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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Determining Cell Number During Cell Culture using the Scepter Cell Counter
Institutions: Millipore Inc.
Counting cells is often a necessary but tedious step for in vitro
cell culture. Consistent cell concentrations ensure experimental reproducibility and accuracy. Cell counts are important for monitoring cell health and proliferation rate, assessing immortalization or transformation, seeding cells for subsequent experiments, transfection or infection, and preparing for cell-based assays. It is important that cell counts be accurate, consistent, and fast, particularly for quantitative measurements of cellular responses.
Despite this need for speed and accuracy in cell counting, 71% of 400 researchers surveyed1
who count cells using a hemocytometer. While hemocytometry is inexpensive, it is laborious and subject to user bias and misuse, which results in inaccurate counts. Hemocytometers are made of special optical glass on which cell suspensions are loaded in specified volumes and counted under a microscope. Sources of errors in hemocytometry include: uneven cell distribution in the sample, too many or too few cells in the sample, subjective decisions as to whether a given cell falls within the defined counting area, contamination of the hemocytometer, user-to-user variation, and variation of hemocytometer filling rate2
To alleviate the tedium associated with manual counting, 29% of researchers count cells using automated cell counting devices; these include vision-based counters, systems that detect cells using the Coulter principle, or flow cytometry1
. For most researchers, the main barrier to using an automated system is the price associated with these large benchtop instruments1
The Scepter cell counter is an automated handheld device that offers the automation and accuracy of Coulter counting at a relatively low cost. The system employs the Coulter principle of impedance-based particle detection3
in a miniaturized format using a combination of analog and digital hardware for sensing, signal processing, data storage, and graphical display. The disposable tip is engineered with a microfabricated, cell- sensing zone that enables discrimination by cell size and cell volume at sub-micron and sub-picoliter resolution. Enhanced with precision liquid-handling channels and electronics, the Scepter cell counter reports cell population statistics graphically displayed as a histogram.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, Scepter, cell counting, cell culture, hemocytometer, Coulter, Impedance-based particle detection
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Genome-wide Gene Deletions in Streptococcus sanguinis by High Throughput PCR
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University.
Transposon mutagenesis and single-gene deletion are two methods applied in genome-wide gene knockout in bacteria 1,2
. Although transposon mutagenesis is less time consuming, less costly, and does not require completed genome information, there are two weaknesses in this method: (1) the possibility of a disparate mutants in the mixed mutant library that counter-selects mutants with decreased competition; and (2) the possibility of partial gene inactivation whereby genes do not entirely lose their function following the insertion of a transposon. Single-gene deletion analysis may compensate for the drawbacks associated with transposon mutagenesis. To improve the efficiency of genome-wide single gene deletion, we attempt to establish a high-throughput technique for genome-wide single gene deletion using Streptococcus sanguinis
as a model organism. Each gene deletion construct in S. sanguinis
genome is designed to comprise 1-kb upstream of the targeted gene, the aphA-3
gene, encoding kanamycin resistance protein, and 1-kb downstream of the targeted gene. Three sets of primers F1/R1, F2/R2, and F3/R3, respectively, are designed and synthesized in a 96-well plate format for PCR-amplifications of those three components of each deletion construct. Primers R1 and F3 contain 25-bp sequences that are complementary to regions of the aphA-3
gene at their 5' end. A large scale PCR amplification of the aphA-3
gene is performed once for creating all single-gene deletion constructs. The promoter of aphA-3
gene is initially excluded to minimize the potential polar effect of kanamycin cassette. To create the gene deletion constructs, high-throughput PCR amplification and purification are performed in a 96-well plate format. A linear recombinant PCR amplicon for each gene deletion will be made up through four PCR reactions using high-fidelity DNA polymerase. The initial exponential growth phase of S. sanguinis
cultured in Todd Hewitt broth supplemented with 2.5% inactivated horse serum is used to increase competence for the transformation of PCR-recombinant constructs. Under this condition, up to 20% of S. sanguinis
cells can be transformed using ~50 ng of DNA. Based on this approach, 2,048 mutants with single-gene deletion were ultimately obtained from the 2,270 genes in S. sanguinis
excluding four gene ORFs contained entirely within other ORFs in S. sanguinis
SK36 and 218 potential essential genes. The technique on creating gene deletion constructs is high throughput and could be easy to use in genome-wide single gene deletions for any transformable bacteria.
Genetics, Issue 69, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Genomics, Streptococcus sanguinis, Streptococcus, Genome-wide gene deletions, genes, High-throughput, PCR
Using Luciferase to Image Bacterial Infections in Mice
Institutions: Texas A&M Health Science Center.
Imaging is a valuable technique that can be used to monitor biological processes. In particular, the presence of cancer cells, stem cells, specific immune cell types, viral pathogens, parasites and bacteria can be followed in real-time within living animals 1-2
. Application of bioluminescence imaging to the study of pathogens has advantages as compared to conventional strategies for analysis of infections in animal models3-4
. Infections can be visualized within individual animals over time, without requiring euthanasia to determine the location and quantity of the pathogen. Optical imaging allows comprehensive examination of all tissues and organs, rather than sampling of sites previously known to be infected. In addition, the accuracy of inoculation into specific tissues can be directly determined prior to carrying forward animals that were unsuccessfully inoculated throughout the entire experiment. Variability between animals can be controlled for, since imaging allows each animal to be followed individually. Imaging has the potential to greatly reduce animal numbers needed because of the ability to obtain data from numerous time points without having to sample tissues to determine pathogen load3-4
This protocol describes methods to visualize infections in live animals using bioluminescence imaging for recombinant strains of bacteria expressing luciferase. The click beetle (CBRLuc) and firefly luciferases (FFluc) utilize luciferin as a substrate5-6
. The light produced by both CBRluc and FFluc has a broad wavelength from 500 nm to 700 nm, making these luciferases excellent reporters for the optical imaging in living animal models7-9
. This is primarily because wavelengths of light greater than 600 nm are required to avoid absorption by hemoglobin and, thus, travel through mammalian tissue efficiently. Luciferase is genetically introduced into the bacteria to produce light signal10
. Mice are pulmonary inoculated with bioluminescent bacteria intratracheally to allow monitoring of infections in real time. After luciferin injection, images are acquired using the IVIS Imaging System. During imaging, mice are anesthetized with isoflurane using an XGI-8 Gas Anethesia System. Images can be analyzed to localize and quantify the signal source, which represents the bacterial infection site(s) and number, respectively. After imaging, CFU determination is carried out on homogenized tissue to confirm the presence of bacteria. Several doses of bacteria are used to correlate bacterial numbers with luminescence. Imaging can be applied to study of pathogenesis and evaluation of the efficacy of antibacterial compounds and vaccines.
Infection, Issue 48, Bioluminescence, whole animal imaging, pathogenesis, click-beetle, in vivo imaging, firefly
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
A Protocol for Phage Display and Affinity Selection Using Recombinant Protein Baits
Institutions: University of Kentucky .
Using recombinant phage as a scaffold to present various protein portions encoded by a directionally cloned cDNA library to immobilized bait molecules is an efficient means to discover interactions. The technique has largely been used to discover protein-protein interactions but the bait molecule to be challenged need not be restricted to proteins. The protocol presented here has been optimized to allow a modest number of baits to be screened in replicates to maximize the identification of independent clones presenting the same protein. This permits greater confidence that interacting proteins identified are legitimate interactors of the bait molecule. Monitoring the phage titer after each affinity selection round provides information on how the affinity selection is progressing as well as on the efficacy of negative controls. One means of titering the phage, and how and what to prepare in advance to allow this process to progress as efficiently as possible, is presented. Attributes of amplicons retrieved following isolation of independent plaque are highlighted that can be used to ascertain how well the affinity selection has progressed. Trouble shooting techniques to minimize false positives or to bypass persistently recovered phage are explained. Means of reducing viral contamination flare up are discussed.
Biochemistry, Issue 84, Affinity selection, Phage display, protein-protein interaction
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
Stress-induced Antibiotic Susceptibility Testing on a Chip
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Manufacturing Innovation, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, Boston University.
We have developed a rapid microfluidic method for antibiotic susceptibility testing in a stress-based environment. Fluid is passed at high speeds over bacteria immobilized on the bottom of a microfluidic channel. In the presence of stress and antibiotic, susceptible strains of bacteria die rapidly. However, resistant bacteria survive these stressful conditions. The hypothesis behind this method is new: stress activation of biochemical pathways, which are targets of antibiotics, can accelerate antibiotic susceptibility testing. As compared to standard antibiotic susceptibility testing methods, the rate-limiting step - bacterial growth - is omitted during antibiotic application. The technical implementation of the method is in a combination of standard techniques and innovative approaches. The standard parts of the method include bacterial culture protocols, defining microfluidic channels in polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), cell viability monitoring with fluorescence, and batch image processing for bacteria counting. Innovative parts of the method are in the use of culture media flow for mechanical stress application, use of enzymes to damage but not kill the bacteria, and use of microarray substrates for bacterial attachment. The developed platform can be used in antibiotic and nonantibiotic related drug development and testing. As compared to the standard bacterial suspension experiments, the effect of the drug can be turned on and off repeatedly over controlled time periods. Repetitive observation of the same bacterial population is possible over the course of the same experiment.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, antibiotic, susceptibility, resistance, microfluidics, microscopy, rapid, testing, stress, bacteria, fluorescence
Visualizing Bacteria in Nematodes using Fluorescent Microscopy
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Symbioses, the living together of two or more organisms, are widespread throughout all kingdoms of life. As two of the most ubiquitous organisms on earth, nematodes and bacteria form a wide array of symbiotic associations that range from beneficial to pathogenic 1-3
. One such association is the mutually beneficial relationship between Xenorhabdus
bacteria and Steinernema
nematodes, which has emerged as a model system of symbiosis 4
nematodes are entomopathogenic, using their bacterial symbiont to kill insects 5
. For transmission between insect hosts, the bacteria colonize the intestine of the nematode's infective juvenile stage 6-8
. Recently, several other nematode species have been shown to utilize bacteria to kill insects 9-13
, and investigations have begun examining the interactions between the nematodes and bacteria in these systems 9
We describe a method for visualization of a bacterial symbiont within or on a nematode host, taking advantage of the optical transparency of nematodes when viewed by microscopy. The bacteria are engineered to express a fluorescent protein, allowing their visualization by fluorescence microscopy. Many plasmids are available that carry genes encoding proteins that fluoresce at different wavelengths (i.e.
green or red), and conjugation of plasmids from a donor Escherichia coli
strain into a recipient bacterial symbiont is successful for a broad range of bacteria. The methods described were developed to investigate the association between Steinernema carpocapsae
and Xenorhabdus nematophila 14
. Similar methods have been used to investigate other nematode-bacterium associations 9,15-18
and the approach therefore is generally applicable.
The method allows characterization of bacterial presence and localization within nematodes at different stages of development, providing insights into the nature of the association and the process of colonization 14,16,19
. Microscopic analysis reveals both colonization frequency within a population and localization of bacteria to host tissues 14,16,19-21
. This is an advantage over other methods of monitoring bacteria within nematode populations, such as sonication 22
or grinding 23
, which can provide average levels of colonization, but may not, for example, discriminate populations with a high frequency of low symbiont loads from populations with a low frequency of high symbiont loads. Discriminating the frequency and load of colonizing bacteria can be especially important when screening or characterizing bacterial mutants for colonization phenotypes 21,24
. Indeed, fluorescence microscopy has been used in high throughput screening of bacterial mutants for defects in colonization 17,18
, and is less laborious than other methods, including sonication 22,25-27
and individual nematode dissection 28,29
Microbiology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Bacteriology, Developmental Biology, Colonization, Xenorhabdus, Steinernema, symbiosis, nematode, bacteria, fluorescence microscopy
Isolation of Translating Ribosomes Containing Peptidyl-tRNAs for Functional and Structural Analyses
Institutions: University of Alabama Huntsville, Stanford University .
Recently, structural and biochemical studies have detailed many of the molecular events that occur in the ribosome during inhibition of protein synthesis by antibiotics and during nascent polypeptide synthesis. Some of these antibiotics, and regulatory nascent polypeptides mostly in the form of peptidyl-tRNAs, inhibit either peptide bond formation or translation termination1-7
. These inhibitory events can stop the movement of the ribosome, a phenomenon termed "translational arrest". Translation arrest induced by either an antibiotic or a nascent polypeptide has been shown to regulate the expression of genes involved in diverse cellular functions such as cell growth, antibiotic resistance, protein translocation and cell metabolism8-13
. Knowledge of how antibiotics and regulatory nascent polypeptides alter ribosome function is essential if we are to understand the complete role of the ribosome in translation, in every organism.
Here, we describe a simple methodology that can be used to purify, exclusively, for analysis, those ribosomes translating a specific mRNA and containing a specific peptidyl-tRNA14
. This procedure is based on selective isolation of translating ribosomes bound to a biotin-labeled mRNA. These translational complexes are separated from other ribosomes in the same mixture, using streptavidin paramagnetic beads (SMB) and a magnetic field (MF). Biotin-labeled mRNAs are synthesized by run-off transcription assays using as templates PCR-generated DNA fragments that contain T7 transcriptional promoters. T7 RNA polymerase incorporates biotin-16-UMP from biotin-UTP; under our conditions approximately ten biotin-16-UMP molecules are incorporated in a 600 nt mRNA with a 25% UMP content. These biotin-labeled mRNAs are then isolated, and used in in vitro
translation assays performed with release factor 2 (RF2)-depleted cell-free extracts obtained from Escherichia coli
strains containing wild type or mutant ribosomes. Ribosomes translating the biotin-labeled mRNA sequences are stalled at the stop codon region, due to the absence of the RF2 protein, which normally accomplishes translation termination. Stalled ribosomes containing the newly synthesized peptidyl-tRNA are isolated and removed from the translation reactions using SMB and an MF. These beads only bind biotin-containing messages.
The isolated, translational complexes, can be used to analyze the structural and functional features of wild type or mutant ribosomal components, or peptidyl-tRNA sequences, as well as determining ribosome interaction with antibiotics or other molecular factors 1,14-16
. To examine the function of these isolated ribosome complexes, peptidyl-transferase assays can be performed in the presence of the antibiotic puromycin1
. To study structural changes in translational complexes, well established procedures can be used, such as i) crosslinking to specific amino acids14
and/or ii) alkylation protection assays1,14,17
Molecular Biology, Issue 48, Ribosome stalling, ribosome isolation, peptidyl-tRNA, in vitro translation, RNA chemical modification, puromycin, antibiotics.
Development of a Negative Selectable Marker for Entamoeba histolytica
Institutions: University of Virginia Health System.
is the causative agent of amebiasis and infects up to 10% of the world's population. The molecular techniques that have enabled the up- and down-regulation of gene expression rely on the transfection of stably maintained plasmids. While these have increased our understanding of Entamoeba virulence factors, the capacity to integrate exogenous DNA into genome, which would allow reverse genetics experiments, would be a significant advantage in the study of this parasite. The challenges presented by this organism include inability to select for homologous recombination events and difficulty to cure episomal plasmid DNA from transfected trophozoites. The later results in a high background of exogenous DNA, a major problem in the identification of trophozoites in which a bona fide genomic integration event has occurred. We report the development of a negative selection system based upon transgenic expression of a yeast cytosine deaminase and uracil phosphoribosyl transferase chimera (FCU1) and selection with prodrug 5-fluorocytosine (5-FC). The FCU1 enzyme converts non-toxic 5-FC into toxic 5-fluorouracil and 5-fluorouridine-5'-monophosphate. E. histolytica
lines expressing FCU1 were found to be 30 fold more sensitive to the prodrug compared to the control strain.
Infectious Disease, Issue 46, Entamoeba, negative selectable marker, 5-fluorocytosine, gene knockout, Cytosine deaminase, UPRT CMFDA.
Isolation of Ribosome Bound Nascent Polypeptides in vitro to Identify Translational Pause Sites Along mRNA
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
The rate of translational elongation is non-uniform. mRNA secondary structure, codon usage and mRNA associated proteins may alter ribosome movement on the messagefor review see 1
. However, it's now widely accepted that synonymous codon usage is the primary cause of non-uniform translational elongation rates1
. Synonymous codons are not used with identical frequency. A bias exists in the use of synonymous codons with some codons used more frequently than others2
. Codon bias is organism as well as tissue specific2,3
. Moreover, frequency of codon usage is directly proportional to the concentrations of cognate tRNAs4
. Thus, a frequently used codon will have higher multitude of corresponding tRNAs, which further implies that a frequent codon will be translated faster than an infrequent one. Thus, regions on mRNA enriched in rare codons (potential pause sites) will as a rule slow down ribosome movement on the message and cause accumulation of nascent peptides of the respective sizes5-8
. These pause sites can have functional impact on the protein expression, mRNA stability and protein foldingfor review see 9
. Indeed, it was shown that alleviation of such pause sites can alter ribosome movement on mRNA and subsequently may affect the efficiency of co-translational (in vivo
) protein folding1,7,10,11
. To understand the process of protein folding in vivo
, in the cell, that is ultimately coupled to the process of protein synthesis it is essential to gain comprehensive insights into the impact of codon usage/tRNA content on the movement of ribosomes along mRNA during translational elongation.
Here we describe a simple technique that can be used to locate major translation pause sites for a given mRNA translated in various cell-free systems6-8
. This procedure is based on isolation of nascent polypeptides accumulating on ribosomes during in vitro
translation of a target mRNA. The rationale is that at low-frequency codons, the increase in the residence time of the ribosomes results in increased amounts of nascent peptides of the corresponding sizes. In vitro
transcribed mRNA is used for in vitro
translational reactions in the presence of radioactively labeled amino acids to allow the detection of the nascent chains. In order to isolate ribosome bound nascent polypeptide complexes the translation reaction is layered on top of 30% glycerol solution followed by centrifugation. Nascent polypeptides in polysomal pellet are further treated with ribonuclease A and resolved by SDS PAGE. This technique can be potentially used for any protein and allows analysis of ribosome movement along mRNA and the detection of the major pause sites. Additionally, this protocol can be adapted to study factors and conditions that can alter ribosome movement and thus potentially can also alter the function/conformation of the protein.
Genetics, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Ribosome, Nascent polypeptide, Co-translational protein folding, Synonymous codon usage, gene regulation
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis
. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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
The Production of C. elegans Transgenes via Recombineering with the galK Selectable Marker
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, University of Pittsburgh.
The creation of transgenic animals is widely utilized in C. elegans
research including the use of GFP fusion proteins to study the regulation and expression pattern of genes of interest or generation of tandem affinity purification (TAP) tagged versions of specific genes to facilitate their purification. Typically transgenes are generated by placing a promoter upstream of a GFP reporter gene or cDNA of interest, and this often produces a representative expression pattern. However, critical elements of gene regulation, such as control elements in the 3' untranslated region or alternative promoters, could be missed by this approach. Further only a single splice variant can be usually studied by this means. In contrast, the use of worm genomic DNA carried by fosmid DNA clones likely includes most if not all elements involved in gene regulation in vivo
which permits the greater ability to capture the genuine expression pattern and timing. To facilitate the generation of transgenes using fosmid DNA, we describe an E. coli
based recombineering procedure to insert GFP, a TAP-tag, or other sequences of interest into any location in the gene. The procedure uses the galK
gene as the selection marker for both the positive and negative selection steps in recombineering which results in obtaining the desired modification with high efficiency. Further, plasmids containing the galK
gene flanked by homology arms to commonly used GFP and TAP fusion genes are available which reduce the cost of oligos by 50% when generating a GFP or TAP fusion protein. These plasmids use the R6K replication origin which precludes the need for extensive PCR product purification. Finally, we also demonstrate a technique to integrate the unc-119
marker on to the fosmid backbone which allows the fosmid to be directly injected or bombarded into worms to generate transgenic animals. This video demonstrates the procedures involved in generating a transgene via recombineering using this method.
Genetics, Issue 47, C. elegans, transgenes, fosmid clone, galK, recombineering, homologous recombination, E. coli
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing