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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
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
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
A Simple and Rapid Protocol for Measuring Neutral Lipids in Algal Cells Using Fluorescence
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Calgary.
Algae are considered excellent candidates for renewable fuel sources due to their natural lipid storage capabilities. Robust monitoring of algal fermentation processes and screening for new oil-rich strains requires a fast and reliable protocol for determination of intracellular lipid content. Current practices rely largely on gravimetric methods to determine oil content, techniques developed decades ago that are time consuming and require large sample volumes. In this paper, Nile Red, a fluorescent dye that has been used to identify the presence of lipid bodies in numerous types of organisms, is incorporated into a simple, fast, and reliable protocol for measuring the neutral lipid content of Auxenochlorella protothecoides
, a green alga. The method uses ethanol, a relatively mild solvent, to permeabilize the cell membrane before staining and a 96 well micro-plate to increase sample capacity during fluorescence intensity measurements. It has been designed with the specific application of monitoring bioprocess performance. Previously dried samples or live samples from a growing culture can be used in the assay.
Chemistry, Issue 87, engineering (general), microbiology, bioengineering (general), Eukaryota Algae, Nile Red, Fluorescence, Oil Content, Oil Extraction, Oil Quantification, Neutral Lipids, Optical Microscope, biomass
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
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Evaluation of Integrated Anaerobic Digestion and Hydrothermal Carbonization for Bioenergy Production
Institutions: Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering.
Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4
(VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4
at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar
was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, Biomethane, Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC), Calorific Value, Lignocellulosic Biomass, UASS, Anaerobic Digestion
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Optimized Staining and Proliferation Modeling Methods for Cell Division Monitoring using Cell Tracking Dyes
Institutions: Roswell Park Cancer Institute, University of Pennsylvania , SciGro, Inc., University of Pennsylvania .
Fluorescent cell tracking dyes, in combination with flow and image cytometry, are powerful tools with which to study the interactions and fates of different cell types in vitro
and in vivo
Although there are literally thousands of publications using such dyes, some of the most commonly encountered cell tracking applications include monitoring of:
stem and progenitor cell quiescence, proliferation and/or differentiation6-8
antigen-driven membrane transfer9
and/or precursor cell proliferation3,4,10-18
immune regulatory and effector cell function1,18-21
Commercially available cell tracking dyes vary widely in their chemistries and fluorescence properties but the great majority fall into one of two classes based on their mechanism of cell labeling. "Membrane dyes", typified by PKH26, are highly lipophilic dyes that partition stably but non-covalently into cell membranes1,2,11
. "Protein dyes", typified by CFSE, are amino-reactive dyes that form stable covalent bonds with cell proteins4,16,18
. Each class has its own advantages and limitations. The key to their successful use, particularly in multicolor studies where multiple dyes are used to track different cell types, is therefore to understand the critical issues enabling optimal use of each class2-4,16,18,24
The protocols included here highlight three common causes of poor or variable results when using cell-tracking dyes. These are:
Failure to achieve bright, uniform, reproducible labeling
. This is a necessary starting point for any cell tracking study but requires attention to different variables when using membrane dyes than when using protein dyes or equilibrium binding reagents such as antibodies.
Suboptimal fluorochrome combinations and/or failure to include critical compensation controls
. Tracking dye fluorescence is typically 102
times brighter than antibody fluorescence. It is therefore essential to verify that the presence of tracking dye does not compromise the ability to detect other probes being used.
Failure to obtain a good fit with peak modeling software
. Such software allows quantitative comparison of proliferative responses across different populations or stimuli based on precursor frequency or other metrics. Obtaining a good fit, however, requires exclusion of dead/dying cells that can distort dye dilution profiles and matching of the assumptions underlying the model with characteristics of the observed dye dilution profile.
Examples given here illustrate how these variables can affect results when using membrane and/or protein dyes to monitor cell proliferation.
Cellular Biology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Cell tracking, PKH26, CFSE, membrane dyes, dye dilution, proliferation modeling, lymphocytes
Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part I: Lignin
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), Michigan State University (MSU).
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation1
and other products such as biocomposite materials7
. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4
. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses (matrix polysaccharides, and the polyphenol lignin6
and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls provide tensile strength to cells and the entire plants, ward off pathogens, and allow water to be transported throughout the plant; in the case of trees up to more the 100 m above ground level. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4
. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerization by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis. In this first part we focus on the analysis of the polyphenol lignin (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its lignin content by acetylbromide solubilization3
, and its lignin composition in terms of its syringyl, guaiacyl- and p-hydroxyphenyl units5
. The protocol for analyzing the carbohydrates in lignocellulosic biomass including cellulose content and matrix polysaccharide composition is discussed in Part II2
Plant Biology, Issue 37, cell walls, lignin, GC-MS, biomass, compositional analysis
Label-free in situ Imaging of Lignification in Plant Cell Walls
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Meeting growing energy demands safely and efficiently is a pressing global challenge. Therefore, research into biofuels production that seeks to find cost-effective and sustainable solutions has become a topical and critical task. Lignocellulosic biomass is poised to become the primary source of biomass for the conversion to liquid biofuels1-6
. However, the recalcitrance of these plant cell wall materials to cost-effective and efficient degradation presents a major impediment for their use in the production of biofuels and chemicals4
. In particular, lignin, a complex and irregular poly-phenylpropanoid heteropolymer, becomes problematic to the postharvest deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass. For example in biomass conversion for biofuels, it inhibits saccharification in processes aimed at producing simple sugars for fermentation7
. The effective use of plant biomass for industrial purposes is in fact largely dependent on the extent to which the plant cell wall is lignified. The removal of lignin is a costly and limiting factor8
and lignin has therefore become a key plant breeding and genetic engineering target in order to improve cell wall conversion.
Analytical tools that permit the accurate rapid characterization of lignification of plant cell walls become increasingly important for evaluating a large number of breeding populations. Extractive procedures for the isolation of native components such as lignin are inevitably destructive, bringing about significant chemical and structural modifications9-11
. Analytical chemical in situ
methods are thus invaluable tools for the compositional and structural characterization of lignocellulosic materials. Raman microscopy is a technique that relies on inelastic or Raman scattering of monochromatic light, like that from a laser, where the shift in energy of the laser photons is related to molecular vibrations and presents an intrinsic label-free molecular "fingerprint" of the sample. Raman microscopy can afford non-destructive and comparatively inexpensive measurements with minimal sample preparation, giving insights into chemical composition and molecular structure in a close to native state. Chemical imaging by confocal Raman microscopy has been previously used for the visualization of the spatial distribution of cellulose and lignin in wood cell walls12-14
. Based on these earlier results, we have recently adopted this method to compare lignification in wild type and lignin-deficient transgenic Populus trichocarpa
(black cottonwood) stem wood15
. Analyzing the lignin Raman bands16,17
in the spectral region between 1,600 and 1,700 cm-1
, lignin signal intensity and localization were mapped in situ
. Our approach visualized differences in lignin content, localization, and chemical composition. Most recently, we demonstrated Raman imaging of cell wall polymers in Arabidopsis thaliana
with lateral resolution that is sub-μm18
. Here, this method is presented affording visualization of lignin in plant cell walls and comparison of lignification in different tissues, samples or species without staining or labeling of the tissues.
Plant Biology, Issue 45, Raman microscopy, lignin, poplar wood, Arabidopsis thaliana
Growth and Differentiation of Adult Hippocampal Arctic Ground Squirrel Neural Stem Cells
Institutions: University of Alaska at Fairbanks, Hood College, Neuronascent, Inc., Neuronascent, Inc..
Arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii, AGS) are unique in their ability to hibernate with a core body temperature near or below freezing 1
. These animals also resist ischemic injury to the brain in vivo 2,3
and oxygen-glucose deprivation in vitro 4,5
. These unique qualities provided the impetus to isolate AGS neurons to examine inherent neuronal characteristics that could account for the capacity of AGS neurons to resist injury and cell death caused by ischemia and extremely cold temperatures. Identifying proteins or gene targets that allow for the distinctive properties of these cells could aid in the discovery of effective therapies for a number of ischemic indications and for the study of cold tolerance. Adult AGS hippocampus contains neural stem cells that continue to proliferate, allowing for easy expansion of these stem cells in culture. We describe here methods by which researchers can utilize these stem cells and differentiated neurons for any number of purposes. By closely following these steps the AGS neural stem cells can be expanded through two passages or more and then differentiated to a culture high in TUJ1-positive neurons (~50%) without utilizing toxic chemicals to minimize the number of dividing cells. Ischemia induces neurogenesis 6
and neurogenesis which proceeds via MEK/ERK and PI3K/Akt survival signaling pathways contributes to ischemia resistance in vivo7
and in vitro 8
(Kelleher-Anderson, Drew et al.
, in preparation). Further characterization of these unique neural cells can advance on many fronts, using some or all of these methods.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Arctic ground squirrels, ischemia, neurogenesis, hibernation, tolerance, neuron
High-throughput Saccharification Assay for Lignocellulosic Materials
Institutions: University of York.
Polysaccharides that make up plant lignocellulosic biomass can be broken down to produce a range of sugars that subsequently can be
used in establishing a biorefinery. These raw materials would constitute a new industrial platform, which is both sustainable and carbon neutral, to replace
the current dependency on fossil fuel. The recalcitrance to deconstruction observed in lignocellulosic materials is produced by several intrinsic properties
of plant cell walls. Crystalline cellulose is embedded in matrix polysaccharides such as xylans and arabinoxylans, and the whole structure is encased by the
phenolic polymer lignin, that is also difficult to digest 1
. In order to improve the digestibility of plant materials we need to discover the main bottlenecks
for the saccharification of cell walls and also screen mutant and breeding populations to evaluate the variability in saccharification 2
. These tasks require
a high throughput approach and here we present an analytical platform that can perform saccharification analysis in a 96-well plate format. This platform has
been developed to allow the screening of lignocellulose digestibility of large populations from varied plant species. We have scaled down the reaction volumes
for gentle pretreatment, partial enzymatic hydrolysis and sugar determination, to allow large numbers to be assessed rapidly in an automated system.
This automated platform works with milligram amounts of biomass, performing ball milling under controlled conditions to reduce the plant
materials to a standardised particle size in a reproducible manner. Once the samples are ground, the automated formatting robot dispenses specified and recorded
amounts of material into the corresponding wells of 96 deep well plate (Figure 1). Normally, we dispense the same material into 4 wells to have 4 replicates for
analysis. Once the plates are filled with the plant material in the desired layout, they are manually moved to a liquid handling station (Figure 2). In this
station the samples are subjected to a mild pretreatment with either dilute acid or alkaline and incubated at temperatures of up to 90°C. The pretreatment solution
is subsequently removed and the samples are rinsed with buffer to return them to a suitable pH for hydrolysis. The samples are then incubated with an enzyme
mixture for a variable length of time at 50°C. An aliquot is taken from the hydrolyzate and the reducing sugars are automatically determined by the MBTH
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Saccharification, lignocellulose, high-throughput, glycosyl hydrolases, biomass, biofuels
GENPLAT: an Automated Platform for Biomass Enzyme Discovery and Cocktail Optimization
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
The high cost of enzymes for biomass deconstruction is a major impediment to the economic conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol. We have developed an integrated high throughput platform, called GENPLAT, for the discovery and development of novel enzymes and enzyme cocktails for the release of sugars from diverse pretreatment/biomass combinations. GENPLAT comprises four elements: individual pure enzymes, statistical design of experiments, robotic pipeting of biomass slurries and enzymes, and automated colorimeteric determination of released Glc and Xyl. Individual enzymes are produced by expression in Pichia pastoris
or Trichoderma reesei
, or by chromatographic purification from commercial cocktails or from extracts of novel microorganisms. Simplex lattice (fractional factorial) mixture models are designed using commercial Design of Experiment statistical software. Enzyme mixtures of high complexity are constructed using robotic pipeting into a 96-well format. The measurement of released Glc and Xyl is automated using enzyme-linked colorimetric assays. Optimized enzyme mixtures containing as many as 16 components have been tested on a variety of feedstock and pretreatment combinations.
GENPLAT is adaptable to mixtures of pure enzymes, mixtures of commercial products (e.g., Accellerase 1000 and Novozyme 188), extracts of novel microbes, or combinations thereof. To make and test mixtures of ˜10 pure enzymes requires less than 100 μg of each protein and fewer than 100 total reactions, when operated at a final total loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan. We use enzymes from several sources. Enzymes can be purified from natural sources such as fungal cultures (e.g., Aspergillus niger
, Cochliobolus carbonum
, and Galerina marginata
), or they can be made by expression of the encoding genes (obtained from the increasing number of microbial genome sequences) in hosts such as E. coli, Pichia pastoris
, or a filamentous fungus such as T. reesei
. Proteins can also be purified from commercial enzyme cocktails (e.g., Multifect Xylanase, Novozyme 188). An increasing number of pure enzymes, including glycosyl hydrolases, cell wall-active esterases, proteases, and lyases, are available from commercial sources, e.g., Megazyme, Inc. (www.megazyme.com), NZYTech (www.nzytech.com), and PROZOMIX (www.prozomix.com).
Design-Expert software (Stat-Ease, Inc.) is used to create simplex-lattice designs and to analyze responses (in this case, Glc and Xyl release). Mixtures contain 4-20 components, which can vary in proportion between 0 and 100%. Assay points typically include the extreme vertices with a sufficient number of intervening points to generate a valid model. In the terminology of experimental design, most of our studies are "mixture" experiments, meaning that the sum of all components adds to a total fixed protein loading (expressed as mg/g glucan). The number of mixtures in the simplex-lattice depends on both the number of components in the mixture and the degree of polynomial (quadratic or cubic). For example, a 6-component experiment will entail 63 separate reactions with an augmented special cubic model, which can detect three-way interactions, whereas only 23 individual reactions are necessary with an augmented quadratic model. For mixtures containing more than eight components, a quadratic experimental design is more practical, and in our experience such models are usually statistically valid.
All enzyme loadings are expressed as a percentage of the final total loading (which for our experiments is typically 15 mg protein/g glucan). For "core" enzymes, the lower percentage limit is set to 5%. This limit was derived from our experience in which yields of Glc and/or Xyl were very low if any core enzyme was present at 0%. Poor models result from too many samples showing very low Glc or Xyl yields. Setting a lower limit in turn determines an upper limit. That is, for a six-component experiment, if the lower limit for each single component is set to 5%, then the upper limit of each single component will be 75%. The lower limits of all other enzymes considered as "accessory" are set to 0%. "Core" and "accessory" are somewhat arbitrary designations and will differ depending on the substrate, but in our studies the core enzymes for release of Glc from corn stover comprise the following enzymes from T. reesei
: CBH1 (also known as Cel7A), CBH2 (Cel6A), EG1(Cel7B), BG (β-glucosidase), EX3 (endo-β1,4-xylanase, GH10), and BX (β-xylosidase).
Bioengineering, Issue 56, cellulase, cellobiohydrolase, glucanase, xylanase, hemicellulase, experimental design, biomass, bioenergy, corn stover, glycosyl hydrolase
Quantification of Fungal Colonization, Sporogenesis, and Production of Mycotoxins Using Kernel Bioassays
Institutions: Texas A&M University.
The rotting of grains by seed-infecting fungi poses one of the greatest economic challenges to cereal production worldwide, not to mention serious risks to human and animal health. Among cereal production, maize is arguably the most affected crop, due to pathogen-induced losses in grain integrity and mycotoxin seed contamination. The two most prevalent and problematic mycotoxins for maize growers and food and feed processors are aflatoxin and fumonisin, produced by Aspergillus flavus
and Fusarium verticillioides
Recent studies in molecular plant-pathogen interactions have demonstrated promise in understanding specific mechanisms associated with plant responses to fungal infection and mycotoxin contamination1,2,3,4,5,6
. Because many labs are using kernel assays to study plant-pathogen interactions, there is a need for a standardized method for quantifying different biological parameters, so results from different laboratories can be cross-interpreted. For a robust and reproducible means for quantitative analyses on seeds, we have developed in-lab kernel assays and subsequent methods to quantify fungal growth, biomass, and mycotoxin contamination. Four sterilized maize kernels are inoculated in glass vials with a fungal suspension (106
) and incubated for a predetermined period. Sample vials are then selected for enumeration of conidia by hemocytometer, ergosterol-based biomass analysis by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), aflatoxin quantification using an AflaTest fluorometer method, and fumonisin quantification by HPLC.
Immunology, Issue 62, Mycotoxins, sporogenesis, Aspergillus flavus, Fusarium verticillioides, aflatoxin, fumonisin, plant-microbe interactions, plant biology
Continuously-stirred Anaerobic Digester to Convert Organic Wastes into Biogas: System Setup and Basic Operation
Institutions: Cornell University.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a bioprocess that is commonly used to convert complex organic wastes into a useful biogas with methane as the energy carrier 1-3
. Increasingly, AD is being used in industrial, agricultural, and municipal waste(water) treatment applications 4,5
. The use of AD technology allows plant operators to reduce waste disposal costs and offset energy utility expenses. In addition to treating organic wastes, energy crops are being converted into the energy carrier methane 6,7
. As the application of AD technology broadens for the treatment of new substrates and co-substrate mixtures 8
, so does the demand for a reliable testing methodology at the pilot- and laboratory-scale.
Anaerobic digestion systems have a variety of configurations, including the continuously stirred tank reactor (CSTR), plug flow (PF), and anaerobic sequencing batch reactor (ASBR) configurations 9
. The CSTR is frequently used in research due to its simplicity in design and operation, but also for its advantages in experimentation. Compared to other configurations, the CSTR provides greater uniformity of system parameters, such as temperature, mixing, chemical concentration, and substrate concentration. Ultimately, when designing a full-scale reactor, the optimum reactor configuration will depend on the character of a given substrate among many other nontechnical considerations. However, all configurations share fundamental design features and operating parameters that render the CSTR appropriate for most preliminary assessments. If researchers and engineers use an influent stream with relatively high concentrations of solids, then lab-scale bioreactor configurations cannot be fed continuously due to plugging problems of lab-scale pumps with solids or settling of solids in tubing. For that scenario with continuous mixing requirements, lab-scale bioreactors are fed periodically and we refer to such configurations as continuously stirred anaerobic digesters (CSADs).
This article presents a general methodology for constructing, inoculating, operating, and monitoring a CSAD system for the purpose of testing the suitability of a given organic substrate for long-term anaerobic digestion. The construction section of this article will cover building the lab-scale reactor system. The inoculation section will explain how to create an anaerobic environment suitable for seeding with an active methanogenic inoculum. The operating section will cover operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. The monitoring section will introduce testing protocols using standard analyses. The use of these measures is necessary for reliable experimental assessments of substrate suitability for AD. This protocol should provide greater protection against a common mistake made in AD studies, which is to conclude that reactor failure was caused by the substrate in use, when really it was improper user operation 10
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Environmental Engineering, Chemistry, Anaerobic Digestion, Bioenergy, Biogas, Methane, Organic Waste, Methanogenesis, Energy Crops
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
Small Volume (1-3L) Filtration of Coastal Seawater Samples
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The workflow begins with the collection of coastal marine waters for downstream microbial community, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For today s demonstration samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. This video documents small volume (~1 L) filtration of microbial biomass from the water column. The protocol is an extension of the large volume sampling protocol described earlier, with one major difference: here, there is no pre-filtration step, so all size classes of biomass are collected down to the 0.22 μm filter cut-off. Samples collected this way are ideal for nucleic acid analysis. The set-up, filtration, and clean-up steps each take about 20-30 minutes. If using two peristaltic pumps simultaneously, up to 8 samples may be filtered at the same time. To prevent biofilm formation between sampling trips, all filtration equipment must be rinsed with dilute HCl and deionized water and autoclaved immediately after use.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbiology, seawater, filtration, biomass concentration
Large Volume (20L+) Filtration of Coastal Seawater Samples
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The workflow begins with the collection of coastal marine waters for downstream microbial community, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For this method, samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. This video documents large volume (≥20 L) filtration of microbial biomass, ranging between 0.22μm and 2.7μm in diameter, from the water column. Two 20L samples can be filtered simultaneously using a single pump unit equipped with four rotating heads. Filtration is done in the field on extended trips, or immediately upon return for day trips. It is important to record the amount of water passing through each sterivex filter unit. To prevent biofilm formation between sampling trips, all filtration equipment must be rinsed with dilute HCl and deionized water and autoclaved immediately after use. This procedure will take approximately 5 hours plus an additional hour for clean up.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbial biomass, filtration, sterivex, GF/D, nucleic acids, seawater, fjord, hypoxic, Saanich Inlet
Seawater Sampling and Collection
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
This video documents methods for collecting coastal marine water samples and processing them for various downstream applications including biomass concentration, nucleic acid purification, cell abundance, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For today's demonstration samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. An A-frame derrick, with a multi-purpose winch and cable system, is used in combination with Niskin or Go-Flo water sampling bottles. Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) sensors are also used to sample the underlying water mass. To minimize outgassing, trace gas samples are collected first. Then, nutrients, water chemistry, and cell counts are determined. Finally, waters are collected for biomass filtration. The set-up and collection time for a single cast is ~1.5 hours at a maximum depth of 215 meters. Therefore, a total of 6 hours is generally needed to complete the collection series described here.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbial biomass, nucleic acids, nutrients, trace gas, ammonia, sulfide, seawater, fjord, hypoxic, Saanich Inlet
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