Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2 fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13C with 15N, 18O or 2H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13C and 15N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13C and 15N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13C and 6.7 atom%15N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13C and 0.56 atom%15N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13C-CO2 atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Technique for Studying Arthropod and Microbial Communities within Tree Tissues
Institutions: Northern Arizona University, Acoustic Ecology Institute.
Phloem tissues of pine are habitats for many thousands of organisms. Arthropods and microbes use phloem and cambium tissues to seek mates, lay eggs, rear young, feed, or hide from natural enemies or harsh environmental conditions outside of the tree. Organisms that persist within the phloem habitat are difficult to observe given their location under bark. We provide a technique to preserve intact phloem and prepare it for experimentation with invertebrates and microorganisms. The apparatus is called a ‘phloem sandwich’ and allows for the introduction and observation of arthropods, microbes, and other organisms. This technique has resulted in a better understanding of the feeding behaviors, life-history traits, reproduction, development, and interactions of organisms within tree phloem. The strengths of this technique include the use of inexpensive materials, variability in sandwich size, flexibility to re-open the sandwich or introduce multiple organisms through drilled holes, and the preservation and maintenance of phloem integrity. The phloem sandwich is an excellent educational tool for scientific discovery in both K-12 science courses and university research laboratories.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, phloem sandwich, pine, bark beetles, mites, acoustics, phloem
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
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
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Purifying the Impure: Sequencing Metagenomes and Metatranscriptomes from Complex Animal-associated Samples
Institutions: San Diego State University, DOE Joint Genome Institute, University of Colorado, University of Colorado.
The accessibility of high-throughput sequencing has revolutionized many fields of biology. In order to better understand host-associated viral and microbial communities, a comprehensive workflow for DNA and RNA extraction was developed. The workflow concurrently generates viral and microbial metagenomes, as well as metatranscriptomes, from a single sample for next-generation sequencing. The coupling of these approaches provides an overview of both the taxonomical characteristics and the community encoded functions. The presented methods use Cystic Fibrosis (CF) sputum, a problematic sample type, because it is exceptionally viscous and contains high amount of mucins, free neutrophil DNA, and other unknown contaminants. The protocols described here target these problems and successfully recover viral and microbial DNA with minimal human DNA contamination. To complement the metagenomics studies, a metatranscriptomics protocol was optimized to recover both microbial and host mRNA that contains relatively few ribosomal RNA (rRNA) sequences. An overview of the data characteristics is presented to serve as a reference for assessing the success of the methods. Additional CF sputum samples were also collected to (i) evaluate the consistency of the microbiome profiles across seven consecutive days within a single patient, and (ii) compare the consistency of metagenomic approach to a 16S ribosomal RNA gene-based sequencing. The results showed that daily fluctuation of microbial profiles without antibiotic perturbation was minimal and the taxonomy profiles of the common CF-associated bacteria were highly similar between the 16S rDNA libraries and metagenomes generated from the hypotonic lysis (HL)-derived DNA. However, the differences between 16S rDNA taxonomical profiles generated from total DNA and HL-derived DNA suggest that hypotonic lysis and the washing steps benefit in not only removing the human-derived DNA, but also microbial-derived extracellular DNA that may misrepresent the actual microbial profiles.
Molecular Biology, Issue 94, virome, microbiome, metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, cystic fibrosis, mucosal-surface
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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
Detection of Foodborne Bacterial Pathogens from Individual Filth Flies
Institutions: U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
There is unanimous consensus that insects are important vectors of foodborne pathogens. However, linking insects as vectors of the pathogen causing a particular foodborne illness outbreak has been challenging. This is because insects are not being aseptically collected as part of an environmental sampling program during foodborne outbreak investigations and because there is not a standardized method to detect foodborne bacteria from individual insects. To take a step towards solving this problem, we adapted a protocol from a commercially available PCR-based system that detects foodborne pathogens from food and environmental samples, to detect foodborne pathogens from individual flies.Using this standardized protocol, we surveyed 100 wild-caught flies for the presence of Cronobacter
spp., Salmonella enterica,
and Listeria monocytogenes
and demonstrated that it was possible to detect and further isolate these pathogens from the body surface and the alimentary canal of a single fly. Twenty-two percent of the alimentary canals and 8% of the body surfaces from collected wild flies were positive for at least one of the three foodborne pathogens. The prevalence of Cronobacter
spp. on either body part of the flies was statistically higher (19%) than the prevalence of S. enterica
(7%) and L.monocytogenes
(4%). No false positives were observed when detecting S. enterica
and L. monocytogenes
using this PCR-based system because pure bacterial cultures were obtained from all PCR-positive results. However, pure Cronobacter
colonies were not obtained from about 50% of PCR-positive samples, suggesting that the PCR-based detection system for this pathogen cross-reacts with other Enterobacteriaceae
present among the highly complex microbiota carried by wild flies. The standardized protocol presented here will allow laboratories to detect bacterial foodborne pathogens from aseptically collected insects, thereby giving public health officials another line of evidence to find out how the food was contaminated when performing foodborne outbreak investigations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 96, Synanthropy, filth flies, Cronobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, shiga-toxigenic E. coli, STEC, PCR-based methods, foodborne illness, foodborne outbreak investigations.
The Use of High-resolution Infrared Thermography (HRIT) for the Study of Ice Nucleation and Ice Propagation in Plants
Institutions: Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Kearneysville, WV, University of Innsbruck, University of Saskatechewan.
Freezing events that occur when plants are actively growing can be a lethal event, particularly if the plant has no freezing tolerance. Such frost events often have devastating effects on agricultural production and can also play an important role in shaping community structure in natural populations of plants, especially in alpine, sub-arctic, and arctic ecosystems. Therefore, a better understanding of the freezing process in plants can play an important role in the development of methods of frost protection and understanding mechanisms of freeze avoidance. Here, we describe a protocol to visualize the freezing process in plants using high-resolution infrared thermography (HRIT). The use of this technology allows one to determine the primary sites of ice formation in plants, how ice propagates, and the presence of ice barriers. Furthermore, it allows one to examine the role of extrinsic and intrinsic nucleators in determining the temperature at which plants freeze and evaluate the ability of various compounds to either affect the freezing process or increase freezing tolerance. The use of HRIT allows one to visualize the many adaptations that have evolved in plants, which directly or indirectly impact the freezing process and ultimately enables plants to survive frost events.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 99, Freeze avoidance, supercooling, ice nucleation active bacteria, frost tolerance, ice crystallization, antifreeze proteins, intrinsic nucleation, extrinsic nucleation, heterogeneous nucleation, homogeneous nucleation, differential thermal analysis
Preparation and Evaluation of Hybrid Composites of Chemical Fuel and Multi-walled Carbon Nanotubes in the Study of Thermopower Waves
Institutions: Korea University.
When a chemical fuel at a certain position in a hybrid composite of the fuel and a micro/nanostructured material is ignited, chemical combustion occurs along the interface between the fuel and core materials. Simultaneously, dynamic changes in thermal and chemical potentials across the micro/nanostructured materials result in concomitant electrical energy generation induced by charge transfer in the form of a high-output voltage pulse. We demonstrate the entire procedure of a thermopower wave experiment, from synthesis to evaluation. Thermal chemical vapor deposition and the wet impregnation process are respectively employed for the synthesis of a multi-walled carbon nanotube array and a hybrid composite of picric acid/sodium azide/multi-walled carbon nanotubes. The prepared hybrid composites are used to fabricate a thermopower wave generator with connecting electrodes. The combustion of the hybrid composite is initiated by laser heating or Joule-heating, and the corresponding combustion propagation, direct electrical energy generation, and real-time temperature changes are measured using a high-speed microscopy system, an oscilloscope, and an optical pyrometer, respectively. Furthermore, the crucial strategies to be adopted in the synthesis of hybrid composite and initiation of their combustion that enhance the overall thermopower wave energy transfer are proposed.
Engineering, Issue 98, thermopower wave, combustion, carbon nanotube, chemical fuel, thermal transport, energy conversion, picric acid
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
Methods for Facilitating Microbial Growth on Pulp Mill Waste Streams and Characterization of the Biodegradation Potential of Cultured Microbes
Institutions: North Carolina State University, North Carolina State University.
The kraft process is applied to wood chips for separation of lignin from the polysaccharides within lignocellulose for pulp that will produce a high quality paper. Black liquor is a pulping waste generated by the kraft process that has potential for downstream bioconversion. However, the recalcitrant nature of the lignocellulose resources, its chemical derivatives that constitute the majority of available organic carbon within black liquor, and its basic pH present challenges to microbial biodegradation of this waste material. Methods for the collection and modification of black liquor for microbial growth are aimed at utilization of this pulp waste to convert the lignin, organic acids, and polysaccharide degradation byproducts into valuable chemicals. The lignocellulose extraction techniques presented provide a reproducible method for preparation of lignocellulose growth substrates for understanding metabolic capacities of cultured microorganisms. Use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry enables the identification and quantification of the fermentation products resulting from the growth of microorganisms on pulping waste. These methods when used together can facilitate the determination of the metabolic activity of microorganisms with potential to produce fermentation products that would provide greater value to the pulping system and reduce effluent waste, thereby increasing potential paper milling profits and offering additional uses for black liquor.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, biodegradation (bacterial degradation), pulp mill waste, black liquor, kraft process, lignocellulose extraction, microorganisms, fermentation products, GC-MS
A Venturi Effect Can Help Cure Our Trees
Institutions: Unversity of Padova.
In woody plants, xylem sap moves upwards through the vessels due to a decreasing gradient of water potential from the groundwater to the foliage. According to these factors and their dynamics, small amounts of sap-compatible liquids (i.e.
pesticides) can be injected into the xylem system, reaching their target from inside. This endotherapic method, called "trunk injection" or "trunk infusion" (depending on whether the user supplies an external pressure or not), confines the applied chemicals only within the target tree, thereby making it particularly useful in urban situations. The main factors limiting wider use of the traditional drilling methods are related to negative side effects of the holes that must be drilled around the trunk circumference in order to gain access to the xylem vessels beneath the bark.
The University of Padova (Italy) recently developed a manual, drill-free instrument with a small, perforated blade that enters the trunk by separating the woody fibers with minimal friction. Furthermore, the lenticular shaped blade reduces the vessels' cross section, increasing sap velocity and allowing the natural uptake of an external liquid up to the leaves, when transpiration rate is substantial. Ports partially close soon after the removal of the blade due to the natural elasticity and turgidity of the plant tissues, and the cambial activity completes the healing process in few weeks.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Trunk injection, systemic injection, xylematic injection, endotherapy, sap flow, Bernoulli principle, plant diseases, pesticides, desiccants
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
Processing the Loblolly Pine PtGen2 cDNA Microarray
Institutions: University of Georgia (UGA), Instituto Tecnologia Química e Biológica UNL, Av. da República.
PtGen2 is a 26,496 feature cDNA microarray containing amplified loblolly pine ESTs. The array is produced in our laboratory for use by researchers studying gene expression in pine and other conifer species. PtGen2 was developed as a result of our gene discovery efforts in loblolly pine, and is comprised of sequences identified primarily from root tissues, but also from needle and stem.1,2
PtGen2 has been tested by hybridizing different Cy-dye labeled conifer target cDNAs, using both amplified and non-amplified indirect labeling methods, and also tested with a number of hybridization and washing conditions. This video focuses on the handling and processing of slides before and after pre-hybridization, as well as after hybridization, using some modifications to procedures developed previously.3,4
Also included, in text form only, are the protocols used for the generation, labeling and clean up of target cDNA s, as well as information on software used for downstream data processing.
PtGen2 is printed with a proprietary print buffer that contains high concentrations of salt that can be difficult to remove completely. The slides are washed first in a warm SDS solution prior to pre-hybridization. After pre-hybridization, the slides are washed vigorously in several changes of water to complete removal of remaining salts. LifterSlips™ are then cleaned and positioned on the slides and labeled cDNA is carefully loaded onto the microarray by way of capillary action which provides for even distribution of the sample across the slide, and reduces the chance of bubble incorporation. Hybridization of targets to the array is done at 48°C in high humidity conditions. After hybridization, a series of standard washes are done at 53°C and room temperature for extended times. Processing PtGen2 slides using this technique reduces salt and SDS-derived artifacts often seen when the array is processed less rigorously. Hybridizing targets derived from several different conifer RNA sources, this processing protocol yielded fewer artifacts, reduced background, and provided better consistency among different experimental groups of arrays.
Plant Biology, Issue 25, Loblolly pine, P. taeda, cDNA, microarray, slide processing
Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ
hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ
hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ
experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies
). Here we present a modified DIG in situ
hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies
. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana
and Brassica napus
. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3
were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana
and B. napus
and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies
. For P. abies
the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ
protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film.
Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study.
Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at Anna.Karlgren@ebc.uu.se and Jens F. Sundström at Jens.Sundstrom@vbsg.slu.se
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
Extraction of High Molecular Weight Genomic DNA from Soils and Sediments
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The soil microbiome is a vast and relatively unexplored reservoir of genomic diversity and metabolic innovation that is intimately associated with nutrient and energy flow within terrestrial ecosystems. Cultivation-independent environmental genomic, also known as metagenomic, approaches promise unprecedented access to this genetic information with respect to pathway reconstruction and functional screening for high value therapeutic and biomass conversion processes. However, the soil microbiome still remains a challenge largely due to the difficulty in obtaining high molecular weight DNA of sufficient quality for large insert library production. Here we introduce a protocol for extracting high molecular weight, microbial community genomic DNA from soils and sediments. The quality of isolated genomic DNA is ideal for constructing large insert environmental genomic libraries for downstream sequencing and screening applications.
The procedure starts with cell lysis. Cell walls and membranes of microbes are lysed by both mechanical (grinding) and chemical forces (β-mercaptoethanol). Genomic DNA is then isolated using extraction buffer, chloroform-isoamyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol. The buffers employed for the lysis and extraction steps include guanidine isothiocyanate and hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) to preserve the integrity of the high molecular weight genomic DNA. Depending on your downstream application, the isolated genomic DNA can be further purified using cesium chloride (CsCl) gradient ultracentrifugation, which reduces impurities including humic acids. The first procedure, extraction, takes approximately 8 hours, excluding DNA quantification step. The CsCl gradient ultracentrifugation, is a two days process. During the entire procedure, genomic DNA should be treated gently to prevent shearing, avoid severe vortexing, and repetitive harsh pipetting.
Microbiology, Issue 33, Environmental DNA, high molecular weight genomic DNA, DNA extraction, soil, sediments
An Improved Method of RNA Isolation from Loblolly Pine (P. taeda L.) and Other Conifer Species
Institutions: University of Georgia (UGA).
Tissues isolated from conifer species, particularly those belonging to the Pinaceae family, such as loblolly pine (Pinus taeda
L.), contain high concentrations of phenolic compounds and polysaccharides that interfere with RNA purification. Isolation of high-quality RNA from these species requires rigorous tissue collection procedures in the field and the employment of an RNA isolation protocol comprised of multiple organic extraction steps in order to isolate RNA of sufficient quality for microarray and other genomic analyses. The isolation of high-quality RNA from field-collected loblolly pine samples can be challenging, but several modifications to standard tissue and RNA isolation procedures greatly improve results. The extent of general RNA degradation increases if samples are not properly collected and transported from the field, especially during large-scale harvests. Total RNA yields can be increased significantly by pulverizing samples in a liquid nitrogen freezer mill prior to RNA isolation, especially when samples come from woody tissues. This is primarily due to the presence of oxidizing agents, such as phenolic compounds, and polysaccharides that are both present at high levels in extracts from the woody tissues of most conifer species. If not removed, these contaminants can carry over leading to problems, such as RNA degradation, that result in low yields and a poor quality RNA sample. Carryover of phenolic compounds, as well as polysaccharides, can also reduce or even completely eliminate the activity of reverse transcriptase or other polymerases commonly used for cDNA synthesis. In particular, RNA destined to be used as template for double-stranded cDNA synthesis in the generation of cDNA libraries, single-stranded cDNA synthesis for PCR or qPCR's, or for the synthesis of microarray target materials must be of the highest quality if researchers expect to obtain optimal results. RNA isolation techniques commonly employed for many other plant species are often insufficient in their ability to remove these contaminants from conifer samples and thus do not yield total RNA samples suitable for downstream manipulations. In this video we demonstrate methods for field collection of conifer tissues, beginning with the felling of a forty year-old tree, to the harvesting of phloem, secondary xylem, and reaction wood xylem. We also demonstrate an RNA isolation protocol that has consistently yielded high-quality RNA for subsequent enzymatic manipulations.
Plant Biology, Issue 36, RNA isolation, loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, conifer, wood, xylem, phloem
Agar-Block Microcosms for Controlled Plant Tissue Decomposition by Aerobic Fungi
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The two principal methods for studying fungal biodegradation of lignocellulosic plant tissues were developed for wood preservative testing (soil-block; agar-block). It is well-accepted that soil-block microcosms yield higher decay rates, fewer moisture issues, lower variability among studies, and higher thresholds of preservative toxicity. Soil-block testing is thus the more utilized technique and has been standardized by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) (method D 1413-07). The soil-block design has drawbacks, however, using locally-variable soil sources and in limiting the control of nutrients external (exogenous) to the decaying tissues. These drawbacks have emerged as a problem in applying this method to other, increasingly popular research aims. These modern aims include degrading lignocellulosics for bioenergy research, testing bioremediation of co-metabolized toxics, evaluating oxidative mechanisms, and tracking translocated elements along hyphal networks. Soil-blocks do not lend enough control in these applications. A refined agar-block approach is necessary.
Here, we use the brown rot wood-degrading fungus Serpula lacrymans
to degrade wood in agar-block microcosms, using deep Petri dishes with low-calcium agar. We test the role of exogenous gypsum on decay in a time-series, to demonstrate the utility and expected variability. Blocks from a single board rip (longitudinal cut) are conditioned, weighed, autoclaved, and introduced aseptically atop plastic mesh. Fungal inoculations are at each block face, with exogenous gypsum added at interfaces. Harvests are aseptic until the final destructive harvest. These microcosms are designed to avoid block contact with agar or Petri dish walls. Condensation is minimized during plate pours and during incubation. Finally, inoculum/gypsum/wood spacing is minimized but without allowing contact. These less technical aspects of agar-block design are also the most common causes of failure and the key source of variability among studies. Video publication is therefore useful in this case, and we demonstrate low-variability, high-quality results.
Plant Biology, Issue 48, Lignocellulose, biomass, wood, fungi, filamentous, biodegradation, petri, microcosm
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
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
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