Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
High-throughput Yeast Plasmid Overexpression Screen
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine , University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine .
The budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
, is a powerful model system for defining fundamental mechanisms of many important cellular processes, including those with direct relevance to human disease. Because of its short generation time and well-characterized genome, a major experimental advantage of the yeast model system is the ability to perform genetic screens to identify genes and pathways that are involved in a given process. Over the last thirty years such genetic screens have been used to elucidate the cell cycle, secretory pathway, and many more highly conserved aspects of eukaryotic cell biology 1-5
. In the last few years, several genomewide libraries of yeast strains and plasmids have been generated 6-10
. These collections now allow for the systematic interrogation of gene function using gain- and loss-of-function approaches 11-16
. Here we provide a detailed protocol for the use of a high-throughput yeast transformation protocol with a liquid handling robot to perform a plasmid overexpression screen, using an arrayed library of 5,500 yeast plasmids. We have been using these screens to identify genetic modifiers of toxicity associated with the accumulation of aggregation-prone human neurodegenerative disease proteins. The methods presented here are readily adaptable to the study of other cellular phenotypes of interest.
Cell Biology, Issue 53, Yeast, plasmid, transformation, PEG/LioAc, high-throughput screen
Temporal Quantification of MAPK Induced Expression in Single Yeast Cells
Institutions: University of Lausanne.
The quantification of gene expression at the single cell level uncovers novel regulatory mechanisms obscured in measurements performed at the population level. Two methods based on microscopy and flow cytometry are presented to demonstrate how such data can be acquired. The expression of a fluorescent reporter induced upon activation of the high osmolarity glycerol MAPK pathway in yeast is used as an example. The specific advantages of each method are highlighted. Flow cytometry measures a large number of cells (10,000) and provides a direct measure of the dynamics of protein expression independent of the slow maturation kinetics of the fluorescent protein. Imaging of living cells by microscopy is by contrast limited to the measurement of the matured form of the reporter in fewer cells. However, the data sets generated by this technique can be extremely rich thanks to the combinations of multiple reporters and to the spatial and temporal information obtained from individual cells. The combination of these two measurement methods can deliver new insights on the regulation of protein expression by signaling pathways.
Cellular Biology, Issue 80, Yeasts, Flow Cytometry, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Signal Transduction, single cells, MAPK signaling, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
siRNA Screening to Identify Ubiquitin and Ubiquitin-like System Regulators of Biological Pathways in Cultured Mammalian Cells
Institutions: University of Dundee, University of Dundee.
Post-translational modification of proteins with ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like molecules (UBLs) is emerging as a dynamic cellular signaling network that regulates diverse biological pathways including the hypoxia response, proteostasis, the DNA damage response and transcription. To better understand how UBLs regulate pathways relevant to human disease, we have compiled a human siRNA “ubiquitome” library consisting of 1,186 siRNA duplex pools targeting all known and predicted components of UBL system pathways. This library can be screened against a range of cell lines expressing reporters of diverse biological pathways to determine which UBL components act as positive or negative regulators of the pathway in question. Here, we describe a protocol utilizing this library to identify ubiquitome-regulators of the HIF1A-mediated cellular response to hypoxia using a transcription-based luciferase reporter. An initial assay development stage is performed to establish suitable screening parameters of the cell line before performing the screen in three stages: primary, secondary and tertiary/deconvolution screening. The use of targeted over whole genome siRNA libraries is becoming increasingly popular as it offers the advantage of reporting only on members of the pathway with which the investigators are most interested. Despite inherent limitations of siRNA screening, in particular false-positives caused by siRNA off-target effects, the identification of genuine novel regulators of the pathways in question outweigh these shortcomings, which can be overcome by performing a series of carefully undertaken control experiments.
Biochemistry, Issue 87, siRNA screening, ubiquitin, UBL, ubiquitome, hypoxia, HIF1A, High-throughput, mammalian cells, luciferase reporter
Preparation of Hydroxy-PAAm Hydrogels for Decoupling the Effects of Mechanotransduction Cues
Institutions: Université de Mons.
It is now well established that many cellular functions are regulated by interactions of cells with physicochemical and mechanical cues of their extracellular matrix (ECM) environment. Eukaryotic cells constantly sense their local microenvironment through surface mechanosensors to transduce physical changes of ECM into biochemical signals, and integrate these signals to achieve specific changes in gene expression. Interestingly, physicochemical and mechanical parameters of the ECM can couple with each other to regulate cell fate. Therefore, a key to understanding mechanotransduction is to decouple the relative contribution of ECM cues on cellular functions.
Here we present a detailed experimental protocol to rapidly and easily generate biologically relevant hydrogels for the independent tuning of mechanotransduction cues in vitro
. We chemically modified polyacrylamide hydrogels (PAAm) to surmount their intrinsically non-adhesive properties by incorporating hydroxyl-functionalized acrylamide monomers during the polymerization. We obtained a novel PAAm hydrogel, called hydroxy-PAAm, which permits immobilization of any desired nature of ECM proteins. The combination of hydroxy-PAAm hydrogels with microcontact printing allows to independently control the morphology of single-cells, the matrix stiffness, the nature and the density of ECM proteins. We provide a simple and rapid method that can be set up in every biology lab to study in vitro
cell mechanotransduction processes. We validate this novel two-dimensional platform by conducting experiments on endothelial cells that demonstrate a mechanical coupling between ECM stiffness and the nucleus.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, hydrogels, mechanotransduction, polyacrylamide, microcontact printing, cell shape, stiffness, durotaxis, cell-ligand density
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
Ex Vivo Assessment of Contractility, Fatigability and Alternans in Isolated Skeletal Muscles
Institutions: UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Ohio State University .
Described here is a method to measure contractility of isolated skeletal muscles. Parameters such as muscle force, muscle power, contractile kinetics, fatigability, and recovery after fatigue can be obtained to assess specific aspects of the excitation-contraction coupling (ECC) process such as excitability, contractile machinery and Ca2+
handling ability. This method removes the nerve and blood supply and focuses on the isolated skeletal muscle itself. We routinely use this method to identify genetic components that alter the contractile property of skeletal muscle though modulating Ca2+
signaling pathways. Here, we describe a newly identified skeletal muscle phenotype, i.e.
, mechanic alternans, as an example of the various and rich information that can be obtained using the in vitro
muscle contractility assay. Combination of this assay with single cell assays, genetic approaches and biochemistry assays can provide important insights into the mechanisms of ECC in skeletal muscle.
Physiology, Issue 69, extensor digitorum longus, soleus, in vitro contractility, calcium signaling, muscle-tendon complex, mechanic alternans
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2
However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3
This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ
NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries.
We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ
NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
Enhanced Northern Blot Detection of Small RNA Species in Drosophila Melanogaster
Institutions: Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
The last decades have witnessed the explosion of scientific interest around gene expression control mechanisms at the RNA level. This branch of molecular biology has been greatly fueled by the discovery of noncoding RNAs as major players in post-transcriptional regulation. Such a revolutionary perspective has been accompanied and triggered by the development of powerful technologies for profiling short RNAs expression, both at the high-throughput level (genome-wide identification) or as single-candidate analysis (steady state accumulation of specific species). Although several state-of-art strategies are currently available for dosing or visualizing such fleeing molecules, Northern Blot assay remains the eligible approach in molecular biology for immediate and accurate evaluation of RNA expression. It represents a first step toward the application of more sophisticated, costly technologies and, in many cases, remains a preferential method to easily gain insights into RNA biology. Here we overview an efficient protocol (Enhanced Northern Blot) for detecting weakly expressed microRNAs (or other small regulatory RNA species) from Drosophila melanogaster
whole embryos, manually dissected larval/adult tissues or in vitro
cultured cells. A very limited amount of RNA is required and the use of material from flow cytometry-isolated cells can be also envisaged.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, Northern blotting, Noncoding RNAs, microRNAs, rasiRNA, Gene expression, Gcm/Glide, Drosophila melanogaster
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans
has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans
triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans
. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
An Experimental Paradigm for the Prediction of Post-Operative Pain (PPOP)
Institutions: University of Washington School of Medicine.
Many women undergo cesarean delivery without problems, however some experience significant pain after cesarean section. Pain is associated with negative short-term and long-term effects on the mother. Prior to women undergoing surgery, can we predict who is at risk for developing significant postoperative pain and potentially prevent or minimize its negative consequences? These are the fundamental questions that a team from the University of Washington, Stanford University, the Catholic University in Brussels, Belgium, Santa Joana Women's Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, and Rambam Medical Center in Israel is currently evaluating in an international research collaboration. The ultimate goal of this project is to provide optimal pain relief during and after cesarean section by offering individualized anesthetic care to women who appear to be more 'susceptible' to pain after surgery.
A significant number of women experience moderate or severe acute post-partum pain after vaginal and cesarean deliveries. 1
Furthermore, 10-15% of women suffer chronic persistent pain after cesarean section. 2
With constant increase in cesarean rates in the US 3
and the already high rate in Brazil, this is bound to create a significant public health problem. When questioning women's fears and expectations from cesarean section, pain during and after it is their greatest concern. 4
Individual variability in severity of pain after vaginal or operative delivery is influenced by multiple factors including sensitivity to pain, psychological factors, age, and genetics. The unique birth experience leads to unpredictable requirements for analgesics, from 'none at all' to 'very high' doses of pain medication. Pain after cesarean section is an excellent model to study post-operative pain because it is performed on otherwise young and healthy women. Therefore, it is recommended to attenuate the pain during the acute phase because this may lead to chronic pain disorders. The impact of developing persistent pain is immense, since it may impair not only the ability of women to care for their child in the immediate postpartum period, but also their own well being for a long period of time.
In a series of projects, an international research network is currently investigating the effect of pregnancy on pain modulation and ways to predict who will suffer acute severe pain and potentially chronic pain, by using simple pain tests and questionnaires in combination with genetic analysis. A relatively recent approach to investigate pain modulation is via the psychophysical measure of Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (DNIC). This pain-modulating process is the neurophysiological basis for the well-known phenomenon of 'pain inhibits pain' from remote areas of the body. The DNIC paradigm has evolved recently into a clinical tool and simple test and has been shown to be a predictor of post-operative pain.5
Since pregnancy is associated with decreased pain sensitivity and/or enhanced processes of pain modulation, using tests that investigate pain modulation should provide a better understanding of the pathways involved with pregnancy-induced analgesia and may help predict pain outcomes during labor and delivery. For those women delivering by cesarean section, a DNIC test performed prior to surgery along with psychosocial questionnaires and genetic tests should enable one to identify women prone to suffer severe post-cesarean pain and persistent pain. These clinical tests should allow anesthesiologists to offer not only personalized medicine to women with the promise to improve well-being and satisfaction, but also a reduction in the overall cost of perioperative and long term care due to pain and suffering. On a larger scale, these tests that explore pain modulation may become bedside screening tests to predict the development of pain disorders following surgery.
JoVE Medicine, Issue 35, diffuse noxious inhibitory control, DNIC, temporal summation, TS, psychophysical testing, endogenous analgesia, pain modulation, pregnancy-induced analgesia, cesarean section, post-operative pain, prediction
Metabolic Pathway Confirmation and Discovery Through 13C-labeling of Proteinogenic Amino Acids
Institutions: Washington University, Washington University, Washington University.
Microbes have complex metabolic pathways that can be investigated using biochemistry and functional genomics methods. One important technique to examine cell central metabolism and discover new enzymes is 13
C-assisted metabolism analysis 1. This technique is based on isotopic labeling, whereby microbes are fed with a 13
C labeled substrates. By tracing the atom transition paths between metabolites in the biochemical network, we can determine functional pathways and discover new enzymes.
As a complementary method to transcriptomics and proteomics, approaches for isotopomer-assisted analysis of metabolic pathways contain three major steps 2
, we grow cells with 13
C labeled substrates. In this step, the composition of the medium and the selection of labeled substrates are two key factors. To avoid measurement noises from non-labeled carbon in nutrient supplements, a minimal medium with a sole carbon source is required. Further, the choice of a labeled substrate is based on how effectively it will elucidate the pathway being analyzed. Because novel enzymes often involve different reaction stereochemistry or intermediate products, in general, singly labeled carbon substrates are more informative for detection of novel pathways than uniformly labeled ones for detection of novel pathways3, 4
, we analyze amino acid labeling patterns using GC-MS. Amino acids are abundant in protein and thus can be obtained from biomass hydrolysis. Amino acids can be derivatized by N-(tert-butyldimethylsilyl)-N-methyltrifluoroacetamide (TBDMS) before GC separation. TBDMS derivatized amino acids can be fragmented by MS and result in different arrays of fragments. Based on the mass to charge (m/z) ratio of fragmented and unfragmented amino acids, we can deduce the possible labeled patterns of the central metabolites that are precursors of the amino acids. Third
, we trace 13C carbon transitions in the proposed pathways and, based on the isotopomer data, confirm whether these pathways are active 2
. Measurement of amino acids provides isotopic labeling information about eight crucial precursor metabolites in the central metabolism. These metabolic key nodes can reflect the functions of associated central pathways.
C-assisted metabolism analysis via proteinogenic amino acids can be widely used for functional characterization of poorly-characterized microbial metabolism1
. In this protocol, we will use Cyanothece
51142 as the model strain to demonstrate the use of labeled carbon substrates for discovering new enzymatic functions.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, GC-MS, novel pathway, metabolism, labeling, phototrophic microorganism
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
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Models and Methods to Evaluate Transport of Drug Delivery Systems Across Cellular Barriers
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
Sub-micrometer carriers (nanocarriers; NCs) enhance efficacy of drugs by improving solubility, stability, circulation time, targeting, and release. Additionally, traversing cellular barriers in the body is crucial for both oral delivery of therapeutic NCs into the circulation and transport from the blood into tissues, where intervention is needed. NC transport across cellular barriers is achieved by: (i) the paracellular route, via transient disruption of the junctions that interlock adjacent cells, or (ii) the transcellular route, where materials are internalized by endocytosis, transported across the cell body, and secreted at the opposite cell surface (transyctosis). Delivery across cellular barriers can be facilitated by coupling therapeutics or their carriers with targeting agents that bind specifically to cell-surface markers involved in transport. Here, we provide methods to measure the extent and mechanism of NC transport across a model cell barrier, which consists of a monolayer of gastrointestinal (GI) epithelial cells grown on a porous membrane located in a transwell insert. Formation of a permeability barrier is confirmed by measuring transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER), transepithelial transport of a control substance, and immunostaining of tight junctions. As an example, ~200 nm polymer NCs are used, which carry a therapeutic cargo and are coated with an antibody that targets a cell-surface determinant. The antibody or therapeutic cargo is labeled with 125
I for radioisotope tracing and labeled NCs are added to the upper chamber over the cell monolayer for varying periods of time. NCs associated to the cells and/or transported to the underlying chamber can be detected. Measurement of free 125
I allows subtraction of the degraded fraction. The paracellular route is assessed by determining potential changes caused by NC transport to the barrier parameters described above. Transcellular transport is determined by addressing the effect of modulating endocytosis and transcytosis pathways.
Bioengineering, Issue 80, Antigens, Enzymes, Biological Therapy, bioengineering (general), Pharmaceutical Preparations, Macromolecular Substances, Therapeutics, Digestive System and Oral Physiological Phenomena, Biological Phenomena, Cell Physiological Phenomena, drug delivery systems, targeted nanocarriers, transcellular transport, epithelial cells, tight junctions, transepithelial electrical resistance, endocytosis, transcytosis, radioisotope tracing, immunostaining
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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
Annotation of Plant Gene Function via Combined Genomics, Metabolomics and Informatics
Given the ever expanding number of model plant species for which complete genome sequences are available and the abundance of bio-resources such as knockout mutants, wild accessions and advanced breeding populations, there is a rising burden for gene functional annotation. In this protocol, annotation of plant gene function using combined co-expression gene analysis, metabolomics and informatics is provided (Figure 1
). This approach is based on the theory of using target genes of known function to allow the identification of non-annotated genes likely to be involved in a certain metabolic process, with the identification of target compounds via metabolomics. Strategies are put forward for applying this information on populations generated by both forward and reverse genetics approaches in spite of none of these are effortless. By corollary this approach can also be used as an approach to characterise unknown peaks representing new or specific secondary metabolites in the limited tissues, plant species or stress treatment, which is currently the important trial to understanding plant metabolism.
Plant Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Metabolomics, Plant metabolism, Transcriptome analysis, Functional annotation, Computational biology, Plant biology, Theoretical biology, Spectroscopy and structural analysis
Adenoviral Transduction of Naive CD4 T Cells to Study Treg Differentiation
Institutions: Helmholtz Zentrum München.
Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are essential to provide immune tolerance to self as well as to certain foreign antigens. Tregs can be generated from naive CD4 T cells in vitro
with TCR- and co-stimulation in the presence of TGFβ and IL-2. This bears enormous potential for future therapies, however, the molecules and signaling pathways that control differentiation are largely unknown.
Primary T cells can be manipulated through ectopic gene expression, but common methods fail to target the most important naive state of the T cell prior to primary antigen recognition. Here, we provide a protocol to express ectopic genes in naive CD4 T cells in vitro
before inducing Treg differentiation. It applies transduction with the replication-deficient adenovirus and explains its generation and production. The adenovirus can take up large inserts (up to 7 kb) and can be equipped with promoters to achieve high and transient overexpression in T cells. It effectively transduces naive mouse T cells if they express a transgenic Coxsackie adenovirus receptor (CAR). Importantly, after infection the T cells remain naive (CD44low
) and resting (CD25-
) and can be activated and differentiated into Tregs similar to non-infected cells. Thus, this method enables manipulation of CD4 T cell differentiation from its very beginning. It ensures that ectopic gene expression is already in place when early signaling events of the initial TCR stimulation induces cellular changes that eventually lead into Treg differentiation.
Immunology, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Infection, Genetics, Microbiology, Virology, T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory, Adenoviruses, Human, MicroRNAs, Antigens, Differentiation, T-Lymphocyte, Gene Transfer Techniques, Transduction, Genetic, Transfection, Adenovirus, gene transfer, microRNA, overexpression, knock down, CD4 T cells, in vitro differentiation, regulatory T cell, virus, cell, flow cytometry
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
Automated Midline Shift and Intracranial Pressure Estimation based on Brain CT Images
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University Reanimation Engineering Science (VCURES) Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University.
In this paper we present an automated system based mainly on the computed tomography (CT) images consisting of two main components: the midline shift estimation and intracranial pressure (ICP) pre-screening system. To estimate the midline shift, first an estimation of the ideal midline is performed based on the symmetry of the skull and anatomical features in the brain CT scan. Then, segmentation of the ventricles from the CT scan is performed and used as a guide for the identification of the actual midline through shape matching. These processes mimic the measuring process by physicians and have shown promising results in the evaluation. In the second component, more features are extracted related to ICP, such as the texture information, blood amount from CT scans and other recorded features, such as age, injury severity score to estimate the ICP are also incorporated. Machine learning techniques including feature selection and classification, such as Support Vector Machines (SVMs), are employed to build the prediction model using RapidMiner. The evaluation of the prediction shows potential usefulness of the model. The estimated ideal midline shift and predicted ICP levels may be used as a fast pre-screening step for physicians to make decisions, so as to recommend for or against invasive ICP monitoring.
Medicine, Issue 74, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology, Biophysics, Physiology, Anatomy, Brain CT Image Processing, CT, Midline Shift, Intracranial Pressure Pre-screening, Gaussian Mixture Model, Shape Matching, Machine Learning, traumatic brain injury, TBI, imaging, clinical techniques