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Ensemble learning for spatial interpolation of soil potassium content based on environmental information.
PUBLISHED: 05-01-2015
One important method to obtain the continuous surfaces of soil properties from point samples is spatial interpolation. In this paper, we propose a method that combines ensemble learning with ancillary environmental information for improved interpolation of soil properties (hereafter, EL-SP). First, we calculated the trend value for soil potassium contents at the Qinghai Lake region in China based on measured values. Then, based on soil types, geology types, land use types, and slope data, the remaining residual was simulated with the ensemble learning model. Next, the EL-SP method was applied to interpolate soil potassium contents at the study site. To evaluate the utility of the EL-SP method, we compared its performance with other interpolation methods including universal kriging, inverse distance weighting, ordinary kriging, and ordinary kriging combined geographic information. Results show that EL-SP had a lower mean absolute error and root mean square error than the data produced by the other models tested in this paper. Notably, the EL-SP maps can describe more locally detailed information and more accurate spatial patterns for soil potassium content than the other methods because of the combined use of different types of environmental information; these maps are capable of showing abrupt boundary information for soil potassium content. Furthermore, the EL-SP method not only reduces prediction errors, but it also compliments other environmental information, which makes the spatial interpolation of soil potassium content more reasonable and useful.
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Published: 03-13-2014
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.
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Exploring the Effects of Atmospheric Forcings on Evaporation: Experimental Integration of the Atmospheric Boundary Layer and Shallow Subsurface
Authors: Kathleen Smits, Victoria Eagen, Andrew Trautz.
Institutions: Colorado School of Mines.
Evaporation is directly influenced by the interactions between the atmosphere, land surface and soil subsurface. This work aims to experimentally study evaporation under various surface boundary conditions to improve our current understanding and characterization of this multiphase phenomenon as well as to validate numerical heat and mass transfer theories that couple Navier-Stokes flow in the atmosphere and Darcian flow in the porous media. Experimental data were collected using a unique soil tank apparatus interfaced with a small climate controlled wind tunnel. The experimental apparatus was instrumented with a suite of state of the art sensor technologies for the continuous and autonomous collection of soil moisture, soil thermal properties, soil and air temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed. This experimental apparatus can be used to generate data under well controlled boundary conditions, allowing for better control and gathering of accurate data at scales of interest not feasible in the field. Induced airflow at several distinct wind speeds over the soil surface resulted in unique behavior of heat and mass transfer during the different evaporative stages.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 100, Bare-soil evaporation, Land-atmosphere interactions, Heat and mass flux, Porous media, Wind tunnel, Soil thermal properties, Multiphase flow
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Simultaneous Long-term Recordings at Two Neuronal Processing Stages in Behaving Honeybees
Authors: Martin Fritz Brill, Maren Reuter, Wolfgang Rössler, Martin Fritz Strube-Bloss.
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
In both mammals and insects neuronal information is processed in different higher and lower order brain centers. These centers are coupled via convergent and divergent anatomical connections including feed forward and feedback wiring. Furthermore, information of the same origin is partially sent via parallel pathways to different and sometimes into the same brain areas. To understand the evolutionary benefits as well as the computational advantages of these wiring strategies and especially their temporal dependencies on each other, it is necessary to have simultaneous access to single neurons of different tracts or neuropiles in the same preparation at high temporal resolution. Here we concentrate on honeybees by demonstrating a unique extracellular long term access to record multi unit activity at two subsequent neuropiles1, the antennal lobe (AL), the first olfactory processing stage and the mushroom body (MB), a higher order integration center involved in learning and memory formation, or two parallel neuronal tracts2 connecting the AL with the MB. The latter was chosen as an example and will be described in full. In the supporting video the construction and permanent insertion of flexible multi channel wire electrodes is demonstrated. Pairwise differential amplification of the micro wire electrode channels drastically reduces the noise and verifies that the source of the signal is closely related to the position of the electrode tip. The mechanical flexibility of the used wire electrodes allows stable invasive long term recordings over many hours up to days, which is a clear advantage compared to conventional extra and intracellular in vivo recording techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, honeybee brain, olfaction, extracellular long term recordings, double recordings, differential wire electrodes, single unit, multi-unit recordings
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Integrated Field Lysimetry and Porewater Sampling for Evaluation of Chemical Mobility in Soils and Established Vegetation
Authors: Audrey R. Matteson, Denis J. Mahoney, Travis W. Gannon, Matthew L. Polizzotto.
Institutions: North Carolina State University, North Carolina State University.
Potentially toxic chemicals are routinely applied to land to meet growing demands on waste management and food production, but the fate of these chemicals is often not well understood. Here we demonstrate an integrated field lysimetry and porewater sampling method for evaluating the mobility of chemicals applied to soils and established vegetation. Lysimeters, open columns made of metal or plastic, are driven into bareground or vegetated soils. Porewater samplers, which are commercially available and use vacuum to collect percolating soil water, are installed at predetermined depths within the lysimeters. At prearranged times following chemical application to experimental plots, porewater is collected, and lysimeters, containing soil and vegetation, are exhumed. By analyzing chemical concentrations in the lysimeter soil, vegetation, and porewater, downward leaching rates, soil retention capacities, and plant uptake for the chemical of interest may be quantified. Because field lysimetry and porewater sampling are conducted under natural environmental conditions and with minimal soil disturbance, derived results project real-case scenarios and provide valuable information for chemical management. As chemicals are increasingly applied to land worldwide, the described techniques may be utilized to determine whether applied chemicals pose adverse effects to human health or the environment.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, Lysimetry, porewater, soil, chemical leaching, pesticides, turfgrass, waste
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Soil Sampling and Isolation of Entomopathogenic Nematodes (Steinernematidae, Heterorhabditidae)
Authors: Rousel A. Orozco, Ming-Min Lee, S. Patricia Stock.
Institutions: University of Arizona.
Entomopathogenic nematodes (a.k.a. EPN) represent a group of soil-inhabiting nematodes that parasitize a wide range of insects. These nematodes belong to two families: Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae. Until now, more than 70 species have been described in the Steinernematidae and there are about 20 species in the Heterorhabditidae. The nematodes have a mutualistic partnership with Enterobacteriaceae bacteria and together they act as a potent insecticidal complex that kills a wide range of insect species. Herein, we focus on the most common techniques considered for collecting EPN from soil. The second part of this presentation focuses on the insect-baiting technique, a widely used approach for the isolation of EPN from soil samples, and the modified White trap technique which is used for the recovery of these nematodes from infected insects. These methods and techniques are key steps for the successful establishment of EPN cultures in the laboratory and also form the basis for other bioassays that consider these nematodes as model organisms for research in other biological disciplines. The techniques shown in this presentation correspond to those performed and/or designed by members of S. P. Stock laboratory as well as those described by various authors.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, Entomology, Nematology, Steinernema, Heterorhabditis, nematodes, soil sampling, insect-bait, modified White-trap
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Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Authors: Mackenzie J. Denyes, Michèle A. Parisien, Allison Rutter, Barbara A. Zeeb.
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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A Whole Cell Bioreporter Approach to Assess Transport and Bioavailability of Organic Contaminants in Water Unsaturated Systems
Authors: Susan Schamfuß, Thomas R. Neu, Hauke Harms, Lukas Y. Wick.
Institutions: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ.
Bioavailability of contaminants is a prerequisite for their effective biodegradation in soil. The average bulk concentration of a contaminant, however, is not an appropriate measure for its availability; bioavailability rather depends on the dynamic interplay of potential mass transfer (flux) of a compound to a microbial cell and the capacity of the latter to degrade the compound. In water-unsaturated parts of the soil, mycelia have been shown to overcome bioavailability limitations by actively transporting and mobilizing organic compounds over the range of centimeters. Whereas the extent of mycelia-based transport can be quantified easily by chemical means, verification of the contaminant-bioavailability to bacterial cells requires a biological method. Addressing this constraint, we chose the PAH fluorene (FLU) as a model compound and developed a water unsaturated model microcosm linking a spatially separated FLU point source and the FLU degrading bioreporter bacterium Burkholderia sartisoli RP037-mChe by a mycelial network of Pythium ultimum. Since the bioreporter expresses eGFP in response of the PAH flux to the cell, bacterial FLU exposure and degradation could be monitored directly in the microcosms via confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM). CLSM and image analyses revealed a significant increase of the eGFP expression in the presence of P. ultimum compared to controls without mycelia or FLU thus indicating FLU bioavailability to bacteria after mycelia-mediated transport. CLSM results were supported by chemical analyses in identical microcosms. The developed microcosm proved suitable to investigate contaminant bioavailability and to concomitantly visualize the involved bacteria-mycelial interactions.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 94, PAH, bioavailability, mycelia, translocation, volatility, bioreporter, CLSM, biodegradation, fluorene
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The Double-H Maze: A Robust Behavioral Test for Learning and Memory in Rodents
Authors: Robert D. Kirch, Richard C. Pinnell, Ulrich G. Hofmann, Jean-Christophe Cassel.
Institutions: University Hospital Freiburg, UMR 7364 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Neuropôle de Strasbourg.
Spatial cognition research in rodents typically employs the use of maze tasks, whose attributes vary from one maze to the next. These tasks vary by their behavioral flexibility and required memory duration, the number of goals and pathways, and also the overall task complexity. A confounding feature in many of these tasks is the lack of control over the strategy employed by the rodents to reach the goal, e.g., allocentric (declarative-like) or egocentric (procedural) based strategies. The double-H maze is a novel water-escape memory task that addresses this issue, by allowing the experimenter to direct the type of strategy learned during the training period. The double-H maze is a transparent device, which consists of a central alleyway with three arms protruding on both sides, along with an escape platform submerged at the extremity of one of these arms. Rats can be trained using an allocentric strategy by alternating the start position in the maze in an unpredictable manner (see protocol 1; §4.7), thus requiring them to learn the location of the platform based on the available allothetic cues. Alternatively, an egocentric learning strategy (protocol 2; §4.8) can be employed by releasing the rats from the same position during each trial, until they learn the procedural pattern required to reach the goal. This task has been proven to allow for the formation of stable memory traces. Memory can be probed following the training period in a misleading probe trial, in which the starting position for the rats alternates. Following an egocentric learning paradigm, rats typically resort to an allocentric-based strategy, but only when their initial view on the extra-maze cues differs markedly from their original position. This task is ideally suited to explore the effects of drugs/perturbations on allocentric/egocentric memory performance, as well as the interactions between these two memory systems.
Behavior, Issue 101, Double-H maze, spatial memory, procedural memory, consolidation, allocentric, egocentric, habits, rodents, video tracking system
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A Protocol for Conducting Rainfall Simulation to Study Soil Runoff
Authors: Leonard C. Kibet, Louis S. Saporito, Arthur L. Allen, Eric B. May, Peter J. A. Kleinman, Fawzy M. Hashem, Ray B. Bryant.
Institutions: University of Maryland Eastern Shore, USDA - Agricultural Research Service, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Rainfall is a driving force for the transport of environmental contaminants from agricultural soils to surficial water bodies via surface runoff. The objective of this study was to characterize the effects of antecedent soil moisture content on the fate and transport of surface applied commercial urea, a common form of nitrogen (N) fertilizer, following a rainfall event that occurs within 24 hr after fertilizer application. Although urea is assumed to be readily hydrolyzed to ammonium and therefore not often available for transport, recent studies suggest that urea can be transported from agricultural soils to coastal waters where it is implicated in harmful algal blooms. A rainfall simulator was used to apply a consistent rate of uniform rainfall across packed soil boxes that had been prewetted to different soil moisture contents. By controlling rainfall and soil physical characteristics, the effects of antecedent soil moisture on urea loss were isolated. Wetter soils exhibited shorter time from rainfall initiation to runoff initiation, greater total volume of runoff, higher urea concentrations in runoff, and greater mass loadings of urea in runoff. These results also demonstrate the importance of controlling for antecedent soil moisture content in studies designed to isolate other variables, such as soil physical or chemical characteristics, slope, soil cover, management, or rainfall characteristics. Because rainfall simulators are designed to deliver raindrops of similar size and velocity as natural rainfall, studies conducted under a standardized protocol can yield valuable data that, in turn, can be used to develop models for predicting the fate and transport of pollutants in runoff.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Agriculture, Water Pollution, Water Quality, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Rainfall Simulator, Artificial Rainfall, Runoff, Packed Soil Boxes, Nonpoint Source, Urea
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Extraction of High Molecular Weight Genomic DNA from Soils and Sediments
Authors: Sangwon Lee, Steven J. Hallam.
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
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Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Authors: Benjamin G. Wherley, Richard H. White, Kevin J. McInnes, Charles H. Fontanier, James C. Thomas, Jacqueline A. Aitkenhead-Peterson, Steven T. Kelly.
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2 facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2 field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4-P, K+, Mg2+, and Ca2+ had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
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Floral-dip Transformation of Arabidopsis thaliana to Examine pTSO2::β-glucuronidase Reporter Gene Expression
Authors: Chloe Mara, Boyana Grigorova, Zhongchi Liu.
Institutions: University of Maryland College Park.
The ability to introduce foreign genes into an organism is the foundation for modern biology and biotechnology. In the model flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the floral-dip transformation method1-2 has replaced all previous methods because of its simplicity, efficiency, and low cost. Specifically, shoots of young flowering Arabidopsis plants are dipped in a solution of Agrobacterium tumefaciens carrying specific plasmid constructs. After dipping, the plants are returned to normal growth and yield seeds, a small percentage of which are transformed with the foreign gene and can be selected for on medium containing antibiotics. This floral-dip method significantly facilitated Arabidopsis research and contributed greatly to our understanding of plant gene function. In this study, we use the floral-dip method to transform a reporter gene, β-glucuronidase (GUS), under the control of TSO2 promoter. TSO2, coding for the Ribonucleotide Reductase (RNR) small subunit3, is a cell cycle regulated gene essential for dNDP biosynthesis in the S-phase of the cell cycle. Examination of GUS expression in transgenic Arabidopsis seedlings shows that TSO2 is expressed in actively dividing tissues. The reported experimental method and materials can be easily adapted not only for research but also for education at high school and college levels.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, Floral-dip transformation, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, beta-glucuronidase (GUS) reporter, cell cycle, Ribonucleotide Reductase (RNR), Arabidopsis thaliana
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High-Throughput Measurement and Classification of Organic P in Environmental Samples
Authors: Nicholas R. Johnson, Jane E. Hill.
Institutions: University of Vermont.
Many types of organic phosphorus (P) molecules exist in environmental samples1. Traditional P measurements do not detect these organic P compounds since they do not react with colorimetric reagents2,3. Enzymatic hydrolysis (EH) is an emerging method for accurately characterizing organic P forms in environmental samples4,5. This method is only trumped in accuracy by Phosphorus-31 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (31P-NMR) -a method that is expensive and requires specialized technical training6. We have adapted an enzymatic hydrolysis method capable of measuring three classes of phosphorus (monoester P, diester P and inorganic P) to a microplate reader system7. This method provides researchers with a fast, accurate, affordable and user-friendly means to measure P species in soils, sediments, manures and, if concentrated, aquatic samples. This is the only high-throughput method for measuring the forms and enzyme-lability of organic P that can be performed in a standard laboratory. The resulting data provides insight to scientists studying system nutrient content and eutrophication potential.
Microbiology, Issue 52, phosphorus, enzymatic-hydrolysis, soil, manure, phosphatase, phytic acid, NaOH-EDTA, organophosphates, molybdate, organic P
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Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Authors: Oswald J. Schmitz, Mark A. Bradford, Michael S. Strickland, Dror Hawlena.
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
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Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Authors: Graham Bailes, Margaret Lind, Andrew Ely, Marianne Powell, Jennifer Moore-Kucera, Carol Miles, Debra Inglis, Marion Brodhagen.
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g. fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Authors: Elizabeth Anne Shank.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
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
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Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Authors: Jennifer L Soong, Dan Reuss, Colin Pinney, Ty Boyack, Michelle L Haddix, Catherine E Stewart, M. Francesca Cotrufo.
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
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.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
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An Optimized Enrichment Technique for the Isolation of Arthrobacter Bacteriophage Species from Soil Sample Isolates
Authors: Trevor Cross, Courtney Schoff, Dylan Chudoff, LIbby Graves, Haley Broomell, Katrina Terry, Jennifer Farina, Alexandra Correa, David Shade, David Dunbar.
Institutions: University of the Sciences, Arcadia University, Immaculata University, Neumann University, Cabrini College.
Bacteriophage isolation from environmental samples has been performed for decades using principles set forth by pioneers in microbiology. The isolation of phages infecting Arthrobacter hosts has been limited, perhaps due to the low success rate of many previous isolation techniques, resulting in an underrepresented group of Arthrobacter phages available for study. The enrichment technique described here, unlike many others, uses a filtered extract free of contaminating bacteria as the base for indicator bacteria growth, Arthrobactersp. KY3901, specifically. By first removing soil bacteria the target phages are not hindered by competition with native soil bacteria present in initial soil samples. This enrichment method has resulted in dozens of unique phages from several different soil types and even produced different types of phages from the same enriched soil sample isolate. The use of this procedure can be expanded to most nutrient rich aerobic media for the isolation of phages in a vast diversity of interesting host bacteria.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 98, Phage enrichment, Arthrobacter phages, phage purification, plaque isolation, soil phages, Acintobacteriaceae,
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