Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Rapid Determination of the Thermal Nociceptive Threshold in Diabetic Rats
Institutions: Wright State University, Universidade São Judas Tadeu.
Painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN) is characterized by hyperalgesia i.e.
, increased sensitivity to noxious stimulus, and allodynia i.e.,
hypersensitivity to normally innocuous stimuli1
. Hyperalgesia and allodynia have been studied in many different rodent models of diabetes mellitus2
. However, as stated by Bölcskei et al
, determination of "pain
" in animal models is challenging due to its subjective nature3
. Moreover, the traditional methods used to determine behavioral responses to noxious thermal stimuli usually lack reproducibility and pharmacological sensitivity3
. For instance, by using the hot-plate method of Ankier4
, flinch, withdrawal and/or licking of either hind- and/or fore-paws is quantified as reflex latencies at constant high thermal stimuli (52-55 °C). However, animals that are hyperalgesic to thermal stimulus do not reproducibly show differences in reflex latencies using those supra-threshold temperatures3,5
. As the recently described method of Bölcskei et al.6
, the procedures described here allows for the rapid, sensitive and reproducible determination of thermal nociceptive thresholds (TNTs) in mice and rats. The method uses slowly increasing thermal stimulus applied mostly to the skin of mouse/rat plantar surface. The method is particularly sensitive to study anti-nociception during hyperalgesic states such as PDN. The procedures described bellow are based on the ones published in detail by Almási et al 5
and Bölcskei et al 3
. The procedures described here have been approved the Laboratory Animal Care and Use Committee (LACUC), Wright State University.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, Diabetes, painful diabetic neuropathy, nociception, thermal nociceptive threshold, nocifensive behavior
Rapid PCR Thermocycling using Microscale Thermal Convection
Institutions: Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University.
Many molecular biology assays depend in some way on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify an initially dilute target DNA sample to a detectable concentration level. But the design of conventional PCR thermocycling hardware, predominantly based on massive metal heating blocks whose temperature is regulated by thermoelectric heaters, severely limits the achievable reaction speed1
. Considerable electrical power is also required to repeatedly heat and cool the reagent mixture, limiting the ability to deploy these instruments in a portable format.
Thermal convection has emerged as a promising alternative thermocycling approach that has the potential to overcome these limitations2-9
. Convective flows are an everyday occurrence in a diverse array of settings ranging from the Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and interior, to decorative and colorful lava lamps. Fluid motion is initiated in the same way in each case: a buoyancy driven instability arises when a confined volume of fluid is subjected to a spatial temperature gradient. These same phenomena offer an attractive way to perform PCR thermocycling. By applying a static temperature gradient across an appropriately designed reactor geometry, a continuous circulatory flow can be established that will repeatedly transport PCR reagents through temperature zones associated with the denaturing, annealing, and extension stages of the reaction (Figure 1). Thermocycling can therefore be actuated in a pseudo-isothermal manner by simply holding two opposing surfaces at fixed temperatures, completely eliminating the need to repeatedly heat and cool the instrument.
One of the main challenges facing design of convective thermocyclers is the need to precisely control the spatial velocity and temperature distributions within the reactor to ensure that the reagents sequentially occupy the correct temperature zones for a sufficient period of time10,11
. Here we describe results of our efforts to probe the full 3-D velocity and temperature distributions in microscale convective thermocyclers12
. Unexpectedly, we have discovered a subset of complex flow trajectories that are highly favorable for PCR due to a synergistic combination of (1) continuous exchange among flow paths that provides an enhanced opportunity for reagents to sample the full range of optimal temperature profiles, and (2) increased time spent within the extension temperature zone the rate limiting step of PCR. Extremely rapid DNA amplification times (under 10 min) are achievable in reactors designed to generate these flows.
Molecular Biology, Issue 49, polymerase chain reaction, PCR, DNA, thermal convection
The Use of Thermal Infra-Red Imaging to Detect Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Institutions: Loma Linda University, Azusa Pacific University.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), also known as exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD), is commonly experienced in individuals who have been physically inactive for prolonged periods of time, and begin with an unexpected bout of exercise1-4
, but can also occur in athletes who exercise beyond their normal limits of training5
. The symptoms associated with this painful phenomenon can range from slight muscle tenderness, to severe debilitating pain1,3,5
. The intensity of these symptoms and the related discomfort increases within the first 24 hours following the termination of the exercise, and peaks between 24 to 72 hours post exercise1,3
. For this reason, DOMS is one of the most common recurrent forms of sports injury that can affect an individual’s performance, and become intimidating for many1,4
For the last 3 decades, the DOMS phenomenon has gained a considerable amount of interest amongst researchers and specialists in exercise physiology, sports, and rehabilitation fields6
. There has been a variety of published studies investigating this painful occurrence in regards to its underlying mechanisms, treatment interventions, and preventive strategies1-5,7-12
. However, it is evident from the literature that DOMS is not an easy pathology to quantify, as there is a wide amount of variability between the measurement tools and methods used to quantify this condition6
. It is obvious that no agreement has been made on one best evaluation measure for DOMS, which makes it difficult to verify whether a specific intervention really helps in decreasing the symptoms associated with this type of soreness or not. Thus, DOMS can be seen as somewhat ambiguous, because many studies depend on measuring soreness using a visual analog scale (VAS)10,13-15
, which is a subjective rather than an objective measure. Even though needle biopsies of the muscle, and blood levels of myofibre proteins might be considered a gold standard to some6
, large variations in some of these blood proteins have been documented 6,16
, in addition to the high risks sometimes associated with invasive techniques.
Therefore, in the current investigation, we tested a thermal infra-red (IR) imaging technique of the skin above the exercised muscle to detect the associated muscle soreness. Infra-red thermography has been used, and found to be successful in detecting different types of diseases and infections since the 1950’s17
. But surprisingly, near to nothing has been done on DOMS and changes in skin temperature. The main purpose of this investigation was to examine changes in DOMS using this safe and non-invasive technique.
Medicine, Issue 59, DOMS, Imaging, Thermal, Infra-Red, Muscle, Soreness, Thermography
A New Screening Method for the Directed Evolution of Thermostable Bacteriolytic Enzymes
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Directed evolution is defined as a method to harness natural selection in order to engineer proteins to acquire particular properties that are not associated with the protein in nature. Literature has provided numerous examples regarding the implementation of directed evolution to successfully alter molecular specificity and catalysis1
. The primary advantage of utilizing directed evolution instead of more rational-based approaches for molecular engineering relates to the volume and diversity of variants that can be screened2
. One possible application of directed evolution involves improving structural stability of bacteriolytic enzymes, such as endolysins. Bacteriophage encode and express endolysins to hydrolyze a critical covalent bond in the peptidoglycan (i.e.
cell wall) of bacteria, resulting in host cell lysis and liberation of progeny virions. Notably, these enzymes possess the ability to extrinsically induce lysis to susceptible bacteria in the absence of phage and furthermore have been validated both in vitro
and in vivo
for their therapeutic potential3-5
. The subject of our directed evolution study involves the PlyC endolysin, which is composed of PlyCA and PlyCB subunits6
. When purified and added extrinsically, the PlyC holoenzyme lyses group A streptococci (GAS) as well as other streptococcal groups in a matter of seconds and furthermore has been validated in vivo
. Significantly, monitoring residual enzyme kinetics after elevated temperature incubation provides distinct evidence that PlyC loses lytic activity abruptly at 45 °C, suggesting a short therapeutic shelf life, which may limit additional development of this enzyme. Further studies reveal the lack of thermal stability is only observed for the PlyCA subunit, whereas the PlyCB subunit is stable up to ~90 °C (unpublished observation). In addition to PlyC, there are several examples in literature that describe the thermolabile nature of endolysins. For example, the Staphylococcus aureus
endolysin LysK and Streptococcus pneumoniae
endolysins Cpl-1 and Pal lose activity spontaneously at 42 °C, 43.5 °C and 50.2 °C, respectively8-10
. According to the Arrhenius equation, which relates the rate of a chemical reaction to the temperature present in the particular system, an increase in thermostability will correlate with an increase in shelf life expectancy11
. Toward this end, directed evolution has been shown to be a useful tool for altering the thermal activity of various molecules in nature, but never has this particular technology been exploited successfully for the study of bacteriolytic enzymes. Likewise, successful accounts of progressing the structural stability of this particular class of antimicrobials altogether are nonexistent. In this video, we employ a novel methodology that uses an error-prone DNA polymerase followed by an optimized screening process using a 96 well microtiter plate format to identify mutations to the PlyCA subunit of the PlyC streptococcal endolysin that correlate to an increase in enzyme kinetic stability (Figure 1
). Results after just one round of random mutagenesis suggest the methodology is generating PlyC variants that retain more than twice the residual activity when compared to wild-type (WT) PlyC after elevated temperature treatment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, directed evolution, thermal behavior, thermostability, endolysin, enzybiotic, bacteriolytic, antimicrobial, therapeutic, PlyC
Quantitative Visualization and Detection of Skin Cancer Using Dynamic Thermal Imaging
Institutions: The Johns Hopkins University.
In 2010 approximately 68,720 melanomas will be diagnosed in the US alone, with around 8,650 resulting in death 1
. To date, the only effective treatment for melanoma remains surgical excision, therefore, the key to extended survival is early detection 2,3
. Considering the large numbers of patients diagnosed every year and the limitations in accessing specialized care quickly, the development of objective in vivo
diagnostic instruments to aid the diagnosis is essential. New techniques to detect skin cancer, especially non-invasive diagnostic tools, are being explored in numerous laboratories. Along with the surgical methods, techniques such as digital photography, dermoscopy, multispectral imaging systems (MelaFind), laser-based systems (confocal scanning laser microscopy, laser doppler perfusion imaging, optical coherence tomography), ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, are being tested. Each technique offers unique advantages and disadvantages, many of which pose a compromise between effectiveness and accuracy versus ease of use and cost considerations. Details about these techniques and comparisons are available in the literature 4
Infrared (IR) imaging was shown to be a useful method to diagnose the signs of certain diseases by measuring the local skin temperature. There is a large body of evidence showing that disease or deviation from normal functioning are accompanied by changes of the temperature of the body, which again affect the temperature of the skin 5,6
. Accurate data about the temperature of the human body and skin can provide a wealth of information on the processes responsible for heat generation and thermoregulation, in particular the deviation from normal conditions, often caused by disease. However, IR imaging has not been widely recognized in medicine due to the premature use of the technology 7,8
several decades ago, when temperature measurement accuracy and the spatial resolution were inadequate and sophisticated image processing tools were unavailable. This situation changed dramatically in the late 1990s-2000s. Advances in IR instrumentation, implementation of digital image processing algorithms and dynamic IR imaging, which enables scientists to analyze not only the spatial, but also the temporal thermal behavior of the skin 9
, allowed breakthroughs in the field.
In our research, we explore the feasibility of IR imaging, combined with theoretical and experimental studies, as a cost effective, non-invasive, in vivo optical measurement technique for tumor detection, with emphasis on the screening and early detection of melanoma 10-13
. In this study, we show data obtained in a patient study in which patients that possess a pigmented lesion with a clinical indication for biopsy are selected for imaging. We compared the difference in thermal responses between healthy and malignant tissue and compared our data with biopsy results. We concluded that the increased metabolic activity of the melanoma lesion can be detected by dynamic infrared imaging.
Medicine, Issue 51, Infrared imaging, quantitative thermal analysis, image processing, skin cancer, melanoma, transient thermal response, skin thermal models, skin phantom experiment, patient study
Optimized PCR-based Detection of Mycoplasma
The maintenance of contamination-free cell lines is essential to cell-based research. Among the biggest contaminant concerns are mycoplasma contamination. Although mycoplasma do not usually kill contaminated cells, they are difficult to detect and can cause a variety of effects on cultured cells, including altered metabolism, slowed proliferation and chromosomal aberrations. In short, mycoplasma contamination compromises the value of those cell lines in providing accurate data for life science research.
The sources of mycoplasma contamination in the laboratory are very challenging to completely control. As certain mycoplasma species are found on human skin, they can be introduced through poor aseptic technique. Additionally, they can come from contaminated supplements such as fetal bovine serum, and most importantly from other contaminated cell cultures. Once mycoplasma contaminates a culture, it can quickly spread to contaminate other areas of the lab. Strict adherence to good laboratory practices such as good aseptic technique are key, and routine testing for mycoplasma is highly recommended for successful control of mycoplasma contamination.
PCR-based detection of mycoplasma has become a very popular method for routine cell line maintenance. PCR-based detection methods are highly sensitive and can provide rapid results, which allows researchers to respond quickly to isolate and eliminate contamination once it is detected in comparison to the time required using microbiological techniques. The LookOut Mycoplasma PCR Detection Kit is highly sensitive, with a detection limit of only 2 genomes per μl. Taking advantage of the highly specific JumpStart Taq DNA Polymerase and a proprietary primer design, false positives are greatly reduced. The convenient 8-tube format, strips pre-coated with dNTPs, and associated primers helps increase the throughput to meet the needs of customers with larger collections of cell lines.
Given the extreme sensitivity of the kit, great care must be taken to prevent inadvertent contamination of samples and reagents. The step-by-step protocol we demonstrate highlights the precautions and practices required for reliable mycoplasma detection. We also show and discuss typical results and their interpretation. Our goal is to ensure the success of researchers using the LookOut Mycoplasma PCR Detection Kit.
Microbiology, Issue 52, Mycoplasma detection, mycoplasma contamination, cell culture, sigma mycoplasma detection, acholeplasma contamination, polymerase chain reaction, PCR
Measurement of Greenhouse Gas Flux from Agricultural Soils Using Static Chambers
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems Watershed Management Research Unit.
Measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes between the soil and the atmosphere, in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems, is critical to understanding the biogeochemical drivers of climate change and to the development and evaluation of GHG mitigation strategies based on modulation of landscape management practices. The static chamber-based method described here is based on trapping gases emitted from the soil surface within a chamber and collecting samples from the chamber headspace at regular intervals for analysis by gas chromatography. Change in gas concentration over time is used to calculate flux. This method can be utilized to measure landscape-based flux of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, and to estimate differences between treatments or explore system dynamics over seasons or years. Infrastructure requirements are modest, but a comprehensive experimental design is essential. This method is easily deployed in the field, conforms to established guidelines, and produces data suitable to large-scale GHG emissions studies.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, greenhouse gas, trace gas, gas flux, static chamber, soil, field, agriculture, climate
Quantitative Detection of Trace Explosive Vapors by Programmed Temperature Desorption Gas Chromatography-Electron Capture Detector
Institutions: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, NOVA Research, Inc., U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
The direct liquid deposition of solution standards onto sorbent-filled thermal desorption tubes is used for the quantitative analysis of trace explosive vapor samples. The direct liquid deposition method yields a higher fidelity between the analysis of vapor samples and the analysis of solution standards than using separate injection methods for vapors and solutions, i.e.
, samples collected on vapor collection tubes and standards prepared in solution vials. Additionally, the method can account for instrumentation losses, which makes it ideal for minimizing variability and quantitative trace chemical detection. Gas chromatography with an electron capture detector is an instrumentation configuration sensitive to nitro-energetics, such as TNT and RDX, due to their relatively high electron affinity. However, vapor quantitation of these compounds is difficult without viable vapor standards. Thus, we eliminate the requirement for vapor standards by combining the sensitivity of the instrumentation with a direct liquid deposition protocol to analyze trace explosive vapor samples.
Chemistry, Issue 89,
Gas Chromatography (GC), Electron Capture Detector, Explosives, Quantitation, Thermal Desorption, TNT, RDX
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
Local and Global Methods of Assessing Thermal Nociception in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Houston-Downtown, University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
In this article, we demonstrate assays to study thermal nociception in Drosophila
larvae. One assay involves spatially-restricted (local) stimulation of thermal nociceptors1,2
while the second involves a wholesale (global) activation of most or all such neurons3
. Together, these techniques allow visualization and quantification of the behavioral functions of Drosophila
nociceptive sensory neurons.
larva is an established model system to study thermal nociception, a sensory response to potentially harmful temperatures that is evolutionarily conserved across species1,2
. The advantages of Drosophila
for such studies are the relative simplicity of its nervous system and the sophistication of the genetic techniques that can be used to dissect the molecular basis of the underlying biology4-6
, as in all metazoans, the response to noxious thermal stimuli generally involves a "nocifensive" aversive withdrawal to the presented stimulus7
. Such stimuli are detected through free nerve endings or nociceptors and the amplitude of the organismal response depends on the number of nociceptors receiving the noxious stimulus8
. In Drosophila
, it is the class IV dendritic arborization sensory neurons that detect noxious thermal and mechanical stimuli9
in addition to their recently discovered role as photoreceptors10
. These neurons, which have been very well studied at the developmental level, arborize over the barrier epidermal sheet and make contacts with nearly all epidermal cells11,12
. The single axon of each class IV neuron projects into the ventral nerve cord of the central nervous system11
where they may connect to second-order neurons that project to the brain.
Under baseline conditions, nociceptive sensory neurons will not fire until a relatively high threshold is reached. The assays described here allow the investigator to quantify baseline behavioral responses or, presumably, the sensitization that ensues following tissue damage. Each assay provokes distinct but related locomotory behavioral responses to noxious thermal stimuli and permits the researcher to visualize and quantify various aspects of thermal nociception in Drosophila
larvae. The assays can be applied to larvae of desired genotypes or to larvae raised under different environmental conditions that might impact nociception. Since thermal nociception is conserved across species, the findings gleaned from genetic dissection in Drosophila
will likely inform our understanding of thermal nociception in other species, including vertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, Drosophila sensory neurons, thermal nociception, nociceptive sensitization, tissue damage, fly behavioral response, dendritic arborization neurons, allodynia, hyperalgesia, behavioral assay
Comprehensive Analysis of Transcription Dynamics from Brain Samples Following Behavioral Experience
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The encoding of experiences in the brain and the consolidation of long-term memories depend on gene transcription. Identifying the function of specific genes in encoding experience is one of the main objectives of molecular neuroscience. Furthermore, the functional association of defined genes with specific behaviors has implications for understanding the basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. Induction of robust transcription programs has been observed in the brains of mice following various behavioral manipulations. While some genetic elements are utilized recurrently following different behavioral manipulations and in different brain nuclei, transcriptional programs are overall unique to the inducing stimuli and the structure in which they are studied1,2
In this publication, a protocol is described for robust and comprehensive transcriptional profiling from brain nuclei of mice in response to behavioral manipulation. The protocol is demonstrated in the context of analysis of gene expression dynamics in the nucleus accumbens following acute cocaine experience. Subsequent to a defined in vivo
experience, the target neural tissue is dissected; followed by RNA purification, reverse transcription and utilization of microfluidic arrays for comprehensive qPCR analysis of multiple target genes. This protocol is geared towards comprehensive analysis (addressing 50-500 genes) of limiting quantities of starting material, such as small brain samples or even single cells.
The protocol is most advantageous for parallel analysis of multiple samples (e.g.
single cells, dynamic analysis following pharmaceutical, viral or behavioral perturbations). However, the protocol could also serve for the characterization and quality assurance of samples prior to whole-genome studies by microarrays or RNAseq, as well as validation of data obtained from whole-genome studies.
Behavior, Issue 90,
Brain, behavior, RNA, transcription, nucleus accumbens, cocaine, high-throughput qPCR, experience-dependent plasticity, gene regulatory networks, microdissection
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
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
Characterization of Thermal Transport in One-dimensional Solid Materials
Institutions: Iowa State University.
The TET (transient electro-thermal) technique is an effective approach developed to measure the thermal diffusivity of solid materials, including conductive, semi-conductive or nonconductive one-dimensional structures. This technique broadens the measurement scope of materials (conductive and nonconductive) and improves the accuracy and stability. If the sample (especially biomaterials, such as human head hair, spider silk, and silkworm silk) is not conductive, it will be coated with a gold layer to make it electronically conductive. The effect of parasitic conduction and radiative losses on the thermal diffusivity can be subtracted during data processing. Then the real thermal conductivity can be calculated with the given value of volume-based specific heat (ρcp
), which can be obtained from calibration, noncontact photo-thermal technique or measuring the density and specific heat separately. In this work, human head hair samples are used to show how to set up the experiment, process the experimental data, and subtract the effect of parasitic conduction and radiative losses.
Physics, Issue 83, thermal transport, thermal diffusivity, thermal conductivity, transient electro-thermal technique, volume-based specific heat, human head hair
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
Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro
replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ
characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3
(bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ
time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ
Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ
IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
Measurement of Leaf Hydraulic Conductance and Stomatal Conductance and Their Responses to Irradiance and Dehydration Using the Evaporative Flux Method (EFM)
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Water is a key resource, and the plant water transport system sets limits on maximum growth and drought tolerance. When plants open their stomata to achieve a high stomatal conductance (gs
) to capture CO2
for photosynthesis, water is lost by transpiration1,2
. Water evaporating from the airspaces is replaced from cell walls, in turn drawing water from the xylem of leaf veins, in turn drawing from xylem in the stems and roots. As water is pulled through the system, it experiences hydraulic resistance, creating tension throughout the system and a low leaf water potential (Ψleaf
). The leaf itself is a critical bottleneck in the whole plant system, accounting for on average 30% of the plant hydraulic resistance3
. Leaf hydraulic conductance (Kleaf
= 1/ leaf hydraulic resistance) is the ratio of the water flow rate to the water potential gradient across the leaf, and summarizes the behavior of a complex system: water moves through the petiole and through several orders of veins, exits into the bundle sheath and passes through or around mesophyll cells before evaporating into the airspace and being transpired from the stomata. Kleaf
is of strong interest as an important physiological trait to compare species, quantifying the effectiveness of the leaf structure and physiology for water transport, and a key variable to investigate for its relationship to variation in structure (e.g.
, in leaf venation architecture) and its impacts on photosynthetic gas exchange. Further, Kleaf
responds strongly to the internal and external leaf environment3
can increase dramatically with irradiance apparently due to changes in the expression and activation of aquaporins, the proteins involved in water transport through membranes4
, and Kleaf
declines strongly during drought, due to cavitation and/or collapse of xylem conduits, and/or loss of permeability in the extra-xylem tissues due to mesophyll and bundle sheath cell shrinkage or aquaporin deactivation5-10
. Because Kleaf
can constrain gs
and photosynthetic rate across species in well watered conditions and during drought, and thus limit whole-plant performance they may possibly determine species distributions especially as droughts increase in frequency and severity11-14
We present a simple method for simultaneous determination of Kleaf
on excised leaves. A transpiring leaf is connected by its petiole to tubing running to a water source on a balance. The loss of water from the balance is recorded to calculate the flow rate through the leaf. When steady state transpiration (E
, mmol • m-2
) is reached, gs
is determined by dividing by vapor pressure deficit, and Kleaf
by dividing by the water potential driving force determined using a pressure chamber (Kleaf
This method can be used to assess Kleaf
responses to different irradiances and the vulnerability of Kleaf
Plant Biology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Ecology, Biology, Botany, Leaf traits, hydraulics, stomata, transpiration, xylem, conductance, leaf hydraulic conductance, resistance, evaporative flux method, whole plant