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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Computer-assisted Large-scale Visualization and Quantification of Pancreatic Islet Mass, Size Distribution and Architecture
Institutions: University of Chicago, National Institutes of Health, University of Chicago, University of Massachusetts.
The pancreatic islet is a unique micro-organ composed of several hormone secreting endocrine cells such as beta-cells (insulin), alpha-cells (glucagon), and delta-cells (somatostatin) that are embedded in the exocrine tissues and comprise 1-2% of the entire pancreas. There is a close correlation between body and pancreas weight. Total beta-cell mass also increases proportionately to compensate for the demand for insulin in the body. What escapes this proportionate expansion is the size distribution of islets. Large animals such as humans share similar islet size distributions with mice, suggesting that this micro-organ has a certain size limit to be functional. The inability of large animal pancreata to generate proportionately larger islets is compensated for by an increase in the number of islets and by an increase in the proportion of larger islets in their overall islet size distribution. Furthermore, islets exhibit a striking plasticity in cellular composition and architecture among different species and also within the same species under various pathophysiological conditions. In the present study, we describe novel approaches for the analysis of biological image data in order to facilitate the automation of analytic processes, which allow for the analysis of large and heterogeneous data collections in the study of such dynamic biological processes and complex structures. Such studies have been hampered due to technical difficulties of unbiased sampling and generating large-scale data sets to precisely capture the complexity of biological processes of islet biology. Here we show methods to collect unbiased "representative" data within the limited availability of samples (or to minimize the sample collection) and the standard experimental settings, and to precisely analyze the complex three-dimensional structure of the islet. Computer-assisted automation allows for the collection and analysis of large-scale data sets and also assures unbiased interpretation of the data. Furthermore, the precise quantification of islet size distribution and spatial coordinates (i.e. X, Y, Z-positions) not only leads to an accurate visualization of pancreatic islet structure and composition, but also allows us to identify patterns during development and adaptation to altering conditions through mathematical modeling. The methods developed in this study are applicable to studies of many other systems and organisms as well.
Cellular Biology, Issue 49, beta-cells, islets, large-scale analysis, pancreas
Patient-specific Modeling of the Heart: Estimation of Ventricular Fiber Orientations
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Patient-specific simulations of heart (dys)function aimed at personalizing cardiac therapy are hampered by the absence of in vivo
imaging technology for clinically acquiring myocardial fiber orientations. The objective of this project was to develop a methodology to estimate cardiac fiber orientations from in vivo
images of patient heart geometries. An accurate representation of ventricular geometry and fiber orientations was reconstructed, respectively, from high-resolution ex vivo structural magnetic resonance (MR) and diffusion tensor (DT) MR images of a normal human heart, referred to as the atlas. Ventricular geometry of a patient heart was extracted, via
semiautomatic segmentation, from an in vivo
computed tomography (CT) image. Using image transformation algorithms, the atlas ventricular geometry was deformed to match that of the patient. Finally, the deformation field was applied to the atlas fiber orientations to obtain an estimate of patient fiber orientations. The accuracy of the fiber estimates was assessed using six normal and three failing canine hearts. The mean absolute difference between inclination angles of acquired and estimated fiber orientations was 15.4 °. Computational simulations of ventricular activation maps and pseudo-ECGs in sinus rhythm and ventricular tachycardia indicated that there are no significant differences between estimated and acquired fiber orientations at a clinically observable level.The new insights obtained from the project will pave the way for the development of patient-specific models of the heart that can aid physicians in personalized diagnosis and decisions regarding electrophysiological interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 71, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Cardiology, Myocytes, Cardiac, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cardiac Electrophysiology, computerized simulation (general), mathematical modeling (systems analysis), Cardiomyocyte, biomedical image processing, patient-specific modeling, Electrophysiology, simulation
Soil Sampling and Isolation of Entomopathogenic Nematodes (Steinernematidae, Heterorhabditidae)
Institutions: University of Arizona.
Entomopathogenic nematodes (a.k.a. EPN) represent a group of soil-inhabiting nematodes that parasitize a wide range of insects. These nematodes belong to two families: Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae. Until now, more than 70 species have been described in the Steinernematidae and there are about 20 species in the Heterorhabditidae. The nematodes have a mutualistic partnership with Enterobacteriaceae bacteria and together they act as a potent insecticidal complex that kills a wide range of insect species.
Herein, we focus on the most common techniques considered for collecting EPN from soil. The second part of this presentation focuses on the insect-baiting technique, a widely used approach for the isolation of EPN from soil samples, and the modified White trap technique which is used for the recovery of these nematodes from infected insects. These methods and techniques are key steps for the successful establishment of EPN cultures in the laboratory and also form the basis for other bioassays that consider these nematodes as model organisms for research in other biological disciplines. The techniques shown in this presentation correspond to those performed and/or designed by members of S. P. Stock laboratory as well as those described by various authors.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, Entomology, Nematology, Steinernema, Heterorhabditis, nematodes, soil sampling, insect-bait, modified White-trap
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
A Next-generation Tissue Microarray (ngTMA) Protocol for Biomarker Studies
Institutions: University of Bern.
Biomarker research relies on tissue microarrays (TMA). TMAs are produced by repeated transfer of small tissue cores from a ‘donor’ block into a ‘recipient’ block and then used for a variety of biomarker applications. The construction of conventional TMAs is labor intensive, imprecise, and time-consuming. Here, a protocol using next-generation Tissue Microarrays (ngTMA) is outlined. ngTMA is based on TMA planning and design, digital pathology, and automated tissue microarraying. The protocol is illustrated using an example of 134 metastatic colorectal cancer patients. Histological, statistical and logistical aspects are considered, such as the tissue type, specific histological regions, and cell types for inclusion in the TMA, the number of tissue spots, sample size, statistical analysis, and number of TMA copies. Histological slides for each patient are scanned and uploaded onto a web-based digital platform. There, they are viewed and annotated (marked) using a 0.6-2.0 mm diameter tool, multiple times using various colors to distinguish tissue areas. Donor blocks and 12 ‘recipient’ blocks are loaded into the instrument. Digital slides are retrieved and matched to donor block images. Repeated arraying of annotated regions is automatically performed resulting in an ngTMA. In this example, six ngTMAs are planned containing six different tissue types/histological zones. Two copies of the ngTMAs are desired. Three to four slides for each patient are scanned; 3 scan runs are necessary and performed overnight. All slides are annotated; different colors are used to represent the different tissues/zones, namely tumor center, invasion front, tumor/stroma, lymph node metastases, liver metastases, and normal tissue. 17 annotations/case are made; time for annotation is 2-3 min/case. 12 ngTMAs are produced containing 4,556 spots. Arraying time is 15-20 hr. Due to its precision, flexibility and speed, ngTMA is a powerful tool to further improve the quality of TMAs used in clinical and translational research.
Medicine, Issue 91, tissue microarray, biomarkers, prognostic, predictive, digital pathology, slide scanning
Electrophysiological Recording in the Brain of Intact Adult Zebrafish
Institutions: University of Georgia, University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University, University of Georgia, University of California, Davis.
Previously, electrophysiological studies in adult zebrafish have been limited to slice preparations or to eye cup preparations and electrorentinogram recordings. This paper describes how an adult zebrafish can be immobilized, intubated, and used for in vivo
electrophysiological experiments, allowing recording of neural activity. Immobilization of the adult requires a mechanism to deliver dissolved oxygen to the gills in lieu of buccal and opercular movement. With our technique, animals are immobilized and perfused with habitat water to fulfill this requirement. A craniotomy is performed under tricaine methanesulfonate (MS-222; tricaine) anesthesia to provide access to the brain. The primary electrode is then positioned within the craniotomy window to record extracellular brain activity. Through the use of a multitube perfusion system, a variety of pharmacological compounds can be administered to the adult fish and any alterations in the neural activity can be observed. The methodology not only allows for observations to be made regarding changes in neurological activity, but it also allows for comparisons to be made between larval and adult zebrafish. This gives researchers the ability to identify the alterations in neurological activity due to the introduction of various compounds at different life stages.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, Zebrafish, adult, Electrophysiology, in vivo, craniotomy, perfusion, neural activity
A Novel Method of Drug Administration to Multiple Zebrafish (Danio rerio) and the Quantification of Withdrawal
Institutions: MacEwan University.
Anxiety testing in zebrafish is often studied in combination with the application of pharmacological substances. In these studies, fish are routinely netted and transported between home aquaria and dosing tanks. In order to enhance the ease of compound administration, a novel method for transferring fish between tanks for drug administration was developed. Inserts that are designed for spawning were used to transfer groups of fish into the drug solution, allowing accurate dosing of all fish in the group. This increases the precision and efficiency of dosing, which becomes very important in long schedules of repeated drug administration. We implemented this procedure for use in a study examining the behavior of zebrafish in the light/dark test after administering ethanol with differing 21 day schedules. In fish exposed to daily-moderate amounts of alcohol there was a significant difference in location preference after 2 days of withdrawal when compared to the control group. However, a significant difference in location preference in a group exposed to weekly-binge administration was not observed.
This protocol can be generalized for use with all types of compounds that are water-soluble and may be used in any situation when the behavior of fish during or after long schedules of drug administration is being examined. The light/dark test is also a valuable method of assessing withdrawal-induced changes in anxiety.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Zebrafish, Ethanol, Behavior, Anxiety, Pharmacology, Fish, Neuroscience, Drug administration, Scototaxis
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
Assessment and Evaluation of the High Risk Neonate: The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale
Institutions: Brown University, Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
There has been a long-standing interest in the assessment of the neurobehavioral integrity of the newborn infant. The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) was developed as an assessment for the at-risk infant. These are infants who are at increased risk for poor developmental outcome because of insults during prenatal development, such as substance exposure or prematurity or factors such as poverty, poor nutrition or lack of prenatal care that can have adverse effects on the intrauterine environment and affect the developing fetus. The NNNS assesses the full range of infant neurobehavioral performance including neurological integrity, behavioral functioning, and signs of stress/abstinence. The NNNS is a noninvasive neonatal assessment tool with demonstrated validity as a predictor, not only of medical outcomes such as cerebral palsy diagnosis, neurological abnormalities, and diseases with risks to the brain, but also of developmental outcomes such as mental and motor functioning, behavior problems, school readiness, and IQ. The NNNS can identify infants at high risk for abnormal developmental outcome and is an important clinical tool that enables medical researchers and health practitioners to identify these infants and develop intervention programs to optimize the development of these infants as early as possible. The video shows the NNNS procedures, shows examples of normal and abnormal performance and the various clinical populations in which the exam can be used.
Behavior, Issue 90, NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale, NNNS, High risk infant, Assessment, Evaluation, Prediction, Long term outcome
A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1
. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2
. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps
). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
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
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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
Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
Flying Insect Detection and Classification with Inexpensive Sensors
Institutions: University of California, Riverside, University of California, Riverside, University of São Paulo - USP, ISCA Technologies.
An inexpensive, noninvasive system that could accurately classify flying insects would have important implications for entomological research, and allow for the development of many useful applications in vector and pest control for both medical and agricultural entomology. Given this, the last sixty years have seen many research efforts devoted to this task. To date, however, none of this research has had a lasting impact. In this work, we show that pseudo-acoustic optical sensors can produce superior data; that additional features, both intrinsic and extrinsic to the insect’s flight behavior, can be exploited to improve insect classification; that a Bayesian classification approach allows to efficiently learn classification models that are very robust to over-fitting, and a general classification framework allows to easily incorporate arbitrary number of features. We demonstrate the findings with large-scale experiments that dwarf all previous works combined, as measured by the number of insects and the number of species considered.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, flying insect detection, automatic insect classification, pseudo-acoustic optical sensors, Bayesian classification framework, flight sound, circadian rhythm
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
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1
. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1
. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2
to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4
and has been used in other studies5-8
The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9
, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10
, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11
, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well.
Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor.
Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run.
Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
Electroporation of Mycobacteria
Institutions: Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
Microbiology, Issue 15, Springer Protocols, Mycobacteria, Electroporation, Bacterial Transformation, Transformation Efficiency, Bacteria, Tuberculosis, M. Smegmatis, Springer Protocols