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GenInfoGuard--a robust and distortion-free watermarking technique for genetic data.
PUBLISHED: 02-18-2015
Genetic data, in digital format, is used in different biological phenomena such as DNA translation, mRNA transcription and protein synthesis. The accuracy of these biological phenomena depend on genetic codes and all subsequent processes. To computerize the biological procedures, different domain experts are provided with the authorized access of the genetic codes; as a consequence, the ownership protection of such data is inevitable. For this purpose, watermarks serve as the proof of ownership of data. While protecting data, embedded hidden messages (watermarks) influence the genetic data; therefore, the accurate execution of the relevant processes and the overall result becomes questionable. Most of the DNA based watermarking techniques modify the genetic data and are therefore vulnerable to information loss. Distortion-free techniques make sure that no modifications occur during watermarking; however, they are fragile to malicious attacks and therefore cannot be used for ownership protection (particularly, in presence of a threat model). Therefore, there is a need for a technique that must be robust and should also prevent unwanted modifications. In this spirit, a watermarking technique with aforementioned characteristics has been proposed in this paper. The proposed technique makes sure that: (i) the ownership rights are protected by means of a robust watermark; and (ii) the integrity of genetic data is preserved. The proposed technique-GenInfoGuard-ensures its robustness through the "watermark encoding" in permuted values, and exhibits high decoding accuracy against various malicious attacks.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
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Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo cellular environment in a controlled in vitro platform.1 This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3 To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5 The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6 Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7 The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8 Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10 The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
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Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Authors: James J. Jun, André Longtin, Leonard Maler.
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
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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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Highly Resolved Intravital Striped-illumination Microscopy of Germinal Centers
Authors: Zoltan Cseresnyes, Laura Oehme, Volker Andresen, Anje Sporbert, Anja E. Hauser, Raluca Niesner.
Institutions: Leibniz Institute, Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Leibniz Institute, LaVision Biotec GmbH, Charité - University of Medicine.
Monitoring cellular communication by intravital deep-tissue multi-photon microscopy is the key for understanding the fate of immune cells within thick tissue samples and organs in health and disease. By controlling the scanning pattern in multi-photon microscopy and applying appropriate numerical algorithms, we developed a striped-illumination approach, which enabled us to achieve 3-fold better axial resolution and improved signal-to-noise ratio, i.e. contrast, in more than 100 µm tissue depth within highly scattering tissue of lymphoid organs as compared to standard multi-photon microscopy. The acquisition speed as well as photobleaching and photodamage effects were similar to standard photo-multiplier-based technique, whereas the imaging depth was slightly lower due to the use of field detectors. By using the striped-illumination approach, we are able to observe the dynamics of immune complex deposits on secondary follicular dendritic cells – on the level of a few protein molecules in germinal centers.
Immunology, Issue 86, two-photon laser scanning microscopy, deep-tissue intravital imaging, germinal center, lymph node, high-resolution, enhanced contrast
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Authors: Kristen K. McCampbell, Kristin N. Springer, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90, zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Live Imaging of Drosophila Larval Neuroblasts
Authors: Dorothy A. Lerit, Karen M. Plevock, Nasser M. Rusan.
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
Stem cells divide asymmetrically to generate two progeny cells with unequal fate potential: a self-renewing stem cell and a differentiating cell. Given their relevance to development and disease, understanding the mechanisms that govern asymmetric stem cell division has been a robust area of study. Because they are genetically tractable and undergo successive rounds of cell division about once every hour, the stem cells of the Drosophila central nervous system, or neuroblasts, are indispensable models for the study of stem cell division. About 100 neural stem cells are located near the surface of each of the two larval brain lobes, making this model system particularly useful for live imaging microscopy studies. In this work, we review several approaches widely used to visualize stem cell divisions, and we address the relative advantages and disadvantages of those techniques that employ dissociated versus intact brain tissues. We also detail our simplified protocol used to explant whole brains from third instar larvae for live cell imaging and fixed analysis applications.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, live imaging, Drosophila, neuroblast, stem cell, asymmetric division, centrosome, brain, cell cycle, mitosis
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Tracking the Mammary Architectural Features and Detecting Breast Cancer with Magnetic Resonance Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Authors: Noam Nissan, Edna Furman-Haran, Myra Feinberg-Shapiro, Dov Grobgeld, Erez Eyal, Tania Zehavi, Hadassa Degani.
Institutions: Weizmann Institute of Science, Weizmann Institute of Science, Meir Medical Center, Meir Medical Center.
Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer among women worldwide. Early detection of breast cancer has a critical role in improving the quality of life and survival of breast cancer patients. In this paper a new approach for the detection of breast cancer is described, based on tracking the mammary architectural elements using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). The paper focuses on the scanning protocols and image processing algorithms and software that were designed to fit the diffusion properties of the mammary fibroglandular tissue and its changes during malignant transformation. The final output yields pixel by pixel vector maps that track the architecture of the entire mammary ductal glandular trees and parametric maps of the diffusion tensor coefficients and anisotropy indices. The efficiency of the method to detect breast cancer was tested by scanning women volunteers including 68 patients with breast cancer confirmed by histopathology findings. Regions with cancer cells exhibited a marked reduction in the diffusion coefficients and in the maximal anisotropy index as compared to the normal breast tissue, providing an intrinsic contrast for delineating the boundaries of malignant growth. Overall, the sensitivity of the DTI parameters to detect breast cancer was found to be high, particularly in dense breasts, and comparable to the current standard breast MRI method that requires injection of a contrast agent. Thus, this method offers a completely non-invasive, safe and sensitive tool for breast cancer detection.
Medicine, Issue 94, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, breast, breast cancer, diagnosis, water diffusion, diffusion tensor imaging
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Measurement of mRNA Decay Rates in Saccharomyces cerevisiae Using rpb1-1 Strains
Authors: Megan Peccarelli, Bessie W. Kebaara.
Institutions: Baylor University.
mRNA steady state levels vary depending on environmental conditions. Regulation of the steady state accumulation levels of an mRNA ensures that the correct amount of protein is synthesized for the cell’s specific growth conditions. One approach for measuring mRNA decay rates is inhibiting transcription and subsequently monitoring the disappearance of the already present mRNA. The rate of mRNA decay can then be quantified, and an accurate half-life can be determined utilizing several techniques. In S. cerevisiae, protocols that measure mRNA half-lives have been developed and include inhibiting transcription of mRNA using strains that harbor a temperature sensitive allele of RNA polymerase II, rpb1-1. Other techniques for measuring mRNA half-lives include inhibiting transcription with transcriptional inhibitors such as thiolutin or 1,10-phenanthroline, or alternatively, by utilizing mRNAs that are under the control of a regulatable promoter such as the galactose inducible promoter and the TET-off system. Here, we describe measurement of S. cerevisiae mRNA decay rates using the temperature sensitive allele of RNA polymerase II. This technique can be used to measure mRNA decay rates of individual mRNAs or genome-wide.
Cellular Biology, Issue 94, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, mRNA decay, mRNA stability, nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, mRNA half-life, transcription inhibition
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A Method for Selecting Structure-switching Aptamers Applied to a Colorimetric Gold Nanoparticle Assay
Authors: Jennifer A. Martin, Joshua E. Smith, Mercedes Warren, Jorge L. Chávez, Joshua A. Hagen, Nancy Kelley-Loughnane.
Institutions: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, The Henry M. Jackson Foundation, UES, Inc..
Small molecules provide rich targets for biosensing applications due to their physiological implications as biomarkers of various aspects of human health and performance. Nucleic acid aptamers have been increasingly applied as recognition elements on biosensor platforms, but selecting aptamers toward small molecule targets requires special design considerations. This work describes modification and critical steps of a method designed to select structure-switching aptamers to small molecule targets. Binding sequences from a DNA library hybridized to complementary DNA capture probes on magnetic beads are separated from nonbinders via a target-induced change in conformation. This method is advantageous because sequences binding the support matrix (beads) will not be further amplified, and it does not require immobilization of the target molecule. However, the melting temperature of the capture probe and library is kept at or slightly above RT, such that sequences that dehybridize based on thermodynamics will also be present in the supernatant solution. This effectively limits the partitioning efficiency (ability to separate target binding sequences from nonbinders), and therefore many selection rounds will be required to remove background sequences. The reported method differs from previous structure-switching aptamer selections due to implementation of negative selection steps, simplified enrichment monitoring, and extension of the length of the capture probe following selection enrichment to provide enhanced stringency. The selected structure-switching aptamers are advantageous in a gold nanoparticle assay platform that reports the presence of a target molecule by the conformational change of the aptamer. The gold nanoparticle assay was applied because it provides a simple, rapid colorimetric readout that is beneficial in a clinical or deployed environment. Design and optimization considerations are presented for the assay as proof-of-principle work in buffer to provide a foundation for further extension of the work toward small molecule biosensing in physiological fluids.
Molecular Biology, Issue 96, Aptamer, structure-switching, SELEX, small molecule, cortisol, next generation sequencing, gold nanoparticle, assay
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Characterization of Electrode Materials for Lithium Ion and Sodium Ion Batteries Using Synchrotron Radiation Techniques
Authors: Marca M. Doeff, Guoying Chen, Jordi Cabana, Thomas J. Richardson, Apurva Mehta, Mona Shirpour, Hugues Duncan, Chunjoong Kim, Kinson C. Kam, Thomas Conry.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Haldor Topsøe A/S, PolyPlus Battery Company.
Intercalation compounds such as transition metal oxides or phosphates are the most commonly used electrode materials in Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. During insertion or removal of alkali metal ions, the redox states of transition metals in the compounds change and structural transformations such as phase transitions and/or lattice parameter increases or decreases occur. These behaviors in turn determine important characteristics of the batteries such as the potential profiles, rate capabilities, and cycle lives. The extremely bright and tunable x-rays produced by synchrotron radiation allow rapid acquisition of high-resolution data that provide information about these processes. Transformations in the bulk materials, such as phase transitions, can be directly observed using X-ray diffraction (XRD), while X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) gives information about the local electronic and geometric structures (e.g. changes in redox states and bond lengths). In situ experiments carried out on operating cells are particularly useful because they allow direct correlation between the electrochemical and structural properties of the materials. These experiments are time-consuming and can be challenging to design due to the reactivity and air-sensitivity of the alkali metal anodes used in the half-cell configurations, and/or the possibility of signal interference from other cell components and hardware. For these reasons, it is appropriate to carry out ex situ experiments (e.g. on electrodes harvested from partially charged or cycled cells) in some cases. Here, we present detailed protocols for the preparation of both ex situ and in situ samples for experiments involving synchrotron radiation and demonstrate how these experiments are done.
Physics, Issue 81, X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, inorganic chemistry, electric batteries (applications), energy storage, Electrode materials, Li-ion battery, Na-ion battery, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD)
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Preventing the Spread of Malaria and Dengue Fever Using Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
Authors: Anthony A. James.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
In this candid interview, Anthony A. James explains how mosquito genetics can be exploited to control malaria and dengue transmission. Population replacement strategy, the idea that transgenic mosquitoes can be released into the wild to control disease transmission, is introduced, as well as the concept of genetic drive and the design criterion for an effective genetic drive system. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically-modified organisms into the wild are also discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, dengue fever, genetics, infectious disease, Translational Research
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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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Generation of RNA/DNA Hybrids in Genomic DNA by Transformation using RNA-containing Oligonucleotides
Authors: Ying Shen, Francesca Storici.
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology.
Synthetic short nucleic acid polymers, oligonucleotides (oligos), are the most functional and widespread tools of molecular biology. Oligos can be produced to contain any desired DNA or RNA sequence and can be prepared to include a wide variety of base and sugar modifications. Moreover, oligos can be designed to mimic specific nucleic acid alterations and thus, can serve as important tools to investigate effects of DNA damage and mechanisms of repair. We found that Thermo Scientific Dharmacon RNA-containing oligos with a length between 50 and 80 nucleotides can be particularly suitable to study, in vivo, functions and consequences of chromosomal RNA/DNA hybrids and of ribonucleotides embedded into DNA. RNA/DNA hybrids can readily form during DNA replication, repair and transcription, however, very little is known about the stability of RNA/DNA hybrids in cells and to which extent these hybrids can affect the genetic integrity of cells. RNA-containing oligos, therefore, represent a perfect vector to introduce ribonucleotides into chromosomal DNA and generate RNA/DNA hybrids of chosen length and base composition. Here we present the protocol for the incorporation of ribonucleotides into the genome of the eukaryotic model system yeast /Saccharomyces cerevisiae/. Yet, our lab has utilized Thermo Scientific Dharmacon RNA-containing oligos to generate RNA/DNA hybrids at the chromosomal level in different cell systems, from bacteria to human cells.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, RNA-containing oligonucleotides, ribonucleotides, RNA/DNA hybrids, yeast, transformation, gene targeting, genome instability, DNA repair
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Genome Editing with CompoZr Custom Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs)
Authors: Keith Hansen, Matthew J. Coussens, Jack Sago, Shilpi Subramanian, Monika Gjoka, Dave Briner.
Institutions: Sigma Life Science.
Genome editing is a powerful technique that can be used to elucidate gene function and the genetic basis of disease. Traditional gene editing methods such as chemical-based mutagenesis or random integration of DNA sequences confer indiscriminate genetic changes in an overall inefficient manner and require incorporation of undesirable synthetic sequences or use of aberrant culture conditions, potentially confusing biological study. By contrast, transient ZFN expression in a cell can facilitate precise, heritable gene editing in a highly efficient manner without the need for administration of chemicals or integration of synthetic transgenes. Zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) are enzymes which bind and cut distinct sequences of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). A functional CompoZr ZFN unit consists of two individual monomeric proteins that bind a DNA "half-site" of approximately 15-18 nucleotides (see Figure 1). When two ZFN monomers "home" to their adjacent target sites the DNA-cleavage domains dimerize and create a double-strand break (DSB) in the DNA.1 Introduction of ZFN-mediated DSBs in the genome lays a foundation for highly efficient genome editing. Imperfect repair of DSBs in a cell via the non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) DNA repair pathway can result in small insertions and deletions (indels). Creation of indels within the gene coding sequence of a cell can result in frameshift and subsequent functional knockout of a gene locus at high efficiency.2 While this protocol describes the use of ZFNs to create a gene knockout, integration of transgenes may also be conducted via homology-directed repair at the ZFN cut site. The CompoZr Custom ZFN Service represents a systematic, comprehensive, and well-characterized approach to targeted gene editing for the scientific community with ZFN technology. Sigma scientists work closely with investigators to 1) perform due diligence analysis including analysis of relevant gene structure, biology, and model system pursuant to the project goals, 2) apply this knowledge to develop a sound targeting strategy, 3) then design, build, and functionally validate ZFNs for activity in a relevant cell line. The investigator receives positive control genomic DNA and primers, and ready-to-use ZFN reagents supplied in both plasmid DNA and in-vitro transcribed mRNA format. These reagents may then be delivered for transient expression in the investigator’s cell line or cell type of choice. Samples are then tested for gene editing at the locus of interest by standard molecular biology techniques including PCR amplification, enzymatic digest, and electrophoresis. After positive signal for gene editing is detected in the initial population, cells are single-cell cloned and genotyped for identification of mutant clones/alleles.
Genetics, Issue 64, Molecular Biology, Zinc Finger Nuclease, Genome Engineering, Genomic Editing, Gene Modification, Gene Knockout, Gene Integration, non-homologous end joining, homologous recombination, targeted genome editing
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The ex vivo Isolated Skeletal Microvessel Preparation for Investigation of Vascular Reactivity
Authors: Joshua T. Butcher, Adam G. Goodwill, Jefferson C. Frisbee.
Institutions: West Virginia University .
The isolated microvessel preparation is an ex vivo preparation that allows for examination of the different contributions of factors that control vessel diameter, and thus, perfusion resistance1-5. This is a classic experimental preparation that was, in large measure, initially described by Uchida et al.15 several decades ago. This initial description provided the basis for the techniques that was extensively modified and enhanced, primarily in the laboratory of Dr. Brian Duling at the University of Virginia6-8, and we present a current approach in the following pages. This preparation will specifically refer to the gracilis arteriole in a rat as the microvessel of choice, but the basic preparation can readily be applied to vessels isolated from nearly any other tissue or organ across species9-13. Mechanical (i.e., dimensional) changes in the isolated microvessels can easily be evaluated in response to a broad array of physiological (e.g., hypoxia, intravascular pressure, or shear) or pharmacological challenges, and can provide insight into mechanistic elements comprising integrated responses in an intact, although ex vivo, tissue. The significance of this method is that it allows for facile manipulation of the influences on the integrated regulation of microvessel diameter, while also allowing for the control of many of the contributions from other sources, including intravascular pressure (myogenic), autonomic innervation, hemodynamic (e.g., shear stress), endothelial dependent or independent stimuli, hormonal, and parenchymal influences, to provide a partial list. Under appropriate experimental conditions and with appropriate goals, this can serve as an advantage over in vivo or in situ tissue/organ preparations, which do not readily allow for the facile control of broader systemic variables. The major limitation of this preparation is essentially the consequence of its strengths. By definition, the behavior of these vessels is being studied under conditions where many of the most significant contributors to the regulation of vascular resistance have been removed, including neural, humoral, metabolic, etc. As such, the investigator is cautioned to avoid over-interpretation and extrapolation of the data that are collected utilizing this preparation. The other significant area of concern with regard to this preparation is that it can be very easy to damage cellular components such as the endothelial lining or the vascular smooth muscle, such that variable source of error can be introduced. It is strongly recommended that the individual investigator utilize appropriate measurements to ensure the quality of the preparation, both at the initiation of the experiment and periodically throughout the course of a protocol.
Physiology, Issue 62, isolated microvessel preparation, skeletal muscle arterioles, resistance arteriole, microcirculation, arteriolar wall mechanics
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Isolation of Ribosome Bound Nascent Polypeptides in vitro to Identify Translational Pause Sites Along mRNA
Authors: Sujata S. Jha, Anton A. Komar.
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
The rate of translational elongation is non-uniform. mRNA secondary structure, codon usage and mRNA associated proteins may alter ribosome movement on the messagefor review see 1. However, it's now widely accepted that synonymous codon usage is the primary cause of non-uniform translational elongation rates1. Synonymous codons are not used with identical frequency. A bias exists in the use of synonymous codons with some codons used more frequently than others2. Codon bias is organism as well as tissue specific2,3. Moreover, frequency of codon usage is directly proportional to the concentrations of cognate tRNAs4. Thus, a frequently used codon will have higher multitude of corresponding tRNAs, which further implies that a frequent codon will be translated faster than an infrequent one. Thus, regions on mRNA enriched in rare codons (potential pause sites) will as a rule slow down ribosome movement on the message and cause accumulation of nascent peptides of the respective sizes5-8. These pause sites can have functional impact on the protein expression, mRNA stability and protein foldingfor review see 9. Indeed, it was shown that alleviation of such pause sites can alter ribosome movement on mRNA and subsequently may affect the efficiency of co-translational (in vivo) protein folding1,7,10,11. To understand the process of protein folding in vivo, in the cell, that is ultimately coupled to the process of protein synthesis it is essential to gain comprehensive insights into the impact of codon usage/tRNA content on the movement of ribosomes along mRNA during translational elongation. Here we describe a simple technique that can be used to locate major translation pause sites for a given mRNA translated in various cell-free systems6-8. This procedure is based on isolation of nascent polypeptides accumulating on ribosomes during in vitro translation of a target mRNA. The rationale is that at low-frequency codons, the increase in the residence time of the ribosomes results in increased amounts of nascent peptides of the corresponding sizes. In vitro transcribed mRNA is used for in vitro translational reactions in the presence of radioactively labeled amino acids to allow the detection of the nascent chains. In order to isolate ribosome bound nascent polypeptide complexes the translation reaction is layered on top of 30% glycerol solution followed by centrifugation. Nascent polypeptides in polysomal pellet are further treated with ribonuclease A and resolved by SDS PAGE. This technique can be potentially used for any protein and allows analysis of ribosome movement along mRNA and the detection of the major pause sites. Additionally, this protocol can be adapted to study factors and conditions that can alter ribosome movement and thus potentially can also alter the function/conformation of the protein.
Genetics, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Ribosome, Nascent polypeptide, Co-translational protein folding, Synonymous codon usage, gene regulation
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A Novel Bayesian Change-point Algorithm for Genome-wide Analysis of Diverse ChIPseq Data Types
Authors: Haipeng Xing, Willey Liao, Yifan Mo, Michael Q. Zhang.
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Texas at Dallas.
ChIPseq is a widely used technique for investigating protein-DNA interactions. Read density profiles are generated by using next-sequencing of protein-bound DNA and aligning the short reads to a reference genome. Enriched regions are revealed as peaks, which often differ dramatically in shape, depending on the target protein1. For example, transcription factors often bind in a site- and sequence-specific manner and tend to produce punctate peaks, while histone modifications are more pervasive and are characterized by broad, diffuse islands of enrichment2. Reliably identifying these regions was the focus of our work. Algorithms for analyzing ChIPseq data have employed various methodologies, from heuristics3-5 to more rigorous statistical models, e.g. Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)6-8. We sought a solution that minimized the necessity for difficult-to-define, ad hoc parameters that often compromise resolution and lessen the intuitive usability of the tool. With respect to HMM-based methods, we aimed to curtail parameter estimation procedures and simple, finite state classifications that are often utilized. Additionally, conventional ChIPseq data analysis involves categorization of the expected read density profiles as either punctate or diffuse followed by subsequent application of the appropriate tool. We further aimed to replace the need for these two distinct models with a single, more versatile model, which can capably address the entire spectrum of data types. To meet these objectives, we first constructed a statistical framework that naturally modeled ChIPseq data structures using a cutting edge advance in HMMs9, which utilizes only explicit formulas-an innovation crucial to its performance advantages. More sophisticated then heuristic models, our HMM accommodates infinite hidden states through a Bayesian model. We applied it to identifying reasonable change points in read density, which further define segments of enrichment. Our analysis revealed how our Bayesian Change Point (BCP) algorithm had a reduced computational complexity-evidenced by an abridged run time and memory footprint. The BCP algorithm was successfully applied to both punctate peak and diffuse island identification with robust accuracy and limited user-defined parameters. This illustrated both its versatility and ease of use. Consequently, we believe it can be implemented readily across broad ranges of data types and end users in a manner that is easily compared and contrasted, making it a great tool for ChIPseq data analysis that can aid in collaboration and corroboration between research groups. Here, we demonstrate the application of BCP to existing transcription factor10,11 and epigenetic data12 to illustrate its usefulness.
Genetics, Issue 70, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Immunology, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP-Seq, histone modifications, segmentation, Bayesian, Hidden Markov Models, epigenetics
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The Resident-intruder Paradigm: A Standardized Test for Aggression, Violence and Social Stress
Authors: Jaap M. Koolhaas, Caroline M. Coppens, Sietse F. de Boer, Bauke Buwalda, Peter Meerlo, Paul J.A. Timmermans.
Institutions: University Groningen, Radboud University Nijmegen.
This video publication explains in detail the experimental protocol of the resident-intruder paradigm in rats. This test is a standardized method to measure offensive aggression and defensive behavior in a semi natural setting. The most important behavioral elements performed by the resident and the intruder are demonstrated in the video and illustrated using artistic drawings. The use of the resident intruder paradigm for acute and chronic social stress experiments is explained as well. Finally, some brief tests and criteria are presented to distinguish aggression from its more violent and pathological forms.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Basic Protocols, Psychology, offensive aggression, defensive behavior, aggressive behavior, pathological, violence, social stress, rat, Wistar rat, animal model
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Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Authors: Rangaraj M. Rangayyan, Shantanu Banik, J.E. Leo Desautels.
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion. Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
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Quasi-light Storage for Optical Data Packets
Authors: Thomas Schneider, Stefan Preußler.
Institutions: Hochschule für Telekommunikation, Leipzig.
Today's telecommunication is based on optical packets which transmit the information in optical fiber networks around the world. Currently, the processing of the signals is done in the electrical domain. Direct storage in the optical domain would avoid the transfer of the packets to the electrical and back to the optical domain in every network node and, therefore, increase the speed and possibly reduce the energy consumption of telecommunications. However, light consists of photons which propagate with the speed of light in vacuum. Thus, the storage of light is a big challenge. There exist some methods to slow down the speed of the light, or to store it in excitations of a medium. However, these methods cannot be used for the storage of optical data packets used in telecommunications networks. Here we show how the time-frequency-coherence, which holds for every signal and therefore for optical packets as well, can be exploited to build an optical memory. We will review the background and show in detail and through examples, how a frequency comb can be used for the copying of an optical packet which enters the memory. One of these time domain copies is then extracted from the memory by a time domain switch. We will show this method for intensity as well as for phase modulated signals.
Physics, Issue 84, optical communications, Optical Light Storage, stimulated Brillouin scattering, Optical Signal Processing, optical data packets, telecommunications
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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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The Crossmodal Congruency Task as a Means to Obtain an Objective Behavioral Measure in the Rubber Hand Illusion Paradigm
Authors: Regine Zopf, Greg Savage, Mark A. Williams.
Institutions: Macquarie University, Macquarie University, Macquarie University.
The rubber hand illusion (RHI) is a popular experimental paradigm. Participants view touch on an artificial rubber hand while the participants' own hidden hand is touched. If the viewed and felt touches are given at the same time then this is sufficient to induce the compelling experience that the rubber hand is one's own hand. The RHI can be used to investigate exactly how the brain constructs distinct body representations for one's own body. Such representations are crucial for successful interactions with the external world. To obtain a subjective measure of the RHI, researchers typically ask participants to rate statements such as "I felt as if the rubber hand were my hand". Here we demonstrate how the crossmodal congruency task can be used to obtain an objective behavioral measure within this paradigm. The variant of the crossmodal congruency task we employ involves the presentation of tactile targets and visual distractors. Targets and distractors are spatially congruent (i.e. same finger) on some trials and incongruent (i.e. different finger) on others. The difference in performance between incongruent and congruent trials - the crossmodal congruency effect (CCE) - indexes multisensory interactions. Importantly, the CCE is modulated both by viewing a hand as well as the synchrony of viewed and felt touch which are both crucial factors for the RHI. The use of the crossmodal congruency task within the RHI paradigm has several advantages. It is a simple behavioral measure which can be repeated many times and which can be obtained during the illusion while participants view the artificial hand. Furthermore, this measure is not susceptible to observer and experimenter biases. The combination of the RHI paradigm with the crossmodal congruency task allows in particular for the investigation of multisensory processes which are critical for modulations of body representations as in the RHI.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Psychological Phenomena and Processes, Behavioral Sciences, rubber hand illusion, crossmodal congruency task, crossmodal congruency effect, multisensory processing, body ownership, peripersonal space, clinical techniques
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Phage Phenomics: Physiological Approaches to Characterize Novel Viral Proteins
Authors: Savannah E. Sanchez, Daniel A. Cuevas, Jason E. Rostron, Tiffany Y. Liang, Cullen G. Pivaroff, Matthew R. Haynes, Jim Nulton, Ben Felts, Barbara A. Bailey, Peter Salamon, Robert A. Edwards, Alex B. Burgin, Anca M. Segall, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, Argonne National Laboratory, Broad Institute.
Current investigations into phage-host interactions are dependent on extrapolating knowledge from (meta)genomes. Interestingly, 60 - 95% of all phage sequences share no homology to current annotated proteins. As a result, a large proportion of phage genes are annotated as hypothetical. This reality heavily affects the annotation of both structural and auxiliary metabolic genes. Here we present phenomic methods designed to capture the physiological response(s) of a selected host during expression of one of these unknown phage genes. Multi-phenotype Assay Plates (MAPs) are used to monitor the diversity of host substrate utilization and subsequent biomass formation, while metabolomics provides bi-product analysis by monitoring metabolite abundance and diversity. Both tools are used simultaneously to provide a phenotypic profile associated with expression of a single putative phage open reading frame (ORF). Representative results for both methods are compared, highlighting the phenotypic profile differences of a host carrying either putative structural or metabolic phage genes. In addition, the visualization techniques and high throughput computational pipelines that facilitated experimental analysis are presented.
Immunology, Issue 100, phenomics, phage, viral metagenome, Multi-phenotype Assay Plates (MAPs), continuous culture, metabolomics
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