Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Cryosectioning Yeast Communities for Examining Fluorescence Patterns
Institutions: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Microbes typically live in communities. The spatial organization of cells within a community is believed to impact the survival and function of the community1
. Optical sectioning techniques, including confocal and two-photon microscopy, have proven useful for observing spatial organization of bacterial and archaeal communities2,3
. A combination of confocal imaging and physical sectioning of yeast colonies has revealed internal organization of cells4
. However, direct optical sectioning using confocal or two-photon microscopy has been only able to reach a few cell layers deep into yeast colonies. This limitation is likely because of strong scattering of light from yeast cells4
Here, we present a method based on fixing and cryosectioning to obtain spatial distribution of fluorescent cells within Saccharomyces cerevisiae
communities. We use methanol as the fixative agent to preserve the spatial distribution of cells. Fixed communities are infiltrated with OCT compound, frozen, and cryosectioned in a cryostat. Fluorescence imaging of the sections reveals the internal organization of fluorescent cells within the community.
Examples of yeast communities consisting of strains expressing red and green fluorescent proteins demonstrate the potentials of the cryosectioning method to reveal the spatial distribution of fluorescent cells as well as that of gene expression within yeast colonies2,3
. Even though our focus has been on Saccharomyces cerevisiae
communities, the same method can potentially be applied to examine other microbial communities.
Microbiology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Basic Protocols, Yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Cytological Techniques, Environmental Microbiology, Investigative Techniques, Life Sciences, cryosectioning, sectioning, cryotome, fixing, microbial community, yeast colonies, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, community interactions
Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential
Institutions: Miami University .
Lake Bonney is one of numerous permanently ice-covered lakes located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams. Biota are exposed to numerous environmental stresses, including year-round severe nutrient deficiency, low temperatures, extreme shade, hypersalinity, and 24-hour darkness during the winter 1
. These extreme environmental conditions limit the biota in Lake Bonney almost exclusively to microorganisms 2
Single-celled microbial eukaryotes (called "protists") are important players in global biogeochemical cycling 3
and play important ecological roles in the cycling of carbon in the dry valley lakes, occupying both primary and tertiary roles in the aquatic food web. In the dry valley aquatic food web, protists that fix inorganic carbon (autotrophy) are the major producers of organic carbon for organotrophic organisms 4, 2
. Phagotrophic or heterotrophic protists capable of ingesting bacteria and smaller protists act as the top predators in the food web 5
. Last, an unknown proportion of the protist population is capable of combined mixotrophic metabolism 6, 7
. Mixotrophy in protists involves the ability to combine photosynthetic capability with phagotrophic ingestion of prey microorganisms. This form of mixotrophy differs from mixotrophic metabolism in bacterial species, which generally involves uptake dissolved carbon molecules. There are currently very few protist isolates from permanently ice-capped polar lakes, and studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited 8, 4, 9, 10, 5
. A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle.
We employed an enrichment culture approach to isolate potentially phototrophic and mixotrophic protists from Lake Bonney. Sampling depths in the water column were chosen based on the location of primary production maxima and protist phylogenetic diversity 4, 11
, as well as variability in major abiotic factors affecting protist trophic modes: shallow sampling depths are limited for major nutrients, while deeper sampling depths are limited by light availability. In addition, lake water samples were supplemented with multiple types of growth media to promote the growth of a variety of phototrophic organisms.
RubisCO catalyzes the rate limiting step in the Calvin Benson Bassham (CBB) cycle, the major pathway by which autotrophic organisms fix inorganic carbon and provide organic carbon for higher trophic levels in aquatic and terrestrial food webs 12
. In this study, we applied a radioisotope assay modified for filtered samples 13
to monitor maximum carboxylase activity as a proxy for carbon fixation potential and metabolic versatility in the Lake Bonney enrichment cultures.
Microbiology, Issue 62, Antarctic lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Enrichment cultivation, Microbial eukaryotes, RubisCO
Next-generation Sequencing of 16S Ribosomal RNA Gene Amplicons
Institutions: National Research Council Canada.
One of the major questions in microbial ecology is “who is there?” This question can be answered using various tools, but one of the long-lasting gold standards is to sequence 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene amplicons generated by domain-level PCR reactions amplifying from genomic DNA. Traditionally, this was performed by cloning and Sanger (capillary electrophoresis) sequencing of PCR amplicons. The advent of next-generation sequencing has tremendously simplified and increased the sequencing depth for 16S rRNA gene sequencing. The introduction of benchtop sequencers now allows small labs to perform their 16S rRNA sequencing in-house in a matter of days. Here, an approach for 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing using a benchtop next-generation sequencer is detailed. The environmental DNA is first amplified by PCR using primers that contain sequencing adapters and barcodes. They are then coupled to spherical particles via emulsion PCR. The particles are loaded on a disposable chip and the chip is inserted in the sequencing machine after which the sequencing is performed. The sequences are retrieved in fastq format, filtered and the barcodes are used to establish the sample membership of the reads. The filtered and binned reads are then further analyzed using publically available tools. An example analysis where the reads were classified with a taxonomy-finding algorithm within the software package Mothur is given. The method outlined here is simple, inexpensive and straightforward and should help smaller labs to take advantage from the ongoing genomic revolution.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, Metagenomics, Bacteria, 16S ribosomal RNA gene, Amplicon sequencing, Next-generation sequencing, benchtop sequencers
Extraction of High Molecular Weight DNA from Microbial Mats
Institutions: Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina.
Successful and accurate analysis and interpretation of metagenomic data is dependent upon the efficient extraction of high-quality, high molecular weight (HMW) community DNA. However, environmental mat samples often pose difficulties to obtaining large concentrations of high-quality, HMW DNA. Hypersaline microbial mats contain high amounts of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)1 and salts that may inhibit downstream applications of extracted DNA. Direct and harsh methods are often used in DNA extraction from refractory samples. These methods are typically used because the EPS in mats, an adhesive matrix, binds DNA2,3
during direct lysis. As a result of harsher extraction methods, DNA becomes fragmented into small sizes4,5,6
The DNA thus becomes inappropriate for large-insert vector cloning. In order to circumvent these limitations, we report an improved methodology to extract HMW DNA of good quality and quantity from hypersaline microbial mats. We employed an indirect method involving the separation of microbial cells from the background mat matrix through blending and differential centrifugation. A combination of mechanical and chemical procedures was used to extract and purify DNA from the extracted microbial cells. Our protocol yields approximately 2 μg of HMW DNA (35-50 kb) per gram of mat sample, with an A260/280
ratio of 1.6. Furthermore, amplification of 16S rRNA genes7
suggests that the protocol is able to minimize or eliminate any inhibitory effects of contaminants. Our results provide an appropriate methodology for the extraction of HMW DNA from microbial mats for functional metagenomic studies and may be applicable to other environmental samples from which DNA extraction is challenging.
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Metagenomics, extracellular polymeric substances, DNA extraction, Microbial mats, hypersaline, extreme environment
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
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ
degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g.
fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Depletion of Ribosomal RNA for Mosquito Gut Metagenomic RNA-seq
Institutions: New Mexico State University.
The mosquito gut accommodates dynamic microbial communities across different stages of the insect's life cycle. Characterization of the genetic capacity and functionality of the gut community will provide insight into the effects of gut microbiota on mosquito life traits. Metagenomic RNA-Seq has become an important tool to analyze transcriptomes from various microbes present in a microbial community. Messenger RNA usually comprises only 1-3% of total RNA, while rRNA constitutes approximately 90%. It is challenging to enrich messenger RNA from a metagenomic microbial RNA sample because most prokaryotic mRNA species lack stable poly(A) tails. This prevents oligo d(T) mediated mRNA isolation. Here, we describe a protocol that employs sample derived rRNA capture probes to remove rRNA from a metagenomic total RNA sample. To begin, both mosquito and microbial small and large subunit rRNA fragments are amplified from a metagenomic community DNA sample. Then, the community specific biotinylated antisense ribosomal RNA probes are synthesized in vitro
using T7 RNA polymerase. The biotinylated rRNA probes are hybridized to the total RNA. The hybrids are captured by streptavidin-coated beads and removed from the total RNA. This subtraction-based protocol efficiently removes both mosquito and microbial rRNA from the total RNA sample. The mRNA enriched sample is further processed for RNA amplification and RNA-Seq.
Genetics, Issue 74, Infection, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Genomics, biology (general), genetics (animal and plant), life sciences, Eukaryota, Bacteria, metagenomics, metatranscriptome, RNA-seq, rRNA depletion, mRNA enrichment, mosquito gut microbiome, RNA, DNA, sequencing
Use of a High-throughput In Vitro Microfluidic System to Develop Oral Multi-species Biofilms
Institutions: The University of Michigan, Newcastle University.
There are few high-throughput in vitro
systems which facilitate the development of multi-species biofilms that contain numerous species commonly detected within in vivo
oral biofilms. Furthermore, a system that uses natural human saliva as the nutrient source, instead of artificial media, is particularly desirable in order to support the expression of cellular and biofilm-specific properties that mimic the in vivo
communities. We describe a method for the development of multi-species oral biofilms that are comparable, with respect to species composition, to supragingival dental plaque, under conditions similar to the human oral cavity. Specifically, this methods article will describe how a commercially available microfluidic system can be adapted to facilitate the development of multi-species oral biofilms derived from and grown within pooled saliva. Furthermore, a description of how the system can be used in conjunction with a confocal laser scanning microscope to generate 3-D biofilm reconstructions for architectural and viability analyses will be presented. Given the broad diversity of microorganisms that grow within biofilms in the microfluidic system (including Streptococcus
, and Porphyromonas
), a protocol will also be presented describing how to harvest the biofilm cells for further subculture or DNA extraction and analysis. The limits of both the microfluidic biofilm system and the current state-of-the-art data analyses will be addressed. Ultimately, it is envisioned that this article will provide a baseline technique that will improve the study of oral biofilms and aid in the development of additional technologies that can be integrated with the microfluidic platform.
Bioengineering, Issue 94, Dental plaque, biofilm, confocal laser scanning microscopy, three-dimensional structure, pyrosequencing, image analysis, image reconstruction, saliva, modeling, COMSTAT, IMARIS, IMAGEJ, multi-species biofilm communities.
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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
Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
Institutions: The University of Mississippi.
Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological and Environmental Processes, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, extracellular enzymes, freshwater microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial activity, enzyme activity
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e.
biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc
.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not
expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis
; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e.
helping in insect reproduction1
, boosting the immune response2
, pheromone production3
, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4,
Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms.
To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo
C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5
. The incorporation of 13
C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12
C) one. In the end, the 13
C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12
C-unlabeled similar one6
. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species.
Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis
). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13
C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
Extracting DNA from the Gut Microbes of the Termite (Zootermopsis Angusticollis) and Visualizing Gut Microbes
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Termites are among the few animals known to have the capacity to subsist solely by consuming wood. The termite gut tract contains a dense and species-rich microbial population that assists in the degradation of lignocellulose predominantly into acetate, the key nutrient fueling termite metabolism (Odelson & Breznak, 1983). Within these microbial populations are bacteria, methanogenic archaea and, in some ("lower") termites, eukaryotic protozoa. Thus, termites are excellent research subjects for studying the interactions among microbial species and the numerous biochemical functions they perform to the benefit of their host. The species composition of microbial populations in termite guts as well as key genes involved in various biochemical processes has been explored using molecular techniques (Kudo et al., 1998; Schmit-Wagner et al., 2003; Salmassi & Leadbetter, 2003). These techniques depend on the extraction and purification of high-quality nucleic acids from the termite gut environment. The extraction technique described in this video is a modified compilation of protocols developed for extraction and purification of nucleic acids from environmental samples (Mor et al., 1994; Berthelet et al., 1996; Purdy et al., 1996; Salmassi & Leadbetter, 2003; Ottesen et al. 2006) and it produces DNA from termite hindgut material suitable for use as template for polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termite
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
Biology of Microbial Communities - Interview
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termit
Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome