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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
One-step Metabolomics: Carbohydrates, Organic and Amino Acids Quantified in a Single Procedure
Institutions: Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
Every infant born in the US is now screened for up to 42 rare genetic disorders called "inborn errors of metabolism". The screening method is based on tandem mass spectrometry and quantifies acylcarnitines as a screen for organic acidemias and also measures amino acids. All states also perform enzymatic testing for carbohydrate disorders such as galactosemia. Because the results can be non-specific, follow-up testing of positive results is required using a more definitive method. The present report describes the "urease" method of sample preparation for inborn error screening. Crystalline urease enzyme is used to remove urea from body fluids which permits most other water-soluble metabolites to be dehydrated and derivatized for gas chromatography in a single procedure. Dehydration by evaporation in a nitrogen stream is facilitated by adding acetonitrile and methylene chloride. Then, trimethylsilylation takes place in the presence of a unique catalyst, triethylammonium trifluoroacetate. Automated injection and chromatography is followed by macro-driven custom quantification of 192 metabolites and semi-quantification of every major component using specialized libraries of mass spectra of TMS derivatized biological compounds. The analysis may be performed on the widely-used Chemstation platform using the macros and libraries available from the author. In our laboratory, over 16,000 patient samples have been analyzed using the method with a diagnostic yield of about 17%--that is, 17% of the samples results reveal findings that should be acted upon by the ordering physician. Included in these are over 180 confirmed inborn errors, of which about 38% could not have been diagnosed using previous methods.
Biochemistry, Issue 40, metabolomics, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, GC/MS, inborn errors, vitamin deficiency, BNA analyses, carbohydrate, amino acid, organic acid, urease
An Improved Method for Accurate and Rapid Measurement of Flight Performance in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
has proven to be a useful model system for analysis of behavior, including flight. The initial flight tester involved dropping flies into an oil-coated graduated cylinder; landing height provided a measure of flight performance by assessing how far flies will fall before producing enough thrust to make contact with the wall of the cylinder. Here we describe an updated version of the flight tester with four major improvements. First, we added a "drop tube" to ensure that all flies enter the flight cylinder at a similar velocity between trials, eliminating variability between users. Second, we replaced the oil coating with removable plastic sheets coated in Tangle-Trap, an adhesive designed to capture live insects. Third, we use a longer cylinder to enable more accurate discrimination of flight ability. Fourth we use a digital camera and imaging software to automate the scoring of flight performance. These improvements allow for the rapid, quantitative assessment of flight behavior, useful for large datasets and large-scale genetic screens.
Behavior, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, neuroscience, flight performance, slowpoke mutant flies, wild-type Canton-S flies
Mouse Sperm Cryopreservation and Recovery using the I·Cryo Kit
Institutions: Charles River , Charles River .
Thousands of new genetically modified (GM) strains of mice have been created since the advent of transgenesis and knockout technologies. Many of these valuable animals exist only as live animals, with no backup plan in case of emergency. Cryopreservation of embryos can provide this backup, but is costly, can be a lengthy procedure, and generally requires a large number of animals for success. Since the discovery that mouse sperm can be successfully cryopreserved with a basic cryoprotective agent (CPA) consisting of 18% raffinose and 3% skim milk, sperm cryopreservation has become an acceptable and cost-effective procedure for archiving, distributing and recovery of these valuable strains.
Here we demonstrate a newly developed I•Cryo kit for mouse sperm cryopreservation. Sperm from five commonly-used strains of inbred mice were frozen using this kit and then recovered. Higher protection ratios of sperm motility (> 60%) and rapid progressive motility (> 45%) compared to the control (basic CPA) were seen for sperm frozen with this kit in 5 inbred mouse strains. Two cell stage embryo development after IVF with the recovered sperm was improved consistently in all 5 mouse strains examined. Over a 1.5 year period, 49 GM mouse lines were archived by sperm cryopreservation with the I•Cryo kit and later recovered by IVF.
Basic Protocols, Issue 58, Cryopreservation, Sperm, In vitro fertilization (IVF), Mouse, Genetics
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
Real-time Analyses of Retinol Transport by the Membrane Receptor of Plasma Retinol Binding Protein
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Vitamin A is essential for vision and the growth/differentiation of almost all human organs. Plasma retinol binding protein (RBP) is the principle and specific carrier of vitamin A in the blood. Here we describe an optimized technique to produce and purify holo-RBP and two real-time monitoring techniques to study the transport of vitamin A by the high-affinity RBP receptor STRA6. The first technique makes it possible to produce a large quantity of high quality holo-RBP (100%-loaded with retinol) for vitamin A transport assays. High quality RBP is essential for functional assays because misfolded RBP releases vitamin A readily and bacterial contamination in RBP preparation can cause artifacts. Real-time monitoring techniques like electrophysiology have made critical contributions to the studies of membrane transport. The RBP receptor-mediated retinol transport has not been analyzed in real time until recently. The second technique described here is the real-time analysis of STRA6-catalyzed retinol release or loading. The third technique is real-time analysis of STRA6-catalyzed retinol transport from holo-RBP to cellular retinol binding protein I (CRBP-I). These techniques provide high sensitivity and resolution in revealing RBP receptor's vitamin A uptake mechanism.
Biochemistry, Issue 71, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Ophthalmology, Proteomics, Proteins, Membrane Transport Proteins, Vitamin A, retinoid, RBP complex, membrane transport, membrane receptor, STRA6, retinol binding protein
Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo
, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata,
however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e.
teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e.
urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio
), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae
. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum
) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
An Experimental and Bioinformatics Protocol for RNA-seq Analyses of Photoperiodic Diapause in the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus
Institutions: Georgetown University, The Ohio State University.
Photoperiodic diapause is an important adaptation that allows individuals to escape harsh seasonal environments via a series of physiological changes, most notably developmental arrest and reduced metabolism. Global gene expression profiling via RNA-Seq can provide important insights into the transcriptional mechanisms of photoperiodic diapause. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus
, is an outstanding organism for studying the transcriptional bases of diapause due to its ease of rearing, easily induced diapause, and the genomic resources available. This manuscript presents a general experimental workflow for identifying diapause-induced transcriptional differences in A. albopictus.
Rearing techniques, conditions necessary to induce diapause and non-diapause development, methods to estimate percent diapause in a population, and RNA extraction and integrity assessment for mosquitoes are documented. A workflow to process RNA-Seq data from Illumina sequencers culminates in a list of differentially expressed genes. The representative results demonstrate that this protocol can be used to effectively identify genes differentially regulated at the transcriptional level in A. albopictus
due to photoperiodic differences. With modest adjustments, this workflow can be readily adapted to study the transcriptional bases of diapause or other important life history traits in other mosquitoes.
Genetics, Issue 93, Aedes albopictus Asian tiger mosquito, photoperiodic diapause, RNA-Seq de novo transcriptome assembly, mosquito husbandry
A Rapid and Specific Microplate Assay for the Determination of Intra- and Extracellular Ascorbate in Cultured Cells
Institutions: University of Sydney, Monash University.
Vitamin C (ascorbate) plays numerous important roles in cellular metabolism, many of which have only come to light in recent years. For instance, within the brain, ascorbate acts in a neuroprotective and neuromodulatory manner that involves ascorbate cycling between neurons and vicinal astrocytes - a relationship that appears to be crucial for brain ascorbate homeostasis. Additionally, emerging evidence strongly suggests that ascorbate has a greatly expanded role in regulating cellular and systemic iron metabolism than is classically recognized. The increasing recognition of the integral role of ascorbate in normal and deregulated cellular and organismal physiology demands a range of medium-throughput and high-sensitivity analytic techniques that can be executed without the need for highly expensive specialist equipment. Here we provide explicit instructions for a medium-throughput, specific and relatively inexpensive microplate assay for the determination of both intra- and extracellular ascorbate in cell culture.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, Vitamin C, Ascorbate, Cell swelling, Glutamate, Microplate assay, Astrocytes
Dietary Supplementation of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Caenorhabditis elegans
Institutions: Washington State University, Washington State University.
Fatty acids are essential for numerous cellular functions. They serve as efficient energy storage molecules, make up the hydrophobic core of membranes, and participate in various signaling pathways. Caenorhabditis elegans
synthesizes all of the enzymes necessary to produce a range of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. This, combined with the simple anatomy and range of available genetic tools, make it an attractive model to study fatty acid function. In order to investigate the genetic pathways that mediate the physiological effects of dietary fatty acids, we have developed a method to supplement the C. elegans
diet with unsaturated fatty acids. Supplementation is an effective means to alter the fatty acid composition of worms and can also be used to rescue defects in fatty acid-deficient mutants. Our method uses nematode growth medium agar (NGM) supplemented with fatty acidsodium salts. The fatty acids in the supplemented plates become incorporated into the membranes of the bacterial food source, which is then taken up by the C. elegans
that feed on the supplemented bacteria. We also describe a gas chromatography protocol to monitor the changes in fatty acid composition that occur in supplemented worms. This is an efficient way to supplement the diets of both large and small populations of C. elegans
, allowing for a range of applications for this method.
Biochemistry, Issue 81, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, Nutrition Therapy, genetics (animal and plant), Polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-6, omega-3, dietary fat, dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid, germ cells
Detection of Rare Genomic Variants from Pooled Sequencing Using SPLINTER
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
As DNA sequencing technology has markedly advanced in recent years2
, it has become increasingly evident that the amount of genetic variation between any two individuals is greater than previously thought3
. In contrast, array-based genotyping has failed to identify a significant contribution of common sequence variants to the phenotypic variability of common disease4,5
. Taken together, these observations have led to the evolution of the Common Disease / Rare Variant hypothesis suggesting that the majority of the "missing heritability" in common and complex phenotypes is instead due to an individual's personal profile of rare or private DNA variants6-8
. However, characterizing how rare variation impacts complex phenotypes requires the analysis of many affected individuals at many genomic loci, and is ideally compared to a similar survey in an unaffected cohort. Despite the sequencing power offered by today's platforms, a population-based survey of many genomic loci and the subsequent computational analysis required remains prohibitive for many investigators.
To address this need, we have developed a pooled sequencing approach1,9
and a novel software package1
for highly accurate rare variant detection from the resulting data. The ability to pool genomes from entire populations of affected individuals and survey the degree of genetic variation at multiple targeted regions in a single sequencing library provides excellent cost and time savings to traditional single-sample sequencing methodology. With a mean sequencing coverage per allele of 25-fold, our custom algorithm, SPLINTER, uses an internal variant calling control strategy to call insertions, deletions and substitutions up to four base pairs in length with high sensitivity and specificity from pools of up to 1 mutant allele in 500 individuals. Here we describe the method for preparing the pooled sequencing library followed by step-by-step instructions on how to use the SPLINTER package for pooled sequencing analysis (https://www.ibridgenetwork.org/wustl/splinter). We show a comparison between pooled sequencing of 947 individuals, all of whom also underwent genome-wide array, at over 20kb of sequencing per person. Concordance between genotyping of tagged and novel variants called in the pooled sample were excellent. This method can be easily scaled up to any number of genomic loci and any number of individuals. By incorporating the internal positive and negative amplicon controls at ratios that mimic the population under study, the algorithm can be calibrated for optimal performance. This strategy can also be modified for use with hybridization capture or individual-specific barcodes and can be applied to the sequencing of naturally heterogeneous samples, such as tumor DNA.
Genetics, Issue 64, Genomics, Cancer Biology, Bioinformatics, Pooled DNA sequencing, SPLINTER, rare genetic variants, genetic screening, phenotype, high throughput, computational analysis, DNA, PCR, primers
A Novel Bayesian Change-point Algorithm for Genome-wide Analysis of Diverse ChIPseq Data Types
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Texas at Dallas.
ChIPseq is a widely used technique for investigating protein-DNA interactions. Read density profiles are generated by using next-sequencing of protein-bound DNA and aligning the short reads to a reference genome. Enriched regions are revealed as peaks, which often differ dramatically in shape, depending on the target protein1
. For example, transcription factors often bind in a site- and sequence-specific manner and tend to produce punctate peaks, while histone modifications are more pervasive and are characterized by broad, diffuse islands of enrichment2
. Reliably identifying these regions was the focus of our work.
Algorithms for analyzing ChIPseq data have employed various methodologies, from heuristics3-5
to more rigorous statistical models, e.g.
Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)6-8
. We sought a solution that minimized the necessity for difficult-to-define, ad hoc parameters that often compromise resolution and lessen the intuitive usability of the tool. With respect to HMM-based methods, we aimed to curtail parameter estimation procedures and simple, finite state classifications that are often utilized.
Additionally, conventional ChIPseq data analysis involves categorization of the expected read density profiles as either punctate or diffuse followed by subsequent application of the appropriate tool. We further aimed to replace the need for these two distinct models with a single, more versatile model, which can capably address the entire spectrum of data types.
To meet these objectives, we first constructed a statistical framework that naturally modeled ChIPseq data structures using a cutting edge advance in HMMs9
, which utilizes only explicit formulas-an innovation crucial to its performance advantages. More sophisticated then heuristic models, our HMM accommodates infinite hidden states through a Bayesian model. We applied it to identifying reasonable change points in read density, which further define segments of enrichment. Our analysis revealed how our Bayesian Change Point (BCP) algorithm had a reduced computational complexity-evidenced by an abridged run time and memory footprint. The BCP algorithm was successfully applied to both punctate peak and diffuse island identification with robust accuracy and limited user-defined parameters. This illustrated both its versatility and ease of use. Consequently, we believe it can be implemented readily across broad ranges of data types and end users in a manner that is easily compared and contrasted, making it a great tool for ChIPseq data analysis that can aid in collaboration and corroboration between research groups. Here, we demonstrate the application of BCP to existing transcription factor10,11
and epigenetic data12
to illustrate its usefulness.
Genetics, Issue 70, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Immunology, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP-Seq, histone modifications, segmentation, Bayesian, Hidden Markov Models, epigenetics
In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ
characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3
(bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ
time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ
Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ
IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
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
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Microfabrication of Nanoporous Gold Patterns for Cell-material Interaction Studies
Institutions: University of California, Davis , University of California, Davis , University of California, Davis .
Nanostructured materials with feature sizes in tens of nanometers have enhanced the performance of several technologies, including fuel cells, biosensors, biomedical device coatings, and drug delivery tools. Nanoporous gold (np-Au), produced by a nano-scale self-assembly process, is a relatively new material that exhibits large effective surface area, high electrical conductivity, and catalytic activity. These properties have made np-Au an attractive material to scientific community. Most studies on np-Au employ macro-scale specimens and focus on fundamental science of the material and its catalytic and sensor applications. The macro-scale specimens limit np-Au's potential in miniaturized systems, including biomedical devices. In order to address these issues, we initially describe two different methods to micropattern np-Au thin films on rigid substrates. The first method employs manually-produced stencil masks for creating millimeter-scale np-Au patterns, while the second method uses lift-off photolithography to pattern sub-millimeter-scale patterns. As the np-Au thin films are obtained by sputter-deposition process, they are compatible with conventional microfabrication techniques, thereby amenable to facile integration into microsystems. These systems include electrically-addressable biosensor platforms that benefit from high effective surface area, electrical conductivity, and gold-thiol-based surface bioconjugation. We describe cell culture, immunostaining, and image processing techniques to quantify np-Au's interaction with mammalian cells, which is an important performance parameter for some biosensors. We expect that the techniques illustrated here will assist the integration of np-Au in platforms at various length-scales and in numerous applications, including biosensors, energy storage systems, and catalysts.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biophysics, Physics, Nanotechnology, Nanostructures, Biomedical Technology, Miniaturization, Gold, Staining and Labeling, Cell Culture Techniques, Microscopy, Electron Microscopy, Fluorescence, Nanotechnology, thin films (theory, deposition and growth), Nanoporous gold, cell culture, image analysis, microfabrication, nanotechnology, quantitative immunochemistry, scanning electron microscopy, SEM, fluorescence microscopy, stencil printing, photolithography, cell culture
Characterization of Surface Modifications by White Light Interferometry: Applications in Ion Sputtering, Laser Ablation, and Tribology Experiments
Institutions: Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, MassThink LLC.
In materials science and engineering it is often necessary to obtain quantitative measurements of surface topography with micrometer lateral resolution. From the measured surface, 3D topographic maps can be subsequently analyzed using a variety of software packages to extract the information that is needed.
In this article we describe how white light interferometry, and optical profilometry (OP) in general, combined with generic surface analysis software, can be used for materials science and engineering tasks. In this article, a number of applications of white light interferometry for investigation of surface modifications in mass spectrometry, and wear phenomena in tribology and lubrication are demonstrated. We characterize the products of the interaction of semiconductors and metals with energetic ions (sputtering), and laser irradiation (ablation), as well as ex situ
measurements of wear of tribological test specimens.
Specifically, we will discuss:
Aspects of traditional ion sputtering-based mass spectrometry such as sputtering rates/yields measurements on Si and Cu and subsequent time-to-depth conversion.
Results of quantitative characterization of the interaction of femtosecond laser irradiation with a semiconductor surface. These results are important for applications such as ablation mass spectrometry, where the quantities of evaporated material can be studied and controlled via pulse duration and energy per pulse. Thus, by determining the crater geometry one can define depth and lateral resolution versus experimental setup conditions.
Measurements of surface roughness parameters in two dimensions, and quantitative measurements of the surface wear that occur as a result of friction and wear tests.
Some inherent drawbacks, possible artifacts, and uncertainty assessments of the white light interferometry approach will be discussed and explained.
Materials Science, Issue 72, Physics, Ion Beams (nuclear interactions), Light Reflection, Optical Properties, Semiconductor Materials, White Light Interferometry, Ion Sputtering, Laser Ablation, Femtosecond Lasers, Depth Profiling, Time-of-flight Mass Spectrometry, Tribology, Wear Analysis, Optical Profilometry, wear, friction, atomic force microscopy, AFM, scanning electron microscopy, SEM, imaging, visualization
Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1
H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g.
crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2
However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3
This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ
NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries.
We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ
NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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
Blastomere Explants to Test for Cell Fate Commitment During Embryonic Development
Institutions: The George Washington University, The George Washington University.
Fate maps, constructed from lineage tracing all of the cells of an embryo, reveal which tissues descend from each cell of the embryo. Although fate maps are very useful for identifying the precursors of an organ and for elucidating the developmental path by which the descendant cells populate that organ in the normal embryo, they do not illustrate the full developmental potential of a precursor cell or identify the mechanisms by which its fate is determined. To test for cell fate commitment, one compares a cell's normal repertoire of descendants in the intact embryo (the fate map) with those expressed after an experimental manipulation. Is the cell's fate fixed (committed) regardless of the surrounding cellular environment, or is it influenced by external factors provided by its neighbors? Using the comprehensive fate maps of the Xenopus
embryo, we describe how to identify, isolate and culture single cleavage stage precursors, called blastomeres. This approach allows one to assess whether these early cells are committed to the fate they acquire in their normal environment in the intact embryo, require interactions with their neighboring cells, or can be influenced to express alternate fates if exposed to other types of signals.
Developmental Biology, Issue 71, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Xenopus laevis, fate mapping, lineage tracing, cell-cell signaling, cell fate, blastomere, embryo, in situ hybridization, animal model
A Microfluidic Device for Studying Multiple Distinct Strains
Institutions: Tel Aviv University.
The study of cell responses to environmental changes poses many experimental challenges: cells need to be imaged under changing conditions, often in a comparative manner. Multiwell plates are routinely used to compare many different strains or cell lines, but allow limited control over the environment dynamics. Microfluidic devices, on the other hand, allow exquisite dynamic control over the surrounding conditions, but it is challenging to image and distinguish more than a few strains in them. Here we describe a method to easily and rapidly manufacture a microfluidic device capable of applying dynamically changing conditions to multiple distinct yeast strains in one channel. The device is designed and manufactured by simple means without the need for soft lithography. It is composed of a Y-shaped flow channel attached to a second layer harboring microwells. The strains are placed in separate microwells, and imaged under the exact same dynamic conditions. We demonstrate the use of the device for measuring protein localization responses to pulses of nutrient changes in different yeast strains.
Bioengineering, Issue 69, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Microfluidics, PDMS, Time lapse fluorescent microscopy, S. cerevisiae, imaging, bacteria, strains
Harvesting Sperm and Artificial Insemination of Mice
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Rodents of the genus Peromyscus (deer mice) are the most prevalent native North American mammals. Peromyscus species are used in a wide range of research including toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, behavioral, and genetic studies. Here they provide a useful model for demonstrations of artificial insemination.
Methods similar to those displayed here have previously been used in several deer mouse studies, yet no detailed protocol has been published. Here we demonstrate the basic method of artificial insemination. This method entails extracting the testes from the rodent, then isolating the sperm from the epididymis and vas deferens. The mature sperm, now in a milk mixture, are placed in the female’s reproductive tract at the time of ovulation. Fertilization is counted as day 0 for timing of embryo development. Embryos can then be retrieved at the desired time-point and manipulated.
Artificial insemination can be used in a variety of rodent species where exact embryo timing is crucial or hard to obtain. This technique is vital for species or strains (including most Peromyscus) which may not mate immediately and/or where mating is hard to assess. In addition, artificial insemination provides exact timing for embryo development either in mapping developmental progress and/or transgenic work. Reduced numbers of animals can be used since fertilization is guaranteed. This method has been vital to furthering the Peromyscus system, and will hopefully benefit others as well.
Developmental Biology, Issue 3, sperm, mouse, artificial insemination, dissection
Determining Cell Number During Cell Culture using the Scepter Cell Counter
Institutions: Millipore Inc.
Counting cells is often a necessary but tedious step for in vitro
cell culture. Consistent cell concentrations ensure experimental reproducibility and accuracy. Cell counts are important for monitoring cell health and proliferation rate, assessing immortalization or transformation, seeding cells for subsequent experiments, transfection or infection, and preparing for cell-based assays. It is important that cell counts be accurate, consistent, and fast, particularly for quantitative measurements of cellular responses.
Despite this need for speed and accuracy in cell counting, 71% of 400 researchers surveyed1
who count cells using a hemocytometer. While hemocytometry is inexpensive, it is laborious and subject to user bias and misuse, which results in inaccurate counts. Hemocytometers are made of special optical glass on which cell suspensions are loaded in specified volumes and counted under a microscope. Sources of errors in hemocytometry include: uneven cell distribution in the sample, too many or too few cells in the sample, subjective decisions as to whether a given cell falls within the defined counting area, contamination of the hemocytometer, user-to-user variation, and variation of hemocytometer filling rate2
To alleviate the tedium associated with manual counting, 29% of researchers count cells using automated cell counting devices; these include vision-based counters, systems that detect cells using the Coulter principle, or flow cytometry1
. For most researchers, the main barrier to using an automated system is the price associated with these large benchtop instruments1
The Scepter cell counter is an automated handheld device that offers the automation and accuracy of Coulter counting at a relatively low cost. The system employs the Coulter principle of impedance-based particle detection3
in a miniaturized format using a combination of analog and digital hardware for sensing, signal processing, data storage, and graphical display. The disposable tip is engineered with a microfabricated, cell- sensing zone that enables discrimination by cell size and cell volume at sub-micron and sub-picoliter resolution. Enhanced with precision liquid-handling channels and electronics, the Scepter cell counter reports cell population statistics graphically displayed as a histogram.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, Scepter, cell counting, cell culture, hemocytometer, Coulter, Impedance-based particle detection