Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Biosensor for Detection of Antibiotic Resistant Staphylococcus Bacteria
Institutions: Auburn University , Keesler Air Force Base.
A structurally transformed lytic bacteriophage having a broad host range of Staphylococcus aureus
strains and a penicillin-binding protein (PBP 2a) antibody conjugated latex beads have been utilized to create a biosensor designed for discrimination of methicillin resistant (MRSA) and sensitive (MSSA) S. aureus
. The lytic phages have been converted into phage spheroids by contact with water-chloroform interface. Phage spheroid monolayers have been moved onto a biosensor surface by Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) technique 3
. The created biosensors have been examined by a quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation tracking (QCM-D) to evaluate bacteria-phage interactions. Bacteria-spheroid interactions led to reduced resonance frequency and a rise in dissipation energy for both MRSA and MSSA strains. After the bacterial binding, these sensors have been further exposed to the penicillin-binding protein antibody latex beads. Sensors analyzed with MRSA responded to PBP 2a antibody beads; although sensors inspected with MSSA gave no response. This experimental distinction determines an unambiguous discrimination between methicillin resistant and sensitive S. aureus
strains. Equally bound and unbound bacteriophages suppress bacterial growth on surfaces and in water suspensions. Once lytic phages are changed into spheroids, they retain their strong lytic activity and show high bacterial capture capability. The phage and phage spheroids can be utilized for testing and sterilization of antibiotic resistant microorganisms. Other applications may include use in bacteriophage therapy and antimicrobial surfaces.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Anatomy, Physiology, Bacteria, Pharmacology, Staphylococcus, Bacteriophages, phage, Binding, Competitive, Biophysics, surface properties (nonmetallic materials), surface wave acoustic devices (electronic design), sensors, Lytic phage spheroids, QCM-D, Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) monolayers, MRSA, Staphylococcus aureus, assay
'Bioluminescent' Reporter Phage for the Detection of Category A Bacterial Pathogens
Institutions: Guild Associates, Inc., University of Texas at Austin, Medical University of South Carolina.
and Bacillus anthracis
are Category A bacterial pathogens that are the causative agents of the plague and anthrax, respectively 1
. Although the natural occurrence of both diseases' is now relatively rare, the possibility of terrorist groups using these pathogens as a bioweapon is real. Because of the disease's inherent communicability, rapid clinical course, and high mortality rate, it is critical that an outbreak be detected quickly. Therefore methodologies that provide rapid detection and diagnosis are essential to ensure immediate implementation of public health measures and activation of crisis management.
Recombinant reporter phage may provide a rapid and specific approach for the detection of Y. pestis
and B. anthracis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently use the classical phage lysis assays for the confirmed identification of these bacterial pathogens 2-4
. These assays take advantage of naturally occurring phage which are specific and lytic for their bacterial hosts. After overnight growth of the cultivated bacterium in the presence of the specific phage, the formation of plaques (bacterial lysis) provides a positive identification of the bacterial target. Although these assays are robust, they suffer from three shortcomings: 1) they are laboratory based; 2) they require bacterial isolation and cultivation from the suspected sample, and 3) they take 24-36 h to complete. To address these issues, recombinant "light-tagged" reporter phage were genetically engineered by integrating the Vibrio harveyi luxAB
genes into the genome of Y. pestis
and B. anthracis
specific phage 5-8
. The resulting luxAB
reporter phage were able to detect their specific target by rapidly (within minutes) and sensitively conferring a bioluminescent phenotype to recipient cells. Importantly, detection was obtained either with cultivated recipient cells or with mock-infected clinical specimens 7
For demonstration purposes, here we describe the method for the phage-mediated detection of a known Y. pestis
isolate using a luxAB
reporter phage constructed from the CDC plague diagnostic phage ΦA1122 6,7
(Figure 1). A similar method, with minor modifications (e.g. change in growth temperature and media), may be used for the detection of B. anthracis
isolates using the B. anthracis
reporter phage Wβ::luxAB 8
. The method describes the phage-mediated transduction of a biolumescent phenotype to cultivated Y. pestis
cells which are subsequently measured using a microplate luminometer. The major advantages of this method over the traditional phage lysis assays is the ease of use, the rapid results, and the ability to test multiple samples simultaneously in a 96-well microtiter plate format.
Figure 1. Detection schematic.
The phage are mixed with the sample, the phage infects the cell, luxAB
are expressed, and the cell bioluminesces. Sample processing is not necessary; the phage and cells are mixed and subsequently measured for light.
Immunology, Issue 53, Reporter phage, bioluminescence, detection, plague, anthrax
Laser Microdissection Applied to Gene Expression Profiling of Subset of Cells from the Drosophila Wing Disc
Institutions: University of Naples.
Heterogeneous nature of tissues has proven to be a limiting factor in the amount of information that can be generated from biological samples, compromising downstream analyses. Considering the complex and dynamic cellular associations existing within many tissues, in order to recapitulate the in vivo
interactions thorough molecular analysis one must be able to analyze specific cell populations within their native context. Laser-mediated microdissection can achieve this goal, allowing unambiguous identification and successful harvest of cells of interest under direct microscopic visualization while maintaining molecular integrity. We have applied this technology to analyse gene expression within defined areas of the developing Drosophila
wing disc, which represents an advantageous model system to study growth control, cell differentiation and organogenesis. Larval imaginal discs are precociously subdivided into anterior and posterior, dorsal and ventral compartments by lineage restriction boundaries. Making use of the inducible GAL4-UAS binary expression system, each of these compartments can be specifically labelled in transgenic flies expressing an UAS-GFP transgene under the control of the appropriate GAL4-driver construct. In the transgenic discs, gene expression profiling of discrete subsets of cells can precisely be determined after laser-mediated microdissection, using the fluorescent GFP signal to guide laser cut.
Among the variety of downstream applications, we focused on RNA transcript profiling after localised RNA interference (RNAi). With the advent of RNAi technology, GFP labelling can be coupled with localised knockdown of a given gene, allowing to determinate the transcriptional response of a discrete cell population to the specific gene silencing. To validate this approach, we dissected equivalent areas of the disc from the posterior (labelled by GFP expression), and the anterior (unlabelled) compartment upon regional silencing in the P compartment of an otherwise ubiquitously expressed gene. RNA was extracted from microdissected silenced and unsilenced areas and comparative gene expression profiling determined by quantitative real-time RT-PCR. We show that this method can effectively be applied for accurate transcriptomics of subsets of cells within the Drosophila
imaginal discs. Indeed, while massive disc preparation as source of RNA generally assumes cell homogeneity, it is well known that transcriptional expression can vary greatly within these structures in consequence of positional information. Using localized fluorescent GFP signal to guide laser cut, more accurate transcriptional analyses can be performed and profitably applied to disparate applications, including transcript profiling of distinct cell lineages within their native context.
Developmental Biology, Issue 38, Drosophila, Imaginal discs, Laser microdissection, Gene expression, Transcription profiling, Regulatory pathways , in vivo RNAi, GAL4-UAS, GFP labelling, Positional information
Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis
. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1
. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes
) with such properties2
Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6
(also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings.
First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10
, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints.
Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13
. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases.
Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms.
Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14
. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13
. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16
. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13
. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper.
We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have.
Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
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
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al.
, 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
The Portable Chemical Sterilizer (PCS), D-FENS, and D-FEND ALL: Novel Chlorine Dioxide Decontamination Technologies for the Military
Institutions: United States Army-Natick Soldier RD&E Center, Warfighter Directorate, University of Connecticut Health Center, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute.
There is a stated Army need for a field-portable, non-steam sterilizer technology that can be used by Forward Surgical Teams, Dental Companies, Veterinary Service Support Detachments, Combat Support Hospitals, and Area Medical Laboratories to sterilize surgical instruments and to sterilize pathological specimens prior to disposal in operating rooms, emergency treatment areas, and intensive care units. The following ensemble of novel, ‘clean and green’ chlorine dioxide technologies are versatile and flexible to adapt to meet a number of critical military needs for decontamination6,15
. Specifically, the Portable Chemical Sterilizer (PCS) was invented to meet urgent battlefield needs and close critical capability gaps for energy-independence, lightweight portability, rapid mobility, and rugged durability in high intensity forward deployments3
. As a revolutionary technological breakthrough in surgical sterilization technology, the PCS is a Modern Field Autoclave that relies on on-site, point-of-use, at-will generation of chlorine dioxide instead of steam. Two (2) PCS units sterilize 4 surgical trays in 1 hr, which is the equivalent throughput of one large steam autoclave (nicknamed “Bertha” in deployments because of its cumbersome size, bulky dimensions, and weight). However, the PCS operates using 100% less electricity (0 vs. 9 kW) and 98% less water (10 vs. 640 oz.), significantly reduces weight by 95% (20 vs. 450 lbs, a 4-man lift) and cube by 96% (2.1 vs. 60.2 ft3
), and virtually eliminates the difficult challenges in forward deployments of repairs and maintaining reliable operation, lifting and transporting, and electrical power required for steam autoclaves.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, chlorine dioxide, novel technologies, D-FENS, PCS, and D-FEND ALL, sterilization, decontamination, fresh produce safety
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Non-surgical Intratracheal Instillation of Mice with Analysis of Lungs and Lung Draining Lymph Nodes by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, National Jewish Health , Colorado State University, National Jewish Health .
Phagocytic cells such as alveolar macrophages and lung dendritic cells (LDCs) continuously sample antigens from the alveolar spaces in the
lungs. LDCs, in particular, are known to migrate to the lung draining lymph nodes (LDLNs) where they present inhaled antigens to T cells initiating an
appropriate immune response to a variety of immunogens1,2
. To model interactions between the lungs and airborne antigens in mice, antigens can be
or as aerosols6
. Delivery by each route involves distinct technical skills and limitations that need to be
considered before designing an experiment. For example, intranasal and aerosolized exposure delivers antigens to both the lungs and the upper respiratory
tract. Hence antigens can access the nasal associated lymphoid tissue (NALT)7
, potentially complicating interpretation of the results. In addition, swallowing,
sneezing and the breathing rate of the mouse may also lead to inconsistencies in the doses delivered. Although the involvement of the upper respiratory tract may
be preferred for some studies, it can complicate experiments focusing on events specifically initiated in the lungs. In this setting, the intratracheal (i.t)
route is preferable as it delivers test materials directly into the lungs and bypasses the NALT. Many i.t injection protocols involve either blind intubation of the
trachea through the oral cavity or surgical exposure of the trachea to access the lungs. Herein, we describe a simple, consistent, non-surgical method for i.t
instillation. The opening of the trachea is visualized using a laryngoscope and a bent gavage needle is then inserted directly into the trachea to deliver the
innoculum. We also describe procedures for harvesting and processing of LDLNs and lungs for analysis of antigen trafficking by flow cytometry.
Immunology, Issue 51, Intratracheal, mouse, lungs, lung draining lymph nodes, flow cytometry
Rapid Diagnosis of Avian Influenza Virus in Wild Birds: Use of a Portable rRT-PCR and Freeze-dried Reagents in the Field
Institutions: USGS Western Ecological Research Center, University of California, Davis, University of California, Davis, University of Minnesota , Science Applications International Corporation.
Wild birds have been implicated in the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the H5N1 subtype, prompting surveillance along migratory flyways. Sampling of wild birds for avian influenza virus (AIV) is often conducted in remote regions, but results are often delayed because of the need to transport samples to a laboratory equipped for molecular testing. Real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) is a molecular technique that offers one of the most accurate and sensitive methods for diagnosis of AIV. The previously strict lab protocols needed for rRT-PCR are now being adapted for the field. Development of freeze-dried (lyophilized) reagents that do not require cold chain, with sensitivity at the level of wet reagents has brought on-site remote testing to a practical goal.
Here we present a method for the rapid diagnosis of AIV in wild birds using an rRT-PCR unit (Ruggedized Advanced Pathogen Identification Device or RAPID, Idaho Technologies, Salt Lake City, UT) that employs lyophilized reagents (Influenza A Target 1 Taqman; ASAY-ASY-0109, Idaho Technologies). The reagents contain all of the necessary components for testing at appropriate concentrations in a single tube: primers, probes, enzymes, buffers and internal positive controls, eliminating errors associated with improper storage or handling of wet reagents. The portable unit performs a screen for Influenza A by targeting the matrix gene and yields results in 2-3 hours. Genetic subtyping is also possible with H5 and H7 primer sets that target the hemagglutinin gene.
The system is suitable for use on cloacal and oropharyngeal samples collected from wild birds, as demonstrated here on the migratory shorebird species, the western sandpiper (Calidrus mauri
) captured in Northern California. Animal handling followed protocols approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center and permits of the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory. The primary advantage of this technique is to expedite diagnosis of wild birds, increasing the chances of containing an outbreak in a remote location. On-site diagnosis would also prove useful for identifying and studying infected individuals in wild populations. The opportunity to collect information on host biology (immunological and physiological response to infection) and spatial ecology (migratory performance of infected birds) will provide insights into the extent to which wild birds can act as vectors for AIV over long distances.
Immunology, Issue 54, migratory birds, active surveillance, lyophilized reagents, avian influenza, H5N1
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
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
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro
using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro
. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo
. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo
tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro
and in vivo
and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Spatial Multiobjective Optimization of Agricultural Conservation Practices using a SWAT Model and an Evolutionary Algorithm
Institutions: University of Washington, Iowa State University, North Carolina A&T University, Iowa Geological and Water Survey.
Finding the cost-efficient (i.e.
, lowest-cost) ways of targeting conservation practice investments for the achievement of specific water quality goals across the landscape is of primary importance in watershed management. Traditional economics methods of finding the lowest-cost solution in the watershed context (e.g.
) assume that off-site impacts can be accurately described as a proportion of on-site pollution generated. Such approaches are unlikely to be representative of the actual pollution process in a watershed, where the impacts of polluting sources are often determined by complex biophysical processes. The use of modern physically-based, spatially distributed hydrologic simulation models allows for a greater degree of realism in terms of process representation but requires a development of a simulation-optimization framework where the model becomes an integral part of optimization.
Evolutionary algorithms appear to be a particularly useful optimization tool, able to deal with the combinatorial nature of a watershed simulation-optimization problem and allowing the use of the full water quality model. Evolutionary algorithms treat a particular spatial allocation of conservation practices in a watershed as a candidate solution and utilize sets (populations) of candidate solutions iteratively applying stochastic operators of selection, recombination, and mutation to find improvements with respect to the optimization objectives. The optimization objectives in this case are to minimize nonpoint-source pollution in the watershed, simultaneously minimizing the cost of conservation practices. A recent and expanding set of research is attempting to use similar methods and integrates water quality models with broadly defined evolutionary optimization methods3,4,9,10,13-15,17-19,22,23,25
. In this application, we demonstrate a program which follows Rabotyagov et al.'s approach and integrates a modern and commonly used SWAT water quality model7
with a multiobjective evolutionary algorithm SPEA226
, and user-specified set of conservation practices and their costs to search for the complete tradeoff frontiers between costs of conservation practices and user-specified water quality objectives. The frontiers quantify the tradeoffs faced by the watershed managers by presenting the full range of costs associated with various water quality improvement goals. The program allows for a selection of watershed configurations achieving specified water quality improvement goals and a production of maps of optimized placement of conservation practices.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 70, Plant Biology, Civil Engineering, Forest Sciences, Water quality, multiobjective optimization, evolutionary algorithms, cost efficiency, agriculture, development
Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease