In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e. biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Use of Artificial Sputum Medium to Test Antibiotic Efficacy Against Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Conditions More Relevant to the Cystic Fibrosis Lung
Institutions: University of Liverpool , University of Liverpool .
There is growing concern about the relevance of in vitro
antimicrobial susceptibility tests when applied to isolates of P. aeruginosa
from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Existing methods rely on single or a few isolates grown aerobically and planktonically. Predetermined cut-offs are used to define whether the bacteria are sensitive or resistant to any given antibiotic1
. However, during chronic lung infections in CF, P. aeruginosa
populations exist in biofilms and there is evidence that the environment is largely microaerophilic2
. The stark difference in conditions between bacteria in the lung and those during diagnostic testing has called into question the reliability and even relevance of these tests3
Artificial sputum medium (ASM) is a culture medium containing the components of CF patient sputum, including amino acids, mucin and free DNA. P. aeruginosa
growth in ASM mimics growth during CF infections, with the formation of self-aggregating biofilm structures and population divergence4,5,6
. The aim of this study was to develop a microtitre-plate assay to study antimicrobial susceptibility of P. aeruginosa
based on growth in ASM, which is applicable to both microaerophilic and aerobic conditions.
An ASM assay was developed in a microtitre plate format. P. aeruginosa
biofilms were allowed to develop for 3 days prior to incubation with antimicrobial agents at different concentrations for 24 hours. After biofilm disruption, cell viability was measured by staining with resazurin. This assay was used to ascertain the sessile cell minimum inhibitory concentration (SMIC) of tobramycin for 15 different P. aeruginosa
isolates under aerobic and microaerophilic conditions and SMIC values were compared to those obtained with standard broth growth. Whilst there was some evidence for increased MIC values for isolates grown in ASM when compared to their planktonic counterparts, the biggest differences were found with bacteria tested in microaerophilic conditions, which showed a much increased resistance up to a >128 fold, towards tobramycin in the ASM system when compared to assays carried out in aerobic conditions.
The lack of association between current susceptibility testing methods and clinical outcome has questioned the validity of current methods3
. Several in vitro
models have been used previously to study P. aeruginosa
. However, these methods rely on surface attached biofilms, whereas the ASM biofilms resemble those observed in the CF lung9
. In addition, reduced oxygen concentration in the mucus has been shown to alter the behavior of P. aeruginosa2
and affect antibiotic susceptibility10
. Therefore using ASM under microaerophilic conditions may provide a more realistic environment in which to study antimicrobial susceptibility.
Immunology, Issue 64, Microbiology, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, antimicrobial susceptibility, artificial sputum media, lung infection, cystic fibrosis, diagnostics, plankton
One-day Workflow Scheme for Bacterial Pathogen Detection and Antimicrobial Resistance Testing from Blood Cultures
Institutions: Maastricht University Medical Center, Erasmus Medical Center.
Bloodstream infections are associated with high mortality rates because of the probable manifestation of sepsis, severe sepsis and septic shock1
. Therefore, rapid administration of adequate antibiotic therapy is of foremost importance in the treatment of bloodstream infections. The critical element in this process is timing, heavily dependent on the results of bacterial identification and antibiotic susceptibility testing. Both of these parameters are routinely obtained by culture-based testing, which is time-consuming and takes on average 24-48 hours2, 4
. The aim of the study was to develop DNA-based assays for rapid identification of bloodstream infections, as well as rapid antimicrobial susceptibility testing. The first assay is a eubacterial 16S rDNA-based real-time PCR assay complemented with species- or genus-specific probes5
. Using these probes, Gram-negative bacteria including Pseudomonas spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa
and Escherichia coli
as well as Gram-positive bacteria including Staphylococcus
spp., Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus spp., Streptococcus spp.,
and Streptococcus pneumoniae
could be distinguished. Using this multiprobe assay, a first identification of the causative micro-organism was given after 2 h.
Secondly, we developed a semi-molecular assay for antibiotic susceptibility testing of S. aureus, Enterococcus
spp. and (facultative) aerobe Gram-negative rods6
. This assay was based on a study in which PCR was used to measure the growth of bacteria7
. Bacteria harvested directly from blood cultures are incubated for 6 h with a selection of antibiotics, and following a Sybr Green-based real-time PCR assay determines inhibition of growth. The combination of these two methods could direct the choice of a suitable antibiotic therapy on the same day (Figure 1
). In conclusion, molecular analysis of both identification and antibiotic susceptibility offers a faster alternative for pathogen detection and could improve the diagnosis of bloodstream infections.
Immunology, Issue 65, Infection, Medicine, Microbiology, Bacteria, real-time PCR, probes, pathogen detection, blood culture, 16S rDNA gene, antibiotic resistance, antibiotic susceptibility testing
A Visual Assay to Monitor T6SS-mediated Bacterial Competition
Institutions: Imperial College London .
Type VI secretion systems (T6SSs) are molecular nanomachines allowing Gram-negative bacteria to transport and inject proteins into a wide variety of target cells1,2
. The T6SS is composed of 13 core components and displays structural similarities with the tail-tube of bacteriophages3
. The phage uses a tube and a puncturing device to penetrate the cell envelope of target bacteria and inject DNA. It is proposed that the T6SS is an inverted bacteriophage device creating a specific path in the bacterial cell envelope to drive effectors and toxins to the surface. The process could be taken further and the T6SS device could perforate other cells with which the bacterium is in contact, thus injecting the effectors into these targets. The tail tube and puncturing device parts of the T6SS are made with Hcp and VgrG proteins, respectively4,5
The versatility of the T6SS has been demonstrated through studies using various bacterial pathogens. The Vibrio cholerae
T6SS can remodel the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic host cells by injecting an "evolved" VgrG carrying a C-terminal actin cross-linking domain6,7
. Another striking example was recently documented using Pseudomonas aeruginosa
which is able to target and kill bacteria in a T6SS-dependent manner, therefore promoting the establishment of bacteria in specific microbial niches and competitive environment8,9,10
In the latter case,
three T6SS-secreted proteins, namely Tse1, Tse2 and Tse3 have been identified as the toxins injected in the target bacteria (Figure 1
). The donor cell is protected from the deleterious effect of these effectors via an anti-toxin mechanism, mediated by the Tsi1, Tsi2 and Tsi3 immunity proteins8,9,10
. This antimicrobial activity can be monitored when T6SS-proficient bacteria are co-cultivated on solid surfaces in competition with other bacterial species or with T6SS-inactive bacteria of the same species8,11,12,13
The data available emphasized a numerical approach to the bacterial competition assay, including time-consuming CFU counting that depends greatly on antibiotic makers. In the case of antibiotic resistant strains like P. aeruginosa
, these methods can be inappropriate. Moreover, with the identification of about 200 different T6SS loci in more than 100 bacterial genomes14
, a convenient screening tool is highly desirable. We developed an assay that is easy to use and requires standard laboratory material and reagents. The method offers a rapid and qualitative technique to monitor the T6SS-dependent bactericidal/bacteriostasis activity by using a reporter strain as a prey (in this case Escherichia coli
DH5α) allowing a-complementation of the lacZ
gene. Overall, this method is graphic and allows rapid identification of T6SS-related phenotypes on agar plates. This experimental protocol may be adapted to other strains or bacterial species taking into account specific conditions such as growth media, temperature or time of contact.
Infection, Issue 73, Microbiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Bacteriology, Bacteria, Type Six Secretion System, T6SS, Bacterial Competition, Killing Assay, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, E. coli, lacZ, CFU, bacterial screen, pathogens, assay
Autonomously Bioluminescent Mammalian Cells for Continuous and Real-time Monitoring of Cytotoxicity
Institutions: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 490 BioTech, Inc., The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Mammalian cell-based in vitro
assays have been widely employed as alternatives to animal testing for toxicological studies but have been limited due to the high monetary and time costs of parallel sample preparation that are necessitated due to the destructive nature of firefly luciferase-based screening methods. This video describes the utilization of autonomously bioluminescent mammalian cells, which do not require the destructive addition of a luciferin substrate, as an inexpensive and facile method for monitoring the cytotoxic effects of a compound of interest. Mammalian cells stably expressing the full bacterial bioluminescence (luxCDABEfrp
) gene cassette autonomously produce an optical signal that peaks at 490 nm without the addition of an expensive and possibly interfering luciferin substrate, excitation by an external energy source, or destruction of the sample that is traditionally performed during optical imaging procedures. This independence from external stimulation places the burden for maintaining the bioluminescent reaction solely on the cell, meaning that the resultant signal is only detected during active metabolism. This characteristic makes the lux
-expressing cell line an excellent candidate for use as a biosentinel against cytotoxic effects because changes in bioluminescent production are indicative of adverse effects on cellular growth and metabolism. Similarly, the autonomous nature and lack of required sample destruction permits repeated imaging of the same sample in real-time throughout the period of toxicant exposure and can be performed across multiple samples using existing imaging equipment in an automated fashion.
Cellular Biology, Issue 80, Toxicity Tests, optical imaging devices (design and techniques), Cytotoxicity, Screening, Optical Imaging, Bacterial Bioluminescence, lux, Mammalian Cell Culture
The Logic, Experimental Steps, and Potential of Heterologous Natural Product Biosynthesis Featuring the Complex Antibiotic Erythromycin A Produced Through E. coli
Institutions: State University of New York at Buffalo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The heterologous production of complex natural products is an approach designed to address current limitations and future possibilities. It is particularly useful for those compounds which possess therapeutic value but cannot be sufficiently produced or would benefit from an improved form of production. The experimental procedures involved can be subdivided into three components: 1) genetic transfer; 2) heterologous reconstitution; and 3) product analysis. Each experimental component is under continual optimization to meet the challenges and anticipate the opportunities associated with this emerging approach.
Heterologous biosynthesis begins with the identification of a genetic sequence responsible for a valuable natural product. Transferring this sequence to a heterologous host is complicated by the biosynthetic pathway complexity responsible for product formation. The antibiotic erythromycin A is a good example. Twenty genes (totaling >50 kb) are required for eventual biosynthesis. In addition, three of these genes encode megasynthases, multi-domain enzymes each ~300 kDa in size. This genetic material must be designed and transferred to E. coli
for reconstituted biosynthesis. The use of PCR isolation, operon construction, multi-cystronic plasmids, and electro-transformation will be described in transferring the erythromycin A genetic cluster to E. coli
Once transferred, the E. coli
cell must support eventual biosynthesis. This process is also challenging given the substantial differences between E. coli
and most original hosts responsible for complex natural product formation. The cell must provide necessary substrates to support biosynthesis and coordinately express the transferred genetic cluster to produce active enzymes. In the case of erythromycin A, the E. coli
cell had to be engineered to provide the two precursors (propionyl-CoA and (2S)-methylmalonyl-CoA) required for biosynthesis. In addition, gene sequence modifications, plasmid copy number, chaperonin co-expression, post-translational enzymatic modification, and process temperature were also required to allow final erythromycin A formation.
Finally, successful production must be assessed. For the erythromycin A case, we will present two methods. The first is liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to confirm and quantify production. The bioactivity of erythromycin A will also be confirmed through use of a bioassay in which the antibiotic activity is tested against Bacillus subtilis
. The assessment assays establish erythromycin A biosynthesis from E. coli
and set the stage for future engineering efforts to improve or diversify production and for the production of new complex natural compounds using this approach.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 71, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Basic Protocols, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Heterologous biosynthesis, natural products, antibiotics, erythromycin A, metabolic engineering, E. coli
Protocol for Biofilm Streamer Formation in a Microfluidic Device with Micro-pillars
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Alberta, Texas A&M University, University of Alberta.
Several bacterial species possess the ability to attach to surfaces and colonize them in the form of thin films called biofilms. Biofilms that grow in porous media are relevant to several industrial and environmental processes such as wastewater treatment and CO2
sequestration. We used Pseudomonas fluorescens
, a Gram-negative aerobic bacterium, to investigate biofilm formation in a microfluidic device that mimics porous media. The microfluidic device consists of an array of micro-posts, which were fabricated using soft-lithography. Subsequently, biofilm formation in these devices with flow was investigated and we demonstrate the formation of filamentous biofilms known as streamers in our device. The detailed protocols for fabrication and assembly of microfluidic device are provided here along with the bacterial culture protocols. Detailed procedures for experimentation with the microfluidic device are also presented along with representative results.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, biofilm, streamers, microfluidics, bio-microfluidics, porous media, bacteria, micro-pillars
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Identification of Novel Genes Associated with Alginate Production in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Using Mini-himar1 Mariner Transposon-mediated Mutagenesis
Institutions: Marshall University.
is a Gram-negative, environmental bacterium with versatile metabolic capabilities. P. aeruginosa
is an opportunistic bacterial pathogen which establishes chronic pulmonary infections in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). The overproduction of a capsular polysaccharide called alginate, also known as mucoidy, promotes the formation of mucoid biofilms which are more resistant than planktonic cells to antibiotic chemotherapy and host defenses. Additionally, the conversion from the nonmucoid to mucoid phenotype is a clinical marker for the onset of chronic infection in CF. Alginate overproduction by P. aeruginosa
is an endergonic process which heavily taxes cellular energy. Therefore, alginate production is highly regulated in P. aeruginosa
. To better understand alginate regulation, we describe a protocol using the mini-himar1
transposon mutagenesis for the identification of novel alginate regulators in a prototypic strain PAO1. The procedure consists of two basic steps. First, we transferred the mini-himar1
transposon (pFAC) from host E. coli
SM10/λpir into recipient P. aeruginosa
biparental conjugation to create a high-density insertion mutant library, which were selected on Pseudomonas
isolation agar plates supplemented with gentamycin. Secondly, we screened and isolated the mucoid colonies to map the insertion site through inverse PCR using DNA primers pointing outward from the gentamycin cassette and DNA sequencing. Using this protocol, we have identified two novel alginate regulators, mucE
(PA4033) and kinB
(PA5484), in strain PAO1 with a wild-type mucA
encoding the anti-sigma factor MucA for the master alginate regulator AlgU (AlgT, σ22
). This high-throughput mutagenesis protocol can be modified for the identification of other virulence-related genes causing change in colony morphology.
Immunology, Issue 85, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, alginate, mucoidy, mutagenesis, mini-himar1 mariner transposon, pFAC
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
The Synergistic Effect of Visible Light and Gentamycin on Pseudomona aeruginosa Microorganisms
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University, Bar-Ilan University, Bar-Ilan University, Bar-Ilan University.
Recently there were several publications on the bactericidal effect of visible light, most of them claiming that blue part of the spectrum (400 nm-500 nm) is responsible for killing various pathogens1-5
. The phototoxic effect of blue light was suggested to be a result of light-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation by endogenous bacterial photosensitizers which mostly absorb light in the blue region4,6,7
. There are also reports of biocidal effect of red and near infra red8
as well as green light9
In the present study, we developed a method that allowed us to characterize the effect of high power green (wavelength of 532 nm) continuous (CW) and pulsed Q-switched (Q-S) light on Pseudomonas aeruginosa
. Using this method we also studied the effect of green light combined with antibiotic treatment (gentamycin) on the bacteria viability. P. aeruginosa
is a common noscomial opportunistic pathogen causing various diseases. The strain is fairly resistant to various antibiotics and contains many predicted AcrB/Mex-type RND multidrug efflux systems10
The method utilized free-living stationary phase Gram-negative bacteria (P. aeruginosa
strain PAO1), grown in Luria Broth (LB) medium exposed to Q-switched and/or CW lasers with and without the addition of the antibiotic gentamycin. Cell viability was determined at different time points. The obtained results showed that laser treatment alone did not reduce cell viability compared to untreated control and that gentamycin treatment alone only resulted in a 0.5 log reduction in the viable count for P. aeruginosa
. The combined laser and gentamycin treatment, however, resulted in a synergistic effect and the viability of P. aeruginosa
was reduced by 8 log's.
The proposed method can further be implemented via the development of catheter like device capable of injecting an antibiotic solution into the infected organ while simultaneously illuminating the area with light.
Microbiology, Issue 77, Infection, Infectious Diseases, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biophysics, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bacteria, Photodynamic therapy, Medical optics, Bacterial viability, Antimicrobial treatment, Laser, Gentamycin, antibiotics, reactive oxygen species, pathogens, microorganisms, cell culture
Microtiter Dish Biofilm Formation Assay
Institutions: Dartmouth Medical School.
Biofilms are communities of microbes attached to surfaces, which can be found in medical, industrial and natural settings. In fact, life in a biofilm probably represents the predominate mode of growth for microbes in most environments. Mature biofilms have a few distinct characteristics. Biofilm microbes are typically surrounded by an extracellular matrix that provides structure and protection to the community. Microbes growing in a biofilm also have a characteristic architecture generally comprised of macrocolonies (containing thousands of cells) surrounded by fluid-filled channels. Biofilm-grown microbes are also notorious for their resistance to a range of antimicrobial agents including clinically relevant antibiotics.
The microtiter dish assay is an important tool for the study of the early stages in biofilm formation, and has been applied primarily for the study of bacterial biofilms, although this assay has also been used to study fungal biofilm formation. Because this assay uses static, batch-growth conditions, it does not allow for the formation of the mature biofilms typically associated with flow cell systems. However, the assay has been effective at identifying many factors required for initiation of biofilm formation (i.e, flagella, pili, adhesins, enzymes involved in cyclic-di-GMP binding and metabolism) and well as genes involved in extracellular polysaccharide production. Furthermore, published work indicates that biofilms grown in microtiter dishes do develop some properties of mature biofilms, such a antibiotic tolerance and resistance to immune system effectors.
This simple microtiter dish assay allows for the formation of a biofilm on the wall and/or bottom of a microtiter dish. The high throughput nature of the assay makes it useful for genetic screens, as well as testing biofilm formation by multiple strains under various growth conditions. Variants of this assay have been used to assess early biofilm formation for a wide variety of microbes, including but not limited to, pseudomonads, Vibrio cholerae
, Escherichia coli
In the protocol described here, we will focus on the use of this assay to study biofilm formation by the model organism Pseudomonas aeruginosa
. In this assay, the extent of biofilm formation is measured using the dye crystal violet (CV). However, a number of other colorimetric and metabolic stains have been reported for the quantification of biofilm formation using the microtiter plate assay. The ease, low cost and flexibility of the microtiter plate assay has made it a critical tool for the study of biofilms.
Immunology, Issue 47, Biofilm, assay, bacteria, fungi, microtiter, static
Preparation of a Blood Culture Pellet for Rapid Bacterial Identification and Antibiotic Susceptibility Testing
Institutions: University Hospital Center and University of Lausanne.
Bloodstream infections and sepsis are a major cause of morbidity and mortality. The successful outcome of patients suffering from bacteremia depends on a rapid identification of the infectious agent to guide optimal antibiotic treatment. The analysis of Gram stains from positive blood culture can be rapidly conducted and already significantly impact the antibiotic regimen. However, the accurate identification of the infectious agent is still required to establish the optimal targeted treatment. We present here a simple and fast bacterial pellet preparation from a positive blood culture that can be used as a sample for several essential downstream applications such as identification by MALDI-TOF MS, antibiotic susceptibility testing (AST) by disc diffusion assay or automated AST systems and by automated PCR-based diagnostic testing. The performance of these different identification and AST systems applied directly on the blood culture bacterial pellets is very similar to the performance normally obtained from isolated colonies grown on agar plates. Compared to conventional approaches, the rapid acquisition of a bacterial pellet significantly reduces the time to report both identification and AST. Thus, following blood culture positivity, identification by MALDI-TOF can be reported within less than 1 hr whereas results of AST by automated AST systems or disc diffusion assays within 8 to 18 hr, respectively. Similarly, the results of a rapid PCR-based assay can be communicated to the clinicians less than 2 hr following the report of a bacteremia. Together, these results demonstrate that the rapid preparation of a blood culture bacterial pellet has a significant impact on the identification and AST turnaround time and thus on the successful outcome of patients suffering from bloodstream infections.
Immunology, Issue 92, blood culture, bacteriology, identification, antibiotic susceptibility testing, MALDI-TOF MS.
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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
Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis
. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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
Fluorescence Microscopy Methods for Determining the Viability of Bacteria in Association with Mammalian Cells
Institutions: University of Virginia Health Sciences Center.
Central to the field of bacterial pathogenesis is the ability to define if and how microbes survive after exposure to eukaryotic cells. Current protocols to address these questions include colony count assays, gentamicin protection assays, and electron microscopy. Colony count and gentamicin protection assays only assess the viability of the entire bacterial population and are unable to determine individual bacterial viability. Electron microscopy can be used to determine the viability of individual bacteria and provide information regarding their localization in host cells. However, bacteria often display a range of electron densities, making assessment of viability difficult. This article outlines protocols for the use of fluorescent dyes that reveal the viability of individual bacteria inside and associated with host cells. These assays were developed originally to assess survival of Neisseria gonorrhoeae
in primary human neutrophils, but should be applicable to any bacterium-host cell interaction. These protocols combine membrane-permeable fluorescent dyes (SYTO9 and 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole [DAPI]), which stain all bacteria, with membrane-impermeable fluorescent dyes (propidium iodide and SYTOX Green), which are only accessible to nonviable bacteria. Prior to eukaryotic cell permeabilization, an antibody or fluorescent reagent is added to identify extracellular bacteria. Thus these assays discriminate the viability of bacteria adherent to and inside eukaryotic cells. A protocol is also provided for using the viability dyes in combination with fluorescent antibodies to eukaryotic cell markers, in order to determine the subcellular localization of individual bacteria. The bacterial viability dyes discussed in this article are a sensitive complement and/or alternative to traditional microbiology techniques to evaluate the viability of individual bacteria and provide information regarding where bacteria survive in host cells.
Microbiology, Issue 79, Immunology, Infection, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Microscopy, Confocal, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Bacteria, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, bacteria, infection, viability, fluorescence microscopy, cell, imaging
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
Visualizing Bacteria in Nematodes using Fluorescent Microscopy
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Symbioses, the living together of two or more organisms, are widespread throughout all kingdoms of life. As two of the most ubiquitous organisms on earth, nematodes and bacteria form a wide array of symbiotic associations that range from beneficial to pathogenic 1-3
. One such association is the mutually beneficial relationship between Xenorhabdus
bacteria and Steinernema
nematodes, which has emerged as a model system of symbiosis 4
nematodes are entomopathogenic, using their bacterial symbiont to kill insects 5
. For transmission between insect hosts, the bacteria colonize the intestine of the nematode's infective juvenile stage 6-8
. Recently, several other nematode species have been shown to utilize bacteria to kill insects 9-13
, and investigations have begun examining the interactions between the nematodes and bacteria in these systems 9
We describe a method for visualization of a bacterial symbiont within or on a nematode host, taking advantage of the optical transparency of nematodes when viewed by microscopy. The bacteria are engineered to express a fluorescent protein, allowing their visualization by fluorescence microscopy. Many plasmids are available that carry genes encoding proteins that fluoresce at different wavelengths (i.e.
green or red), and conjugation of plasmids from a donor Escherichia coli
strain into a recipient bacterial symbiont is successful for a broad range of bacteria. The methods described were developed to investigate the association between Steinernema carpocapsae
and Xenorhabdus nematophila 14
. Similar methods have been used to investigate other nematode-bacterium associations 9,15-18
and the approach therefore is generally applicable.
The method allows characterization of bacterial presence and localization within nematodes at different stages of development, providing insights into the nature of the association and the process of colonization 14,16,19
. Microscopic analysis reveals both colonization frequency within a population and localization of bacteria to host tissues 14,16,19-21
. This is an advantage over other methods of monitoring bacteria within nematode populations, such as sonication 22
or grinding 23
, which can provide average levels of colonization, but may not, for example, discriminate populations with a high frequency of low symbiont loads from populations with a low frequency of high symbiont loads. Discriminating the frequency and load of colonizing bacteria can be especially important when screening or characterizing bacterial mutants for colonization phenotypes 21,24
. Indeed, fluorescence microscopy has been used in high throughput screening of bacterial mutants for defects in colonization 17,18
, and is less laborious than other methods, including sonication 22,25-27
and individual nematode dissection 28,29
Microbiology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Bacteriology, Developmental Biology, Colonization, Xenorhabdus, Steinernema, symbiosis, nematode, bacteria, fluorescence microscopy
Establishing the Minimal Bactericidal Concentration of an Antimicrobial Agent for Planktonic Cells (MBC-P) and Biofilm Cells (MBC-B)
Institutions: University of Ottawa.
This protocol allows for a direct comparison between planktonic and biofilm resistance for a bacterial strain that can form a biofilm in vitro
. Bacteria are inoculated into the wells of a 96-well microtiter plate. In the case of the planktonic assay, serial dilutions of the antimicrobial agent of choice are added to the bacterial suspensions. In the biofilm assay, once inoculated, the bacteria are left to form a biofilm over a set period of time. Unattached cells are removed from the wells, the media is replenished and serial dilutions of the antimicrobial agent of choice are added. After exposure to the antimicrobial agent, the planktonic cells are assayed for growth. For the biofilm assay, the media is refreshed with fresh media lacking the antimicrobial agent and the biofilm cells are left to recover. Biofilm cell viability is assayed after the recovery period. The MBC-P for the antimicrobial agent is defined as the lowest concentration of drug that kills the cells in the planktonic culture. In contrast, the MBC-B for a strain is determined by exposing preformed biofilms to increasing concentrations of antimicrobial agent for 24 hr. The MBC-B is defined as the lowest concentration of antimicrobial agent that kills the cells in the biofilm.
Immunology, Issue 83, biofilm, planktonic, antibiotic resistance, static, antibacterial, minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC)
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ
degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g.
fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture