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.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Cryosectioning Yeast Communities for Examining Fluorescence Patterns
Institutions: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Microbes typically live in communities. The spatial organization of cells within a community is believed to impact the survival and function of the community1
. Optical sectioning techniques, including confocal and two-photon microscopy, have proven useful for observing spatial organization of bacterial and archaeal communities2,3
. A combination of confocal imaging and physical sectioning of yeast colonies has revealed internal organization of cells4
. However, direct optical sectioning using confocal or two-photon microscopy has been only able to reach a few cell layers deep into yeast colonies. This limitation is likely because of strong scattering of light from yeast cells4
Here, we present a method based on fixing and cryosectioning to obtain spatial distribution of fluorescent cells within Saccharomyces cerevisiae
communities. We use methanol as the fixative agent to preserve the spatial distribution of cells. Fixed communities are infiltrated with OCT compound, frozen, and cryosectioned in a cryostat. Fluorescence imaging of the sections reveals the internal organization of fluorescent cells within the community.
Examples of yeast communities consisting of strains expressing red and green fluorescent proteins demonstrate the potentials of the cryosectioning method to reveal the spatial distribution of fluorescent cells as well as that of gene expression within yeast colonies2,3
. Even though our focus has been on Saccharomyces cerevisiae
communities, the same method can potentially be applied to examine other microbial communities.
Microbiology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Basic Protocols, Yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Cytological Techniques, Environmental Microbiology, Investigative Techniques, Life Sciences, cryosectioning, sectioning, cryotome, fixing, microbial community, yeast colonies, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, community interactions
Concentration of Metabolites from Low-density Planktonic Communities for Environmental Metabolomics using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
Institutions: RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Yokohama City University, RIKEN Plant Science Center, Nagoya University.
Environmental metabolomics is an emerging field that is promoting new understanding in how organisms respond to and interact with the environment and each other at the biochemical level1
. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is one of several technologies, including gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS), with considerable promise for such studies. Advantages of NMR are that it is suitable for untargeted analyses, provides structural information and spectra can be queried in quantitative and statistical manners against recently available databases of individual metabolite spectra2,3
. In addition, NMR spectral data can be combined with data from other omics levels (e.g. transcriptomics, genomics) to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the physiological responses of taxa to each other and the environment4,5,6
. However, NMR is less sensitive than other metabolomic techniques, making it difficult to apply to natural microbial systems where sample populations can be low-density and metabolite concentrations low compared to metabolites from well-defined and readily extractable sources such as whole tissues, biofluids or cell-cultures. Consequently, the few direct environmental metabolomic studies of microbes performed to date have been limited to culture-based or easily defined high-density ecosystems such as host-symbiont systems, constructed co-cultures or manipulations of the gut environment where stable isotope labeling can be additionally used to enhance NMR signals7,8,9,10,11,12
. Methods that facilitate the concentration and collection of environmental metabolites at concentrations suitable for NMR are lacking. Since recent attention has been given to the environmental metabolomics of organisms within the aquatic environment, where much of the energy and material flow is mediated by the planktonic community13,14
, we have developed a method for the concentration and extraction of whole-community metabolites from planktonic microbial systems by filtration. Commercially available hydrophilic poly-1,1-difluoroethene (PVDF) filters are specially treated to completely remove extractables, which can otherwise appear as contaminants in subsequent analyses. These treated filters are then used to filter environmental or experimental samples of interest. Filters containing the wet sample material are lyophilized and aqueous-soluble metabolites are extracted directly for conventional NMR spectroscopy using a standardized potassium phosphate extraction buffer2
. Data derived from these methods can be analyzed statistically to identify meaningful patterns, or integrated with other omics levels for comprehensive understanding of community and ecosystem function.
Molecular Biology, Issue 62, environmental metabolomics, metabolic profiling, microbial ecology, plankton, NMR spectroscopy, PCA
Single-plant, Sterile Microcosms for Nodulation and Growth of the Legume Plant Medicago truncatula with the Rhizobial Symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti
Institutions: Florida State University.
Rhizobial bacteria form symbiotic, nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of compatible host legume plants. One of the most well-developed model systems for studying these interactions is the plant Medicago truncatula
cv. Jemalong A17 and the rhizobial bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti
1021. Repeated imaging of plant roots and scoring of symbiotic phenotypes requires methods that are non-destructive to either plants or bacteria. The symbiotic phenotypes of some plant and bacterial mutants become apparent after relatively short periods of growth, and do not require long-term observation of the host/symbiont interaction. However, subtle differences in symbiotic efficiency and nodule senescence phenotypes that are not apparent in the early stages of the nodulation process require relatively long growth periods before they can be scored. Several methods have been developed for long-term growth and observation of this host/symbiont pair. However, many of these methods require repeated watering, which increases the possibility of contamination by other microbes. Other methods require a relatively large space for growth of large numbers of plants. The method described here, symbiotic growth of M. truncatula/S. meliloti
in sterile, single-plant microcosms, has several advantages. Plants in these microcosms have sufficient moisture and nutrients to ensure that watering is not required for up to 9 weeks, preventing cross-contamination during watering. This allows phenotypes to be quantified that might be missed in short-term growth systems, such as subtle delays in nodule development and early nodule senescence. Also, the roots and nodules in the microcosm are easily viewed through the plate lid, so up-rooting of the plants for observation is not required.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Plant Roots, Medicago, Gram-Negative Bacteria, Nitrogen, Microbiological Techniques, Bacterial Processes, Symbiosis, botany, microbiology, Medicago truncatula, Sinorhizobium meliloti, nodule, nitrogen fixation, legume, rhizobia, bacteria
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2
However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3
This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ
NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries.
We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ
NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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
Structure and Coordination Determination of Peptide-metal Complexes Using 1D and 2D 1H NMR
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Copper (I) binding by metallochaperone transport proteins prevents copper oxidation and release of the toxic ions that may participate in harmful redox reactions. The Cu (I) complex of the peptide model of a Cu (I) binding metallochaperone protein, which includes the sequence MTCSGCSRPG (underlined is conserved), was determined in solution under inert conditions by NMR spectroscopy.
NMR is a widely accepted technique for the determination of solution structures of proteins and peptides. Due to difficulty in crystallization to provide single crystals suitable for X-ray crystallography, the NMR technique is extremely valuable, especially as it provides information on the solution state rather than the solid state. Herein we describe all steps that are required for full three-dimensional structure determinations by NMR. The protocol includes sample preparation in an NMR tube, 1D and 2D data collection and processing, peak assignment and integration, molecular mechanics calculations, and structure analysis. Importantly, the analysis was first conducted without any preset metal-ligand bonds, to assure a reliable structure determination in an unbiased manner.
Chemistry, Issue 82, solution structure determination, NMR, peptide models, copper-binding proteins, copper complexes
Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) Labeling and Subsequent Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting for Culture-independent Identification of Dissolved Organic Carbon-degrading Bacterioplankton
Institutions: Kent State University, University of Georgia (UGA).
Microbes are major agents mediating the degradation of numerous dissolved organic carbon (DOC) substrates in aquatic environments. However, identification of bacterial taxa that transform specific pools of DOC in nature poses a technical challenge.
Here we describe an approach that couples bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation, fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS), and 16S rRNA gene-based molecular analysis that allows culture-independent identification of bacterioplankton capable of degrading a specific DOC compound in aquatic environments. Triplicate bacterioplankton microcosms are set up to receive both BrdU and a model DOC compound (DOC amendments), or only BrdU (no-addition control). BrdU substitutes the positions of thymidine in newly synthesized bacterial DNA and BrdU-labeled DNA can be readily immunodetected 1,2
. Through a 24-hr incubation, bacterioplankton that are able to use the added DOC compound are expected to be selectively activated, and therefore have higher levels of BrdU incorporation (HI cells) than non-responsive cells in the DOC amendments and cells in no-addition controls (low BrdU incorporation cells, LI cells). After fluorescence immunodetection, HI cells are distinguished and physically separated from the LI cells by fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) 3
. Sorted DOC-responsive cells (HI cells) are extracted for DNA and taxonomically identified through subsequent 16S rRNA gene-based analyses including PCR, clone library construction and sequencing.
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, BrdU incorporation, fluorescence-activated cell sorting, FACS, flow cytometry, microbial community, culture-independent, bacterioplankton
Characterization of Electrode Materials for Lithium Ion and Sodium Ion Batteries Using Synchrotron Radiation Techniques
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Haldor Topsøe A/S, PolyPlus Battery Company.
Intercalation compounds such as transition metal oxides or phosphates are the most commonly used electrode materials in Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. During insertion or removal of alkali metal ions, the redox states of transition metals in the compounds change and structural transformations such as phase transitions and/or lattice parameter increases or decreases occur. These behaviors in turn determine important characteristics of the batteries such as the potential profiles, rate capabilities, and cycle lives. The extremely bright and tunable x-rays produced by synchrotron radiation allow rapid acquisition of high-resolution data that provide information about these processes. Transformations in the bulk materials, such as phase transitions, can be directly observed using X-ray diffraction (XRD), while X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) gives information about the local electronic and geometric structures (e.g.
changes in redox states and bond lengths). In situ
experiments carried out on operating cells are particularly useful because they allow direct correlation between the electrochemical and structural properties of the materials. These experiments are time-consuming and can be challenging to design due to the reactivity and air-sensitivity of the alkali metal anodes used in the half-cell configurations, and/or the possibility of signal interference from other cell components and hardware. For these reasons, it is appropriate to carry out ex situ
on electrodes harvested from partially charged or cycled cells) in some cases. Here, we present detailed protocols for the preparation of both ex situ
and in situ
samples for experiments involving synchrotron radiation and demonstrate how these experiments are done.
Physics, Issue 81, X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, inorganic chemistry, electric batteries (applications), energy storage, Electrode materials, Li-ion battery, Na-ion battery, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD)
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Seawater Sampling and Collection
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
This video documents methods for collecting coastal marine water samples and processing them for various downstream applications including biomass concentration, nucleic acid purification, cell abundance, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For today's demonstration samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. An A-frame derrick, with a multi-purpose winch and cable system, is used in combination with Niskin or Go-Flo water sampling bottles. Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) sensors are also used to sample the underlying water mass. To minimize outgassing, trace gas samples are collected first. Then, nutrients, water chemistry, and cell counts are determined. Finally, waters are collected for biomass filtration. The set-up and collection time for a single cast is ~1.5 hours at a maximum depth of 215 meters. Therefore, a total of 6 hours is generally needed to complete the collection series described here.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbial biomass, nucleic acids, nutrients, trace gas, ammonia, sulfide, seawater, fjord, hypoxic, Saanich Inlet
Fabricating Complex Culture Substrates Using Robotic Microcontact Printing (R-µCP) and Sequential Nucleophilic Substitution
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, Madison, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In tissue engineering, it is desirable to exhibit spatial control of tissue morphology and cell fate in culture on the micron scale. Culture substrates presenting grafted poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) brushes can be used to achieve this task by creating microscale, non-fouling and cell adhesion resistant regions as well as regions where cells participate in biospecific interactions with covalently tethered ligands. To engineer complex tissues using such substrates, it will be necessary to sequentially pattern multiple PEG brushes functionalized to confer differential bioactivities and aligned in microscale orientations that mimic in vivo
niches. Microcontact printing (μCP) is a versatile technique to pattern such grafted PEG brushes, but manual μCP cannot be performed with microscale precision. Thus, we combined advanced robotics with soft-lithography techniques and emerging surface chemistry reactions to develop a robotic microcontact printing (R-μCP)-assisted method for fabricating culture substrates with complex, microscale, and highly ordered patterns of PEG brushes presenting orthogonal ‘click’ chemistries. Here, we describe in detail the workflow to manufacture such substrates.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, Robotic microcontact printing, R-μCP, click chemistry, surface chemistry, tissue engineering, micropattern, advanced manufacturing
DNA Stable-Isotope Probing (DNA-SIP)
Institutions: University of Waterloo.
DNA stable-isotope probing (DNA-SIP) is a powerful technique for identifying active microorganisms that assimilate particular carbon substrates and nutrients into cellular biomass. As such, this cultivation-independent technique has been an important methodology for assigning metabolic function to the diverse communities inhabiting a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic environments. Following the incubation of an environmental sample with stable-isotope labelled compounds, extracted nucleic acid is subjected to density gradient ultracentrifugation and subsequent gradient fractionation to separate nucleic acids of differing densities. Purification of DNA from cesium chloride retrieves labelled and unlabelled DNA for subsequent molecular characterization (e.g. fingerprinting, microarrays, clone libraries, metagenomics). This JoVE video protocol provides visual step-by-step explanations of the protocol for density gradient ultracentrifugation, gradient fractionation and recovery of labelled DNA. The protocol also includes sample SIP data and highlights important tips and cautions that must be considered to ensure a successful DNA-SIP analysis.
Microbiology, Issue 42, DNA stable-isotope probing, microbiology, microbial ecology, cultivation-independent, metagenomics, 16S rRNA gene community analysis, substrates, microbial ecology, enrichment
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
Institutions: The University of Mississippi.
Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological and Environmental Processes, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, extracellular enzymes, freshwater microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial activity, enzyme activity
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Use of a High-throughput In Vitro Microfluidic System to Develop Oral Multi-species Biofilms
Institutions: The University of Michigan, Newcastle University.
There are few high-throughput in vitro
systems which facilitate the development of multi-species biofilms that contain numerous species commonly detected within in vivo
oral biofilms. Furthermore, a system that uses natural human saliva as the nutrient source, instead of artificial media, is particularly desirable in order to support the expression of cellular and biofilm-specific properties that mimic the in vivo
communities. We describe a method for the development of multi-species oral biofilms that are comparable, with respect to species composition, to supragingival dental plaque, under conditions similar to the human oral cavity. Specifically, this methods article will describe how a commercially available microfluidic system can be adapted to facilitate the development of multi-species oral biofilms derived from and grown within pooled saliva. Furthermore, a description of how the system can be used in conjunction with a confocal laser scanning microscope to generate 3-D biofilm reconstructions for architectural and viability analyses will be presented. Given the broad diversity of microorganisms that grow within biofilms in the microfluidic system (including Streptococcus
, and Porphyromonas
), a protocol will also be presented describing how to harvest the biofilm cells for further subculture or DNA extraction and analysis. The limits of both the microfluidic biofilm system and the current state-of-the-art data analyses will be addressed. Ultimately, it is envisioned that this article will provide a baseline technique that will improve the study of oral biofilms and aid in the development of additional technologies that can be integrated with the microfluidic platform.
Bioengineering, Issue 94, Dental plaque, biofilm, confocal laser scanning microscopy, three-dimensional structure, pyrosequencing, image analysis, image reconstruction, saliva, modeling, COMSTAT, IMARIS, IMAGEJ, multi-species biofilm communities.
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
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 13
C with 15
O or 2
H 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 13
C and 15
N 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 13
C and 15
N 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%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N 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 13
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
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
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
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
Large Volume (20L+) Filtration of Coastal Seawater Samples
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The workflow begins with the collection of coastal marine waters for downstream microbial community, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For this method, samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. This video documents large volume (≥20 L) filtration of microbial biomass, ranging between 0.22μm and 2.7μm in diameter, from the water column. Two 20L samples can be filtered simultaneously using a single pump unit equipped with four rotating heads. Filtration is done in the field on extended trips, or immediately upon return for day trips. It is important to record the amount of water passing through each sterivex filter unit. To prevent biofilm formation between sampling trips, all filtration equipment must be rinsed with dilute HCl and deionized water and autoclaved immediately after use. This procedure will take approximately 5 hours plus an additional hour for clean up.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbial biomass, filtration, sterivex, GF/D, nucleic acids, seawater, fjord, hypoxic, Saanich Inlet
Small Volume (1-3L) Filtration of Coastal Seawater Samples
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The workflow begins with the collection of coastal marine waters for downstream microbial community, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For today s demonstration samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. This video documents small volume (~1 L) filtration of microbial biomass from the water column. The protocol is an extension of the large volume sampling protocol described earlier, with one major difference: here, there is no pre-filtration step, so all size classes of biomass are collected down to the 0.22 μm filter cut-off. Samples collected this way are ideal for nucleic acid analysis. The set-up, filtration, and clean-up steps each take about 20-30 minutes. If using two peristaltic pumps simultaneously, up to 8 samples may be filtered at the same time. To prevent biofilm formation between sampling trips, all filtration equipment must be rinsed with dilute HCl and deionized water and autoclaved immediately after use.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbiology, seawater, filtration, biomass concentration
Biology of Microbial Communities - Interview
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termit
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome