Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
From Fast Fluorescence Imaging to Molecular Diffusion Law on Live Cell Membranes in a Commercial Microscope
Institutions: Scuola Normale Superiore, Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia, University of California, Irvine.
It has become increasingly evident that the spatial distribution and the motion of membrane components like lipids and proteins are key factors in the regulation of many cellular functions. However, due to the fast dynamics and the tiny structures involved, a very high spatio-temporal resolution is required to catch the real behavior of molecules. Here we present the experimental protocol for studying the dynamics of fluorescently-labeled plasma-membrane proteins and lipids in live cells with high spatiotemporal resolution. Notably, this approach doesn’t need to track each molecule, but it calculates population behavior using all molecules in a given region of the membrane. The starting point is a fast imaging of a given region on the membrane. Afterwards, a complete spatio-temporal autocorrelation function is calculated correlating acquired images at increasing time delays, for example each 2, 3, n repetitions. It is possible to demonstrate that the width of the peak of the spatial autocorrelation function increases at increasing time delay as a function of particle movement due to diffusion. Therefore, fitting of the series of autocorrelation functions enables to extract the actual protein mean square displacement from imaging (iMSD), here presented in the form of apparent diffusivity vs average displacement. This yields a quantitative view of the average dynamics of single molecules with nanometer accuracy. By using a GFP-tagged variant of the Transferrin Receptor (TfR) and an ATTO488 labeled 1-palmitoyl-2-hydroxy-sn
-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine (PPE) it is possible to observe the spatiotemporal regulation of protein and lipid diffusion on µm-sized membrane regions in the micro-to-milli-second time range.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, fluorescence, protein dynamics, lipid dynamics, membrane heterogeneity, transient confinement, single molecule, GFP
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2
, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3
. Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5
. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6
. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
Fundus Photography as a Convenient Tool to Study Microvascular Responses to Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Epidemiological Studies
Institutions: Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), Hasselt University, Hasselt University, Leuven University.
The microcirculation consists of blood vessels with diameters less than 150 µm. It makes up a large part of the circulatory system and plays an important role in maintaining cardiovascular health. The retina is a tissue that lines the interior of the eye and it is the only tissue that allows for a non-invasive analysis of the microvasculature. Nowadays, high-quality fundus images can be acquired using digital cameras. Retinal images can be collected in 5 min or less, even without dilatation of the pupils. This unobtrusive and fast procedure for visualizing the microcirculation is attractive to apply in epidemiological studies and to monitor cardiovascular health from early age up to old age.
Systemic diseases that affect the circulation can result in progressive morphological changes in the retinal vasculature. For example, changes in the vessel calibers of retinal arteries and veins have been associated with hypertension, atherosclerosis, and increased risk of stroke and myocardial infarction. The vessel widths are derived using image analysis software and the width of the six largest arteries and veins are summarized in the Central Retinal Arteriolar Equivalent (CRAE) and the Central Retinal Venular Equivalent (CRVE). The latter features have been shown useful to study the impact of modifiable lifestyle and environmental cardiovascular disease risk factors.
The procedures to acquire fundus images and the analysis steps to obtain CRAE and CRVE are described. Coefficients of variation of repeated measures of CRAE and CRVE are less than 2% and within-rater reliability is very high. Using a panel study, the rapid response of the retinal vessel calibers to short-term changes in particulate air pollution, a known risk factor for cardiovascular mortality and morbidity, is reported. In conclusion, retinal imaging is proposed as a convenient and instrumental tool for epidemiological studies to study microvascular responses to cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Medicine, Issue 92, retina, microvasculature, image analysis, Central Retinal Arteriolar Equivalent, Central Retinal Venular Equivalent, air pollution, particulate matter, black carbon
Concurrent Quantitative Conductivity and Mechanical Properties Measurements of Organic Photovoltaic Materials using AFM
Institutions: Argonne National Laboratory, University of Chicago.
Organic photovoltaic (OPV) materials are inherently inhomogeneous at the nanometer scale. Nanoscale inhomogeneity of OPV materials affects performance of photovoltaic devices. Thus, understanding of spatial variations in composition as well as electrical properties of OPV materials is of paramount importance for moving PV technology forward.1,2
In this paper, we describe a protocol for quantitative measurements of electrical and mechanical properties of OPV materials with sub-100 nm resolution. Currently, materials properties measurements performed using commercially available AFM-based techniques (PeakForce, conductive AFM) generally provide only qualitative information. The values for resistance as well as Young's modulus measured using our method on the prototypical ITO/PEDOT:PSS/P3HT:PC61
BM system correspond well with literature data. The P3HT:PC61
BM blend separates onto PC61
BM-rich and P3HT-rich domains. Mechanical properties of PC61
BM-rich and P3HT-rich domains are different, which allows for domain attribution on the surface of the film. Importantly, combining mechanical and electrical data allows for correlation of the domain structure on the surface of the film with electrical properties variation measured through the thickness of the film.
Materials Science, Issue 71, Nanotechnology, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Physics, electrical transport properties in solids, condensed matter physics, thin films (theory, deposition and growth), conductivity (solid state), AFM, atomic force microscopy, electrical properties, mechanical properties, organic photovoltaics, microengineering, photovoltaics
RNA In situ Hybridization in Whole Mount Embryos and Cell Histology Adapted for Marine Elasmobranchs
Institutions: Union College.
Marine elasmobranchs are valued animal models for biomedical and genomic studies as they are the most primitive vertebrates to have adaptive immunity and have unique mechanisms for osmoregulation 1-3
. As the most primitive living jawed-vertebrates with paired appendages, elasmobranchs are an evolutionarily important model, especially for studies in evolution and development. Marine elasmobranchs have also been used to study aquatic toxicology and stress physiology in relationship to climate change 4
. Thus, development and adaptation of methodologies is needed to facilitate and expand the use of these primitive vertebrates to multiple biological disciplines. Here I present the successful adaptation of RNA whole mount in situ
hybridization and histological techniques to study gene expression and cell histology in elasmobranchs.
Monitoring gene expression is a hallmark tool of developmental biologists, and is widely used to investigate developmental processes 5
. RNA whole mount in situ
hybridization allows for the visualization and localization of specific gene transcripts in tissues of the developing embryo. The expression pattern of a gene's message can provide insight into what developmental processes and cell fate decisions a gene may control. By comparing the expression pattern of a gene at different developmental stages, insight can be gained into how the role of a gene changes during development.
While whole mount in situ
's provides a means to localize gene expression to tissue, histological techniques allow for the identification of differentiated cell types and tissues. Histological stains have varied functions. General stains are used to highlight cell morphology, for example hematoxylin and eosin for general staining of nuclei and cytoplasm, respectively. Other stains can highlight specific cell types. For example, the alcian blue stain reported in this paper is a widely used cationic stain to identify mucosaccharides. Staining of the digestive tract with alcian blue can identify the distribution of goblet cells that produce mucosaccharides. Variations in mucosaccharide constituents on short peptides distinguish goblet cells by function within the digestive tract 6
. By using RNA whole mount in situ
's and histochemical methods concurrently, cell fate decisions can be linked to gene-specific expression.
Although RNA in situ
's and histochemistry are widely used by researchers, their adaptation and use in marine elasmobranchs have met limited and varied success. Here I present protocols developed for elasmobranchs and used on a regular basis in my laboratory. Although further modification of the RNA in situ
's hybridization method may be needed to adapt to different species, the protocols described here provide a strong starting point for researchers wanting to adapt the use of marine elasmobranchs to their scientific inquiries.
Genetics, Issue 74, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Marine Biology, Disciplines and Occupations, whole mount in situ hybridization, RNA in situs, RNA, acid mucins, alcian blue, nuclear fast red stain, elasmobranch, marine elasmobranchs, L. erinacea, Shh, Hoxa13, gene expression, hybridization, histology, skate, embryos, animal model
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
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
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
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
The ChroP Approach Combines ChIP and Mass Spectrometry to Dissect Locus-specific Proteomic Landscapes of Chromatin
Institutions: European Institute of Oncology.
Chromatin is a highly dynamic nucleoprotein complex made of DNA and proteins that controls various DNA-dependent processes. Chromatin structure and function at specific regions is regulated by the local enrichment of histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs) and variants, chromatin-binding proteins, including transcription factors, and DNA methylation. The proteomic characterization of chromatin composition at distinct functional regions has been so far hampered by the lack of efficient protocols to enrich such domains at the appropriate purity and amount for the subsequent in-depth analysis by Mass Spectrometry (MS). We describe here a newly designed chromatin proteomics strategy, named ChroP (Chromatin Proteomics
), whereby a preparative chromatin immunoprecipitation is used to isolate distinct chromatin regions whose features, in terms of hPTMs, variants and co-associated non-histonic proteins, are analyzed by MS. We illustrate here the setting up of ChroP for the enrichment and analysis of transcriptionally silent heterochromatic regions, marked by the presence of tri-methylation of lysine 9 on histone H3. The results achieved demonstrate the potential of ChroP
in thoroughly characterizing the heterochromatin proteome and prove it as a powerful analytical strategy for understanding how the distinct protein determinants of chromatin interact and synergize to establish locus-specific structural and functional configurations.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, chromatin, histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs), epigenetics, mass spectrometry, proteomics, SILAC, chromatin immunoprecipitation , histone variants, chromatome, hPTMs cross-talks
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
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
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
Genetic Studies of Human DNA Repair Proteins Using Yeast as a Model System
Institutions: National Institute on Aging, NIH.
Understanding the roles of human DNA repair proteins in genetic pathways is a formidable challenge to many researchers. Genetic studies in mammalian systems have been limited due to the lack of readily available tools including defined mutant genetic cell lines, regulatory expression systems, and appropriate selectable markers. To circumvent these difficulties, model genetic systems in lower eukaryotes have become an attractive choice for the study of functionally conserved DNA repair proteins and pathways. We have developed a model yeast system to study the poorly defined genetic functions of the Werner syndrome helicase-nuclease (WRN
) in nucleic acid metabolism. Cellular phenotypes associated with defined genetic mutant backgrounds can be investigated to clarify the cellular and molecular functions of WRN
through its catalytic activities and protein interactions. The human WRN
gene and associated variants, cloned into DNA plasmids for expression in yeast, can be placed under the control of a regulatory plasmid element. The expression construct can then be transformed into the appropriate yeast mutant background, and genetic function assayed by a variety of methodologies. Using this approach, we determined that WRN
, like its related RecQ family members BLM and Sgs1, operates in a Top3-dependent pathway that is likely to be important for genomic stability. This is described in our recent publication  at www.impactaging.com. Detailed methods of specific assays for genetic complementation studies in yeast are provided in this paper.
Microbiology, Issue 37, Werner syndrome, helicase, topoisomerase, RecQ, Bloom's syndrome, Sgs1, genomic instability, genetics, DNA repair, yeast
Mosaic Zebrafish Transgenesis for Evaluating Enhancer Sequences
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
The completion of the human genome sequence, along with that of many other species, has highlighted the challenge of ascribing specific function to non coding sequences. One prominent function carried out by the non coding fraction of the genome is to regulate gene transcription; however, there are no effective methods to broadly predict cis-regulatory elements from primary DNA sequence. We have developed an efficient protocol to functionally evaluate potential cis-regulatory elements through zebrafish transgenesis. Our approach offers significant advantages over cell-culture based techniques for developmentally important genes, since it provides information on spatial and temporal gene regulation. Conversely, it is faster and less expensive than similar experiments in transgenic mice, and we routinely apply it to sequences isolated from the human genome. Here we demonstrate our approach to selecting elements for testing based on sequence conservation and our protocol for cloning sequences and microinjecting them into zebrafish embryos.
Cellular Biology, Issue 41, zebrafish, transgenesis, microinjection, GFP, enhancers, transposon
Biology of Microbial Communities - Interview
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termit
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution