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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
RNA Secondary Structure Prediction Using High-throughput SHAPE
Institutions: Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.
Understanding the function of RNA involved in biological processes requires a thorough knowledge of RNA structure. Toward this end, the methodology dubbed "high-throughput selective 2' hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension", or SHAPE, allows prediction of RNA secondary structure with single nucleotide resolution. This approach utilizes chemical probing agents that preferentially acylate single stranded or flexible regions of RNA in aqueous solution. Sites of chemical modification are detected by reverse transcription of the modified RNA, and the products of this reaction are fractionated by automated capillary electrophoresis (CE). Since reverse transcriptase pauses at those RNA nucleotides modified by the SHAPE reagents, the resulting cDNA library indirectly maps those ribonucleotides that are single stranded in the context of the folded RNA. Using ShapeFinder software, the electropherograms produced by automated CE are processed and converted into nucleotide reactivity tables that are themselves converted into pseudo-energy constraints used in the RNAStructure (v5.3) prediction algorithm. The two-dimensional RNA structures obtained by combining SHAPE probing with in silico
RNA secondary structure prediction have been found to be far more accurate than structures obtained using either method alone.
Genetics, Issue 75, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Virology, Cancer Biology, Medicine, Genomics, Nucleic Acid Probes, RNA Probes, RNA, High-throughput SHAPE, Capillary electrophoresis, RNA structure, RNA probing, RNA folding, secondary structure, DNA, nucleic acids, electropherogram, synthesis, transcription, high throughput, sequencing
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
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
Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g.
primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;
H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Institute for Advanced Study, NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of California at San Diego.
In 1953, Stanley Miller reported the production of biomolecules from simple gaseous starting materials, using an apparatus constructed to simulate the primordial Earth's atmosphere-ocean system. Miller introduced 200 ml of water, 100 mmHg of H2
, 200 mmHg of CH4
, and 200 mmHg of NH3
into the apparatus, then subjected this mixture, under reflux, to an electric discharge for a week, while the water was simultaneously heated. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide the reader with a general experimental protocol that can be used to conduct a Miller-Urey type spark discharge experiment, using a simplified 3 L reaction flask. Since the experiment involves exposing inflammable gases to a high voltage electric discharge, it is worth highlighting important steps that reduce the risk of explosion. The general procedures described in this work can be extrapolated to design and conduct a wide variety of electric discharge experiments simulating primitive planetary environments.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Geosciences (General), Exobiology, Miller-Urey, Prebiotic chemistry, amino acids, spark discharge
Split-and-pool Synthesis and Characterization of Peptide Tertiary Amide Library
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute.
Peptidomimetics are great sources of protein ligands. The oligomeric nature of these compounds enables us to access large synthetic libraries on solid phase by using combinatorial chemistry. One of the most well studied classes of peptidomimetics is peptoids. Peptoids are easy to synthesize and have been shown to be proteolysis-resistant and cell-permeable. Over the past decade, many useful protein ligands have been identified through screening of peptoid libraries. However, most of the ligands identified from peptoid libraries do not display high affinity, with rare exceptions. This may be due, in part, to the lack of chiral centers and conformational constraints in peptoid molecules. Recently, we described a new synthetic route to access peptide tertiary amides (PTAs). PTAs are a superfamily of peptidomimetics that include but are not limited to peptides, peptoids and N-methylated peptides. With side chains on both α-carbon and main chain nitrogen atoms, the conformation of these molecules are greatly constrained by sterical hindrance and allylic 1,3 strain. (Figure 1
) Our study suggests that these PTA molecules are highly structured in solution and can be used to identify protein ligands. We believe that these molecules can be a future source of high-affinity protein ligands. Here we describe the synthetic method combining the power of both split-and-pool and sub-monomer strategies to synthesize a sample one-bead one-compound (OBOC) library of PTAs.
Chemistry, Issue 88, Split-and-pool synthesis, peptide tertiary amide, PTA, peptoid, high-throughput screening, combinatorial library, solid phase, triphosgene (BTC), one-bead one-compound, OBOC
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
A New Screening Method for the Directed Evolution of Thermostable Bacteriolytic Enzymes
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Directed evolution is defined as a method to harness natural selection in order to engineer proteins to acquire particular properties that are not associated with the protein in nature. Literature has provided numerous examples regarding the implementation of directed evolution to successfully alter molecular specificity and catalysis1
. The primary advantage of utilizing directed evolution instead of more rational-based approaches for molecular engineering relates to the volume and diversity of variants that can be screened2
. One possible application of directed evolution involves improving structural stability of bacteriolytic enzymes, such as endolysins. Bacteriophage encode and express endolysins to hydrolyze a critical covalent bond in the peptidoglycan (i.e.
cell wall) of bacteria, resulting in host cell lysis and liberation of progeny virions. Notably, these enzymes possess the ability to extrinsically induce lysis to susceptible bacteria in the absence of phage and furthermore have been validated both in vitro
and in vivo
for their therapeutic potential3-5
. The subject of our directed evolution study involves the PlyC endolysin, which is composed of PlyCA and PlyCB subunits6
. When purified and added extrinsically, the PlyC holoenzyme lyses group A streptococci (GAS) as well as other streptococcal groups in a matter of seconds and furthermore has been validated in vivo
. Significantly, monitoring residual enzyme kinetics after elevated temperature incubation provides distinct evidence that PlyC loses lytic activity abruptly at 45 °C, suggesting a short therapeutic shelf life, which may limit additional development of this enzyme. Further studies reveal the lack of thermal stability is only observed for the PlyCA subunit, whereas the PlyCB subunit is stable up to ~90 °C (unpublished observation). In addition to PlyC, there are several examples in literature that describe the thermolabile nature of endolysins. For example, the Staphylococcus aureus
endolysin LysK and Streptococcus pneumoniae
endolysins Cpl-1 and Pal lose activity spontaneously at 42 °C, 43.5 °C and 50.2 °C, respectively8-10
. According to the Arrhenius equation, which relates the rate of a chemical reaction to the temperature present in the particular system, an increase in thermostability will correlate with an increase in shelf life expectancy11
. Toward this end, directed evolution has been shown to be a useful tool for altering the thermal activity of various molecules in nature, but never has this particular technology been exploited successfully for the study of bacteriolytic enzymes. Likewise, successful accounts of progressing the structural stability of this particular class of antimicrobials altogether are nonexistent. In this video, we employ a novel methodology that uses an error-prone DNA polymerase followed by an optimized screening process using a 96 well microtiter plate format to identify mutations to the PlyCA subunit of the PlyC streptococcal endolysin that correlate to an increase in enzyme kinetic stability (Figure 1
). Results after just one round of random mutagenesis suggest the methodology is generating PlyC variants that retain more than twice the residual activity when compared to wild-type (WT) PlyC after elevated temperature treatment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, directed evolution, thermal behavior, thermostability, endolysin, enzybiotic, bacteriolytic, antimicrobial, therapeutic, PlyC
Using SecM Arrest Sequence as a Tool to Isolate Ribosome Bound Polypeptides
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
Extensive research has provided ample evidences suggesting that protein folding in the cell is a co-translational process1-5
. However, the exact pathway that polypeptide chain follows during co-translational folding to achieve its functional form is still an enigma. In order to understand this process and to determine the exact conformation of the co-translational folding intermediates, it is essential to develop techniques that allow the isolation of RNCs carrying nascent chains of predetermined sizes to allow their further structural analysis.
SecM (secretion monitor) is a 170 amino acid E. coli
protein that regulates expression of the downstream SecA (secretion driving) ATPase in the secM-secA
. Nakatogawa and Ito originally found that a 17 amino acid long sequence (150-FSTPVWISQAQGIRAG
P-166) in the C-terminal region of the SecM protein is sufficient and necessary to cause stalling of SecM elongation at Gly165, thereby producing peptidyl-glycyl-tRNA stably bound to the ribosomal P-site7-9
. More importantly, it was found that this 17 amino acid long sequence can be fused to the C-terminus of virtually any full-length and/or truncated protein thus allowing the production of RNCs carrying nascent chains of predetermined sizes7
. Thus, when fused or inserted into the target protein, SecM stalling sequence produces arrest of the polypeptide chain elongation and generates stable RNCs both in vivo
in E. coli
cells and in vitro
in a cell-free system. Sucrose gradient centrifugation is further utilized to isolate RNCs.
The isolated RNCs can be used to analyze structural and functional features of the co-translational folding intermediates. Recently, this technique has been successfully used to gain insights into the structure of several ribosome bound nascent chains10,11
. Here we describe the isolation of bovine Gamma-B Crystallin RNCs fused to SecM and generated in an in vitro
Molecular Biology, Issue 64, Ribosome, nascent polypeptides, co-translational protein folding, translational arrest, in vitro translation
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
Mutagenesis and Functional Selection Protocols for Directed Evolution of Proteins in E. coli
Institutions: University of California Santa Cruz - UCSC.
The efficient generation of genetic diversity represents an invaluable molecular tool that can be used to label DNA synthesis, to create unique molecular signatures, or to evolve proteins in the laboratory. Here, we present a protocol that allows the generation of large (>1011
) mutant libraries for a given target sequence. This method is based on replication of a ColE1 plasmid encoding the desired sequence by a low-fidelity variant of DNA polymerase I (LF-Pol I). The target plasmid is transformed into a mutator strain of E. coli
and plated on solid media, yielding between 0.2 and 1 mutations/kb, depending on the location of the target gene. Higher mutation frequencies are achieved by iterating this process of mutagenesis. Compared to alternative methods of mutagenesis, our protocol stands out for its simplicity, as no cloning or PCR are involved. Thus, our method is ideal for mutational labeling of plasmids or other Pol I templates or to explore large sections of sequence space for the evolution of activities not present in the original target. The tight spatial control that PCR or randomized oligonucleotide-based methods offer can also be achieved through subsequent cloning of specific sections of the library. Here we provide protocols showing how to create a random mutant library and how to establish drug-based selections in E. coli
to identify mutants exhibiting new biochemical activities.
Genetics, Issue 49, random mutagenesis, directed evolution, LB agar drug gradient, bacterial complementation, ColE1 plasmid, DNA polymerase I, replication fidelity, genetic adaptation, antimicrobials, methylating agents
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Transmembrane Domain Oligomerization Propensity determined by ToxR Assay
Institutions: University of Colorado at Boulder.
The oversimplified view of protein transmembrane domains as merely anchors in phospholipid bilayers has long since been disproven. In many cases membrane-spanning proteins have evolved highly sophisticated mechanisms of action.1-3
One way in which membrane proteins can modulate their structures and functions is by direct and specific contact of hydrophobic helices, forming structured transmembrane oligomers.4,5
Much recent work has focused on the distribution of amino acids preferentially found in the membrane environment in comparison to aqueous solution and the different intermolecular forces that drive protein association.6,7
Nevertheless, studies of molecular recognition at the transmembrane domain of proteins still lags behind those of water-soluble regions. A major hurdle remains: despite the remarkable specificity and affinity that transmembrane oligomerization can achieve,8
direct measurement of their association is challenging. Traditional methodologies applied to the study of integral membrane protein function can be hampered by the inherent insolubility of the sequences under examination. Biophysical insights gained from studying synthetic peptides representing transmembrane domains can provide useful structural insight. However, the biological relevance of the detergent micellar or liposome systems used in these studies to mimic cellular membranes is often questioned; do peptides adopt a native-like structure under these conditions and does their functional behaviour truly reflect the mode of action within a native membrane? In order to study the interactions of transmembrane sequences in natural phospholipid bilayers, the Langosch lab developed ToxR transcriptional reporter assays.9
The transmembrane domain of interest is expressed as a chimeric protein with maltose binding protein for location to the periplasm and ToxR to provide a report of the level of oligomerization (Figure 1).
In the last decade, several other groups (e.g. Engelman, DeGrado, Shai) further optimized and applied this ToxR reporter assay.10-13
The various ToxR assays have become a gold standard to test protein-protein interactions in cell membranes. We herein demonstrate a typical experimental operation conducted in our laboratory that primarily follows protocols developed by Langosch. This generally applicable method is useful for the analysis of transmembrane domain self-association in E. coli
, where β-galactosidase production is used to assess the TMD oligomerization propensity. Upon TMD-induced dimerization, ToxR binds to the ctx
promoter causing up-regulation of the LacZ
gene for β-galactosidase. A colorimetric readout is obtained by addition of ONPG to lyzed cells. Hydrolytic cleavage of ONPG by β-galactosidase results in the production of the light absorbing species o-nitrophenolate (ONP) (Figure 2).
Cellular Biology, Issue 51, Transmembrane domain, oligomerization, transcriptional reporter, ToxR, latent membrane protein-1
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 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
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 Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Interview: Bioreactors and Surfaced-Modified 3D-Scaffolds for Stem Cell Research
Institutions: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
A Nature Editorial in 2003 asked the question "Good-bye, flat biology?" What does this question imply? In the past, many in vitro culture systems, mainly monolayer cultures, often suffered from the disadvantage that differentiated primary cells had a relatively short life-span and de-differentiated during culture. As a consequence, most of their organ-specific functions were lost rapidly. Thus, in order to reproduce better conditions for these cells in vitro, modifications and adaptations have been made to conventional monolayer cultures.
The last generation of CellChips -- micro-thermoformed containers -- a specific technology was developed, which offers the additional possibility to modify the whole surface of the 3D formed containers. This allows a surface-patterning on a submicron scale with distinct signalling molecules. Sensors and signal electrodes may be incorporated. Applications range from basic research in cell biology to toxicology and pharmacology. Using biodegradable polymers, clinical applications become a possibility. Furthermore, the last generation of micro-thermoformed chips has been optimized to allow for cheap mass production.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Interview, bioreactors, cell culture systems, 3D cell culture, stem cells
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
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research