High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e.
helping in insect reproduction1
, boosting the immune response2
, pheromone production3
, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4,
Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms.
To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo
C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5
. The incorporation of 13
C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12
C) one. In the end, the 13
C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12
C-unlabeled similar one6
. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species.
Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis
). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13
C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Assessing Anti-fungal Activity of Isolated Alveolar Macrophages by Confocal Microscopy
Institutions: Roswell Park Cancer Institute, University of Buffalo.
The lung is an interface where host cells are routinely exposed to microbes and microbial products. Alveolar macrophages are the first-line phagocytic cells that encounter inhaled fungi and other microbes. Macrophages and other immune cells recognize Aspergillus
motifs by pathogen recognition receptors and initiate downstream inflammatory responses. The phagocyte NADPH oxidase generates reactive oxygen intermediates (ROIs) and is critical for host defense. Although NADPH oxidase is critical for neutrophil-mediated host defense1-3
, the importance of NADPH oxidase in macrophages is not well defined. The goal of this study was to delineate the specific role of NADPH oxidase in macrophages in mediating host defense against A. fumigatus
. We found that NADPH oxidase in alveolar macrophages controls the growth of phagocytosed A. fumigatus
. Here, we describe a method for assessing the ability of mouse alveolar macrophages (AMs) to control the growth of phagocytosed Aspergillus
spores (conidia). Alveolar macrophages are stained in vivo
and ten days later isolated from mice by bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). Macrophages are plated onto glass coverslips, then seeded with green fluorescent protein (GFP)-expressing A. fumigatus
spores. At specified times, cells are fixed and the number of intact macrophages with phagocytosed spores is assessed by confocal microscopy.
Immunology, Issue 89, macrophage, bronchoalveolar lavage, Aspergillus, confocal microscopy, phagocytosis, anti-fungal activity, NADPH oxidase
Use of MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry and a Custom Database to Characterize Bacteria Indigenous to a Unique Cave Environment (Kartchner Caverns, AZ, USA)
Institutions: Arizona State University, Applied Maths NV.
MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry has been shown to be a rapid and reliable tool for identification of bacteria at the genus and species, and in some cases, strain levels. Commercially available and open source software tools have been developed to facilitate identification; however, no universal/standardized data analysis pipeline has been described in the literature. Here, we provide a comprehensive and detailed demonstration of bacterial identification procedures using a MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer. Mass spectra were collected from 15 diverse bacteria isolated from Kartchner Caverns, AZ, USA, and identified by 16S rDNA sequencing. Databases were constructed in BioNumerics 7.1. Follow-up analyses of mass spectra were performed, including cluster analyses, peak matching, and statistical analyses. Identification was performed using blind-coded samples randomly selected from these 15 bacteria. Two identification methods are presented: similarity coefficient-based and biomarker-based methods. Results show that both identification methods can identify the bacteria to the species level.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 95, Identification, environmental bacteria, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, BioNumerics, fingerprint, database, similarity coefficient, biomarker
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
A Hybrid DNA Extraction Method for the Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment of Bacterial Communities from Poultry Production Samples
Institutions: USDA-Agricultural Research Service, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Oregon State University, University of Georgia, Northern Arizona University.
The efficacy of DNA extraction protocols can be highly dependent upon both the type of sample being investigated and the types of downstream analyses performed. Considering that the use of new bacterial community analysis techniques (e.g.,
microbiomics, metagenomics) is becoming more prevalent in the agricultural and environmental sciences and many environmental samples within these disciplines can be physiochemically and microbiologically unique (e.g.,
fecal and litter/bedding samples from the poultry production spectrum), appropriate and effective DNA extraction methods need to be carefully chosen. Therefore, a novel semi-automated hybrid DNA extraction method was developed specifically for use with environmental poultry production samples. This method is a combination of the two major types of DNA extraction: mechanical and enzymatic. A two-step intense mechanical homogenization step (using bead-beating specifically formulated for environmental samples) was added to the beginning of the “gold standard” enzymatic DNA extraction method for fecal samples to enhance the removal of bacteria and DNA from the sample matrix and improve the recovery of Gram-positive bacterial community members. Once the enzymatic extraction portion of the hybrid method was initiated, the remaining purification process was automated using a robotic workstation to increase sample throughput and decrease sample processing error. In comparison to the strict mechanical and enzymatic DNA extraction methods, this novel hybrid method provided the best overall combined performance when considering quantitative (using 16S rRNA qPCR) and qualitative (using microbiomics) estimates of the total bacterial communities when processing poultry feces and litter samples.
Molecular Biology, Issue 94, DNA extraction, poultry, environmental, feces, litter, semi-automated, microbiomics, qPCR
A Whole Cell Bioreporter Approach to Assess Transport and Bioavailability of Organic Contaminants in Water Unsaturated Systems
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
Use of Chironomidae (Diptera) Surface-Floating Pupal Exuviae as a Rapid Bioassessment Protocol for Water Bodies
Institutions: University of Minnesota, Northern State University, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, RMB Environmental Laboratories, Inc..
Rapid bioassessment protocols using benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages have been successfully used to assess human impacts on water quality. Unfortunately, traditional benthic larval sampling methods, such as the dip-net, can be time-consuming and expensive. An alternative protocol involves collection of Chironomidae surface-floating pupal exuviae (SFPE). Chironomidae is a species-rich family of flies (Diptera) whose immature stages typically occur in aquatic habitats. Adult chironomids emerge from the water, leaving their pupal skins, or exuviae, floating on the water’s surface. Exuviae often accumulate along banks or behind obstructions by action of the wind or water current, where they can be collected to assess chironomid diversity and richness. Chironomids can be used as important biological indicators, since some species are more tolerant to pollution than others. Therefore, the relative abundance and species composition of collected SFPE reflect changes in water quality. Here, methods associated with field collection, laboratory processing, slide mounting, and identification of chironomid SFPE are described in detail. Advantages of the SFPE method include minimal disturbance at a sampling area, efficient and economical sample collection and laboratory processing, ease of identification, applicability in nearly all aquatic environments, and a potentially more sensitive measure of ecosystem stress. Limitations include the inability to determine larval microhabitat use and inability to identify pupal exuviae to species if they have not been associated with adult males.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 101, biological monitoring, aquatic systems, aquatic ecology, water quality, macroinvertebrates, midge, Chironomid Pupal Exuviae Technique, rapid bioassessment protocol
Analysis of Autophagy in Penicillium chrysogenum by Using Starvation Pads in Combination With Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: Senckenberg Research Institute.
The study of cellular quality control systems has emerged as a highly dynamic and relevant field of contemporary research. It has become clear that cells possess several lines of defense against damage to biologically relevant molecules like nucleic acids, lipids and proteins. In addition to organelle dynamics (fusion/fission/motility/inheritance) and tightly controlled protease activity, the degradation of surplus, damaged or compromised organelles by autophagy (cellular ‘self-eating’) has received much attention from the scientific community. The regulation of autophagy is quite complex and depends on genetic and environmental factors, many of which have so far not been elucidated. Here a novel method is presented that allows the convenient study of autophagy in the filamentous fungus Penicillium chrysogenum
. It is based on growth of the fungus on so-called ‘starvation pads’ for stimulation of autophagy in a reproducible manner. Samples are directly assayed by microscopy and evaluated for autophagy induction / progress. The protocol presented here is not limited for use with P. chrysogenum
and can be easily adapted for use in other filamentous fungi.
Microbiology, Issue 96, starvation, degradation, autophagy, microscopy, microscope slide, cavity, fungi, Penicillium chrysogenum
A Rapid and Efficient Method for Assessing Pathogenicity of Ustilago maydis on Maize and Teosinte Lines
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Maize is a major cereal crop worldwide. However, susceptibility to biotrophic pathogens is the primary constraint to increasing productivity. U. maydis
is a biotrophic fungal pathogen and the causal agent of corn smut on maize. This disease is responsible for significant yield losses of approximately $1.0 billion annually in the U.S.1
Several methods including crop rotation, fungicide application and seed treatments are currently used to control corn smut2
. However, host resistance is the only practical method for managing corn smut. Identification of crop plants including maize, wheat, and rice that are resistant to various biotrophic pathogens has significantly decreased yield losses annually3-5
. Therefore, the use of a pathogen inoculation method that efficiently and reproducibly delivers the pathogen in between the plant leaves, would facilitate the rapid identification of maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis
. As, a first step toward indentifying maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis
, a needle injection inoculation method and a resistance reaction screening method was utilized to inoculate maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines with a U. maydis
strain and to select resistant plants.
Maize, teosinte and maize x teosinte introgression lines, consisting of about 700 plants, were planted, inoculated with a strain of U. maydis
, and screened for resistance. The inoculation and screening methods successfully identified three teosinte lines resistant to U. maydis
. Here a detailed needle injection inoculation and resistance reaction screening protocol for maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines is presented. This study demonstrates that needle injection inoculation is an invaluable tool in agriculture that can efficiently deliver U. maydis
in between the plant leaves and has provided plant lines that are resistant to U. maydis
that can now be combined and tested in breeding programs for improved disease resistance.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, Bacterial Infections, Signs and Symptoms, Eukaryota, Plant Physiological Phenomena, Ustilago maydis, needle injection inoculation, disease rating scale, plant-pathogen interactions
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Use of Image Cytometry for Quantification of Pathogenic Fungi in Association with Host Cells
Institutions: Merrimack College, Merrimack College, Nexcelom Bioscience LLC.
Studies of the cellular pathogenesis mechanisms of pathogenic yeasts such as Candida albicans
, Histoplasma capsulatum
, and Cryptococcus neoformans
commonly employ infection of mammalian hosts or host cells (i.e.
macrophages) followed by yeast quantification using colony forming unit analysis or flow cytometry. While colony forming unit enumeration has been the most commonly used method in the field, this technique has disadvantages and limitations, including slow growth of some fungal species on solid media and low and/or variable plating efficiencies, which is of particular concern when comparing growth of wild-type and mutant strains. Flow cytometry can provide rapid quantitative information regarding yeast viability, however, adoption of flow cytometric detection for pathogenic yeasts has been limited for a number of practical reasons including its high cost and biosafety considerations. Here, we demonstrate an image-based cytometric methodology using the Cellometer Vision (Nexcelom Bioscience, LLC) for the quantification of viable pathogenic yeasts in co-culture with macrophages. Our studies focus on detection of two human fungal pathogens: Histoplasma capsulatum
and Candida albicans
. H. capsulatum
colonizes alveolar macrophages by replicating within the macrophage phagosome, and here, we quantitatively assess the growth of H. capsulatum
yeasts in RAW 264.7 macrophages using acridine orange/propidium iodide staining in combination with image cytometry. Our method faithfully recapitulates growth trends as measured by traditional colony forming unit enumeration, but with significantly increased sensitivity. Additionally, we directly assess infection of live macrophages with a GFP-expressing strain of C. albicans
. Our methodology offers a rapid, accurate, and economical means for detection and quantification of important human fungal pathogens in association with host cells.
Infection, Issue 76, Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Medicine, Immunology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Pathology, Mycology, Bacteria, Macrophages, Fungi, Candida, Candida albicans, yeast, Histoplasma, Image cytometry, macrophage, fungus, propidium iodide, acridine orange, Cellometer Vision, cell, imaging, cell culture
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
One Dimensional Turing-Like Handshake Test for Motor Intelligence
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University.
In the Turing test, a computer model is deemed to "think intelligently" if it can generate answers that are not distinguishable from those of a human. However, this test is limited to the linguistic aspects of machine intelligence. A salient function of the brain is the control of movement, and the movement of the human hand is a sophisticated demonstration of this function. Therefore, we propose a Turing-like handshake test, for machine motor intelligence. We administer the test through a telerobotic system in which the interrogator is engaged in a task of holding a robotic stylus and interacting with another party (human or artificial). Instead of asking the interrogator whether the other party is a person or a computer program, we employ a two-alternative forced choice method and ask which of two systems is more human-like. We extract a quantitative grade for each model according to its resemblance to the human handshake motion and name it "Model Human-Likeness Grade" (MHLG). We present three methods to estimate the MHLG. (i) By calculating the proportion of subjects' answers that the model is more human-like than the human; (ii) By comparing two weighted sums of human and model handshakes we fit a psychometric curve and extract the point of subjective equality (PSE); (iii) By comparing a given model with a weighted sum of human and random signal, we fit a psychometric curve to the answers of the interrogator and extract the PSE for the weight of the human in the weighted sum. Altogether, we provide a protocol to test computational models of the human handshake. We believe that building a model is a necessary step in understanding any phenomenon and, in this case, in understanding the neural mechanisms responsible for the generation of the human handshake.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Turing test, Human Machine Interface, Haptics, Teleoperation, Motor Control, Motor Behavior, Diagnostics, Perception, handshake, telepresence
Annotation of Plant Gene Function via Combined Genomics, Metabolomics and Informatics
Given the ever expanding number of model plant species for which complete genome sequences are available and the abundance of bio-resources such as knockout mutants, wild accessions and advanced breeding populations, there is a rising burden for gene functional annotation. In this protocol, annotation of plant gene function using combined co-expression gene analysis, metabolomics and informatics is provided (Figure 1
). This approach is based on the theory of using target genes of known function to allow the identification of non-annotated genes likely to be involved in a certain metabolic process, with the identification of target compounds via metabolomics. Strategies are put forward for applying this information on populations generated by both forward and reverse genetics approaches in spite of none of these are effortless. By corollary this approach can also be used as an approach to characterise unknown peaks representing new or specific secondary metabolites in the limited tissues, plant species or stress treatment, which is currently the important trial to understanding plant metabolism.
Plant Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Metabolomics, Plant metabolism, Transcriptome analysis, Functional annotation, Computational biology, Plant biology, Theoretical biology, Spectroscopy and structural analysis
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential
Institutions: Miami University .
Lake Bonney is one of numerous permanently ice-covered lakes located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams. Biota are exposed to numerous environmental stresses, including year-round severe nutrient deficiency, low temperatures, extreme shade, hypersalinity, and 24-hour darkness during the winter 1
. These extreme environmental conditions limit the biota in Lake Bonney almost exclusively to microorganisms 2
Single-celled microbial eukaryotes (called "protists") are important players in global biogeochemical cycling 3
and play important ecological roles in the cycling of carbon in the dry valley lakes, occupying both primary and tertiary roles in the aquatic food web. In the dry valley aquatic food web, protists that fix inorganic carbon (autotrophy) are the major producers of organic carbon for organotrophic organisms 4, 2
. Phagotrophic or heterotrophic protists capable of ingesting bacteria and smaller protists act as the top predators in the food web 5
. Last, an unknown proportion of the protist population is capable of combined mixotrophic metabolism 6, 7
. Mixotrophy in protists involves the ability to combine photosynthetic capability with phagotrophic ingestion of prey microorganisms. This form of mixotrophy differs from mixotrophic metabolism in bacterial species, which generally involves uptake dissolved carbon molecules. There are currently very few protist isolates from permanently ice-capped polar lakes, and studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited 8, 4, 9, 10, 5
. A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle.
We employed an enrichment culture approach to isolate potentially phototrophic and mixotrophic protists from Lake Bonney. Sampling depths in the water column were chosen based on the location of primary production maxima and protist phylogenetic diversity 4, 11
, as well as variability in major abiotic factors affecting protist trophic modes: shallow sampling depths are limited for major nutrients, while deeper sampling depths are limited by light availability. In addition, lake water samples were supplemented with multiple types of growth media to promote the growth of a variety of phototrophic organisms.
RubisCO catalyzes the rate limiting step in the Calvin Benson Bassham (CBB) cycle, the major pathway by which autotrophic organisms fix inorganic carbon and provide organic carbon for higher trophic levels in aquatic and terrestrial food webs 12
. In this study, we applied a radioisotope assay modified for filtered samples 13
to monitor maximum carboxylase activity as a proxy for carbon fixation potential and metabolic versatility in the Lake Bonney enrichment cultures.
Microbiology, Issue 62, Antarctic lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Enrichment cultivation, Microbial eukaryotes, RubisCO
Customization of Aspergillus niger Morphology Through Addition of Talc Micro Particles
Institutions: Technische Universität Braunschweig.
The filamentous fungus A. niger
is a widely used strain in a broad range of industrial processes from food to pharmaceutical industry. One of the most intriguing and often uncontrollable characteristics of this filamentous organism is its complex morphology. It ranges from dense spherical pellets to viscous mycelia (Figure 1
). Various process parameters and ingredients are known to influence fungal morphology 1
. Since optimal productivity correlates strongly with a specific morphological form, the fungal morphology often represents the bottleneck of productivity in industrial production.
A straight forward and elegant approach to precisely control morphological shape is the addition of inorganic insoluble micro particles (like hydrous magnesium silicate, aluminum oxide or titanium silicate oxide) to the culture medium contributing to increased enzyme production 2-6
. Since there is an obvious correlation between micro particle dependent morphology and enzyme production it is desirable to mathematically link productivity and morphological appearance. Therefore a quantitative precise and holistic morphological description is targeted.
Thus, we present a method to generate and characterize micro particle dependent morphological structures and to correlate fungal morphology with productivity (Figure 1
) which possibly contributes to a better understanding of the morphogenesis of filamentous microorganisms.
The recombinant strain A. niger
SKAn1015 is cultivated for 72 h in a 3 L stirred tank bioreactor. By addition of talc micro particles in concentrations of 1 g/L, 3 g/L and 10 g/L prior to inoculation a variety of morphological structures is reproducibly generated. Sterile samples are taken after 24, 48 and 72 hours for determination of growth progress and activity of the produced enzyme. The formed product is the high-value enzyme β-fructofuranosidase, an important biocatalyst for neo-sugar formation in food or pharmaceutical industry, which catalyzes among others the reaction of sucrose to glucose 7-9
. Therefore, the quantification of glucose after adding sucrose implies the amount of produced β-fructofuranosidase. Glucose quantification is made by a GOD/POD-Assay 10
, which is modified for high-throughput analysis in 96-well micro titer plates.
Fungal morphology after 72 hours is examined by microscope and characterized by digital image analysis. In doing so, particle shape factors for fungal macro morphology like Feret's diameter, projected area, perimeter, circularity, aspect ratio, roundness und solidity are calculated with the open source image processing program ImageJ. Relevant parameters are combined to a dimensionless Morphology number (Mn) 11
, which enables a comprehensive characterization of fungal morphology. The close correlation of the Morphology number and productivity are highlighted by mathematical regression.
Immunology, Issue 61, morphology engineering, Morphology number (Mn), filamentous fungi, fructofuranosidase, micro particles, image analysis
Non-invasive Imaging of Disseminated Candidiasis in Zebrafish Larvae
Institutions: University of Maine.
Disseminated candidiasis caused by the pathogen Candida albicans
is a clinically important problem in hospitalized individuals and is associated with a 30 to 40% attributable mortality6
. Systemic candidiasis is normally controlled by innate immunity, and individuals with genetic defects in innate immune cell components such as phagocyte NADPH oxidase are more susceptible to candidemia7-9
. Very little is known about the dynamics of C. albicans
interaction with innate immune cells in vivo.
Extensive in vitro
studies have established that outside of the host C. albicans
germinates inside of macrophages, and is quickly destroyed by neutrophils10-14
. In vitro
studies, though useful, cannot recapitulate the complex in vivo
environment, which includes time-dependent dynamics of cytokine levels, extracellular matrix attachments, and intercellular contacts10, 15-18
. To probe the contribution of these factors in host-pathogen interaction, it is critical to find a model organism to visualize these aspects of infection non-invasively in a live intact host.
The zebrafish larva offers a unique and versatile vertebrate host for the study of infection. For the first 30 days of development zebrafish larvae have only innate immune defenses2, 19-21
, simplifying the study of diseases such as disseminated candidiasis that are highly dependent on innate immunity. The small size and transparency of zebrafish larvae enable imaging of infection dynamics at the cellular level for both host and pathogen. Transgenic larvae with fluorescing innate immune cells can be used to identify specific cells types involved in infection22-24
. Modified anti-sense oligonucleotides (Morpholinos) can be used to knock down various immune components such as phagocyte NADPH oxidase and study the changes in response to fungal infection5
. In addition to the ethical and practical advantages of using a small lower vertebrate, the zebrafish larvae offers the unique possibility to image the pitched battle between pathogen and host both intravitally and in color.
The zebrafish has been used to model infection for a number of human pathogenic bacteria, and has been instrumental in major advances in our understanding of mycobacterial infection3, 25
. However, only recently have much larger pathogens such as fungi been used to infect larva5, 23, 26
, and to date there has not been a detailed visual description of the infection methodology. Here we present our techniques for hindbrain ventricle microinjection of prim25
zebrafish, including our modifications to previous protocols. Our findings using the larval zebrafish model for fungal infection diverge from in vitro
studies and reinforce the need to examine the host-pathogen interaction in the complex environment of the host rather than the simplified system of the Petri dish5
Immunology, Issue 65, Infection, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Candida albicans, candidiasis, zebrafish larvae, Danio rerio, microinjection, confocal imaging
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Establishing Fungal Entomopathogens as Endophytes: Towards Endophytic Biological Control
Institutions: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia , United States Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.
is a fungal entomopathogen with the ability to colonize plants endophytically. As an endophyte, B. bassiana
may play a role in protecting plants from herbivory and disease. This protocol demonstrates two inoculation methods to establish B. bassiana
endophytically in the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris
), in preparation for subsequent evaluations of endophytic biological control. Plants are grown from surface-sterilized seeds for two weeks before receiving a B. bassiana
treatment of 108
conidia/ml (or water) applied either as a foliar spray or a soil drench. Two weeks later, the plants are harvested and their leaves, stems and roots are sampled to evaluate endophytic fungal colonization. For this, samples are individually surface sterilized, cut into multiple sections, and incubated in potato dextrose agar media for 20 days. The media is inspected every 2-3 days to observe fungal growth associated with plant sections and record the occurrence of B. bassiana
to estimate the extent of its endophytic colonization. Analyses of inoculation success compare the occurrence of B. bassiana
within a given plant part (i.e.
leaves, stems or roots) across treatments and controls. In addition to the inoculation method, the specific outcome of the experiment may depend on the target crop species or variety, the fungal entomopathogen species strain or isolate used, and the plant's growing conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 74, Plant Biology, Microbiology, Infection, Environmental Sciences, Molecular Biology, Mycology, Entomology, Botany, Pathology, Agriculture, Pest Control, Fungi, Entomopathogen, Endophyte, Pest, Pathogen, Phaseolus vulgaris, Beauveria bassiana, Sustainable Agriculture, hemocytometer, inoculation, fungus
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
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
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