Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Testing Visual Sensitivity to the Speed and Direction of Motion in Lizards
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Visual sensitivity, motion perception, operant conditioning, speed, coherence, Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus)
Primer Extension Capture: Targeted Sequence Retrieval from Heavily Degraded DNA Sources
Institutions: Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig.
We present a method of targeted DNA sequence retrieval from DNA sources which are heavily degraded and contaminated with microbial DNA, as is typical of ancient bones. The method greatly reduces sample destruction and sequencing demands relative to direct PCR or shotgun sequencing approaches. We used this method to reconstruct the complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genomes of five Neandertals from across their geographic range. The mtDNA genetic diversity of the late Neandertals was approximately three times lower than that of contemporary modern humans. Together with analyses of mtDNA protein evolution, these data suggest that the long-term effective population size of Neandertals was smaller than that of modern humans and extant great apes.
Cellular Biology, Issue 31, Neandertal, anthropology, evolution, ancient DNA, DNA sequencing, targeted sequencing, capture
Measuring the Subjective Value of Risky and Ambiguous Options using Experimental Economics and Functional MRI Methods
Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New York University , New York University , New York University .
Most of the choices we make have uncertain consequences. In some cases the probabilities for different possible outcomes are precisely known, a condition termed "risky". In other cases when probabilities cannot be estimated, this is a condition described as "ambiguous". While most people are averse to both risk and ambiguity1,2
, the degree of those aversions vary substantially across individuals, such that the subjective value
of the same risky or ambiguous option can be very different for different individuals. We combine functional MRI (fMRI) with an experimental economics-based method3
to assess the neural representation of the subjective values of risky and ambiguous options4
. This technique can be now used to study these neural representations in different populations, such as different age groups and different patient populations.
In our experiment, subjects make consequential choices between two alternatives while their neural activation is tracked using fMRI. On each trial subjects choose between lotteries that vary in their monetary amount and in either the probability of winning that amount or the ambiguity level associated with winning. Our parametric design allows us to use each individual's choice behavior to estimate their attitudes towards risk and ambiguity, and thus to estimate the subjective values that each option held for them. Another important feature of the design is that the outcome of the chosen lottery is not revealed during the experiment, so that no learning can take place, and thus the ambiguous options remain ambiguous and risk attitudes are stable. Instead, at the end of the scanning session one or few trials are randomly selected and played for real money. Since subjects do not know beforehand which trials will be selected, they must treat each and every trial as if it and it alone was the one trial on which they will be paid. This design ensures that we can estimate the true subjective value of each option to each subject. We then look for areas in the brain whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of risky options and for areas whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of ambiguous options.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Medicine, Molecular Biology, fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging, decision-making, value, uncertainty, risk, ambiguity
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
2D and 3D Chromosome Painting in Malaria Mosquitoes
Institutions: Virginia Tech.
Fluorescent in situ
hybridization (FISH) of whole arm chromosome probes is a robust technique for mapping genomic regions of interest, detecting chromosomal rearrangements, and studying three-dimensional (3D) organization of chromosomes in the cell nucleus. The advent of laser capture microdissection (LCM) and whole genome amplification (WGA) allows obtaining large quantities of DNA from single cells. The increased sensitivity of WGA kits prompted us to develop chromosome paints and to use them for exploring chromosome organization and evolution in non-model organisms. Here, we present a simple method for isolating and amplifying the euchromatic segments of single polytene chromosome arms from ovarian nurse cells of the African malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae
. This procedure provides an efficient platform for obtaining chromosome paints, while reducing the overall risk of introducing foreign DNA to the sample. The use of WGA allows for several rounds of re-amplification, resulting in high quantities of DNA that can be utilized for multiple experiments, including 2D and 3D FISH. We demonstrated that the developed chromosome paints can be successfully used to establish the correspondence between euchromatic portions of polytene and mitotic chromosome arms in An. gambiae
. Overall, the union of LCM and single-chromosome WGA provides an efficient tool for creating significant amounts of target DNA for future cytogenetic and genomic studies.
Immunology, Issue 83, Microdissection, whole genome amplification, malaria mosquito, polytene chromosome, mitotic chromosomes, fluorescence in situ hybridization, chromosome painting
Engineering and Evolution of Synthetic Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) Gene Therapy Vectors via DNA Family Shuffling
Institutions: Heidelberg University, Heidelberg University.
Adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors represent some of the most potent and promising vehicles for therapeutic human gene transfer due to a unique combination of beneficial properties1
. These include the apathogenicity of the underlying wildtype viruses and the highly advanced methodologies for production of high-titer, high-purity and clinical-grade recombinant vectors2
. A further particular advantage of the AAV system over other viruses is the availability of a wealth of naturally occurring serotypes which differ in essential properties yet can all be easily engineered as vectors using a common protocol1,2
. Moreover, a number of groups including our own have recently devised strategies to use these natural viruses as templates for the creation of synthetic vectors which either combine the assets of multiple input serotypes, or which enhance the properties of a single isolate. The respective technologies to achieve these goals are either DNA family shuffling3
fragmentation of various AAV capsid genes followed by their re-assembly based on partial homologies (typically >80% for most AAV serotypes), or peptide display4,5
insertion of usually seven amino acids into an exposed loop of the viral capsid where the peptide ideally mediates re-targeting to a desired cell type. For maximum success, both methods are applied in a high-throughput fashion whereby the protocols are up-scaled to yield libraries of around one million distinct capsid variants. Each clone is then comprised of a unique combination of numerous parental viruses (DNA shuffling approach) or contains a distinctive peptide within the same viral backbone (peptide display approach). The subsequent final step is iterative selection of such a library on target cells in order to enrich for individual capsids fulfilling most or ideally all requirements of the selection process. The latter preferably combines positive pressure, such as growth on a certain cell type of interest, with negative selection, for instance elimination of all capsids reacting with anti-AAV antibodies. This combination increases chances that synthetic capsids surviving the selection match the needs of the given application in a manner that would probably not have been found in any naturally occurring AAV isolate. Here, we focus on the DNA family shuffling method as the theoretically and experimentally more challenging of the two technologies. We describe and demonstrate all essential steps for the generation and selection of shuffled AAV libraries (Fig. 1
), and then discuss the pitfalls and critical aspects of the protocols that one needs to be aware of in order to succeed with molecular AAV evolution.
Immunology, Issue 62, Adeno-associated virus, AAV, gene therapy, synthetic biology, viral vector, molecular evolution, DNA shuffling
Primer-Free Aptamer Selection Using A Random DNA Library
Institutions: Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University.
Aptamers are highly structured oligonucleotides (DNA or RNA) that can bind to targets with affinities comparable to antibodies 1
. They are identified through an in vitro selection process called Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment (SELEX) to recognize a wide variety of targets, from small molecules to proteins and other macromolecules 2-4
. Aptamers have properties that are well suited for in vivo diagnostic and/or therapeutic applications: Besides good specificity and affinity, they are easily synthesized, survive more rigorous processing conditions, they are poorly immunogenic, and their relatively small size can result in facile penetration of tissues.
Aptamers that are identified through the standard SELEX process usually comprise ~80 nucleotides (nt), since they are typically selected from nucleic acid libraries with ~40 nt long randomized regions plus fixed primer sites of ~20 nt on each side. The fixed primer sequences thus can comprise nearly ~50% of the library sequences, and therefore may positively or negatively compromise identification of aptamers in the selection process 3
, although bioinformatics approaches suggest that the fixed sequences do not contribute significantly to aptamer structure after selection 5
. To address these potential problems, primer sequences have been blocked by complementary oligonucleotides or switched to different sequences midway during the rounds of SELEX 6
, or they have been trimmed to 6-9 nt 7, 8
. Wen and Gray 9
designed a primer-free genomic SELEX method, in which the primer sequences were completely removed from the library before selection and were then regenerated to allow amplification of the selected genomic fragments. However, to employ the technique, a unique genomic library has to be constructed, which possesses limited diversity, and regeneration after rounds of selection relies on a linear reamplification step. Alternatively, efforts to circumvent problems caused by fixed primer sequences using high efficiency partitioning are met with problems regarding PCR amplification 10
We have developed a primer-free (PF) selection method that significantly simplifies SELEX procedures and effectively eliminates primer-interference problems 11, 12
. The protocols work in a straightforward manner. The central random region of the library is purified without extraneous flanking sequences and is bound to a suitable target (for example to a purified protein or complex mixtures such as cell lines). Then the bound sequences are obtained, reunited with flanking sequences, and re-amplified to generate selected sub-libraries. As an example, here we selected aptamers to S100B, a protein marker for melanoma. Binding assays showed Kd s in the 10-7
M range after a few rounds of selection, and we demonstrate that the aptamers function effectively in a sandwich binding format.
Cellular Biology, Issue 41, aptamer, selection, S100B, sandwich
Identifying DNA Mutations in Purified Hematopoietic Stem/Progenitor Cells
Institutions: UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In recent years, it has become apparent that genomic instability is tightly related to many developmental disorders, cancers, and aging. Given that stem cells are responsible for ensuring tissue homeostasis and repair throughout life, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the stem cell population is critical for preserving genomic integrity of tissues. Therefore, significant interest has arisen in assessing the impact of endogenous and environmental factors on genomic integrity in stem cells and their progeny, aiming to understand the etiology of stem-cell based diseases.
transgenic mice carry a recoverable λ phage vector encoding the LacI
reporter system, in which the LacI
gene serves as the mutation reporter. The result of a mutated LacI
gene is the production of β-galactosidase that cleaves a chromogenic substrate, turning it blue. The LacI
reporter system is carried in all cells, including stem/progenitor cells and can easily be recovered and used to subsequently infect E. coli
. After incubating infected E. coli
on agarose that contains the correct substrate, plaques can be scored; blue plaques indicate a mutant LacI
gene, while clear plaques harbor wild-type. The frequency of blue (among clear) plaques indicates the mutant frequency in the original cell population the DNA was extracted from. Sequencing the mutant LacI
gene will show the location of the mutations in the gene and the type of mutation.
transgenic mouse model is well-established as an in vivo
mutagenesis assay. Moreover, the mice and the reagents for the assay are commercially available. Here we describe in detail how this model can be adapted to measure the frequency of spontaneously occurring DNA mutants in stem cell-enriched Lin-
(LSK) cells and other subpopulations of the hematopoietic system.
Infection, Issue 84, In vivo mutagenesis, hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, LacI mouse model, DNA mutations, E. coli
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
Selection of Aptamers for Amyloid β-Protein, the Causative Agent of Alzheimer's Disease
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive, age-dependent, neurodegenerative disorder with an insidious course that renders its presymptomatic diagnosis difficult1
. Definite AD diagnosis is achieved only postmortem, thus establishing presymptomatic, early diagnosis of AD is crucial for developing and administering effective therapies2,3
Amyloid β-protein (Aβ) is central to AD pathogenesis. Soluble, oligomeric Aβ assemblies are believed to affect neurotoxicity underlying synaptic dysfunction and neuron loss in AD4,5
. Various forms of soluble Aβ assemblies have been described, however, their interrelationships and relevance to AD etiology and pathogenesis are complex and not well understood6
. Specific molecular recognition tools may unravel the relationships amongst Aβ assemblies and facilitate detection and characterization of these assemblies early in the disease course before symptoms emerge. Molecular recognition commonly relies on antibodies. However, an alternative class of molecular recognition tools, aptamers, offers important advantages relative to antibodies7,8
. Aptamers are oligonucleotides generated by in-vitro
selection: systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment (SELEX)9,10
. SELEX is an iterative process that, similar to Darwinian evolution, allows selection, amplification, enrichment, and perpetuation of a property, e.g., avid, specific, ligand binding (aptamers) or catalytic activity (ribozymes and DNAzymes).
Despite emergence of aptamers as tools in modern biotechnology and medicine11
, they have been underutilized in the amyloid field. Few RNA or ssDNA aptamers have been selected against various forms of prion proteins (PrP)12-16
. An RNA aptamer generated against recombinant bovine PrP was shown to recognize bovine PrP-β17
, a soluble, oligomeric, β-sheet-rich conformational variant of full-length PrP that forms amyloid fibrils18
. Aptamers generated using monomeric and several forms of fibrillar β2
m) were found to bind fibrils of certain other amyloidogenic proteins besides β2
. Ylera et al
. described RNA aptamers selected against immobilized monomeric Aβ4020
. Unexpectedly, these aptamers bound fibrillar Aβ40. Altogether, these data raise several important questions. Why did aptamers selected against monomeric proteins recognize their polymeric forms? Could aptamers against monomeric and/or oligomeric forms of amyloidogenic proteins be obtained? To address these questions, we attempted to select aptamers for covalently-stabilized oligomeric Aβ4021
generated using photo-induced cross-linking of unmodified proteins (PICUP)22,23
. Similar to previous findings17,19,20
, these aptamers reacted with fibrils of Aβ and several other amyloidogenic proteins likely recognizing a potentially common amyloid structural aptatope21
. Here, we present the SELEX methodology used in production of these aptamers21
Neuroscience, Issue 39, Cellular Biology, Aptamer, RNA, amyloid β-protein, oligomer, amyloid fibrils, protein assembly
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
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
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g.
primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;
H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ
hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ
hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ
experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies
). Here we present a modified DIG in situ
hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies
. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana
and Brassica napus
. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3
were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana
and B. napus
and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies
. For P. abies
the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ
protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film.
Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study.
Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at Anna.Karlgren@ebc.uu.se and Jens F. Sundström at Jens.Sundstrom@vbsg.slu.se
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
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.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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
Transient Gene Expression in Tobacco using Gibson Assembly and the Gene Gun
Institutions: Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Delft University of Technology.
In order to target a single protein to multiple subcellular organelles, plants typically duplicate the relevant genes, and express each gene separately using complex regulatory strategies including differential promoters and/or signal sequences. Metabolic engineers and synthetic biologists interested in targeting enzymes to a particular organelle are faced with a challenge: For a protein that is to be localized to more than one organelle, the engineer must clone the same gene multiple times. This work presents a solution to this strategy: harnessing alternative splicing of mRNA. This technology takes advantage of established chloroplast and peroxisome targeting sequences and combines them into a single mRNA that is alternatively spliced. Some splice variants are sent to the chloroplast, some to the peroxisome, and some to the cytosol. Here the system is designed for multiple-organelle targeting with alternative splicing. In this work, GFP was expected to be expressed in the chloroplast, cytosol, and peroxisome by a series of rationally designed 5’ mRNA tags. These tags have the potential to reduce the amount of cloning required when heterologous genes need to be expressed in multiple subcellular organelles. The constructs were designed in previous work11
, and were cloned using Gibson assembly, a ligation independent cloning method that does not require restriction enzymes. The resultant plasmids were introduced into Nicotiana benthamiana
epidermal leaf cells with a modified Gene Gun protocol. Finally, transformed leaves were observed with confocal microscopy.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Plant Leaves, Synthetic Biology, Plants, Genetically Modified, DNA, Plant, RNA, Gene Targeting, Plant Physiological Processes, Genes, Gene gun, Gibson assembly, Nicotiana benthamiana, Alternative splicing, confocal microscopy, chloroplast, peroxisome
Quantitative Comparison of cis-Regulatory Element (CRE) Activities in Transgenic Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: University of Dayton, University of Dayton.
Gene expression patterns are specified by cis
-regulatory element (CRE) sequences, which are also called enhancers or cis-regulatory modules. A typical CRE possesses an arrangement of binding sites for several transcription factor proteins that confer a regulatory logic specifying when, where, and at what level the regulated gene(s) is expressed. The full set of CREs within an animal genome encodes the organism′s program for development1
, and empirical as well as theoretical studies indicate that mutations in CREs played a prominent role in morphological evolution2-4
. Moreover, human genome wide association studies indicate that genetic variation in CREs contribute substantially to phenotypic variation5,6
. Thus, understanding regulatory logic and how mutations affect such logic is a central goal of genetics.
Reporter transgenes provide a powerful method to study the in vivo
function of CREs. Here a known or suspected CRE sequence is coupled to heterologous promoter and coding sequences for a reporter gene encoding an easily observable protein product. When a reporter transgene is inserted into a host organism, the CRE′s activity becomes visible in the form of the encoded reporter protein. P-element mediated transgenesis in the fruit fly species Drosophila (D.) melanogaster7
has been used for decades to introduce reporter transgenes into this model organism, though the genomic placement of transgenes is random. Hence, reporter gene activity is strongly influenced by the local chromatin and gene environment, limiting CRE comparisons to being qualitative. In recent years, the phiC31 based integration system was adapted for use in D. melanogaster
to insert transgenes into specific genome landing sites8-10
. This capability has made the quantitative measurement of gene and, relevant here, CRE activity11-13
feasible. The production of transgenic fruit flies can be outsourced, including phiC31-based integration, eliminating the need to purchase expensive equipment and/or have proficiency at specialized transgene injection protocols.
Here, we present a general protocol to quantitatively evaluate a CRE′s activity, and show how this approach can be used to measure the effects of an introduced mutation on a CRE′s activity and to compare the activities of orthologous CREs. Although the examples given are for a CRE active during fruit fly metamorphosis, the approach can be applied to other developmental stages, fruit fly species, or model organisms. Ultimately, a more widespread use of this approach to study CREs should advance an understanding of regulatory logic and how logic can vary and evolve.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Cis-regulatory element, CRE, cis-regulatory module, enhancer, site-specific integration, reporter transgenes, confocal microscopy, regulatory logic, transcription factors, binding sites, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila
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
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
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