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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Chemotactic Response of Marine Micro-Organisms to Micro-Scale Nutrient Layers
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The degree to which planktonic microbes can exploit microscale resource patches will have considerable implications for oceanic trophodynamics and biogeochemical flux. However, to take advantage of nutrient patches in the ocean, swimming microbes must overcome the influences of physical forces including molecular diffusion and turbulent shear, which will limit the availability of patches and the ability of bacteria to locate them. Until recently, methodological limitations have precluded direct examinations of microbial behaviour within patchy habitats and realistic small-scale flow conditions. Hence, much of our current knowledge regarding microbial behaviour in the ocean has been procured from theoretical predictions. To obtain new information on microbial foraging behaviour in the ocean we have applied soft lithographic fabrication techniques to develop 2 microfluidic devices, which we have used to create (i) microscale nutrient patches with dimensions and diffusive characteristics relevant to oceanic processes and (ii) microscale vortices, with shear rates corresponding to those expected in the ocean. These microfluidic devices have permitted a first direct examination of microbial swimming and chemotactic behaviour within a heterogeneous and dynamic seascape. The combined use of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy allow direct examinations of the physical dimensions and diffusive characteristics of nutrient patches, while observing the population-level aggregative response, in addition to the swimming behaviour of individual microbes. These experiments have revealed that some species of phytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and phagotrophic protists are adept at locating and exploiting diffusing microscale resource patches within very short time frames. We have also shown that up to moderate shear rates, marine bacteria are able to fight the flow and swim through their environment at their own accord. However, beyond a threshold high shear level, bacteria are aligned in the shear flow and are less capable of swimming without disturbance from the flow. Microfluidics represents a novel and inexpensive approach for studying aquatic microbial ecology, and due to its suitability for accurately creating realistic flow fields and substrate gradients at the microscale, is ideally applicable to examinations of microbial behaviour at the smallest scales of interaction. We therefore suggest that microfluidics represents a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of the ecology of microorganisms in the ocean.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
TMS: Using the Theta-Burst Protocol to Explore Mechanism of Plasticity in Individuals with Fragile X Syndrome and Autism
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), also known as Martin-Bell Syndrome
, is a genetic abnormality found on the X chromosome.1,2
Individuals suffering from FXS display abnormalities in the expression of FMR1 - a protein required for typical, healthy neural development.3
Recent data has suggested that the loss of this protein can cause the cortex to be hyperexcitable thereby affecting overall patterns of neural plasticity.4,5
In addition, Fragile X shows a strong comorbidity with autism: in fact, 30% of children with FXS are diagnosed with autism, and 2 - 5% of autistic children suffer from FXS.6
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (a non-invasive neurostimulatory and neuromodulatory technique that can transiently or lastingly modulate cortical excitability via the application of localized magnetic field pulses 7,8
) represents a unique method of exploring plasticity and the manifestations of FXS within affected individuals. More specifically, Theta-Burst Stimulation (TBS), a specific stimulatory protocol shown to modulate cortical plasticity for a duration up to 30 minutes after stimulation cessation in healthy populations, has already proven an efficacious tool in the exploration of abnormal plasticity.9,10
Recent studies have shown the effects of TBS last considerably longer in individuals on the autistic spectrum - up to 90 minutes.11
This extended effect-duration suggests an underlying abnormality in the brain's natural plasticity state in autistic individuals - similar to the hyperexcitability induced by Fragile X Syndrome.
In this experiment, utilizing single-pulse motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) as our benchmark, we will explore the effects of both intermittent and continuous TBS on cortical plasticity in individuals suffering from FXS and individuals on the Autistic Spectrum.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Theta-Burst Stimulation, Neural Plasticity, Fragile X, Autism
Peering into the Dynamics of Social Interactions: Measuring Play Fighting in Rats
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content
of play following an experimental treatment.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Neurobiology, Behavior, Psychology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Play behavior, play, fighting, wrestling, grooming, allogrooming, social interaction, rat, behavioral analysis, animal model
Modeling The Lifecycle Of Ebola Virus Under Biosafety Level 2 Conditions With Virus-like Particles Containing Tetracistronic Minigenomes
Institutions: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
Ebola viruses cause severe hemorrhagic fevers in humans and non-human primates, with case fatality rates as high as 90%. There are no approved vaccines or specific treatments for the disease caused by these viruses, and work with infectious Ebola viruses is restricted to biosafety level 4 laboratories, significantly limiting the research on these viruses. Lifecycle modeling systems model the virus lifecycle under biosafety level 2 conditions; however, until recently such systems have been limited to either individual aspects of the virus lifecycle, or a single infectious cycle. Tetracistronic minigenomes, which consist of Ebola virus non-coding regions, a reporter gene, and three Ebola virus genes involved in morphogenesis, budding, and entry (VP40, GP1,2
, and VP24), can be used to produce replication and transcription-competent virus-like particles (trVLPs) containing these minigenomes. These trVLPs can continuously infect cells expressing the Ebola virus proteins responsible for genome replication and transcription, allowing us to safely model multiple infectious cycles under biosafety level 2 conditions. Importantly, the viral components of this systems are solely derived from Ebola virus and not from other viruses (as is, for example, the case in systems using pseudotyped viruses), and VP40, GP1,2
and VP24 are not overexpressed in this system, making it ideally suited for studying morphogenesis, budding and entry, although other aspects of the virus lifecycle such as genome replication and transcription can also be modeled with this system. Therefore, the tetracistronic trVLP assay represents the most comprehensive lifecycle modeling system available for Ebola viruses, and has tremendous potential for use in investigating the biology of Ebola viruses in future. Here, we provide detailed information on the use of this system, as well as on expected results.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 91, hemorrhagic Fevers, Viral, Mononegavirales Infections, Ebola virus, filovirus, lifecycle modeling system, minigenome, reverse genetics, virus-like particles, replication, transcription, budding, morphogenesis, entry
A Tetracycline-regulated Cell Line Produces High-titer Lentiviral Vectors that Specifically Target Dendritic Cells
Institutions: University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
Lentiviral vectors (LVs) are a powerful means of delivering genetic material to many types of cells. Because of safety concerns associated with these HIV-1 derived vectors, producing large quantities of LVs is challenging. In this paper, we report a method for producing high titers of self-inactivating LVs. We retrovirally transduce the tet-off stable producer cell line GPR to generate a cell line, GPRS, which can express all the viral components, including a dendritic cell-specific glycoprotein, SVGmu. Then, we use concatemeric DNA transfection to transfect the LV transfer plasmid encoding a reporter gene GFP in combination with a selectable marker. Several of the resulting clones can produce LV at a titer 10-fold greater than what we achieve with transient transfection. Plus, these viruses efficiently transduce dendritic cells in vitro
and generate a strong T cell immune response to our reporter antigen. This method may be a good option for producing strong LV-based vaccines for clinical studies of cancer or infectious diseases.
Immunology, Issue 76, Virology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Infection, Pharmacology, Lentivirus, Cancer Vaccines, Vaccines, Virus-Like Particle, life sciences, microbiology, bioengineering (general), Lentiviral vector, stable cell line, dendritic cells, vaccine, concatemeric transfection, retrovirus, virus, plasmid, cell culture
Using the Overlay Assay to Qualitatively Measure Bacterial Production of and Sensitivity to Pneumococcal Bacteriocins
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
colonizes the highly diverse polymicrobial community of the nasopharynx where it must compete with resident organisms. We have shown that bacterially produced antimicrobial peptides (bacteriocins) dictate the outcome of these competitive interactions. All fully-sequenced pneumococcal strains harbor a bacteriocin-like peptide
) locus. The blp
locus encodes for a range of diverse bacteriocins and all of the highly conserved components needed for their regulation, processing, and secretion. The diversity of the bacteriocins found in the bacteriocin immunity region (BIR) of the locus is a major contributor of pneumococcal competition. Along with the bacteriocins, immunity genes are found in the BIR and are needed to protect the producer cell from the effects of its own bacteriocin. The overlay assay is a quick method for examining a large number of strains for competitive interactions mediated by bacteriocins. The overlay assay also allows for the characterization of bacteriocin-specific immunity, and detection of secreted quorum sensing peptides. The assay is performed by pre-inoculating an agar plate with a strain to be tested for bacteriocin production followed by application of a soft agar overlay containing a strain to be tested for bacteriocin sensitivity. A zone of clearance surrounding the stab indicates that the overlay strain is sensitive to the bacteriocins produced by the pre-inoculated strain. If no zone of clearance is observed, either the overlay strain is immune to the bacteriocins being produced or the pre-inoculated strain does not produce bacteriocins. To determine if the blp
locus is functional in a given strain, the overlay assay can be adapted to evaluate for peptide pheromone secretion by the pre-inoculated strain. In this case, a series of four lacZ-
reporter strains with different pheromone specificity are used in the overlay.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 91, bacteriocins, antimicrobial peptides, blp locus, bacterial competition, Streptococcus pneumoniae, overlay assay
Adjustable Stiffness, External Fixator for the Rat Femur Osteotomy and Segmental Bone Defect Models
Institutions: Queensland University of Technology, RISystem AG.
The mechanical environment around the healing of broken bone is very important as it determines the way the fracture will heal. Over the past decade there has been great clinical interest in improving bone healing by altering the mechanical environment through the fixation stability around the lesion. One constraint of preclinical animal research in this area is the lack of experimental control over the local mechanical environment within a large segmental defect as well as osteotomies as they heal. In this paper we report on the design and use of an external fixator to study the healing of large segmental bone defects or osteotomies. This device not only allows for controlled axial stiffness on the bone lesion as it heals, but it also enables the change of stiffness during the healing process in vivo.
The conducted experiments have shown that the fixators were able to maintain a 5 mm femoral defect gap in rats in vivo
during unrestricted cage activity for at least 8 weeks. Likewise, we observed no distortion or infections, including pin infections during the entire healing period. These results demonstrate that our newly developed external fixator was able to achieve reproducible and standardized stabilization, and the alteration of the mechanical environment of in vivo
rat large bone defects and various size osteotomies. This confirms that the external fixation device is well suited for preclinical research investigations using a rat model in the field of bone regeneration and repair.
Medicine, Issue 92, external fixator, bone healing, small animal model, large bone defect and osteotomy model, rat model, mechanical environment, mechanobiology.
Packaging HIV- or FIV-based Lentivector Expression Constructs & Transduction of VSV-G Pseudotyped Viral Particles
Institutions: System Biosciences.
As with standard plasmid vectors, it is possible to transfect lentivectors in plasmid form into cells with low-to-medium efficiency to obtain transient expression of effectors. Packaging lentiviral expression constructs into pseudoviral particles, however, enables up to 100% transduction, even with difficult-to-transfect cells, such as primary, stem, and differentiated cells. Moreover, the lentiviral delivery does not produce the specific cellular responses typically associated with chemical transfections, such as cell death resulting from toxicity of the transfection reagent 1, 2
. When transduced into target cells, the lentiviral construct integrates into genomic DNA and provides stable expression of the small hairpin RNA (shRNA), cDNA, microRNA or reporter gene 3, 4
. Target cells stably expressing the effector molecule can be isolated using a selectable marker contained in the expression vector construct such as puromycin or GFP. After pseudoviral particles infect target cells, they cannot replicate within target cells because the viral structural genes are absent and the long terminal repeats (LTRs) are designed to be self-inactivating upon transduction 5, 6
There are three main components necessary for efficient lentiviral packaging 1, 5, 6, 7
1. The lentiviral expression vector that contains some of the genetic elements required for packaging, stable integration of the viral expression construct into genomic DNA, and expression of the effector or reporter.
2. The lentiviral packaging plasmids that provide the proteins essential for transcription and packaging of an RNA copy of the expression construct into recombinant pseudoviral particles. This protocol uses the pPACK plasmids (SBI) that encode for gag, pol, and rev from the HIV or FIV genome and Vesicular Stomatitis Virus g protein (VSV-G) for the viral coat protein.
3. 293TN producer cells (derived from HEK293 cells) that express the SV40 large T antigen, which is required for high-titer lentiviral production and a neomycin resistance gene, useful for reselecting the cells for maintenance.
An overview of the viral production protocol can be seen in Figure 1
. Viral production starts by co-transfecting 293TN producer cells with the lentiviral expression vector and the packaging plasmids. Viral particles are secreted into the media. After 48-72 hours the cell culture media is harvested. Cellular debris is removed from the cell culture media, and the viral particles are precipitated by centrifugation with PEG-it for concentration. Produced lentiviral particles are then titered and can be used to transduce target cells. Details of viral titering are not included in this protocol, but can be found at:
This protocol has been optimized using the specific products indicated. Other reagents may be substituted, but the same results cannot be guaranteed.
Immunology, Issue 62, lentivector, virus packaging, pseudovirus production, lentiviral packaging, HIV-based lentivector, lentiviral delivery, lentiviral transduction, lentivirus concentration, stable expression, stable cell lines
A Venturi Effect Can Help Cure Our Trees
Institutions: Unversity of Padova.
In woody plants, xylem sap moves upwards through the vessels due to a decreasing gradient of water potential from the groundwater to the foliage. According to these factors and their dynamics, small amounts of sap-compatible liquids (i.e.
pesticides) can be injected into the xylem system, reaching their target from inside. This endotherapic method, called "trunk injection" or "trunk infusion" (depending on whether the user supplies an external pressure or not), confines the applied chemicals only within the target tree, thereby making it particularly useful in urban situations. The main factors limiting wider use of the traditional drilling methods are related to negative side effects of the holes that must be drilled around the trunk circumference in order to gain access to the xylem vessels beneath the bark.
The University of Padova (Italy) recently developed a manual, drill-free instrument with a small, perforated blade that enters the trunk by separating the woody fibers with minimal friction. Furthermore, the lenticular shaped blade reduces the vessels' cross section, increasing sap velocity and allowing the natural uptake of an external liquid up to the leaves, when transpiration rate is substantial. Ports partially close soon after the removal of the blade due to the natural elasticity and turgidity of the plant tissues, and the cambial activity completes the healing process in few weeks.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Trunk injection, systemic injection, xylematic injection, endotherapy, sap flow, Bernoulli principle, plant diseases, pesticides, desiccants
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
Rapid Analysis and Exploration of Fluorescence Microscopy Images
Institutions: UT Southwestern Medical Center, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Princeton University.
Despite rapid advances in high-throughput microscopy, quantitative image-based assays still pose significant challenges. While a variety of specialized image analysis tools are available, most traditional image-analysis-based workflows have steep learning curves (for fine tuning of analysis parameters) and result in long turnaround times between imaging and analysis. In particular, cell segmentation, the process of identifying individual cells in an image, is a major bottleneck in this regard.
Here we present an alternate, cell-segmentation-free workflow based on PhenoRipper, an open-source software platform designed for the rapid analysis and exploration of microscopy images. The pipeline presented here is optimized for immunofluorescence microscopy images of cell cultures and requires minimal user intervention. Within half an hour, PhenoRipper can analyze data from a typical 96-well experiment and generate image profiles. Users can then visually explore their data, perform quality control on their experiment, ensure response to perturbations and check reproducibility of replicates. This facilitates a rapid feedback cycle between analysis and experiment, which is crucial during assay optimization. This protocol is useful not just as a first pass analysis for quality control, but also may be used as an end-to-end solution, especially for screening. The workflow described here scales to large data sets such as those generated by high-throughput screens, and has been shown to group experimental conditions by phenotype accurately over a wide range of biological systems. The PhenoBrowser interface provides an intuitive framework to explore the phenotypic space and relate image properties to biological annotations. Taken together, the protocol described here will lower the barriers to adopting quantitative analysis of image based screens.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, PhenoRipper, fluorescence microscopy, image analysis, High-content analysis, high-throughput screening, Open-source, Phenotype
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
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
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Radio Frequency Identification and Motion-sensitive Video Efficiently Automate Recording of Unrewarded Choice Behavior by Bumblebees
Institutions: University of Ottawa.
We present two methods for observing bumblebee choice behavior in an enclosed testing space. The first method consists of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) readers built into artificial flowers that display various visual cues, and RFID tags (i.e.
, passive transponders) glued to the thorax of bumblebee workers. The novelty in our implementation is that RFID readers are built directly into artificial flowers that are capable of displaying several distinct visual properties such as color, pattern type, spatial frequency (i.e.
, “busyness” of the pattern), and symmetry (spatial frequency and symmetry were not manipulated in this experiment). Additionally, these visual displays in conjunction with the automated systems are capable of recording unrewarded
choice behavior. The second method consists of recording choice behavior at artificial flowers using motion-sensitive high-definition camcorders. Bumblebees have number tags glued to their thoraces for unique identification. The advantage in this implementation over RFID is that in addition to observing landing behavior, alternate measures of preference such as hovering and antennation may also be observed. Both automation methods increase experimental control, and internal validity by allowing larger scale studies that take into account individual differences. External validity is also improved because bees can freely enter and exit the testing environment without constraints such as the availability of a research assistant on-site. Compared to human observation in real time, the automated methods are more cost-effective and possibly less error-prone.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, bumblebee, unlearned behaviors, floral choice, visual perception, Bombus spp, information processing, radio-frequency identification, motion-sensitive video
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
Obtaining Specimens with Slowed, Accelerated and Reversed Aging in the Honey Bee Model
Institutions: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Arizona State University.
Societies of highly social animals feature vast lifespan differences between closely related individuals. Among social insects, the honey bee is the best established model to study how plasticity in lifespan and aging is explained by social factors.
The worker caste of honey bees includes nurse bees, which tend the brood, and forager bees, which collect nectar and pollen. Previous work has shown that brain functions and flight performance senesce more rapidly in foragers than in nurses. However, brain functions can recover, when foragers revert back to nursing tasks. Such patterns of accelerated and reversed functional senescence are linked to changed metabolic resource levels, to alterations in protein abundance and to immune function. Vitellogenin, a yolk protein with adapted functions in hormonal control and cellular defense, may serve as a major regulatory element in a network that controls the different aging dynamics in workers.
Here we describe how the emergence of nurses and foragers can be monitored, and manipulated, including the reversal from typically short-lived foragers into longer-lived nurses. Our representative results show how individuals with similar chronological age differentiate into foragers and nurse bees under experimental conditions. We exemplify how behavioral reversal from foragers back to nurses can be validated. Last, we show how different cellular senescence can be assessed by measuring the accumulation of lipofuscin, a universal biomarker of senescence.
For studying mechanisms that may link social influences and aging plasticity, this protocol provides a standardized tool set to acquire relevant sample material, and to improve data comparability among future studies.
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Insects, Microscopy, Confocal, Aging, Gerontology, Neurobiology, Insect, Invertebrate, Brain, Lipofuscin, Confocal Microscopy
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
One-channel Cell-attached Patch-clamp Recording
Institutions: University at Buffalo, SUNY, University at Buffalo, SUNY, The Scripps Research Institute, University at Buffalo, SUNY.
Ion channel proteins are universal devices for fast communication across biological membranes. The temporal signature of the ionic flux they generate depends on properties intrinsic to each channel protein as well as the mechanism by which it is generated and controlled and represents an important area of current research. Information about the operational dynamics of ion channel proteins can be obtained by observing long stretches of current produced by a single molecule. Described here is a protocol for obtaining one-channel cell-attached patch-clamp current recordings for a ligand gated ion channel, the NMDA receptor, expressed heterologously in HEK293 cells or natively in cortical neurons. Also provided are instructions on how to adapt the method to other ion channels of interest by presenting the example of the mechano-sensitive channel PIEZO1. This method can provide data regarding the channel’s conductance properties and the temporal sequence of open-closed conformations that make up the channel’s activation mechanism, thus helping to understand their functions in health and disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, biophysics, ion channels, single-channel recording, NMDA receptors, gating, electrophysiology, patch-clamp, kinetic analysis
Single Molecule Methods for Monitoring Changes in Bilayer Elastic Properties
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University.
Membrane protein function is regulated by the cell membrane lipid composition. This regulation is due to a combination of specific lipid-protein interactions and more general lipid bilayer-protein interactions. These interactions are particularly important in pharmacological research, as many current pharmaceuticals on the market can alter the lipid bilayer material properties, which can lead to altered membrane protein function. The formation of gramicidin channels are dependent on conformational changes in gramicidin subunits which are in turn dependent on the properties of the lipid. Hence the gramicidin channel current is a reporter of altered properties of the bilayer due to certain compounds.
Cellular Biology, Issue 21, Springer Protocols, Membrane Biophysics, Gramicidin Channels, Artificial Bilayers, Bilayer Elastic Properties,
Patch Clamp Recording of Ion Channels Expressed in Xenopus Oocytes
Institutions: Stanford University , Stanford University School of Medicine.
Since its development by Sakmann and Neher 1, 2
, the patch clamp has become established as an extremely useful technique for electrophysiological measurement of single or multiple ion channels in cells. This technique can be applied to ion channels in both their native environment and expressed in heterologous cells, such as oocytes harvested from the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. Here, we describe the well-established technique of patch clamp recording from Xenopus oocytes. This technique is used to measure the properties of expressed ion channels either in populations (macropatch) or individually (single-channel recording). We focus on techniques to maximize the quality of oocyte preparation and seal generation. With all factors optimized, this technique gives a probability of successful seal generation over 90 percent. The process may be optimized differently by every researcher based on the factors he or she finds most important, and we present the approach that have lead to the greatest success in our hands.
Cellular Biology, Issue 20, Electrophysiology, Patch Clamp, Voltage Clamp, Oocytes, Biophysics, Gigaseal, Ion Channels
Hyponeophagia: A Measure of Anxiety in the Mouse
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Before the present day, when fast-acting and potent rodenticides such as alpha-chloralose were not yet in use, the work of pest controllers was often hampered by a phenomenon known as "bait shyness". Mice and rats cannot vomit, due to the tightness of the cardiac sphincter of the stomach, so to overcome the problem of potential food toxicity they have evolved a strategy of first ingesting only very small amounts of novel substances. The amounts ingested then gradually increase until the animal has determined whether the substance is safe and nutritious. So the old rat-catchers would first put a palatable substance such as oatmeal, which was to be the vehicle for the toxin, in the infested area. Only when large amounts were being readily consumed would they then add the poison, in amounts calculated not to affect the taste of the vehicle. The poisoned bait, which the animals were now readily eating in large amounts, would then swiftly perform its function.
Bait shyness is now used in the behavioural laboratory as a way of measuring anxiety. A highly palatable but novel substance, such as sweet corn, nuts or sweetened condensed milk, is offered to the mice (or rats) in a novel situation, such as a new cage. The latency to consume a defined amount of the new food is then measured.
Robert M.J. Deacon can be reach at email@example.com
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Anxiety, hyponeophagia, bait shyness, mice, hippocampus, strain differences, plus-maze
Axoplasm Isolation from Rat Sciatic Nerve
Institutions: Weizmann Institute of Science.
Isolation of pure axonal cytoplasm (axoplasm) from peripheral nerve is crucial for biochemical studies of many biological processes. In this article, we demonstrate and describe a protocol for axoplasm isolation from adult rat sciatic nerve based on the following steps: (1) dissection of nerve fascicles and separation of connective tissue; (2) incubation of short segments of nerve fascicles in hypotonic medium to release myelin and lyse non-axonal structures; and (3) extraction of the remaining axon-enriched material. Proteomic and biochemical characterization of this preparation has confirmed a high degree of enrichment for axonal components.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, Axoplasm, nerve, isolation, method, rat
Making Patch-pipettes and Sharp Electrodes with a Programmable Puller
Institutions: Stanford University , Stanford University School of Medicine.
Glass microelectrodes (also called pipettes) have been a workhorse of electrophysiology for decades. Today, such pipettes are made from glass capillaries using a programmable puller. Such instruments heat the capillary using either a metal filament or a laser and draw out the glass using gravity, a motor or both. Pipettes for patch-clamp recording are formed using only heat and gravity, while sharp electrodes for intracellular recording use a combination of heat, gravity, and a motor. The procedure used to make intracellular recording pipettes is similar to that used to make injection needles for a variety of applications, including cRNA injection into Xenopus oocytes. In general, capillary glass <1.2 mm in diameter is used to make pipettes for patch clamp recording, while narrower glass is used for intracellular recording (outer diameter = 1.0 mm). For each tool, the puller is programmed slightly differently. This video shows how to make both kinds of recording pipettes using pre-established puller programs.
Basic Protocols, Issue 20, Electrophysiology, Patch Clamp, Voltage Clamp, Oocytes, Biophysics, Ion channels, Neurophysiology