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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Identifying Targets of Human microRNAs with the LightSwitch Luciferase Assay System using 3'UTR-reporter Constructs and a microRNA Mimic in Adherent Cells
Institutions: SwitchGear Genomics.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators of gene expression and play a role in many biological processes. More than 700 human miRNAs have been identified so far with each having up to hundreds of unique target mRNAs. Computational tools, expression and proteomics assays, and chromatin-immunoprecipitation-based techniques provide important clues for identifying mRNAs that are direct targets of a particular miRNA. In addition, 3'UTR-reporter assays have become an important component of thorough miRNA target studies because they provide functional evidence for and quantitate the effects of specific miRNA-3'UTR interactions in a cell-based system. To enable more researchers to leverage 3'UTR-reporter assays and to support the scale-up of such assays to high-throughput levels, we have created a genome-wide collection of human 3'UTR luciferase reporters in the highly-optimized LightSwitch Luciferase Assay System. The system also includes synthetic miRNA target reporter constructs for use as positive controls, various endogenous 3'UTR reporter constructs, and a series of standardized experimental protocols.
Here we describe a method for co-transfection of individual 3'UTR-reporter constructs along with a miRNA mimic that is efficient, reproducible, and amenable to high-throughput analysis.
Genetics, Issue 55, MicroRNA, miRNA, mimic, Clone, 3' UTR, Assay, vector, LightSwitch, luciferase, co-transfection, 3'UTR REPORTER, mirna target, microrna target, reporter, GoClone, Reporter construct
Massively Parallel Reporter Assays in Cultured Mammalian Cells
Institutions: Broad Institute.
The genetic reporter assay is a well-established and powerful tool for dissecting the relationship between DNA sequences and their gene regulatory activities. The potential throughput of this assay has, however, been limited by the need to individually clone and assay the activity of each sequence on interest using protein fluorescence or enzymatic activity as a proxy for regulatory activity. Advances in high-throughput DNA synthesis and sequencing technologies have recently made it possible to overcome these limitations by multiplexing the construction and interrogation of large libraries of reporter constructs. This protocol describes implementation of a Massively Parallel Reporter Assay (MPRA) that allows direct comparison of hundreds of thousands of putative regulatory sequences in a single cell culture dish.
Genetics, Issue 90, gene regulation, transcriptional regulation, sequence-activity mapping, reporter assay, library cloning, transfection, tag sequencing, mammalian cells
An Improved Method for Accurate and Rapid Measurement of Flight Performance in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
has proven to be a useful model system for analysis of behavior, including flight. The initial flight tester involved dropping flies into an oil-coated graduated cylinder; landing height provided a measure of flight performance by assessing how far flies will fall before producing enough thrust to make contact with the wall of the cylinder. Here we describe an updated version of the flight tester with four major improvements. First, we added a "drop tube" to ensure that all flies enter the flight cylinder at a similar velocity between trials, eliminating variability between users. Second, we replaced the oil coating with removable plastic sheets coated in Tangle-Trap, an adhesive designed to capture live insects. Third, we use a longer cylinder to enable more accurate discrimination of flight ability. Fourth we use a digital camera and imaging software to automate the scoring of flight performance. These improvements allow for the rapid, quantitative assessment of flight behavior, useful for large datasets and large-scale genetic screens.
Behavior, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, neuroscience, flight performance, slowpoke mutant flies, wild-type Canton-S flies
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
The Analysis of Purkinje Cell Dendritic Morphology in Organotypic Slice Cultures
Institutions: University of Basel.
Purkinje cells are an attractive model system for studying dendritic development, because they have an impressive dendritic tree which is strictly oriented in the sagittal plane and develops mostly in the postnatal period in small rodents 3
. Furthermore, several antibodies are available which selectively and intensively label Purkinje cells including all processes, with anti-Calbindin D28K being the most widely used. For viewing of dendrites in living cells, mice expressing EGFP selectively in Purkinje cells 11
are available through Jackson labs. Organotypic cerebellar slice cultures cells allow easy experimental manipulation of Purkinje cell dendritic development because most of the dendritic expansion of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is actually taking place during the culture period 4
. We present here a short, reliable and easy protocol for viewing and analyzing the dendritic morphology of Purkinje cells grown in organotypic cerebellar slice cultures. For many purposes, a quantitative evaluation of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is desirable. We focus here on two parameters, dendritic tree size and branch point numbers, which can be rapidly and easily determined from anti-calbindin stained cerebellar slice cultures. These two parameters yield a reliable and sensitive measure of changes of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree. Using the example of treatments with the protein kinase C (PKC) activator PMA and the metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 (mGluR1) we demonstrate how differences in the dendritic development are visualized and quantitatively assessed. The combination of the presence of an extensive dendritic tree, selective and intense immunostaining methods, organotypic slice cultures which cover the period of dendritic growth and a mouse model with Purkinje cell specific EGFP expression make Purkinje cells a powerful model system for revealing the mechanisms of dendritic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, dendritic development, dendritic branching, cerebellum, Purkinje cells
Detection of Rare Genomic Variants from Pooled Sequencing Using SPLINTER
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
As DNA sequencing technology has markedly advanced in recent years2
, it has become increasingly evident that the amount of genetic variation between any two individuals is greater than previously thought3
. In contrast, array-based genotyping has failed to identify a significant contribution of common sequence variants to the phenotypic variability of common disease4,5
. Taken together, these observations have led to the evolution of the Common Disease / Rare Variant hypothesis suggesting that the majority of the "missing heritability" in common and complex phenotypes is instead due to an individual's personal profile of rare or private DNA variants6-8
. However, characterizing how rare variation impacts complex phenotypes requires the analysis of many affected individuals at many genomic loci, and is ideally compared to a similar survey in an unaffected cohort. Despite the sequencing power offered by today's platforms, a population-based survey of many genomic loci and the subsequent computational analysis required remains prohibitive for many investigators.
To address this need, we have developed a pooled sequencing approach1,9
and a novel software package1
for highly accurate rare variant detection from the resulting data. The ability to pool genomes from entire populations of affected individuals and survey the degree of genetic variation at multiple targeted regions in a single sequencing library provides excellent cost and time savings to traditional single-sample sequencing methodology. With a mean sequencing coverage per allele of 25-fold, our custom algorithm, SPLINTER, uses an internal variant calling control strategy to call insertions, deletions and substitutions up to four base pairs in length with high sensitivity and specificity from pools of up to 1 mutant allele in 500 individuals. Here we describe the method for preparing the pooled sequencing library followed by step-by-step instructions on how to use the SPLINTER package for pooled sequencing analysis (https://www.ibridgenetwork.org/wustl/splinter). We show a comparison between pooled sequencing of 947 individuals, all of whom also underwent genome-wide array, at over 20kb of sequencing per person. Concordance between genotyping of tagged and novel variants called in the pooled sample were excellent. This method can be easily scaled up to any number of genomic loci and any number of individuals. By incorporating the internal positive and negative amplicon controls at ratios that mimic the population under study, the algorithm can be calibrated for optimal performance. This strategy can also be modified for use with hybridization capture or individual-specific barcodes and can be applied to the sequencing of naturally heterogeneous samples, such as tumor DNA.
Genetics, Issue 64, Genomics, Cancer Biology, Bioinformatics, Pooled DNA sequencing, SPLINTER, rare genetic variants, genetic screening, phenotype, high throughput, computational analysis, DNA, PCR, primers
Characterization Of Multi-layered Fish Scales (Atractosteus spatula) Using Nanoindentation, X-ray CT, FTIR, and SEM
Institutions: U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, University of Alabama, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.
The hierarchical architecture of protective biological materials such as mineralized fish scales, gastropod shells, ram’s horn, antlers, and turtle shells provides unique design principles with potentials for guiding the design of protective materials and systems in the future. Understanding the structure-property relationships for these material systems at the microscale and nanoscale where failure initiates is essential. Currently, experimental techniques such as nanoindentation, X-ray CT, and SEM provide researchers with a way to correlate the mechanical behavior with hierarchical microstructures of these material systems1-6
. However, a well-defined standard procedure for specimen preparation of mineralized biomaterials is not currently available. In this study, the methods for probing spatially correlated chemical, structural, and mechanical properties of the multilayered scale of A. spatula
using nanoindentation, FTIR, SEM, with energy-dispersive X-ray (EDX) microanalysis, and X-ray CT are presented.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Atractosteus spatula, structure-property relation, nanoindentation, scan electron microscopy, X-ray computed tomography, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy
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
Mutagenesis and Analysis of Genetic Mutations in the GC-rich KISS1 Receptor Sequence Identified in Humans with Reproductive Disorders
Institutions: University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
The kisspeptin receptor (KISS1R) is a G protein-coupled receptor recognized as the trigger of puberty and a regulator of reproductive competence in adulthood 1,2,3
. Inactivating mutations in KISS1R identified in patients have been associated with iodiopathic hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (IHH) 1,2
and precocious puberty 4
. Functional studies of these mutants are crucial for our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the regulation of reproduction by this receptor as well as those shaping the disease outcomes, which result from abnormal KISS1R
signaling and function. However, the highly GC-rich sequence of the KISS1R gene makes it rather difficult to introduce mutations or amplify the gene encoding this receptor by PCR.
Here we describe a method to introduce mutations of interest into this highly GC-rich sequence that has been used successfully to generate over a dozen KISS1R mutants in our laboratory. We have optimized the PCR conditions to facilitate the amplification of a range of KISS1R mutants that include substitutions, deletions or insertions in the KISS1R sequence. The addition of a PCR enhancer solution, as well as of a small percentage of DMSO were especially helpful to improve amplification. This optimized procedure may be useful for other GC-rich templates as well.
The expression vector encoding the KISS1R
is been used to characterize signaling and function of this receptor in order to understand how mutations may change KISS1R function and lead to the associated reproductive phenotypes. Accordingly, potential applications of KISS1R
mutants generated by site-directed mutagenesis can be illustrated by many studies 1,4,5,6,7,8
. As an example, the gain-of-function mutation in the KISS1R (Arg386Pro), which is associated with precocious puberty, has been shown to prolong responsiveness of the receptor to ligand stimulation 4
as well as to alter the rate of degradation of KISS1R 9
. Interestingly, our studies indicate that KISS1R is degraded by the proteasome, as opposed to the classic lysosomal degradation described for most G protein-coupled receptors 9
. In the example presented here, degradation of the KISS1R is investigated in Human Embryonic Kidney Cells (HEK-293) transiently expressing Myc-tagged KISS1R (MycKISS1R) and treated with proteasome or lysosome inhibitors. Cell lysates are immunoprecipitated using an agarose-conjugated anti-myc antibody followed by western blot analysis. Detection and quantification of MycKISS1R on blots is performed using the LI-COR Odyssey Infrared System. This approach may be useful in the study of the degradation of other proteins of interest as well.
Genetics, Issue 55, GPR54, KISS1R, precocious puberty, membrane receptor, proteasome, degradation, GC-rich, site-directed mutagenesis, immunoprecipitation
Technique for Studying Arthropod and Microbial Communities within Tree Tissues
Institutions: Northern Arizona University, Acoustic Ecology Institute.
Phloem tissues of pine are habitats for many thousands of organisms. Arthropods and microbes use phloem and cambium tissues to seek mates, lay eggs, rear young, feed, or hide from natural enemies or harsh environmental conditions outside of the tree. Organisms that persist within the phloem habitat are difficult to observe given their location under bark. We provide a technique to preserve intact phloem and prepare it for experimentation with invertebrates and microorganisms. The apparatus is called a ‘phloem sandwich’ and allows for the introduction and observation of arthropods, microbes, and other organisms. This technique has resulted in a better understanding of the feeding behaviors, life-history traits, reproduction, development, and interactions of organisms within tree phloem. The strengths of this technique include the use of inexpensive materials, variability in sandwich size, flexibility to re-open the sandwich or introduce multiple organisms through drilled holes, and the preservation and maintenance of phloem integrity. The phloem sandwich is an excellent educational tool for scientific discovery in both K-12 science courses and university research laboratories.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, phloem sandwich, pine, bark beetles, mites, acoustics, phloem
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
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
Test Samples for Optimizing STORM Super-Resolution Microscopy
Institutions: National Physical Laboratory.
STORM is a recently developed super-resolution microscopy technique with up to 10 times better resolution than standard fluorescence microscopy techniques. However, as the image is acquired in a very different way than normal, by building up an image molecule-by-molecule, there are some significant challenges for users in trying to optimize their image acquisition. In order to aid this process and gain more insight into how STORM works we present the preparation of 3 test samples and the methodology of acquiring and processing STORM super-resolution images with typical resolutions of between 30-50 nm. By combining the test samples with the use of the freely available rainSTORM processing software it is possible to obtain a great deal of information about image quality and resolution. Using these metrics it is then possible to optimize the imaging procedure from the optics, to sample preparation, dye choice, buffer conditions, and image acquisition settings. We also show examples of some common problems that result in poor image quality, such as lateral drift, where the sample moves during image acquisition and density related problems resulting in the 'mislocalization' phenomenon.
Molecular Biology, Issue 79, Genetics, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Basic Protocols, HeLa Cells, Actin Cytoskeleton, Coated Vesicles, Receptor, Epidermal Growth Factor, Actins, Fluorescence, Endocytosis, Microscopy, STORM, super-resolution microscopy, nanoscopy, cell biology, fluorescence microscopy, test samples, resolution, actin filaments, fiducial markers, epidermal growth factor, cell, imaging
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
Quantitative Real-Time PCR using the Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Assay
Institutions: Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Products.
The Solaris qPCR Gene Expression Assay is a novel type of primer/probe set, designed to simplify the qPCR process while maintaining the sensitivity and accuracy of the assay. These primer/probe sets are pre-designed to >98% of the human and mouse genomes and feature significant improvements from previously available technologies. These improvements were made possible by virtue of a novel design algorithm, developed by Thermo Scientific bioinformatics experts.
Several convenient features have been incorporated into the Solaris qPCR Assay to streamline the process of performing quantitative real-time PCR. First, the protocol is similar to commonly employed alternatives, so the methods used during qPCR are likely to be familiar. Second, the master mix is blue, which makes setting the qPCR reactions easier to track. Third, the thermal cycling conditions are the same for all assays (genes), making it possible to run many samples at a time and reducing the potential for error. Finally, the probe and primer sequence information are provided, simplifying the publication process.
Here, we demonstrate how to obtain the appropriate Solaris reagents using the GENEius product search feature found on the ordering web site (www.thermo.com/solaris) and how to use the Solaris reagents for performing qPCR using the standard curve method.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, qPCR, probe, real-time PCR, molecular biology, Solaris, primer, gene expression assays
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