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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7
. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4
Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9
. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10
. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12
Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14
) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila
, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
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
Extraction of High Molecular Weight DNA from Microbial Mats
Institutions: Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina.
Successful and accurate analysis and interpretation of metagenomic data is dependent upon the efficient extraction of high-quality, high molecular weight (HMW) community DNA. However, environmental mat samples often pose difficulties to obtaining large concentrations of high-quality, HMW DNA. Hypersaline microbial mats contain high amounts of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)1 and salts that may inhibit downstream applications of extracted DNA. Direct and harsh methods are often used in DNA extraction from refractory samples. These methods are typically used because the EPS in mats, an adhesive matrix, binds DNA2,3
during direct lysis. As a result of harsher extraction methods, DNA becomes fragmented into small sizes4,5,6
The DNA thus becomes inappropriate for large-insert vector cloning. In order to circumvent these limitations, we report an improved methodology to extract HMW DNA of good quality and quantity from hypersaline microbial mats. We employed an indirect method involving the separation of microbial cells from the background mat matrix through blending and differential centrifugation. A combination of mechanical and chemical procedures was used to extract and purify DNA from the extracted microbial cells. Our protocol yields approximately 2 μg of HMW DNA (35-50 kb) per gram of mat sample, with an A260/280
ratio of 1.6. Furthermore, amplification of 16S rRNA genes7
suggests that the protocol is able to minimize or eliminate any inhibitory effects of contaminants. Our results provide an appropriate methodology for the extraction of HMW DNA from microbial mats for functional metagenomic studies and may be applicable to other environmental samples from which DNA extraction is challenging.
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Metagenomics, extracellular polymeric substances, DNA extraction, Microbial mats, hypersaline, extreme environment
Laboratory Estimation of Net Trophic Transfer Efficiencies of PCB Congeners to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) from Its Prey
Institutions: U. S. Geological Survey, Grand Valley State University, Shedd Aquarium.
A technique for laboratory estimation of net trophic transfer efficiency (γ) of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners to piscivorous fish from their prey is described herein. During a 135-day laboratory experiment, we fed bloater (Coregonus hoyi
) that had been caught in Lake Michigan to lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush
) kept in eight laboratory tanks. Bloater is a natural prey for lake trout. In four of the tanks, a relatively high flow rate was used to ensure relatively high activity by the lake trout, whereas a low flow rate was used in the other four tanks, allowing for low lake trout activity. On a tank-by-tank basis, the amount of food eaten by the lake trout on each day of the experiment was recorded. Each lake trout was weighed at the start and end of the experiment. Four to nine lake trout from each of the eight tanks were sacrificed at the start of the experiment, and all 10 lake trout remaining in each of the tanks were euthanized at the end of the experiment. We determined concentrations of 75 PCB congeners in the lake trout at the start of the experiment, in the lake trout at the end of the experiment, and in bloaters fed to the lake trout during the experiment. Based on these measurements, γ was calculated for each of 75 PCB congeners in each of the eight tanks. Mean γ was calculated for each of the 75 PCB congeners for both active and inactive lake trout. Because the experiment was replicated in eight tanks, the standard error about mean γ could be estimated. Results from this type of experiment are useful in risk assessment models to predict future risk to humans and wildlife eating contaminated fish under various scenarios of environmental contamination.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, trophic transfer efficiency, polychlorinated biphenyl congeners, lake trout, activity, contaminants, accumulation, risk assessment, toxic equivalents
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
Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ
measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration.
Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release.
The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
Use of a High-throughput In Vitro Microfluidic System to Develop Oral Multi-species Biofilms
Institutions: The University of Michigan, Newcastle University.
There are few high-throughput in vitro
systems which facilitate the development of multi-species biofilms that contain numerous species commonly detected within in vivo
oral biofilms. Furthermore, a system that uses natural human saliva as the nutrient source, instead of artificial media, is particularly desirable in order to support the expression of cellular and biofilm-specific properties that mimic the in vivo
communities. We describe a method for the development of multi-species oral biofilms that are comparable, with respect to species composition, to supragingival dental plaque, under conditions similar to the human oral cavity. Specifically, this methods article will describe how a commercially available microfluidic system can be adapted to facilitate the development of multi-species oral biofilms derived from and grown within pooled saliva. Furthermore, a description of how the system can be used in conjunction with a confocal laser scanning microscope to generate 3-D biofilm reconstructions for architectural and viability analyses will be presented. Given the broad diversity of microorganisms that grow within biofilms in the microfluidic system (including Streptococcus
, and Porphyromonas
), a protocol will also be presented describing how to harvest the biofilm cells for further subculture or DNA extraction and analysis. The limits of both the microfluidic biofilm system and the current state-of-the-art data analyses will be addressed. Ultimately, it is envisioned that this article will provide a baseline technique that will improve the study of oral biofilms and aid in the development of additional technologies that can be integrated with the microfluidic platform.
Bioengineering, Issue 94, Dental plaque, biofilm, confocal laser scanning microscopy, three-dimensional structure, pyrosequencing, image analysis, image reconstruction, saliva, modeling, COMSTAT, IMARIS, IMAGEJ, multi-species biofilm communities.
Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e.
helping in insect reproduction1
, boosting the immune response2
, pheromone production3
, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4,
Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms.
To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo
C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5
. The incorporation of 13
C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12
C) one. In the end, the 13
C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12
C-unlabeled similar one6
. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species.
Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis
). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13
C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
Estimating Virus Production Rates in Aquatic Systems
Institutions: University of Tennessee.
Viruses are pervasive components of marine and freshwater systems, and are known to be significant agents of microbial mortality. Developing quantitative estimates of this process is critical as we can then develop better models of microbial community structure and function as well as advance our understanding of how viruses work to alter aquatic biogeochemical cycles. The virus reduction technique allows researchers to estimate the rate at which virus particles are released from the endemic microbial community. In brief, the abundance of free (extracellular) viruses is reduced in a sample while the microbial community is maintained at near ambient concentration. The microbial community is then incubated in the absence of free viruses and the rate at which viruses reoccur in the sample (through the lysis of already infected members of the community) can be quantified by epifluorescence microscopy or, in the case of specific viruses, quantitative PCR. These rates can then be used to estimate the rate of microbial mortality due to virus-mediated cell lysis.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 43, Viruses, seawater, lakes, viral lysis, marine microbiology, freshwater microbiology, epifluorescence microscopy
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
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
Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential
Institutions: Miami University .
Lake Bonney is one of numerous permanently ice-covered lakes located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams. Biota are exposed to numerous environmental stresses, including year-round severe nutrient deficiency, low temperatures, extreme shade, hypersalinity, and 24-hour darkness during the winter 1
. These extreme environmental conditions limit the biota in Lake Bonney almost exclusively to microorganisms 2
Single-celled microbial eukaryotes (called "protists") are important players in global biogeochemical cycling 3
and play important ecological roles in the cycling of carbon in the dry valley lakes, occupying both primary and tertiary roles in the aquatic food web. In the dry valley aquatic food web, protists that fix inorganic carbon (autotrophy) are the major producers of organic carbon for organotrophic organisms 4, 2
. Phagotrophic or heterotrophic protists capable of ingesting bacteria and smaller protists act as the top predators in the food web 5
. Last, an unknown proportion of the protist population is capable of combined mixotrophic metabolism 6, 7
. Mixotrophy in protists involves the ability to combine photosynthetic capability with phagotrophic ingestion of prey microorganisms. This form of mixotrophy differs from mixotrophic metabolism in bacterial species, which generally involves uptake dissolved carbon molecules. There are currently very few protist isolates from permanently ice-capped polar lakes, and studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited 8, 4, 9, 10, 5
. A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle.
We employed an enrichment culture approach to isolate potentially phototrophic and mixotrophic protists from Lake Bonney. Sampling depths in the water column were chosen based on the location of primary production maxima and protist phylogenetic diversity 4, 11
, as well as variability in major abiotic factors affecting protist trophic modes: shallow sampling depths are limited for major nutrients, while deeper sampling depths are limited by light availability. In addition, lake water samples were supplemented with multiple types of growth media to promote the growth of a variety of phototrophic organisms.
RubisCO catalyzes the rate limiting step in the Calvin Benson Bassham (CBB) cycle, the major pathway by which autotrophic organisms fix inorganic carbon and provide organic carbon for higher trophic levels in aquatic and terrestrial food webs 12
. In this study, we applied a radioisotope assay modified for filtered samples 13
to monitor maximum carboxylase activity as a proxy for carbon fixation potential and metabolic versatility in the Lake Bonney enrichment cultures.
Microbiology, Issue 62, Antarctic lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Enrichment cultivation, Microbial eukaryotes, RubisCO
Concentration of Metabolites from Low-density Planktonic Communities for Environmental Metabolomics using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
Institutions: RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Yokohama City University, RIKEN Plant Science Center, Nagoya University.
Environmental metabolomics is an emerging field that is promoting new understanding in how organisms respond to and interact with the environment and each other at the biochemical level1
. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is one of several technologies, including gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS), with considerable promise for such studies. Advantages of NMR are that it is suitable for untargeted analyses, provides structural information and spectra can be queried in quantitative and statistical manners against recently available databases of individual metabolite spectra2,3
. In addition, NMR spectral data can be combined with data from other omics levels (e.g. transcriptomics, genomics) to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the physiological responses of taxa to each other and the environment4,5,6
. However, NMR is less sensitive than other metabolomic techniques, making it difficult to apply to natural microbial systems where sample populations can be low-density and metabolite concentrations low compared to metabolites from well-defined and readily extractable sources such as whole tissues, biofluids or cell-cultures. Consequently, the few direct environmental metabolomic studies of microbes performed to date have been limited to culture-based or easily defined high-density ecosystems such as host-symbiont systems, constructed co-cultures or manipulations of the gut environment where stable isotope labeling can be additionally used to enhance NMR signals7,8,9,10,11,12
. Methods that facilitate the concentration and collection of environmental metabolites at concentrations suitable for NMR are lacking. Since recent attention has been given to the environmental metabolomics of organisms within the aquatic environment, where much of the energy and material flow is mediated by the planktonic community13,14
, we have developed a method for the concentration and extraction of whole-community metabolites from planktonic microbial systems by filtration. Commercially available hydrophilic poly-1,1-difluoroethene (PVDF) filters are specially treated to completely remove extractables, which can otherwise appear as contaminants in subsequent analyses. These treated filters are then used to filter environmental or experimental samples of interest. Filters containing the wet sample material are lyophilized and aqueous-soluble metabolites are extracted directly for conventional NMR spectroscopy using a standardized potassium phosphate extraction buffer2
. Data derived from these methods can be analyzed statistically to identify meaningful patterns, or integrated with other omics levels for comprehensive understanding of community and ecosystem function.
Molecular Biology, Issue 62, environmental metabolomics, metabolic profiling, microbial ecology, plankton, NMR spectroscopy, PCA
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
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
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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
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
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
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