Prions are infectious agents that cause the inevitably fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) in animals and humans9,18. The prion protein has two distinct isoforms, the non-infectious host-encoded protein (PrPC) and the infectious protein (PrPSc), an abnormally-folded isoform of PrPC 8.
One of the challenges of working with prion agents is the long incubation period prior to the development of clinical signs following host inoculation13. This traditionally mandated long and expensive animal bioassay studies. Furthermore, the biochemical and biophysical properties of PrPSc are poorly characterized due to their unusual conformation and aggregation states.
PrPSc can seed the conversion of PrPC to PrPScin vitro14. PMCA is an in vitro technique that takes advantage of this ability using sonication and incubation cycles to produce large amounts of PrPSc, at an accelerated rate, from a system containing excess amounts of PrPC and minute amounts of the PrPSc seed19. This technique has proven to effectively recapitulate the species and strain specificity of PrPSc conversion from PrPC, to emulate prion strain interference, and to amplify very low levels of PrPSc from infected tissues, fluids, and environmental samples6,7,16,23 .
This paper details the PMCA protocol, including recommendations for minimizing contamination, generating consistent results, and quantifying those results. We also discuss several PMCA applications, including generation and characterization of infectious prion strains, prion strain interference, and the detection of prions in the environment.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
Procedures for Identifying Infectious Prions After Passage Through the Digestive System of an Avian Species
Infectious prion (PrPRes
) material is likely the cause of fatal, neurodegenerative transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) diseases1
. Transmission of TSE diseases, such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), is presumed to be from animal to animal2,3
as well as from environmental sources4-6
. Scavengers and carnivores have potential to translocate PrPRes
material through consumption and excretion of CWD-contaminated carrion. Recent work has documented passage of PrPRes
material through the digestive system of American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos
), a common North American scavenger7
We describe procedures used to document passage of PrPRes
material through American crows. Crows were gavaged with RML-strain mouse-adapted scrapie and their feces were collected 4 hr post gavage. Crow feces were then pooled and injected intraperitoneally into C57BL/6 mice. Mice were monitored daily until they expressed clinical signs of mouse scrapie and were thereafter euthanized. Asymptomatic mice were monitored until 365 days post inoculation. Western blot analysis was conducted to confirm disease status. Results revealed that prions remain infectious after traveling through the digestive system of crows and are present in the feces, causing disease in test mice.
Infection, Issue 81, American crows, feces, mouse model, prion detection, PrPRes, scrapie, TSE transmission
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
A Protocol for Conducting Rainfall Simulation to Study Soil Runoff
Institutions: University of Maryland Eastern Shore, USDA - Agricultural Research Service, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Rainfall is a driving force for the transport of environmental contaminants from agricultural soils to surficial water bodies via surface runoff. The objective of this study was to characterize the effects of antecedent soil moisture content on the fate and transport of surface applied commercial urea, a common form of nitrogen (N) fertilizer, following a rainfall event that occurs within 24 hr after fertilizer application. Although urea is assumed to be readily hydrolyzed to ammonium and therefore not often available for transport, recent studies suggest that urea can be transported from agricultural soils to coastal waters where it is implicated in harmful algal blooms. A rainfall simulator was used to apply a consistent rate of uniform rainfall across packed soil boxes that had been prewetted to different soil moisture contents. By controlling rainfall and soil physical characteristics, the effects of antecedent soil moisture on urea loss were isolated. Wetter soils exhibited shorter time from rainfall initiation to runoff initiation, greater total volume of runoff, higher urea concentrations in runoff, and greater mass loadings of urea in runoff. These results also demonstrate the importance of controlling for antecedent soil moisture content in studies designed to isolate other variables, such as soil physical or chemical characteristics, slope, soil cover, management, or rainfall characteristics. Because rainfall simulators are designed to deliver raindrops of similar size and velocity as natural rainfall, studies conducted under a standardized protocol can yield valuable data that, in turn, can be used to develop models for predicting the fate and transport of pollutants in runoff.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Agriculture, Water Pollution, Water Quality, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Rainfall Simulator, Artificial Rainfall, Runoff, Packed Soil Boxes, Nonpoint Source, Urea
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
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ
degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g.
fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
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
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
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Monitoring Immune Cells Trafficking Fluorescent Prion Rods Hours after Intraperitoneal Infection
Institutions: Colorado State University.
Presence of an abnormal form a host-encoded prion protein (PrPC) that is protease resistant, pathologic and infectious characterizes prion diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) of cervids and scrapie in sheep. The Prion hypothesis asserts that this abnormal conformer constitutes most or all of the infectious prion. The role of the immune system in early events in peripheral prion pathogenesis has been convincingly demonstrated for CWD and scrapie 1-3
. Transgenic and pharmacologic studies in mice revealed an important role of the Complement system in retaining and replicating prions early after infection 4-6
. In vitro
and in vivo
studies have also observed prion retention by dendritic cells 7-10
, although their role in trafficking remains unclear 11-16
. Macrophages have similarly been implicated in early prion pathogenesis, but these studies have focused on events occurring weeks after infection 3,11,17
. These prior studies also suffer from the problem of differentiating between endogenous PrPC
and infectious prions. Here we describe a semiquantitative, unbiased approach for assessing prion uptake and trafficking from the inoculation site by immune cells recruited there. Aggregated prion rods were purified from infected brain homogenate by detergent solubilization of non-aggregated proteins and ultracentrifugation through a sucrose cushion. Polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, coomassie blue staining and western blotting confirmed recovery of highly enriched prion rods in the pelleted fraction. Prion rods were fluorochrome-labeled then injected intraperitoneally into mice. Two hours later immune cells from peritoneal lavage fluid, spleen and mediastinal and mesenteric lymph nodes were assayed for prion rod retention and cell subsets identified by multicolor flow cytometry using markers for monocytes, neutrophils, dendritic cells, macrophages and B and T cells. This assay allows for the first time direct monitoring of immune cells acquiring and trafficking prions in vivo
within hours after infection. This assay also clearly differentiates infectious, aggregated prions from PrPC normally expressed on host cells, which can be difficult and lead to data interpretation problems in other assay systems. This protocol can be adapted to other inoculation routes (oral, intravenous, intranervous and subcutaneous, e.g.) and antigens (conjugated beads, bacterial, viral and parasitic pathogens and proteins, egg) as well.
Immunology, Issue 45, prions, mouse, trafficking, intraperitoneal, lymph nodes, flow cytometry
Isolation of Soluble and Insoluble PrP Oligomers in the Normal Human Brain
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
The central event in the pathogenesis of prion diseases involves a conversion of the host-encoded cellular prion protein PrPC
into its pathogenic isoform PrPSc 1
is detergent-soluble and sensitive to proteinase K (PK)-digestion, whereas PrPSc
forms detergent-insoluble aggregates and is partially resistant to PK2-6
. The conversion of PrPC
is known to involve a conformational transition of α-helical to β-sheet structures of the protein. However, the in vivo
pathway is still poorly understood. A tentative endogenous PrPSc
, intermediate PrP* or "silent prion", has yet to be identified in the uninfected brain7
Using a combination of biophysical and biochemical approaches, we identified insoluble PrPC
aggregates (designated iPrPC
) from uninfected mammalian brains and cultured neuronal cells8, 9
. Here, we describe detailed procedures of these methods, including ultracentrifugation in detergent buffer, sucrose step gradient sedimentation, size exclusion chromatography, iPrP enrichment by gene 5 protein (g5p) that specifically bind to structurally altered PrP forms10
, and PK-treatment. The combination of these approaches isolates not only insoluble PrPSc
aggregates but also soluble PrPC
oligomers from the normal human brain. Since the protocols described here have been used to isolate both PrPSc
from infected brains and iPrPC
from uninfected brains, they provide us with an opportunity to compare differences in physicochemical features, neurotoxicity, and infectivity between the two isoforms. Such a study will greatly improve our understanding of the infectious proteinaceous pathogens. The physiology and pathophysiology of iPrPC
are unclear at present. Notably, in a newly-identified human prion disease termed variably protease-sensitive prionopathy, we found a new PrPSc
that shares the immunoreactive behavior and fragmentation with iPrPC 11, 12
. Moreover, we recently demonstrated that iPrPC
is the main species that interacts with amyloid-β protein in Alzheimer disease13
. In the same study, these methods were used to isolate Abeta aggregates and oligomers in Alzheimer's disease13
, suggesting their application to non-prion protein aggregates involved in other neurodegenerative disorders.
Medicine, Issue 68, Neuroscience, Physiology, Anatomy, Prion protein, brain, prion disease, insoluble prion protein, oligomer, ultracentrifugation, Western blotting, Sucrose gradient sedimentation, gel filtration
Clinical Examination Protocol to Detect Atypical and Classical Scrapie in Sheep
Institutions: Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency Weybridge.
The diagnosis of scrapie, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSEs) of sheep and goats, is currently based on the detection of disease-associated prion protein by post mortem
tests. Unless a random sample of the sheep or goat population is actively monitored for scrapie, identification of scrapie cases relies on the reporting of clinical suspects, which is dependent on the individual's familiarization with the disease and ability to recognize clinical signs associated with scrapie. Scrapie may not be considered in the differential diagnosis of neurological diseases in small ruminants, particularly in countries with low scrapie prevalence, or not recognized if it presents as nonpruritic form like atypical scrapie. To aid in the identification of clinical suspects, a short examination protocol is presented to assess the display of specific clinical signs associated with pruritic and nonpruritic forms of TSEs in sheep, which could also be applied to goats. This includes assessment of behavior, vision (by testing of the menace response), pruritus (by testing the response to scratching), and movement (with and without blindfolding). This may lead to a more detailed neurologic examination of reporting animals as scrapie suspects. It could also be used in experimental TSE studies of sheep or goats to evaluate disease progression or to identify clinical end-point.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 83, transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, sheep, atypical scrapie, classical scrapie, neurologic examination, scratch test, menace response, blindfolding
Purification of Hsp104, a Protein Disaggregase
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania.
Hsp104 is a hexameric AAA+ protein1
from yeast, which couples ATP hydrolysis to protein disaggregation2-10
(Fig. 1). This activity imparts two key selective advantages. First, renaturation of disordered aggregates by Hsp104 empowers yeast survival after various protein-misfolding stresses, including heat shock3,5,11,12
. Second, remodeling of cross-beta amyloid fibrils by Hsp104 enables yeast to exploit myriad prions (infectious amyloids) as a reservoir of beneficial and heritable phenotypic variation13-22
. Remarkably, Hsp104 directly remodels preamyloid oligomers and amyloid fibrils, including those comprised of the yeast prion proteins Sup35 and Ure223-30
. This amyloid-remodeling functionality is a specialized facet of yeast Hsp104. The E. coli
orthologue, ClpB, fails to remodel preamyloid oligomers or amyloid fibrils26,31,32
Hsp104 orthologues are found in all kingdoms of life except, perplexingly, animals. Indeed, whether animal cells possess any enzymatic system that couples protein disaggregation to renaturation (rather than degradation) remains unknown33-35
. Thus, we and others have proposed that Hsp104 might be developed as a therapeutic agent for various neurodegenerative diseases connected with the misfolding of specific proteins into toxic preamyloid oligomers and amyloid fibrils4,7,23,36-38
. There are no treatments that directly target the aggregated species associated with these diseases. Yet, Hsp104 dissolves toxic oligomers and amyloid fibrils composed of alpha-synuclein, which are connected with Parkinson's Disease23
as well as amyloid forms of PrP39
. Importantly, Hsp104 reduces protein aggregation and ameliorates neurodegeneration in rodent models of Parkinson's Disease23
and Huntington's disease38
. Ideally, to optimize therapy and minimize side effects, Hsp104 would be engineered and potentiated to selectively remodel specific aggregates central to the disease in question4,7
. However, the limited structural and mechanistic understanding of how Hsp104 disaggregates such a diverse repertoire of aggregated structures and unrelated proteins frustrates these endeavors30,40-42
To understand the structure and mechanism of Hsp104, it is essential to study the pure protein and reconstitute its disaggregase activity with minimal components. Hsp104 is a 102kDa protein with a pI of ~5.3, which hexamerizes in the presence of ADP or ATP, or at high protein concentrations in the absence of nucleotide43-46
. Here, we describe an optimized protocol for the purification of highly active, stable Hsp104 from E. coli
. The use of E. coli
allows simplified large-scale production and our method can be performed quickly and reliably for numerous Hsp104 variants. Our protocol increases Hsp104 purity and simplifies His6
-tag removal compared to a previous purification method from E. coli47
. Moreover, our protocol is more facile and convenient than two more recent protocols26,48
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, Neuroscience, Hsp104, AAA+, disaggregase, heat shock, amyloid, prion
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
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
Biocontained Carcass Composting for Control of Infectious Disease Outbreak in Livestock
Institutions: Lethbridge Research Centre, Dalian University of Technology, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
Intensive livestock production systems are particularly vulnerable to natural or intentional (bioterrorist) infectious disease outbreaks. Large numbers of animals housed within a confined area enables rapid dissemination of most infectious agents throughout a herd. Rapid containment is key to controlling any infectious disease outbreak, thus depopulation is often undertaken to prevent spread of a pathogen to the larger livestock population. In that circumstance, a large number of livestock carcasses and contaminated manure are generated that require rapid disposal.
Composting lends itself as a rapid-response disposal method for infected carcasses as well as manure and soil that may harbor infectious agents. We designed a bio-contained mortality composting procedure and tested its efficacy for bovine tissue degradation and microbial deactivation. We used materials available on-farm or purchasable from local farm supply stores in order that the system can be implemented at the site of a disease outbreak. In this study, temperatures exceeded 55°C for more than one month and infectious agents implanted in beef cattle carcasses and manure were inactivated within 14 days of composting. After 147 days, carcasses were almost completely degraded. The few long bones remaining were further degraded with an additional composting cycle in open windrows and the final mature compost was suitable for land application.
Duplicate compost structures (final dimensions 25 m x 5 m x 2.4 m; L x W x H) were constructed using barley straw bales and lined with heavy black silage plastic sheeting. Each was loaded with loose straw, carcasses and manure totaling ~95,000 kg. A 40-cm base layer of loose barley straw was placed in each bunker, onto which were placed 16 feedlot cattle mortalities (average weight 343 kg) aligned transversely at a spacing of approximately 0.5 m. For passive aeration, lengths of flexible, perforated plastic drainage tubing (15 cm diameter) were placed between adjacent carcasses, extending vertically along both inside walls, and with the ends passed though the plastic to the exterior. The carcasses were overlaid with moist aerated feedlot manure (~1.6 m deep) to the top of the bunker. Plastic was folded over the top and sealed with tape to establish a containment barrier and eight aeration vents (50 x 50 x 15 cm) were placed on the top of each structure to promote passive aeration. After 147 days, losses of volume and mass of composted materials averaged 39.8% and 23.7%, respectively, in each structure.
JoVE Infectious Diseases, Issue 39, compost, livestock, infectious disease, biocontainment
Screening for Amyloid Aggregation by Semi-Denaturing Detergent-Agarose Gel Electrophoresis
Institutions: Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Amyloid aggregation is associated with numerous protein misfolding pathologies and underlies the infectious properties of prions, which are conformationally self-templating proteins that are thought to have beneficial roles in lower organisms. Amyloids have been notoriously difficult to study due to their insolubility and structural heterogeneity. However, resolution of amyloid polymers based on size and detergent insolubility has been made possible by Semi-Denaturing Detergent-Agarose Gel Electrophoresis (SDD-AGE). This technique is finding widespread use for the detection and characterization of amyloid conformational variants. Here, we demonstrate an adaptation of this technique that facilitates its use in large-scale applications, such as screens for novel prions and other amyloidogenic proteins. The new SDD-AGE method uses capillary transfer for greater reliability and ease of use, and allows any sized gel to be accomodated. Thus, a large number of samples, prepared from cells or purified proteins, can be processed simultaneously for the presence of SDS-insoluble conformers of tagged proteins.
Basic Protocols, Issue 17, biochemistry, SDD-AGE, amyloid, prion, aggregate
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
Assessing Burrowing, Nest Construction, and Hoarding in Mice
Institutions: University of Oxford .
Deterioration in the ability to perform "Activities of daily living" (ADL) is an early sign of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Preclinical behavioural screening of possible treatments for AD currently largely focuses on cognitive testing, which frequently demands expensive equipment and lots of experimenter time. However, human episodic memory (the most severely affected aspect of memory in AD) is different to rodent memory, which seems to be largely non-episodic. Therefore the present ways of screening for new AD treatments for AD in rodents are intrinsically unlikely to succeed. A new approach to preclinical screening would be to characterise the ADL of mice. Fortuitously, several such assays have recently been developed at Oxford, and here the three most sensitive and well-characterised are presented.
Burrowing was first developed in Oxford13
. It evolved from a need to develop a mouse hoarding paradigm. Most published rodent hoarding paradigms required a distant food source to be linked to the home cage by a connecting passage. This would involve modifying the home cage as well as making a mouse-proof connecting passage and food source. So it was considered whether it would be possible to put the food source inside the cage. It was found that if a container was placed on the floor it was emptied by the next morning., The food pellets were, however, simply deposited in a heap at the container entrance, rather than placed in a discrete place away from the container, as might be expected if the mice were truly hoarding them. Close inspection showed that the mice were performing digging ("burrowing") movements, not carrying the pellets in their mouths to a selected place as they would if truly hoarding them.6
Food pellets are not an essential substrate for burrowing; mice will empty tubes filled with sand, gravel, even soiled bedding from their own cage. Moreover, they will empty a full tube even if an empty one is placed next to it8
Several nesting protocols exist in the literature. The present Oxford one simplifies the procedure and has a well-defined scoring system for nest quality5
A hoarding paradigm was later developed in which the mice, rather than hoarding back to the real home cage, were adapted to living in the "home base" of a hoarding apparatus. This home base was connected to a tube made of wire mesh, the distal end of which contained the food source. This arrangement proved to yield good hoarding behaviour, as long as the mice were adapted to living in the "home base" during the day and only allowed to enter the hoarding tube at night.
Neuroscience, Issue 59, Mice, murine, burrowing, nesting, hoarding, hippocampus, Alzheimer’s, prion, species-typical, welfare, 3Rs