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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Testing Visual Sensitivity to the Speed and Direction of Motion in Lizards
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Visual sensitivity, motion perception, operant conditioning, speed, coherence, Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus)
Light Preference Assay to Study Innate and Circadian Regulated Photobehavior in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Fribourg.
Light acts as environmental signal to control animal behavior at various levels. The Drosophila
larval nervous system is used as a unique model to answer basic questions on how light information is processed and shared between rapid and circadian behaviors. Drosophila
larvae display a stereotypical avoidance behavior when exposed to light. To investigate light dependent behaviors comparably simple light-dark preference tests can be applied. In vertebrates and arthropods the neural pathways involved in sensing and processing visual inputs partially overlap with those processing photic circadian information. The fascinating question of how the light sensing system and the circadian system interact to keep behavioral outputs coordinated remains largely unexplored. Drosophila
is an impacting biological model to approach these questions, due to a small number of neurons in the brain and the availability of genetic tools for neuronal manipulation. The presented light-dark preference assay allows the investigation of a range of visual behaviors including circadian control of phototaxis.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Behavior, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Light, preference test, Drosophila, larva, fruit fly, visual behavior, circadian rhythm, visual system, animal model, assay
Measuring Circadian and Acute Light Responses in Mice using Wheel Running Activity
Institutions: John Hopkins University.
Circadian rhythms are physiological functions that cycle over a period of approximately 24 hours (circadian- circa: approximate and diem: day)1, 2
. They are responsible for timing our sleep/wake cycles and hormone secretion. Since this timing is not precisely 24-hours, it is synchronized to the solar day by light input. This is accomplished via photic input from the retina to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which serves as the master pacemaker synchronizing peripheral clocks in other regions of the brain and peripheral tissues to the environmental light dark cycle3-7
. The alignment of rhythms to this environmental light dark cycle organizes particular physiological events to the correct temporal niche, which is crucial for survival8
. For example, mice sleep during the day and are active at night. This ability to consolidate activity to either the light or dark portion of the day is referred to as circadian photoentrainment and requires light input to the circadian clock9
. Activity of mice at night is robust particularly in the presence of a running wheel. Measuring this behavior is a minimally invasive method that can be used to evaluate the functionality of the circadian system as well as light input to this system. Methods that will covered here are used to examine the circadian clock, light input to this system, as well as the direct influence of light on wheel running behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, mouse, circadian, behavior, wheel running
Recording and Analysis of Circadian Rhythms in Running-wheel Activity in Rodents
Institutions: McGill University , Concordia University.
When rodents have free access to a running wheel in their home cage, voluntary use of this wheel will depend on the time of day1-5
. Nocturnal rodents, including rats, hamsters, and mice, are active during the night and relatively inactive during the day. Many other behavioral and physiological measures also exhibit daily rhythms, but in rodents, running-wheel activity serves as a particularly reliable and convenient measure of the output of the master circadian clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. In general, through a process called entrainment, the daily pattern of running-wheel activity will naturally align with the environmental light-dark cycle (LD cycle; e.g.
12 hr-light:12 hr-dark). However circadian rhythms are endogenously generated patterns in behavior that exhibit a ~24 hr period, and persist in constant darkness. Thus, in the absence of an LD cycle, the recording and analysis of running-wheel activity can be used to determine the subjective time-of-day. Because these rhythms are directed by the circadian clock the subjective time-of-day is referred to as the circadian time (CT). In contrast, when an LD cycle is present, the time-of-day that is determined by the environmental LD cycle is called the zeitgeber time (ZT).
Although circadian rhythms in running-wheel activity are typically linked to the SCN clock6-8
, circadian oscillators in many other regions of the brain and body9-14
could also be involved in the regulation of daily activity rhythms. For instance, daily rhythms in food-anticipatory activity do not require the SCN15,16
and instead, are correlated with changes in the activity of extra-SCN oscillators17-20
. Thus, running-wheel activity recordings can provide important behavioral information not only about the output of the master SCN clock, but also on the activity of extra-SCN oscillators. Below we describe the equipment and methods used to record, analyze and display circadian locomotor activity rhythms in laboratory rodents.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Medicine, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Psychology, Psychiatry, Behavior, Suprachiasmatic nucleus, locomotor activity, mouse, rat, hamster, light-dark cycle, free-running activity, entrainment, circadian period, circadian rhythm, phase shift, animal model
Genetically-encoded Molecular Probes to Study G Protein-coupled Receptors
Institutions: The Rockefeller University.
To facilitate structural and dynamic studies of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling complexes, new approaches are required to introduce informative probes or labels into expressed receptors that do not perturb receptor function. We used amber codon suppression technology to genetically-encode the unnatural amino acid, p
-azido-L-phenylalanine (azF) at various targeted positions in GPCRs heterologously expressed in mammalian cells. The versatility of the azido group is illustrated here in different applications to study GPCRs in their native cellular environment or under detergent solubilized conditions. First, we demonstrate a cell-based targeted photocrosslinking technology to identify the residues in the ligand-binding pocket of GPCR where a tritium-labeled small-molecule ligand is crosslinked to a genetically-encoded azido amino acid. We then demonstrate site-specific modification of GPCRs by the bioorthogonal Staudinger-Bertozzi ligation reaction that targets the azido group using phosphine derivatives. We discuss a general strategy for targeted peptide-epitope tagging of expressed membrane proteins in-culture and its detection using a whole-cell-based ELISA approach. Finally, we show that azF-GPCRs can be selectively tagged with fluorescent probes. The methodologies discussed are general, in that they can in principle be applied to any amino acid position in any expressed GPCR to interrogate active signaling complexes.
Genetics, Issue 79, Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled, Protein Engineering, Signal Transduction, Biochemistry, Unnatural amino acid, site-directed mutagenesis, G protein-coupled receptor, targeted photocrosslinking, bioorthogonal labeling, targeted epitope tagging
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
The Use of Chemostats in Microbial Systems Biology
Institutions: New York University .
Cells regulate their rate of growth in response to signals from the external world. As the cell grows, diverse cellular processes must be coordinated including macromolecular synthesis, metabolism and ultimately, commitment to the cell division cycle. The chemostat, a method of experimentally controlling cell growth rate, provides a powerful means of systematically studying how growth rate impacts cellular processes - including gene expression and metabolism - and the regulatory networks that control the rate of cell growth. When maintained for hundreds of generations chemostats can be used to study adaptive evolution of microbes in environmental conditions that limit cell growth. We describe the principle of chemostat cultures, demonstrate their operation and provide examples of their various applications. Following a period of disuse after their introduction in the middle of the twentieth century, the convergence of genome-scale methodologies with a renewed interest in the regulation of cell growth and the molecular basis of adaptive evolution is stimulating a renaissance in the use of chemostats in biological research.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Molecular Biology, Computational Biology, Systems Biology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Environmental Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemostat, growth-rate, steady state, nutrient limitation, adaptive evolution
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
A New Screening Method for the Directed Evolution of Thermostable Bacteriolytic Enzymes
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Directed evolution is defined as a method to harness natural selection in order to engineer proteins to acquire particular properties that are not associated with the protein in nature. Literature has provided numerous examples regarding the implementation of directed evolution to successfully alter molecular specificity and catalysis1
. The primary advantage of utilizing directed evolution instead of more rational-based approaches for molecular engineering relates to the volume and diversity of variants that can be screened2
. One possible application of directed evolution involves improving structural stability of bacteriolytic enzymes, such as endolysins. Bacteriophage encode and express endolysins to hydrolyze a critical covalent bond in the peptidoglycan (i.e.
cell wall) of bacteria, resulting in host cell lysis and liberation of progeny virions. Notably, these enzymes possess the ability to extrinsically induce lysis to susceptible bacteria in the absence of phage and furthermore have been validated both in vitro
and in vivo
for their therapeutic potential3-5
. The subject of our directed evolution study involves the PlyC endolysin, which is composed of PlyCA and PlyCB subunits6
. When purified and added extrinsically, the PlyC holoenzyme lyses group A streptococci (GAS) as well as other streptococcal groups in a matter of seconds and furthermore has been validated in vivo
. Significantly, monitoring residual enzyme kinetics after elevated temperature incubation provides distinct evidence that PlyC loses lytic activity abruptly at 45 °C, suggesting a short therapeutic shelf life, which may limit additional development of this enzyme. Further studies reveal the lack of thermal stability is only observed for the PlyCA subunit, whereas the PlyCB subunit is stable up to ~90 °C (unpublished observation). In addition to PlyC, there are several examples in literature that describe the thermolabile nature of endolysins. For example, the Staphylococcus aureus
endolysin LysK and Streptococcus pneumoniae
endolysins Cpl-1 and Pal lose activity spontaneously at 42 °C, 43.5 °C and 50.2 °C, respectively8-10
. According to the Arrhenius equation, which relates the rate of a chemical reaction to the temperature present in the particular system, an increase in thermostability will correlate with an increase in shelf life expectancy11
. Toward this end, directed evolution has been shown to be a useful tool for altering the thermal activity of various molecules in nature, but never has this particular technology been exploited successfully for the study of bacteriolytic enzymes. Likewise, successful accounts of progressing the structural stability of this particular class of antimicrobials altogether are nonexistent. In this video, we employ a novel methodology that uses an error-prone DNA polymerase followed by an optimized screening process using a 96 well microtiter plate format to identify mutations to the PlyCA subunit of the PlyC streptococcal endolysin that correlate to an increase in enzyme kinetic stability (Figure 1
). Results after just one round of random mutagenesis suggest the methodology is generating PlyC variants that retain more than twice the residual activity when compared to wild-type (WT) PlyC after elevated temperature treatment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, directed evolution, thermal behavior, thermostability, endolysin, enzybiotic, bacteriolytic, antimicrobial, therapeutic, PlyC
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Transretinal ERG Recordings from Mouse Retina: Rod and Cone Photoresponses
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine.
There are two distinct classes of image-forming photoreceptors in the vertebrate retina: rods and cones. Rods are able to detect single photons of light whereas cones operate continuously under rapidly changing bright light conditions. Absorption of light by rod- and cone-specific visual pigments in the outer segments of photoreceptors triggers a phototransduction cascade that eventually leads to closure of cyclic nucleotide-gated channels on the plasma membrane and cell hyperpolarization. This light-induced change in membrane current and potential can be registered as a photoresponse, by either classical suction electrode recording technique1,2
or by transretinal electroretinogram recordings (ERG) from isolated retinas with pharmacologically blocked postsynaptic response components3-5
. The latter method allows drug-accessible long-lasting recordings from mouse photoreceptors and is particularly useful for obtaining stable photoresponses from the scarce and fragile mouse cones. In the case of cones, such experiments can be performed both in dark-adapted conditions and following intense illumination that bleaches essentially all visual pigment, to monitor the process of cone photosensitivity recovery during dark adaptation6,7
. In this video, we will show how to perform rod- and M/L-cone-driven transretinal recordings from dark-adapted mouse retina. Rod recordings will be carried out using retina of wild type (C57Bl/6) mice. For simplicity, cone recordings will be obtained from genetically modified rod transducin α-subunit knockout (Tα-/-
) mice which lack rod signaling8
Neuroscience, Issue 61, Rod and cone photoreceptors, retina, phototransduction, electrophysiology, vision, mouse
Preparation of Living Isolated Vertebrate Photoreceptor Cells for Fluorescence Imaging
Institutions: Medical University of South Carolina.
In the vertebrate retina, phototransduction, the conversion of light to an electrical signal, is carried out by the rod and cone photoreceptor cells1-4
. Rod photoreceptors are responsible for vision in dim light, cones in bright light. Phototransduction takes place in the outer segment of the photoreceptor cell, a specialized compartment that contains a high concentration of visual pigment, the primary light detector. The visual pigment is composed of a chromophore, 11-cis
retinal, attached to a protein, opsin. A photon absorbed by the visual pigment isomerizes the chromophore from 11-cis
. This photoisomerization brings about a conformational change in the visual pigment that
initiates a cascade of reactions culminating in a change in membrane potential, and bringing about the transduction of the light stimulus to an electrical signal. The
recovery of the cell from light stimulation involves the deactivation of the intermediates activated by light, and the reestablishment of the membrane potential. Ca2+
modulates the activity of several of the enzymes involved in phototransduction, and its concentration is reduced upon light stimulation. In this way, Ca2+
plays an important role in the recovery of the cell from light stimulation and its adaptation to background light.
Another essential part of the recovery process is the regeneration of the visual pigment that has been destroyed during light-detection by the
photoisomerization of its 11-cis
chromophore to all-trans5-7
. This regeneration begins with the release of all-trans
the photoactivated pigment, leaving behind the apo-protein opsin. The released all-trans
retinal is rapidly reduced in a reaction utilizing NADPH to all-
retinol, and opsin combines with fresh 11-cis
retinal brought into the outer segment to reform the visual pigment. All-trans
then transferred out of the outer segment and into neighboring cells by the specialized carrier Interphotoreceptor Retinoid Binding Protein (IRBP).
Fluorescence imaging of single photoreceptor cells can be used to study their physiology and cell biology. Ca2+
-sensitive fluorescent dyes can be used to examine in detail the interplay between outer
changes and response to light8-12
as well as the role of inner segment Ca2+
stores in Ca2+
Fluorescent dyes can also be used for measuring Mg2+
, pH, and as tracers of aqueous and membrane compartments16
Finally, the intrinsic fluorescence of all-trans
retinol (vitamin A) can be used to monitor the kinetics of its formation and removal in single
Neuroscience, Issue 52, retina, rods, cones, vision, fluorescence
Design and Use of Multiplexed Chemostat Arrays
Institutions: University of Washington.
Chemostats are continuous culture systems in which cells are grown in a tightly controlled, chemically constant environment where culture density is constrained by limiting specific nutrients.1,2
Data from chemostats are highly reproducible for the measurement of quantitative phenotypes as they provide a constant growth rate and environment at steady state. For these reasons, chemostats have become useful tools for fine-scale characterization of physiology through analysis of gene expression3-6
and other characteristics of cultures at steady-state equilibrium.7
Long-term experiments in chemostats can highlight specific trajectories that microbial populations adopt during adaptive evolution in a controlled environment. In fact, chemostats have been used for experimental evolution since their invention.8
A common result in evolution experiments is for each biological replicate to acquire a unique repertoire of mutations.9-13
This diversity suggests that there is much left to be discovered by performing evolution experiments with far greater throughput.
We present here the design and operation of a relatively simple, low cost array of miniature chemostats—or ministats—and validate their use in determination of physiology and in evolution experiments with yeast. This approach entails growth of tens of chemostats run off a single multiplexed peristaltic pump. The cultures are maintained at a 20 ml working volume, which is practical for a variety of applications. It is our hope that increasing throughput, decreasing expense, and providing detailed building and operation instructions may also motivate research and industrial application of this design as a general platform for functionally characterizing large numbers of strains, species, and growth parameters, as well as genetic or drug libraries.
Genetics, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Basic Protocols, Genomics, Eukaryota, Bacteria, Biological Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Genetic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Life sciences, chemostat, evolution, experimental evolution, Ministat, yeast, E. coli., Physiology, Continuous culture, high throughput, arrays, cell culture
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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)
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo
, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata,
however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e.
teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e.
urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio
), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae
. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum
) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
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
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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
Cross-Modal Multivariate Pattern Analysis
Institutions: University of Southern California.
Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) is an increasingly popular method of analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data1-4
. Typically, the method is used to identify a subject's perceptual experience from neural activity in certain regions of the brain. For instance, it has been employed to predict the orientation of visual gratings a subject perceives from activity in early visual cortices5
or, analogously, the content of speech from activity in early auditory cortices6
Here, we present an extension of the classical MVPA paradigm, according to which perceptual stimuli are not predicted within, but across sensory systems. Specifically, the method we describe addresses the question of whether stimuli that evoke memory associations in modalities other than the one through which they are presented induce content-specific activity patterns in the sensory cortices of those other modalities. For instance, seeing a muted video clip of a glass vase shattering on the ground automatically triggers in most observers an auditory image of the associated sound; is the experience of this image in the "mind's ear" correlated with a specific neural activity pattern in early auditory cortices? Furthermore, is this activity pattern distinct from the pattern that could be observed if the subject were, instead, watching a video clip of a howling dog?
In two previous studies7,8
, we were able to predict sound- and touch-implying video clips based on neural activity in early auditory and somatosensory cortices, respectively. Our results are in line with a neuroarchitectural framework proposed by Damasio9,10
, according to which the experience of mental images that are based on memories - such as hearing the shattering sound of a vase in the "mind's ear" upon seeing the corresponding video clip - is supported by the re-construction of content-specific neural activity patterns in early sensory cortices.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, perception, sensory, cross-modal, top-down, mental imagery, fMRI, MRI, neuroimaging, multivariate pattern analysis, MVPA
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution