Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
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)
In vivo Clonal Tracking of Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cells Marked by Five Fluorescent Proteins using Confocal and Multiphoton Microscopy
Institutions: NHLBI/NIH, NHLBI/NIH.
We developed and validated a fluorescent marking methodology for clonal tracking of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) with high spatial and temporal resolution to study in vivo
hematopoiesis using the murine bone marrow transplant experimental model. Genetic combinatorial marking using lentiviral vectors encoding fluorescent proteins (FPs) enabled cell fate mapping through advanced microscopy imaging. Vectors encoding five different FPs: Cerulean, EGFP, Venus, tdTomato, and mCherry were used to concurrently transduce HSPCs, creating a diverse palette of color marked cells. Imaging using confocal/two-photon hybrid microscopy enables simultaneous high resolution assessment of uniquely marked cells and their progeny in conjunction with structural components of the tissues. Volumetric analyses over large areas reveal that spectrally coded HSPC-derived cells can be detected non-invasively in various intact tissues, including the bone marrow (BM), for extensive periods of time following transplantation. Live studies combining video-rate multiphoton and confocal time-lapse imaging in 4D demonstrate the possibility of dynamic cellular and clonal tracking in a quantitative manner.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 90, LeGO imaging, clonal tracking, fluorescent proteins, confocal microscopy, multiphoton microscopy, hematopoiesis, lentiviral vectors, hematopoietic stem cells
In Vitro Pancreas Organogenesis from Dispersed Mouse Embryonic Progenitors
Institutions: Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, University of Copenhagen.
The pancreas is an essential organ that regulates glucose homeostasis and secretes digestive enzymes. Research on pancreas embryogenesis has led to the development of protocols to produce pancreatic cells from stem cells 1
. The whole embryonic organ can be cultured at multiple stages of development 2-4
. These culture methods have been useful to test drugs and to image developmental processes. However the expansion of the organ is very limited and morphogenesis is not faithfully recapitulated since the organ flattens.
We propose three-dimensional (3D) culture conditions that enable the efficient expansion of dissociated mouse embryonic pancreatic progenitors. By manipulating the composition of the culture medium it is possible to generate either hollow spheres, mainly composed of pancreatic progenitors expanding in their initial state, or, complex organoids which progress to more mature expanding progenitors and differentiate into endocrine, acinar and ductal cells and which spontaneously self-organize to resemble the embryonic pancreas.
We show here that the in vitro
process recapitulates many aspects of natural pancreas development. This culture system is suitable to investigate how cells cooperate to form an organ by reducing its initial complexity to few progenitors. It is a model that reproduces the 3D architecture of the pancreas and that is therefore useful to study morphogenesis, including polarization of epithelial structures and branching. It is also appropriate to assess the response to mechanical cues of the niche such as stiffness and the effects on cell´s tensegrity.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, Pancreas, Progenitors, Branching Epithelium, Development, Organ Culture, 3D Culture, Diabetes, Differentiation, Morphogenesis, Cell organization, Beta Cell.
Application of Two-spotted Spider Mite Tetranychus urticae for Plant-pest Interaction Studies
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
, 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
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
. 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
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Flow Cytometry Protocols for Surface and Intracellular Antigen Analyses of Neural Cell Types
Institutions: University of Freiburg, University of Freiburg, Keele University, University of Freiburg.
Flow cytometry has been extensively used to define cell populations in immunology, hematology and oncology. Here, we provide a detailed description of protocols for flow cytometric analysis of the cluster of differentiation (CD) surface antigens and intracellular antigens in neural cell types. Our step-by-step description of the methodological procedures include: the harvesting of neural in vitro
cultures, an optional carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester (CFSE)-labeling step, followed by surface antigen staining with conjugated CD antibodies (e.g.,
CD24, CD54), and subsequent intracellar antigen detection via primary/secondary antibodies or fluorescently labeled Fab fragments (Zenon labeling). The video demonstrates the most critical steps. Moreover, principles of experimental planning, the inclusion of critical controls, and fundamentals of flow cytometric analysis (identification of target population and exclusion of debris; gating strategy; compensation for spectral overlap) are briefly explained in order to enable neurobiologists with limited prior knowledge or specific training in flow cytometry to assess its utility and to better exploit this powerful methodology.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, CD markers, surface antigens, intracellular antigens, flow cytometry, neurons, glial cells, neural stem cells, fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS), CD24, CD54, CFSE
A Technical Perspective in Modern Tree-ring Research - How to Overcome Dendroecological and Wood Anatomical Challenges
Institutions: Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL.
Dendroecological research uses information stored in tree rings to understand how single trees and even entire forest ecosystems responded to environmental changes and to finally reconstruct such changes. This is done by analyzing growth variations back in time and correlating various plant-specific parameters to (for example) temperature records. Integrating wood anatomical parameters in these analyses would strengthen reconstructions, even down to intra-annual resolution. We therefore present a protocol on how to sample, prepare, and analyze wooden specimen for common macroscopic analyses, but also for subsequent microscopic analyses. Furthermore we introduce a potential solution for analyzing digital images generated from common small and large specimens to support time-series analyses. The protocol presents the basic steps as they currently can be used. Beyond this, there is an ongoing need for the improvement of existing techniques, and development of new techniques, to record and quantify past and ongoing environmental processes. Traditional wood anatomical research needs to be expanded to include ecological information to this field of research. This would support dendro-scientists who intend to analyze new parameters and develop new methodologies to understand the short and long term effects of specific environmental factors on the anatomy of woody plants.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 97, Cell parameters, dendroecology, image analysis, micro sectioning, microtomes, sample preparation, wood anatomy
Semi-High Throughput Screening for Potential Drought-tolerance in Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) Germplasm Collections
Institutions: United States Department of Agriculture.
This protocol describes a method by which a large collection of the leafy green vegetable lettuce (Lactuca sativa
L.) germplasm was screened for likely drought-tolerance traits. Fresh water availability for agricultural use is a growing concern across the United States as well as many regions of the world. Short-term drought events along with regulatory intervention in the regulation of water availability coupled with the looming threat of long-term climate shifts that may lead to reduced precipitation in many important agricultural regions has increased the need to hasten the development of crops adapted for improved water use efficiency in order to maintain or expand production in the coming years. This protocol is not meant as a step-by-step guide to identifying at either the physiological or molecular level drought-tolerance traits in lettuce, but rather is a method developed and refined through the screening of thousands of different lettuce varieties. The nature of this screen is based in part on the streamlined measurements focusing on only three water-stress indicators: leaf relative water content, wilt, and differential plant growth following drought-stress. The purpose of rapidly screening a large germplasm collection is to narrow the candidate pool to a point in which more intensive physiological, molecular, and genetic methods can be applied to identify specific drought-tolerant traits in either the lab or field. Candidates can also be directly incorporated into breeding programs as a source of drought-tolerance traits.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 98, Lettuce, Lactuca sativa, drought, water-stress, abiotic-stress, relative water content
Automated Quantification of Hematopoietic Cell – Stromal Cell Interactions in Histological Images of Undecalcified Bone
Institutions: German Rheumatism Research Center, a Leibniz Institute, German Rheumatism Research Center, a Leibniz Institute, Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Wimasis GmbH, Charité - University of Medicine.
Confocal microscopy is the method of choice for the analysis of localization of multiple cell types within complex tissues such as the bone marrow. However, the analysis and quantification of cellular localization is difficult, as in many cases it relies on manual counting, thus bearing the risk of introducing a rater-dependent bias and reducing interrater reliability. Moreover, it is often difficult to judge whether the co-localization between two cells results from random positioning, especially when cell types differ strongly in the frequency of their occurrence. Here, a method for unbiased quantification of cellular co-localization in the bone marrow is introduced. The protocol describes the sample preparation used to obtain histological sections of whole murine long bones including the bone marrow, as well as the staining protocol and the acquisition of high-resolution images. An analysis workflow spanning from the recognition of hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic cell types in 2-dimensional (2D) bone marrow images to the quantification of the direct contacts between those cells is presented. This also includes a neighborhood analysis, to obtain information about the cellular microenvironment surrounding a certain cell type. In order to evaluate whether co-localization of two cell types is the mere result of random cell positioning or reflects preferential associations between the cells, a simulation tool which is suitable for testing this hypothesis in the case of hematopoietic as well as stromal cells, is used. This approach is not limited to the bone marrow, and can be extended to other tissues to permit reproducible, quantitative analysis of histological data.
Developmental Biology, Issue 98, Image analysis, neighborhood analysis, bone marrow, stromal cells, bone marrow niches, simulation, bone cryosectioning, bone histology
Use of Chironomidae (Diptera) Surface-Floating Pupal Exuviae as a Rapid Bioassessment Protocol for Water Bodies
Institutions: University of Minnesota, Northern State University, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, RMB Environmental Laboratories, Inc..
Rapid bioassessment protocols using benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages have been successfully used to assess human impacts on water quality. Unfortunately, traditional benthic larval sampling methods, such as the dip-net, can be time-consuming and expensive. An alternative protocol involves collection of Chironomidae surface-floating pupal exuviae (SFPE). Chironomidae is a species-rich family of flies (Diptera) whose immature stages typically occur in aquatic habitats. Adult chironomids emerge from the water, leaving their pupal skins, or exuviae, floating on the water’s surface. Exuviae often accumulate along banks or behind obstructions by action of the wind or water current, where they can be collected to assess chironomid diversity and richness. Chironomids can be used as important biological indicators, since some species are more tolerant to pollution than others. Therefore, the relative abundance and species composition of collected SFPE reflect changes in water quality. Here, methods associated with field collection, laboratory processing, slide mounting, and identification of chironomid SFPE are described in detail. Advantages of the SFPE method include minimal disturbance at a sampling area, efficient and economical sample collection and laboratory processing, ease of identification, applicability in nearly all aquatic environments, and a potentially more sensitive measure of ecosystem stress. Limitations include the inability to determine larval microhabitat use and inability to identify pupal exuviae to species if they have not been associated with adult males.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 101, biological monitoring, aquatic systems, aquatic ecology, water quality, macroinvertebrates, midge, Chironomid Pupal Exuviae Technique, rapid bioassessment protocol
Extraction of Venom and Venom Gland Microdissections from Spiders for Proteomic and Transcriptomic Analyses
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Lowell.
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.
Genetics, Issue 93, spider, toxin, proteomics, transcriptomics, electrical stimulation, Latrodectus
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Preventing the Spread of Malaria and Dengue Fever Using Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
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
Electroporation of Mycobacteria
Institutions: Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
Microbiology, Issue 15, Springer Protocols, Mycobacteria, Electroporation, Bacterial Transformation, Transformation Efficiency, Bacteria, Tuberculosis, M. Smegmatis, Springer Protocols
Microdissection of Black Widow Spider Silk-producing Glands
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
Single Particle Electron Microscopy Reconstruction of the Exosome Complex Using the Random Conical Tilt Method
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
A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1
. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2
. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps
). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
The ITS2 Database
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
. 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
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
Synthetic Spider Silk Production on a Laboratory Scale
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
Progenitor-derived Oligodendrocyte Culture System from Human Fetal Brain
Institutions: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health.
Differentiation of human neural progenitors into neuronal and glial cell types offers a model to study and compare molecular regulation of neural cell lineage development. In vitro
expansion of neural progenitors from fetal CNS tissue has been well characterized. Despite the identification and isolation of glial progenitors from adult human sub-cortical white matter and development of various culture conditions to direct differentiation of fetal neural progenitors into myelin producing oligodendrocytes, acquiring sufficient human oligodendrocytes for in vitro
experimentation remains difficult. Differentiation of galactocerebroside+
(GalC) and O4+
oligodendrocyte precursor or progenitor cells (OPC) from neural precursor cells has been reported using second trimester fetal brain. However, these cells do not proliferate in the absence of support cells including astrocytes and neurons, and are lost quickly over time in culture. The need remains for a culture system to produce cells of the oligodendrocyte lineage suitable for in vitro
Culture of primary human oligodendrocytes could, for example, be a useful model to study the pathogenesis of neurotropic infectious agents like the human polyomavirus, JCV, that in vivo
infects those cells. These cultured cells could also provide models of other demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system (CNS). Primary, human fetal brain-derived, multipotential neural progenitor cells proliferate in vitro
while maintaining the capacity to differentiate into neurons (progenitor-derived neurons, PDN) and astrocytes (progenitor-derived astrocytes, PDA) This study shows that neural progenitors can be induced to differentiate through many of the stages of oligodendrocytic lineage development (progenitor-derived oligodendrocytes, PDO). We culture neural progenitor cells in DMEM-F12 serum-free media supplemented with basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), platelet derived growth factor (PDGF-AA), Sonic hedgehog (Shh), neurotrophic factor 3 (NT-3), N-2 and triiodothyronine (T3). The cultured cells are passaged at 2.5e6 cells per 75cm flasks approximately every seven days. Using these conditions, the majority of the cells in culture maintain a morphology characterized by few processes and express markers of pre-oligodendrocyte cells, such as A2B5 and O-4. When we remove the four growth factors (GF) (bFGF, PDGF-AA, Shh, NT-3) and add conditioned media from PDN, the cells start to acquire more processes and express markers specific of oligodendrocyte differentiation, such as GalC and myelin basic protein (MBP). We performed phenotypic characterization using multicolor flow cytometry to identify unique markers of oligodendrocyte.
Neuroscience, Issue 70, Developmental Biology, Medicine, Stem Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, lineage characterization, neural progenitors, differentiation, cell culture model
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
Phage Phenomics: Physiological Approaches to Characterize Novel Viral Proteins
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