein A1 (hnRNP A1) 3, 5-7, 9, 11. Recent data indicate that antibodies to both intra-neuronal and surface antigens are pathogenic 3, 5-9, 11. Thus, a procedure that allows for the study of intracellular antibody:protein interactions would lend great insight into disease pathogenesis. Genes are commonly transfected into primary cells and cell lines in culture, however transfection of antibodies into cells has been hindered by alteration of antibody structure or poor transfection efficiency 12. Other methods of transfection include antibody transfection based on cationic liposomes (consisting of DOTAP/DOPE) and polyethylenimines (PEI); both of which resulted in a ten-fold decrease in antibody transfection compared to controls 12. The method performed in our study is similar to cationic lipid-mediated methods and uses a lipid-based mechanism to form non-covalent complexes with the antibodies through electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions 13. We utilized Ab-DeliverIN reagent, which is a lipid formulation capable of capturing antibodies through non-covalent electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions and delivering them inside cells. Thus chemical and genetic couplings are not necessary for delivery of functional antibodies into living cells. This method has enabled us to perform various antibody tracing and protein localization experiments, as well as the analyses of the molecular consequences of intracellular antibody:protein interactions 9. In this protocol, we will show how to transfect antibodies into neurons rapidly, reproducibly and with a high degree of transfection efficiency. As an example, we will use anti-hnRNP A1 and anti-IgG antibodies. For easy quantification of transfection efficiency we used anti-hnRNP A1 antibodies labelled with Atto-550-NHS and FITC-labeled IgG. Atto550 NHS is a new label with high molecular absorbtion and quantum yield. Excitation source and fluorescent filters for Atto550 are similar to Cy3 (Ex. 556 Em. 578). In addition, Atto550 has high photostability. FITC-labeled IgG were used as a control to show that this method is versatile and not dye dependent. This approach and the data that is generated will assist in understanding of the role that antibodies to intracellular target antigens might play in the pathogenesis of human diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Transfection, antibodies, neuron, immunocytochemistry, fluorescent microscopy, autoimmunity
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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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In situ Protocol for Butterfly Pupal Wings Using Riboprobes
Authors: Diane Ramos, Antonia Monteiro.
Institutions: SUNY-University at Buffalo, Yale University.
Here we present, in video format, a protocol for in situ hybridizations in pupal wings of the butterfly Bicyclus anynana using riboprobes. In situ hybridizations, a mainstay of developmental biology, are useful to study the spatial and temporal patterns of gene expression in developing tissues at the level of transcription. If antibodies that target the protein products of gene transcription have not yet been developed, and/or there are multiple gene copies of a particular protein in the genome that cannot be differentiated using available antibodies, in situs can be used instead. While an in situ technique for larval wing discs has been available to the butterfly community for several years, the current protocol has been optimized for the larger and more fragile pupal wings.
Developmental Biology, issue 4, hybridization, wing, staining
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Gramicidin-based Fluorescence Assay; for Determining Small Molecules Potential for Modifying Lipid Bilayer Properties
Authors: Helgi I. Ingólfsson, R. Lea Sanford, Ruchi Kapoor, Olaf S. Andersen.
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College.
Many drugs and other small molecules used to modulate biological function are amphiphiles that adsorb at the bilayer/solution interface and thereby alter lipid bilayer properties. This is important because membrane proteins are energetically coupled to their host bilayer by hydrophobic interactions. Changes in bilayer properties thus alter membrane protein function, which provides an indirect way for amphiphiles to modulate protein function and a possible mechanism for "off-target" drug effects. We have previously developed an electrophysiological assay for detecting changes in lipid bilayer properties using linear gramicidin channels as probes 3,12. Gramicidin channels are mini-proteins formed by the transbilayer dimerization of two non-conducting subunits. They are sensitive to changes in their membrane environment, which makes them powerful probes for monitoring changes in lipid bilayer properties as sensed by bilayer spanning proteins. We now demonstrate a fluorescence assay for detecting changes in bilayer properties using the same channels as probes. The assay is based on measuring the time-course of fluorescence quenching from fluorophore-loaded large unilamellar vesicles due to the entry of a quencher through the gramicidin channels. We use the fluorescence indicator/quencher pair 8-aminonaphthalene-1,3,6-trisulfonate (ANTS)/Tl+ that has been successfully used in other fluorescence quenching assays 5,13. Tl+ permeates the lipid bilayer slowly 8 but passes readily through conducting gramicidin channels 1,14. The method is scalable and suitable for both mechanistic studies and high-throughput screening of small molecules for bilayer-perturbing, and potential "off-target", effects. We find that results using this method are in good agreement with previous electrophysiological results 12.
Microbiology, Issue 44, membrane properties, bilayer properties, gramicidin, fluorescence quenching, high throughput drug screening
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Microdissection of Black Widow Spider Silk-producing Glands
Authors: Felicia Jeffery, Coby La Mattina, Tiffany Tuton-Blasingame, Yang Hsia, Eric Gnesa, Liang Zhao, Andreas Franz, Craig Vierra.
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Modern spiders spin high-performance silk fibers with a broad range of biological functions, including locomotion, prey capture and protection of developing offspring 1,2. Spiders accomplish these tasks by spinning several distinct fiber types that have diverse mechanical properties. Such specialization of fiber types has occurred through the evolution of different silk-producing glands, which function as small biofactories. These biofactories manufacture and store large quantities of silk proteins for fiber production. Through a complex series of biochemical events, these silk proteins are converted from a liquid into a solid material upon extrusion. Mechanical studies have demonstrated that spider silks are stronger than high-tensile steel 3. Analyses to understand the relationship between the structure and function of spider silk threads have revealed that spider silk consists largely of proteins, or fibroins, that have block repeats within their protein sequences 4. Common molecular signatures that contribute to the incredible tensile strength and extensibility of spider silks are being unraveled through the analyses of translated silk cDNAs. Given the extraordinary material properties of spider silks, research labs across the globe are racing to understand and mimic the spinning process to produce synthetic silk fibers for commercial, military and industrial applications. One of the main challenges to spinning artificial spider silk in the research lab involves a complete understanding of the biochemical processes that occur during extrusion of the fibers from the silk-producing glands. Here we present a method for the isolation of the seven different silk-producing glands from the cobweaving black widow spider, which includes the major and minor ampullate glands [manufactures dragline and scaffolding silk] 5,6, tubuliform [synthesizes egg case silk] 7,8, flagelliform [unknown function in cob-weavers], aggregate [makes glue silk], aciniform [synthesizes prey wrapping and egg case threads] 9 and pyriform [produces attachment disc silk] 10. This approach is based upon anesthetizing the spider with carbon dioxide gas, subsequent separation of the cephalothorax from the abdomen, and microdissection of the abdomen to obtain the silk-producing glands. Following the separation of the different silk-producing glands, these tissues can be used to retrieve different macromolecules for distinct biochemical analyses, including quantitative real-time PCR, northern- and western blotting, mass spectrometry (MS or MS/MS) analyses to identify new silk protein sequences, search for proteins that participate in the silk assembly pathway, or use the intact tissue for cell culture or histological experiments.
Cellular Biology, Issue 47, Spider silk, silk-producing glands, fibroins, structural proteins, spidroins
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Single Particle Electron Microscopy Reconstruction of the Exosome Complex Using the Random Conical Tilt Method
Authors: Xueqi Liu, Hong-Wei Wang.
Institutions: Yale University.
Single particle electron microscopy (EM) reconstruction has recently become a popular tool to get the three-dimensional (3D) structure of large macromolecular complexes. Compared to X-ray crystallography, it has some unique advantages. First, single particle EM reconstruction does not need to crystallize the protein sample, which is the bottleneck in X-ray crystallography, especially for large macromolecular complexes. Secondly, it does not need large amounts of protein samples. Compared with milligrams of proteins necessary for crystallization, single particle EM reconstruction only needs several micro-liters of protein solution at nano-molar concentrations, using the negative staining EM method. However, despite a few macromolecular assemblies with high symmetry, single particle EM is limited at relatively low resolution (lower than 1 nm resolution) for many specimens especially those without symmetry. This technique is also limited by the size of the molecules under study, i.e. 100 kDa for negatively stained specimens and 300 kDa for frozen-hydrated specimens in general. For a new sample of unknown structure, we generally use a heavy metal solution to embed the molecules by negative staining. The specimen is then examined in a transmission electron microscope to take two-dimensional (2D) micrographs of the molecules. Ideally, the protein molecules have a homogeneous 3D structure but exhibit different orientations in the micrographs. These micrographs are digitized and processed in computers as "single particles". Using two-dimensional alignment and classification techniques, homogenous molecules in the same views are clustered into classes. Their averages enhance the signal of the molecule's 2D shapes. After we assign the particles with the proper relative orientation (Euler angles), we will be able to reconstruct the 2D particle images into a 3D virtual volume. In single particle 3D reconstruction, an essential step is to correctly assign the proper orientation of each single particle. There are several methods to assign the view for each particle, including the angular reconstitution1 and random conical tilt (RCT) method2. In this protocol, we describe our practice in getting the 3D reconstruction of yeast exosome complex using negative staining EM and RCT. It should be noted that our protocol of electron microscopy and image processing follows the basic principle of RCT but is not the only way to perform the method. We first describe how to embed the protein sample into a layer of Uranyl-Formate with a thickness comparable to the protein size, using a holey carbon grid covered with a layer of continuous thin carbon film. Then the specimen is inserted into a transmission electron microscope to collect untilted (0-degree) and tilted (55-degree) pairs of micrographs that will be used later for processing and obtaining an initial 3D model of the yeast exosome. To this end, we perform RCT and then refine the initial 3D model by using the projection matching refinement method3.
Structural Biology, Issue 49, Electron microscopy, single particle three-dimensional reconstruction, exosome complex, negative staining
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A Matrigel-Based Tube Formation Assay to Assess the Vasculogenic Activity of Tumor Cells
Authors: Ralph A. Francescone III, Michael Faibish, Rong Shao.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts.
Over the past several decades, a tube formation assay using growth factor-reduced Matrigel has been typically employed to demonstrate the angiogenic activity of vascular endothelial cells in vitro1-5. However, recently growing evidence has shown that this assay is not limited to test vascular behavior for endothelial cells. Instead, it also has been used to test the ability of a number of tumor cells to develop a vascular phenotype6-8. This capability was consistent with their vasculogenic behavior identified in xenotransplanted animals, a process known as vasculogenic mimicry (VM)9. There is a multitude of evidence demonstrating that tumor cell-mediated VM plays a vital role in the tumor development, independent of endothelial cell angiogenesis6, 10-13. For example, tumor cells were found to participate in the blood perfused, vascular channel formation in tissue samples from melanoma and glioblastoma patients8, 10, 11. Here, we described this tubular network assay as a useful tool in evaluation of vasculogenic activity of tumor cells. We found that some tumor cell lines such as melanoma B16F1 cells, glioblastoma U87 cells, and breast cancer MDA-MB-435 cells are able to form vascular tubules; but some do not such as colon cancer HCT116 cells. Furthermore, this vascular phenotype is dependent on cell numbers plated on the Matrigel. Therefore, this assay may serve as powerful utility to screen the vascular potential of a variety of cell types including vascular cells, tumor cells as well as other cells.
Cancer Biology, Issue 55, tumor, vascular, endothelial, tube formation, Matrigel, in vitro
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to: ● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media. ● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method. ● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria. ● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage. ● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure. ● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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An Introduction to Parasitic Wasps of Drosophila and the Antiparasite Immune Response
Authors: Chiyedza Small, Indira Paddibhatla, Roma Rajwani, Shubha Govind.
Institutions: The City College of New York, CUNY, The City University of New York.
Most known parasitoid wasp species attack the larval or pupal stages of Drosophila. While Trichopria drosophilae infect the pupal stages of the host (Fig. 1A-C), females of the genus Leptopilina (Fig. 1D, 1F, 1G) and Ganaspis (Fig. 1E) attack the larval stages. We use these parasites to study the molecular basis of a biological arms race. Parasitic wasps have tremendous value as biocontrol agents. Most of them carry virulence and other factors that modify host physiology and immunity. Analysis of Drosophila wasps is providing insights into how species-specific interactions shape the genetic structures of natural communities. These studies also serve as a model for understanding the hosts' immune physiology and how coordinated immune reactions are thwarted by this class of parasites. The larval/pupal cuticle serves as the first line of defense. The wasp ovipositor is a sharp needle-like structure that efficiently delivers eggs into the host hemocoel. Oviposition is followed by a wound healing reaction at the cuticle (Fig. 1C, arrowheads). Some wasps can insert two or more eggs into the same host, although the development of only one egg succeeds. Supernumerary eggs or developing larvae are eliminated by a process that is not yet understood. These wasps are therefore referred to as solitary parasitoids. Depending on the fly strain and the wasp species, the wasp egg has one of two fates. It is either encapsulated, so that its development is blocked (host emerges; Fig. 2 left); or the wasp egg hatches, develops, molts, and grows into an adult (wasp emerges; Fig. 2 right). L. heterotoma is one of the best-studied species of Drosophila parasitic wasps. It is a "generalist," which means that it can utilize most Drosophila species as hosts1. L. heterotoma and L. victoriae are sister species and they produce virus-like particles that actively interfere with the encapsulation response2. Unlike L. heterotoma, L. boulardi is a specialist parasite and the range of Drosophila species it utilizes is relatively limited1. Strains of L. boulardi also produce virus-like particles3 although they differ significantly in their ability to succeed on D. melanogaster1. Some of these L. boulardi strains are difficult to grow on D. melanogaster1 as the fly host frequently succeeds in encapsulating their eggs. Thus, it is important to have the knowledge of both partners in specific experimental protocols. In addition to barrier tissues (cuticle, gut and trachea), Drosophila larvae have systemic cellular and humoral immune responses that arise from functions of blood cells and the fat body, respectively. Oviposition by L. boulardi activates both immune arms1,4. Blood cells are found in circulation, in sessile populations under the segmented cuticle, and in the lymph gland. The lymph gland is a small hematopoietic organ on the dorsal side of the larva. Clusters of hematopoietic cells, called lobes, are arranged segmentally in pairs along the dorsal vessel that runs along the anterior-posterior axis of the animal (Fig. 3A). The fat body is a large multifunctional organ (Fig. 3B). It secretes antimicrobial peptides in response to microbial and metazoan infections. Wasp infection activates immune signaling (Fig. 4)4. At the cellular level, it triggers division and differentiation of blood cells. In self defense, aggregates and capsules develop in the hemocoel of infected animals (Fig. 5)5,6. Activated blood cells migrate toward the wasp egg (or wasp larva) and begin to form a capsule around it (Fig. 5A-F). Some blood cells aggregate to form nodules (Fig. 5G-H). Careful analysis reveals that wasp infection induces the anterior-most lymph gland lobes to disperse at their peripheries (Fig. 6C, D). We present representative data with Toll signal transduction pathway components Dorsal and Spätzle (Figs. 4,5,7), and its target Drosomycin (Fig. 6), to illustrate how specific changes in the lymph gland and hemocoel can be studied after wasp infection. The dissection protocols described here also yield the wasp eggs (or developing stages of wasps) from the host hemolymph (Fig. 8).
Immunology, Issue 63, Parasitoid wasps, innate immunity, encapsulation, hematopoiesis, insect, fat body, Toll-NF-kappaB, molecular biology
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Ex vivo Mimicry of Normal and Abnormal Human Hematopoiesis
Authors: Teresa Mortera-Blanco, Maria Rende, Hugo Macedo, Serene Farah, Alexander Bismarck, Athanasios Mantalaris, Nicki Panoskaltsis.
Institutions: Imperial College London , Imperial College London .
Hematopoietic stem cells require a unique microenvironment in order to sustain blood cell formation1; the bone marrow (BM) is a complex three-dimensional (3D) tissue wherein hematopoiesis is regulated by spatially organized cellular microenvironments termed niches2-4. The organization of the BM niches is critical for the function or dysfunction of normal or malignant BM5. Therefore a better understanding of the in vivo microenvironment using an ex vivo mimicry would help us elucidate the molecular, cellular and microenvironmental determinants of leukemogenesis6. Currently, hematopoietic cells are cultured in vitro in two-dimensional (2D) tissue culture flasks/well-plates7 requiring either co-culture with allogenic or xenogenic stromal cells or addition of exogenous cytokines8. These conditions are artificial and differ from the in vivo microenvironment in that they lack the 3D cellular niches and expose the cells to abnormally high cytokine concentrations which can result in differentiation and loss of pluripotency9,10. Herein, we present a novel 3D bone marrow culture system that simulates the in vivo 3D growth environment and supports multilineage hematopoiesis in the absence of exogenous growth factors. The highly porous scaffold used in this system made of polyurethane (PU), facilitates high-density cell growth across a higher specific surface area than the conventional monolayer culture in 2D11. Our work has indicated that this model supported the growth of human cord blood (CB) mononuclear cells (MNC)12 and primary leukemic cells in the absence of exogenous cytokines. This novel 3D mimicry provides a viable platform for the development of a human experimental model to study hematopoiesis and to explore novel treatments for leukemia.
Bioengineering, Issue 62, three-dimensional culture, hematopoiesis, leukemia, cord blood
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Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Authors: Jared Leadbetter.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
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