Biofilms are highly dynamic, organized and structured communities of microbial cells enmeshed in an extracellular matrix of variable density and composition 1, 2. In general, biofilms develop from initial microbial attachment on a surface followed by formation of cell clusters (or microcolonies) and further development and stabilization of the microcolonies, which occur in a complex extracellular matrix. The majority of biofilm matrices harbor exopolysaccharides (EPS), and dental biofilms are no exception; especially those associated with caries disease, which are mostly mediated by mutans streptococci 3. The EPS are synthesized by microorganisms (S. mutans, a key contributor) by means of extracellular enzymes, such as glucosyltransferases using sucrose primarily as substrate 3.
Studies of biofilms formed on tooth surfaces are particularly challenging owing to their constant exposure to environmental challenges associated with complex diet-host-microbial interactions occurring in the oral cavity. Better understanding of the dynamic changes of the structural organization and composition of the matrix, physiology and transcriptome/proteome profile of biofilm-cells in response to these complex interactions would further advance the current knowledge of how oral biofilms modulate pathogenicity. Therefore, we have developed an analytical tool-box to facilitate biofilm analysis at structural, biochemical and molecular levels by combining commonly available and novel techniques with custom-made software for data analysis. Standard analytical (colorimetric assays, RT-qPCR and microarrays) and novel fluorescence techniques (for simultaneous labeling of bacteria and EPS) were integrated with specific software for data analysis to address the complex nature of oral biofilm research.
The tool-box is comprised of 4 distinct but interconnected steps (Figure 1): 1) Bioassays, 2) Raw Data Input, 3) Data Processing, and 4) Data Analysis. We used our in vitro biofilm model and specific experimental conditions to demonstrate the usefulness and flexibility of the tool-box. The biofilm model is simple, reproducible and multiple replicates of a single experiment can be done simultaneously 4, 5. Moreover, it allows temporal evaluation, inclusion of various microbial species 5 and assessment of the effects of distinct experimental conditions (e.g. treatments 6; comparison of knockout mutants vs. parental strain 5; carbohydrates availability 7). Here, we describe two specific components of the tool-box, including (i) new software for microarray data mining/organization (MDV) and fluorescence imaging analysis (DUOSTAT), and (ii) in situ EPS-labeling. We also provide an experimental case showing how the tool-box can assist with biofilms analysis, data organization, integration and interpretation.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Agar-Block Microcosms for Controlled Plant Tissue Decomposition by Aerobic Fungi
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The two principal methods for studying fungal biodegradation of lignocellulosic plant tissues were developed for wood preservative testing (soil-block; agar-block). It is well-accepted that soil-block microcosms yield higher decay rates, fewer moisture issues, lower variability among studies, and higher thresholds of preservative toxicity. Soil-block testing is thus the more utilized technique and has been standardized by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) (method D 1413-07). The soil-block design has drawbacks, however, using locally-variable soil sources and in limiting the control of nutrients external (exogenous) to the decaying tissues. These drawbacks have emerged as a problem in applying this method to other, increasingly popular research aims. These modern aims include degrading lignocellulosics for bioenergy research, testing bioremediation of co-metabolized toxics, evaluating oxidative mechanisms, and tracking translocated elements along hyphal networks. Soil-blocks do not lend enough control in these applications. A refined agar-block approach is necessary.
Here, we use the brown rot wood-degrading fungus Serpula lacrymans
to degrade wood in agar-block microcosms, using deep Petri dishes with low-calcium agar. We test the role of exogenous gypsum on decay in a time-series, to demonstrate the utility and expected variability. Blocks from a single board rip (longitudinal cut) are conditioned, weighed, autoclaved, and introduced aseptically atop plastic mesh. Fungal inoculations are at each block face, with exogenous gypsum added at interfaces. Harvests are aseptic until the final destructive harvest. These microcosms are designed to avoid block contact with agar or Petri dish walls. Condensation is minimized during plate pours and during incubation. Finally, inoculum/gypsum/wood spacing is minimized but without allowing contact. These less technical aspects of agar-block design are also the most common causes of failure and the key source of variability among studies. Video publication is therefore useful in this case, and we demonstrate low-variability, high-quality results.
Plant Biology, Issue 48, Lignocellulose, biomass, wood, fungi, filamentous, biodegradation, petri, microcosm
Soil Sampling and Isolation of Entomopathogenic Nematodes (Steinernematidae, Heterorhabditidae)
Institutions: University of Arizona.
Entomopathogenic nematodes (a.k.a. EPN) represent a group of soil-inhabiting nematodes that parasitize a wide range of insects. These nematodes belong to two families: Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae. Until now, more than 70 species have been described in the Steinernematidae and there are about 20 species in the Heterorhabditidae. The nematodes have a mutualistic partnership with Enterobacteriaceae bacteria and together they act as a potent insecticidal complex that kills a wide range of insect species.
Herein, we focus on the most common techniques considered for collecting EPN from soil. The second part of this presentation focuses on the insect-baiting technique, a widely used approach for the isolation of EPN from soil samples, and the modified White trap technique which is used for the recovery of these nematodes from infected insects. These methods and techniques are key steps for the successful establishment of EPN cultures in the laboratory and also form the basis for other bioassays that consider these nematodes as model organisms for research in other biological disciplines. The techniques shown in this presentation correspond to those performed and/or designed by members of S. P. Stock laboratory as well as those described by various authors.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, Entomology, Nematology, Steinernema, Heterorhabditis, nematodes, soil sampling, insect-bait, modified White-trap
A Semi-quantitative Approach to Assess Biofilm Formation Using Wrinkled Colony Development
Institutions: Loyola University Medical Center.
Biofilms, or surface-attached communities of cells encapsulated in an extracellular matrix, represent a common lifestyle for many bacteria. Within a biofilm, bacterial cells often exhibit altered physiology, including enhanced resistance to antibiotics and other environmental stresses 1
. Additionally, biofilms can play important roles in host-microbe interactions. Biofilms develop when bacteria transition from individual, planktonic cells to form complex, multi-cellular communities 2
. In the laboratory, biofilms are studied by assessing the development of specific biofilm phenotypes. A common biofilm phenotype involves the formation of wrinkled or rugose bacterial colonies on solid agar media 3
. Wrinkled colony formation provides a particularly simple and useful means to identify and characterize bacterial strains exhibiting altered biofilm phenotypes, and to investigate environmental conditions that impact biofilm formation. Wrinkled colony formation serves as an indicator of biofilm formation in a variety of bacteria, including both Gram-positive bacteria, such as Bacillus subtilis 4
, and Gram-negative bacteria, such as Vibrio cholerae 5
, Vibrio parahaemolyticus 6
, Pseudomonas aeruginosa 7
, and Vibrio fischeri 8
The marine bacterium V. fischeri
has become a model for biofilm formation due to the critical role of biofilms during host colonization: biofilms produced by V. fischeri
promote its colonization of the Hawaiian bobtail squid Euprymna scolopes 8-10
. Importantly, biofilm phenotypes observed in vitro
correlate with the ability of V. fischeri
cells to effectively colonize host animals: strains impaired for biofilm formation in vitro
possess a colonization defect 9,11
, while strains exhibiting increased biofilm phenotypes are enhanced for colonization 8,12
. V. fischeri
therefore provides a simple model system to assess the mechanisms by which bacteria regulate biofilm formation and how biofilms impact host colonization.
In this report, we describe a semi-quantitative method to assess biofilm formation using V. fischeri
as a model system. This method involves the careful spotting of bacterial cultures at defined concentrations and volumes onto solid agar media; a spotted culture is synonymous to a single bacterial colony. This 'spotted culture' technique can be utilized to compare gross biofilm phenotypes at single, specified time-points (end-point assays), or to identify and characterize subtle biofilm phenotypes through time-course assays of biofilm development and measurements of the colony diameter, which is influenced by biofilm formation. Thus, this technique provides a semi-quantitative analysis of biofilm formation, permitting evaluation of the timing and patterning of wrinkled colony development and the relative size of the developing structure, characteristics that extend beyond the simple overall morphology.
Microbiology, Issue 64, Immunology, Biofilm, wrinkled colony, rugose, Vibrio fischeri, Zeiss stemi, dissecting microscope, marine biology
Concurrent Quantification of Cellular and Extracellular Components of Biofilms
Institutions: University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, The Copperbelt University.
Confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) is a powerful tool for investigation of biofilms. Very few investigations have successfully quantified concurrent distribution of more than two components within biofilms because: 1) selection of fluorescent dyes having minimal spectral overlap is complicated, and 2) quantification of multiple fluorochromes poses a multifactorial problem. Objectives:
Report a methodology to quantify and compare concurrent 3-dimensional distributions of three cellular/extracellular components of biofilms grown on relevant substrates. Methods:
The method consists of distinct, interconnected steps involving biofilm growth, staining, CLSM imaging, biofilm structural analysis and visualization, and statistical analysis of structural parameters. Biofilms of Streptococcus mutans
(strain UA159) were grown for 48 hr on sterile specimens of Point 4 and TPH3
resin composites. Specimens were subsequently immersed for 60 sec in either Biotène PBF (BIO) or Listerine Total Care (LTO) mouthwashes, or water (control group; n=5/group). Biofilms were stained with fluorochromes for extracellular polymeric substances, proteins and nucleic acids before imaging with CLSM. Biofilm structural parameters calculated using ISA3D image analysis software were biovolume and mean biofilm thickness. Mixed models statistical analyses compared structural parameters between mouthwash and control groups (SAS software; α=0.05). Volocity software permitted visualization of 3D distributions of overlaid biofilm components (fluorochromes). Results:
Mouthwash BIO produced biofilm structures that differed significantly from the control (p<0.05) on both resin composites, whereas LTO did not produce differences (p>0.05) on either product. Conclusions:
This methodology efficiently and successfully quantified and compared concurrent 3D distributions of three major components within S. mutans
biofilms on relevant substrates, thus overcoming two challenges to simultaneous assessment of biofilm components. This method can also be used to determine the efficacy of antibacterial/antifouling agents against multiple biofilm components, as shown using mouthwashes. Furthermore, this method has broad application because it facilitates comparison of 3D structures/architecture of biofilms in a variety of disciplines.
Immunology, Issue 82, Extracellular Matrix, Streptococcus mutans, Dental Materials, Fluorescent Dyes, Composite Resins, Microscopy, Confocal, Permanent, Biofilms, Microbiological Phenomena, Streptococcus mutans, 3-dimensional structure, confocal laser scanning microscopy, fluorescent stains, dental biomaterials, dental resin composites, biofilm structural analysis, image analysis, image reconstruction
Single-cell Analysis of Bacillus subtilis Biofilms Using Fluorescence Microscopy and Flow Cytometry
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
Biofilm formation is a general attribute to almost all bacteria 1-6
. When bacteria form biofilms, cells are encased in extracellular matrix that is mostly constituted by proteins and exopolysaccharides, among other factors 7-10
. The microbial community encased within the biofilm often shows the differentiation of distinct subpopulation of specialized cells 11-17
. These subpopulations coexist and often show spatial and temporal organization within the biofilm 18-21
Biofilm formation in the model organism Bacillus subtilis
requires the differentiation of distinct subpopulations of specialized cells. Among them, the subpopulation of matrix producers, responsible to produce and secrete the extracellular matrix of the biofilm is essential for biofilm formation 11,19
. Hence, differentiation of matrix producers is a hallmark of biofilm formation in B. subtilis.
We have used fluorescent reporters to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers in biofilms of B. subtilis 15,19,22-24
. Concretely, we have observed that the subpopulation of matrix producers differentiates in response to the presence of self-produced extracellular signal surfactin 25
. Interestingly, surfactin is produced by a subpopulation of specialized cells different from the subpopulation of matrix producers 15
We have detailed in this report the technical approach necessary to visualize and quantify the subpopulation of matrix producers and surfactin producers within the biofilms of B. subtilis
. To do this, fluorescent reporters of genes required for matrix production and surfactin production are inserted into the chromosome of B. subtilis
. Reporters are expressed only in a subpopulation of specialized cells. Then, the subpopulations can be monitored using fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry (See Fig 1).
The fact that different subpopulations of specialized cells coexist within multicellular communities of bacteria gives us a different perspective about the regulation of gene expression in prokaryotes. This protocol addresses this phenomenon experimentally and it can be easily adapted to any other working model, to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypic heterogeneity within a microbial community.
Immunology, Issue 60, Bacillus subtilis, biofilm formation, gene expression, cell differentiation, single-cell analysis
Recording Multicellular Behavior in Myxococcus xanthus Biofilms using Time-lapse Microcinematography
Institutions: University of South Carolina (USC), Syracuse University.
A swarm of the δ-proteobacterium Myxococcus xanthus
contains millions of cells that act as a collective, coordinating movement through a series of signals to create complex, dynamic patterns as a response to environmental cues. These patterns are self-organizing and emergent; they cannot be predicted by observing the behavior of the individual cells. Using a time-lapse microcinematography tracking assay, we identified a distinct emergent pattern in M. xanthus
called chemotaxis, defined as the directed movement of a swarm up a nutrient gradient toward its source 1
In order to efficiently characterize chemotaxis via time-lapse microcinematography, we developed a highly modifiable plate complex (Figure 1) and constructed a cluster of 8 microscopes (Figure 2), each capable of capturing time-lapse videos. The assay is rigorous enough to allow consistent replication of quantifiable data, and the resulting videos allow us to observe and track subtle changes in swarm behavior. Once captured, the videos are transferred to an analysis/storage computer with enough memory to process and store thousands of videos. The flexibility of this setup has proven useful to several members of the M. xanthus
Microbiology, Issue 42, microcinematography, Myxococcus, chemotaxis, time-lapse
Engineering Adherent Bacteria by Creating a Single Synthetic Curli Operon
Institutions: Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université de Lyon.
The method described here consists in redesigning E. coli
adherence properties by assembling the minimum number of curli genes under the control of a strong and metal-overinducible promoter, and in visualizing and quantifying the resulting gain of bacterial adherence. This method applies appropriate engineering principles of abstraction and standardization of synthetic biology, and results in the BBa_K540000 Biobrick (Best new Biobrick device, engineered, iGEM 2011).
The first step consists in the design of the synthetic operon devoted to curli overproduction in response to metal, and therefore in increasing the adherence abilities of the wild type strain. The original curli operon was modified in silico
in order to optimize transcriptional and translational signals and escape the "natural" regulation of curli. This approach allowed to test with success our current understanding of curli production. Moreover, simplifying the curli regulation by switching the endogenous complex promoter (more than 10 transcriptional regulators identified) to a simple metal-regulated promoter makes adherence much easier to control.
The second step includes qualitative and quantitative assessment of adherence abilities by implementation of simple methods. These methods are applicable to a large range of adherent bacteria regardless of biological structures involved in biofilm formation. Adherence test in 24-well polystyrene plates provides a quick preliminary visualization of the bacterial biofilm after crystal violet staining. This qualitative test can be sharpened by the quantification of the percentage of adherence. Such a method is very simple but more accurate than only crystal violet staining as described previously 1
with both a good repeatability and reproducibility. Visualization of GFP-tagged bacteria on glass slides by fluorescence or laser confocal microscopy allows to strengthen the results obtained with the 24-well plate test by direct observation of the phenomenon.
Bioengineering, Issue 69, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, curli, cobalt, biofilm, Escherichia coli, synthetic operon, synthetic biology, adherence assay, biofilm quantification, microscopy
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
A Method of Permeabilization of Drosophila Embryos for Assays of Small Molecule Activity
Institutions: University of Rochester School of Dentistry and Medicine.
embryo has long been a powerful laboratory model for elucidating molecular and genetic mechanisms that control development. The ease of genetic manipulations with this model has supplanted pharmacological approaches that are commonplace in other animal models and cell-based assays. Here we describe recent advances in a protocol that enables application of small molecules to the developing fruit fly embryo. The method details steps to overcome the impermeability of the eggshell while maintaining embryo viability. Eggshell permeabilization across a broad range of developmental stages is achieved by application of a previously described d-limonene embryo permeabilization solvent (EPS1
) and by aging embryos at reduced temperature (18 °C) prior to treatments. In addition, use of a far-red dye (CY5) as a permeabilization indicator is described, which is compatible with downstream applications involving standard red and green fluorescent dyes in live and fixed preparations. This protocol is applicable to studies using bioactive compounds to probe developmental mechanisms as well as for studies aimed at evaluating teratogenic or pharmacologic activity of uncharacterized small molecules.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Drosophila embryo, embryo development, viteline membrane, d-limonene, membrane permeabilization, teratogen, Rhodamine B, CY5, methylmercury
Extraction of High Molecular Weight DNA from Microbial Mats
Institutions: Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina.
Successful and accurate analysis and interpretation of metagenomic data is dependent upon the efficient extraction of high-quality, high molecular weight (HMW) community DNA. However, environmental mat samples often pose difficulties to obtaining large concentrations of high-quality, HMW DNA. Hypersaline microbial mats contain high amounts of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)1 and salts that may inhibit downstream applications of extracted DNA. Direct and harsh methods are often used in DNA extraction from refractory samples. These methods are typically used because the EPS in mats, an adhesive matrix, binds DNA2,3
during direct lysis. As a result of harsher extraction methods, DNA becomes fragmented into small sizes4,5,6
The DNA thus becomes inappropriate for large-insert vector cloning. In order to circumvent these limitations, we report an improved methodology to extract HMW DNA of good quality and quantity from hypersaline microbial mats. We employed an indirect method involving the separation of microbial cells from the background mat matrix through blending and differential centrifugation. A combination of mechanical and chemical procedures was used to extract and purify DNA from the extracted microbial cells. Our protocol yields approximately 2 μg of HMW DNA (35-50 kb) per gram of mat sample, with an A260/280
ratio of 1.6. Furthermore, amplification of 16S rRNA genes7
suggests that the protocol is able to minimize or eliminate any inhibitory effects of contaminants. Our results provide an appropriate methodology for the extraction of HMW DNA from microbial mats for functional metagenomic studies and may be applicable to other environmental samples from which DNA extraction is challenging.
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Metagenomics, extracellular polymeric substances, DNA extraction, Microbial mats, hypersaline, extreme environment
Yeast Colony Embedding Method
Institutions: University of Missouri - Kansas City.
Patterning of different cell types in embryos is a key mechanism in metazoan development. Communities of microorganisms, such as colonies and biofilms also display patterns of cell types. For example, in the yeast S. cerevisiae
, sporulated cells and pseudohyphal cells are not uniformly distributed in colonies. The functional importance of patterning and the molecular mechanisms that underlie these patterns are still poorly understood.
One challenge with respect to investigating patterns of cell types in fungal colonies is that unlike metazoan tissue, cells in colonies are relatively weakly attached to one another. In particular, fungal colonies do not contain the same extensive level of extracellular matrix found in most tissues . Here we report on a method for embedding and sectioning yeast colonies that reveals the interior patterns of cell types in these colonies. The method can be used to prepare thick sections (0.5 μ) useful for light microscopy and thin sections (0.1 μ) suitable for transmission electron microscopy. Asci and pseudohyphal cells can easily be distinguished from ovoid yeast cells by light microscopy , while the interior structure of these cells can be visualized by EM.
The method is based on surrounding colonies with agar, infiltrating them with Spurr's medium, and then sectioning. Colonies with a diameter in the range of 1-2 mm are suitable for this protocol. In addition to visualizing the interior of colonies, the method allows visualization of the region of the colony that invades the underlying agar.
Cellular Biology, Issue 49, yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, colony, embedding, sporulation, pattern formation, organization
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
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
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.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
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
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
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
A Protocol for Conducting Rainfall Simulation to Study Soil Runoff
Institutions: University of Maryland Eastern Shore, USDA - Agricultural Research Service, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Rainfall is a driving force for the transport of environmental contaminants from agricultural soils to surficial water bodies via surface runoff. The objective of this study was to characterize the effects of antecedent soil moisture content on the fate and transport of surface applied commercial urea, a common form of nitrogen (N) fertilizer, following a rainfall event that occurs within 24 hr after fertilizer application. Although urea is assumed to be readily hydrolyzed to ammonium and therefore not often available for transport, recent studies suggest that urea can be transported from agricultural soils to coastal waters where it is implicated in harmful algal blooms. A rainfall simulator was used to apply a consistent rate of uniform rainfall across packed soil boxes that had been prewetted to different soil moisture contents. By controlling rainfall and soil physical characteristics, the effects of antecedent soil moisture on urea loss were isolated. Wetter soils exhibited shorter time from rainfall initiation to runoff initiation, greater total volume of runoff, higher urea concentrations in runoff, and greater mass loadings of urea in runoff. These results also demonstrate the importance of controlling for antecedent soil moisture content in studies designed to isolate other variables, such as soil physical or chemical characteristics, slope, soil cover, management, or rainfall characteristics. Because rainfall simulators are designed to deliver raindrops of similar size and velocity as natural rainfall, studies conducted under a standardized protocol can yield valuable data that, in turn, can be used to develop models for predicting the fate and transport of pollutants in runoff.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Agriculture, Water Pollution, Water Quality, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Rainfall Simulator, Artificial Rainfall, Runoff, Packed Soil Boxes, Nonpoint Source, Urea
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
Methods for Facilitating Microbial Growth on Pulp Mill Waste Streams and Characterization of the Biodegradation Potential of Cultured Microbes
Institutions: North Carolina State University, North Carolina State University.
The kraft process is applied to wood chips for separation of lignin from the polysaccharides within lignocellulose for pulp that will produce a high quality paper. Black liquor is a pulping waste generated by the kraft process that has potential for downstream bioconversion. However, the recalcitrant nature of the lignocellulose resources, its chemical derivatives that constitute the majority of available organic carbon within black liquor, and its basic pH present challenges to microbial biodegradation of this waste material. Methods for the collection and modification of black liquor for microbial growth are aimed at utilization of this pulp waste to convert the lignin, organic acids, and polysaccharide degradation byproducts into valuable chemicals. The lignocellulose extraction techniques presented provide a reproducible method for preparation of lignocellulose growth substrates for understanding metabolic capacities of cultured microorganisms. Use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry enables the identification and quantification of the fermentation products resulting from the growth of microorganisms on pulping waste. These methods when used together can facilitate the determination of the metabolic activity of microorganisms with potential to produce fermentation products that would provide greater value to the pulping system and reduce effluent waste, thereby increasing potential paper milling profits and offering additional uses for black liquor.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, biodegradation (bacterial degradation), pulp mill waste, black liquor, kraft process, lignocellulose extraction, microorganisms, fermentation products, GC-MS
Proper Care and Cleaning of the Microscope
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).
Keeping the microscope optics clean is important for high-quality imaging. Dust, fingerprints, excess immersion oil, or mounting medium on or in a microscope causes reduction in contrast and resolution. DIC is especially sensitive to contamination and scratches on the lens surfaces. This protocol details the procedure for keeping the microscope clean.
Basic Protocols, Issue 18, Current Protocols Wiley, Microscopy, Cleaning the Microscope
Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia
Maintaining Wolbachia in Cell-free Medium
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video protocol, procedures are demonstrated to (1) purify Wolbachia symbionts out of cultured mosquito cells, (2) use a fluorescent assay to ascertain the viability of the purified Wolbachia and (3) maintain the now extracellular Wolbachia in cell-free medium. Purified Wolbachia remain alive in the extracellular phase but do not replicate until re-inoculated into eukaryotic cells. Extracellular Wolbachia purified in this manner will remain viable for at least a week at room temperature, and possibly longer. Purified Wolbachia are suitable for micro-injection, DNA extraction and other applications.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, Wolbachia, infectious disease