Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Lineage-reprogramming of Pericyte-derived Cells of the Adult Human Brain into Induced Neurons
Institutions: Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.
Direct lineage-reprogramming of non-neuronal cells into induced neurons (iNs) may provide insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying neurogenesis and enable new strategies for in vitro
modeling or repairing the diseased brain. Identifying brain-resident non-neuronal cell types amenable to direct conversion into iNs might allow for launching such an approach in situ
within the damaged brain tissue. Here we describe a protocol developed in the attempt of identifying cells derived from the adult human brain that fulfill this premise. This protocol involves: (1) the culturing of human cells from the cerebral cortex obtained from adult human brain biopsies; (2) the in vitro
expansion (approximately requiring 2-4 weeks) and characterization of the culture by immunocytochemistry and flow cytometry; (3) the enrichment by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) using anti-PDGF receptor-β and anti-CD146 antibodies; (4) the retrovirus-mediated transduction with the neurogenic transcription factors sox2 and ascl1; (5) and finally the characterization of the resultant pericyte-derived induced neurons (PdiNs) by immunocytochemistry (14 days to 8 weeks following retroviral transduction). At this stage, iNs can be probed for their electrical properties by patch-clamp recording. This protocol provides a highly reproducible procedure for the in vitro
lineage conversion of brain-resident pericytes into functional human iNs.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Pericytes, lineage-reprogramming, induced neurons, cerebral cortex
Visualization of Vascular Ca2+ Signaling Triggered by Paracrine Derived ROS
Institutions: Temple University , University of Washington.
Oxidative stress has been implicated in a number of pathologic conditions including ischemia/reperfusion damage and sepsis. The concept of oxidative stress refers to the aberrant formation of ROS (reactive oxygen species), which include O2•-
, and hydroxyl radicals. Reactive oxygen species influences a multitude of cellular processes including signal transduction, cell proliferation and cell death1-6
. ROS have the potential to damage vascular and organ cells directly, and can initiate secondary chemical reactions and genetic alterations that ultimately result in an amplification of the initial ROS-mediated tissue damage. A key component of the amplification cascade that exacerbates irreversible tissue damage is the recruitment and activation of circulating inflammatory cells. During inflammation, inflammatory cells produce cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα) and IL-1 that activate endothelial cells (EC) and epithelial cells and further augment the inflammatory response7
. Vascular endothelial dysfunction is an established feature of acute inflammation. Macrophages contribute to endothelial dysfunction during inflammation by mechanisms that remain unclear. Activation of macrophages results in the extracellular release of O2•-
and various pro-inflammatory cytokines, which triggers pathologic signaling in adjacent cells8
. NADPH oxidases are the major and primary source of ROS in most of the cell types. Recently, it is shown by us and others9,10
that ROS produced by NADPH oxidases induce the mitochondrial ROS production during many pathophysiological conditions. Hence measuring the mitochondrial ROS production is equally important in addition to measuring cytosolic ROS. Macrophages produce ROS by the flavoprotein enzyme NADPH oxidase which plays a primary role in inflammation. Once activated, phagocytic NADPH oxidase produces copious amounts of O2•-
that are important in the host defense mechanism11,12
. Although paracrine-derived O2•-
plays an important role in the pathogenesis of vascular diseases, visualization of paracrine ROS-induced intracellular signaling including Ca2+
mobilization is still hypothesis. We have developed a model in which activated macrophages are used as a source of O2•-
to transduce a signal to adjacent endothelial cells. Using this model we demonstrate that macrophage-derived O2•-
lead to calcium signaling in adjacent endothelial cells.
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, Reactive oxygen species, Calcium, paracrine superoxide, endothelial cells, confocal microscopy
Transfection and Mutagenesis of Target Genes in Mosquito Cells by Locked Nucleic Acid-modified Oligonucleotides
Institutions: University of California, Davis, Université Paris Descartes.
parasites, the causative agent of malaria, are transmitted through the bites of infected Anopheles
mosquitoes resulting in over 250 million new infections each year. Despite decades of research, there is still no vaccine against malaria, highlighting the need for novel control strategies. One innovative approach is the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to effectively control malaria parasite transmission. Deliberate alterations of cell signaling pathways in the mosquito, via targeted mutagenesis, have been found to regulate parasite development 1
. From these studies, we can begin to identify potential gene targets for transformation. Targeted mutagenesis has traditionally relied upon the homologous recombination between a target gene and a large DNA molecule. However, the construction and use of such complex DNA molecules for generation of stably transformed cell lines is costly, time consuming and often inefficient. Therefore, a strategy using locked nucleic acid-modified oligonucleotides (LNA-ONs) provides a useful alternative for introducing artificial single nucleotide substitutions into episomal and chromosomal DNA gene targets (reviewed in 2
). LNA-ON-mediated targeted mutagenesis has been used to introduce point mutations into genes of interest in cultured cells of both yeast and mice 3,4
. We show here that LNA-ONs can be used to introduce a single nucleotide change in a transfected episomal target that results in a switch from blue fluorescent protein (BFP) expression to green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression in both Anopheles gambiae
and Anopheles stephensi
cells. This conversion demonstrates for the first time that effective mutagenesis of target genes in mosquito cells can be mediated by LNA-ONs and suggests that this technique may be applicable to mutagenesis of chromosomal targets in vitro
and in vivo
Infectious Disease, Issue 46, Anopheles, transfection, oligonucleotides, mosquito
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
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
Affinity-based Isolation of Tagged Nuclei from Drosophila Tissues for Gene Expression Analysis
Institutions: Purdue University.
embryonic and larval tissues often contain a highly heterogeneous mixture of cell types, which can complicate the analysis of gene expression in these tissues. Thus, to analyze cell-specific gene expression profiles from Drosophila
tissues, it may be necessary to isolate specific cell types with high purity and at sufficient yields for downstream applications such as transcriptional profiling and chromatin immunoprecipitation. However, the irregular cellular morphology in tissues such as the central nervous system, coupled with the rare population of specific cell types in these tissues, can pose challenges for traditional methods of cell isolation such as laser microdissection and fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). Here, an alternative approach to characterizing cell-specific gene expression profiles using affinity-based isolation of tagged nuclei, rather than whole cells, is described. Nuclei in the specific cell type of interest are genetically labeled with a nuclear envelope-localized EGFP tag using the Gal4/UAS binary expression system. These EGFP-tagged nuclei can be isolated using antibodies against GFP that are coupled to magnetic beads. The approach described in this protocol enables consistent isolation of nuclei from specific cell types in the Drosophila
larval central nervous system at high purity and at sufficient levels for expression analysis, even when these cell types comprise less than 2% of the total cell population in the tissue. This approach can be used to isolate nuclei from a wide variety of Drosophila
embryonic and larval cell types using specific Gal4 drivers, and may be useful for isolating nuclei from cell types that are not suitable for FACS or laser microdissection.
Biochemistry, Issue 85, Gene Expression, nuclei isolation, Drosophila, KASH, GFP, cell-type specific
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Measurement of Greenhouse Gas Flux from Agricultural Soils Using Static Chambers
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems Watershed Management Research Unit.
Measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes between the soil and the atmosphere, in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems, is critical to understanding the biogeochemical drivers of climate change and to the development and evaluation of GHG mitigation strategies based on modulation of landscape management practices. The static chamber-based method described here is based on trapping gases emitted from the soil surface within a chamber and collecting samples from the chamber headspace at regular intervals for analysis by gas chromatography. Change in gas concentration over time is used to calculate flux. This method can be utilized to measure landscape-based flux of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, and to estimate differences between treatments or explore system dynamics over seasons or years. Infrastructure requirements are modest, but a comprehensive experimental design is essential. This method is easily deployed in the field, conforms to established guidelines, and produces data suitable to large-scale GHG emissions studies.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, greenhouse gas, trace gas, gas flux, static chamber, soil, field, agriculture, climate
Study of Phagolysosome Biogenesis in Live Macrophages
Institutions: Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, National Institute for Medical Research.
Phagocytic cells play a major role in the innate immune system by removing and eliminating invading microorganisms in their phagosomes. Phagosome maturation is the complex and tightly regulated process during which a nascent phagosome undergoes drastic transformation through well-orchestrated interactions with various cellular organelles and compartments in the cytoplasm. This process, which is essential for the physiological function of phagocytic cells by endowing phagosomes with their lytic and bactericidal properties, culminates in fusion of phagosomes with lysosomes and biogenesis of phagolysosomes which is considered to be the last and critical stage of maturation for phagosomes. In this report, we describe a live cell imaging based method for qualitative and quantitative analysis of the dynamic process of lysosome to phagosome content delivery, which is a hallmark of phagolysosome biogenesis. This approach uses IgG-coated microbeads as a model for phagocytosis and fluorophore-conjugated dextran molecules as a luminal lysosomal cargo probe, in order to follow the dynamic delivery of lysosmal content to the phagosomes in real time in live macrophages using time-lapse imaging and confocal laser scanning microscopy. Here we describe in detail the background, the preparation steps and the step-by-step experimental setup to enable easy and precise deployment of this method in other labs. Our described method is simple, robust, and most importantly, can be easily adapted to study phagosomal interactions and maturation in different systems and under various experimental settings such as use of various phagocytic cells types, loss-of-function experiments, different probes, and phagocytic particles.
Immunology, Issue 85, Lysosome, Phagosome, phagolysosome, live-cell imaging, phagocytes, macrophages
Measuring the Subjective Value of Risky and Ambiguous Options using Experimental Economics and Functional MRI Methods
Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New York University , New York University , New York University .
Most of the choices we make have uncertain consequences. In some cases the probabilities for different possible outcomes are precisely known, a condition termed "risky". In other cases when probabilities cannot be estimated, this is a condition described as "ambiguous". While most people are averse to both risk and ambiguity1,2
, the degree of those aversions vary substantially across individuals, such that the subjective value
of the same risky or ambiguous option can be very different for different individuals. We combine functional MRI (fMRI) with an experimental economics-based method3
to assess the neural representation of the subjective values of risky and ambiguous options4
. This technique can be now used to study these neural representations in different populations, such as different age groups and different patient populations.
In our experiment, subjects make consequential choices between two alternatives while their neural activation is tracked using fMRI. On each trial subjects choose between lotteries that vary in their monetary amount and in either the probability of winning that amount or the ambiguity level associated with winning. Our parametric design allows us to use each individual's choice behavior to estimate their attitudes towards risk and ambiguity, and thus to estimate the subjective values that each option held for them. Another important feature of the design is that the outcome of the chosen lottery is not revealed during the experiment, so that no learning can take place, and thus the ambiguous options remain ambiguous and risk attitudes are stable. Instead, at the end of the scanning session one or few trials are randomly selected and played for real money. Since subjects do not know beforehand which trials will be selected, they must treat each and every trial as if it and it alone was the one trial on which they will be paid. This design ensures that we can estimate the true subjective value of each option to each subject. We then look for areas in the brain whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of risky options and for areas whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of ambiguous options.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Medicine, Molecular Biology, fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging, decision-making, value, uncertainty, risk, ambiguity
Single Cell Fate Mapping in Zebrafish
Institutions: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
The ability to differentially label single cells has important implications in developmental biology. For instance, determining how hematopoietic, lymphatic, and blood vessel lineages arise in developing embryos requires fate mapping and lineage tracing of undifferentiated precursor cells. Recently, photoactivatable proteins which include: Eos1, 2
, and KikGR9, 10
have received wide interest as cell tracing probes. The fluorescence spectrum of these photosensitive proteins can be easily converted with UV excitation, allowing a population of cells to be distinguished from adjacent ones. However, the photoefficiency of the activated protein may limit long-term cell tracking11
. As an alternative to photoactivatable proteins, caged fluorescein-dextran has been widely used in embryo model systems7, 12-14
. Traditionally, to uncage fluorescein-dextran, UV excitation from a fluorescence lamp house or a single photon UV laser has been used; however, such sources limit the spatial resolution of photoactivation. Here we report a protocol to fate map, lineage trace, and detect single labeled cells. Single cells in embryos injected with caged fluorescein-dextran are photoactivated with near-infrared laser pulses produced from a titanium sapphire femtosecond laser. This laser is customary in all two-photon confocal microscopes such as the LSM 510 META NLO microscope used in this paper. Since biological tissue is transparent to near-infrared irradiation15
, the laser pulses can be focused deep within the embryo without uncaging cells above or below the selected focal plane. Therefore, non-linear two-photon absorption is induced only at the geometric focus to uncage fluorescein-dextran in a single cell. To detect the cell containing uncaged fluorescein-dextran, we describe a simple immunohistochemistry protocol16
to rapidly visualize the activated cell. The activation and detection protocol presented in this paper is versatile and can be applied to any model system.
The reagents used in this protocol can be found in the table appended at the end of the article.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Zebrafish, Two-photon, photoactivation, immunohistochemistry, caged fluorescent protein, fate mapping
The Generation of Higher-order Laguerre-Gauss Optical Beams for High-precision Interferometry
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Thermal noise in high-reflectivity mirrors is a major impediment for several types of high-precision interferometric experiments that aim to reach the standard quantum limit or to cool mechanical systems to their quantum ground state. This is for example the case of future gravitational wave observatories, whose sensitivity to gravitational wave signals is expected to be limited in the most sensitive frequency band, by atomic vibration of their mirror masses. One promising approach being pursued to overcome this limitation is to employ higher-order Laguerre-Gauss (LG) optical beams in place of the conventionally used fundamental mode. Owing to their more homogeneous light intensity distribution these beams average more effectively over the thermally driven fluctuations of the mirror surface, which in turn reduces the uncertainty in the mirror position sensed by the laser light.
We demonstrate a promising method to generate higher-order LG beams by shaping a fundamental Gaussian beam with the help of diffractive optical elements. We show that with conventional sensing and control techniques that are known for stabilizing fundamental laser beams, higher-order LG modes can be purified and stabilized just as well at a comparably high level. A set of diagnostic tools allows us to control and tailor the properties of generated LG beams. This enabled us to produce an LG beam with the highest purity reported to date. The demonstrated compatibility of higher-order LG modes with standard interferometry techniques and with the use of standard spherical optics makes them an ideal candidate for application in a future generation of high-precision interferometry.
Physics, Issue 78, Optics, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Gravitational waves, Laser interferometry, Metrology, Thermal noise, Laguerre-Gauss modes, interferometry
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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
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
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
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
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
DNA Methylation: Bisulphite Modification and Analysis
Institutions: Garvan Institute of Medical Research, University of NSW.
Epigenetics describes the heritable changes in gene function that occur independently to the DNA sequence. The molecular basis of epigenetic gene regulation is complex, but essentially involves modifications to the DNA itself or the proteins with which DNA associates. The predominant epigenetic modification of DNA in mammalian genomes is methylation of cytosine nucleotides (5-MeC). DNA methylation provides instruction to gene expression machinery as to where and when the gene should be expressed. The primary target sequence for DNA methylation in mammals is 5'-CpG-3' dinucleotides (Figure 1). CpG dinucleotides are not uniformly distributed throughout the genome, but are concentrated in regions of repetitive genomic sequences and CpG "islands" commonly associated with gene promoters (Figure 1). DNA methylation patterns are established early in development, modulated during tissue specific differentiation and disrupted in many disease states including cancer. To understand the biological role of DNA methylation and its role in human disease, precise, efficient and reproducible methods are required to detect and quantify individual 5-MeCs.
This protocol for bisulphite conversion is the "gold standard" for DNA methylation analysis and facilitates identification and quantification of DNA methylation at single nucleotide resolution. The chemistry of cytosine deamination by sodium bisulphite involves three steps (Figure 2). (1) Sulphonation: The addition of bisulphite to the 5-6 double bond of cytosine (2) Hydrolic Deamination: hydrolytic deamination of the resulting cytosine-bisulphite derivative to give a uracil-bisulphite derivative (3) Alkali Desulphonation: Removal of the sulphonate group by an alkali treatment, to give uracil. Bisulphite preferentially deaminates cytosine to uracil in single stranded DNA, whereas 5-MeC, is refractory to bisulphite-mediated deamination. Upon PCR amplification, uracil is amplified as thymine while 5-MeC residues remain as cytosines, allowing methylated CpGs to be distinguished from unmethylated CpGs by presence of a cytosine "C" versus thymine "T" residue during sequencing.
DNA modification by bisulphite conversion is a well-established protocol that can be exploited for many methods of DNA methylation analysis. Since the detection of 5-MeC by bisulphite conversion was first demonstrated by Frommer et al.1
and Clark et al.2
, methods based around bisulphite conversion of genomic DNA account for the majority of new data on DNA methylation. Different methods of post PCR analysis may be utilized, depending on the degree of specificity and resolution of methylation required. Cloning and sequencing is still the most readily available method that can give single nucleotide resolution for methylation across the DNA molecule.
Genetics, Issue 56, epigenetics, DNA methylation, Bisulphite, 5-methylcytosine (5-MeC), PCR
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
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1
. These "friend or foe
" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid
". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2
. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
Real-time fMRI Biofeedback Targeting the Orbitofrontal Cortex for Contamination Anxiety
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine .
We present a method for training subjects to control activity in a region of their orbitofrontal cortex associated with contamination anxiety using biofeedback of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rt-fMRI) data. Increased activity of this region is seen in relationship with contamination anxiety both in control subjects1
and in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),2
a relatively common and often debilitating psychiatric disorder involving contamination anxiety. Although many brain regions have been implicated in OCD, abnormality in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is one of the most consistent findings.3, 4
Furthermore, hyperactivity in the OFC has been found to correlate with OCD symptom severity5
and decreases in hyperactivity in this region have been reported to correlate with decreased symptom severity.6
Therefore, the ability to control this brain area may translate into clinical improvements in obsessive-compulsive symptoms including contamination anxiety. Biofeedback of rt-fMRI data is a new technique in which the temporal pattern of activity in a specific region (or associated with a specific distributed pattern of brain activity) in a subject's brain is provided as a feedback signal to the subject. Recent reports indicate that people are able to develop control over the activity of specific brain areas when provided with rt-fMRI biofeedback.7-12
In particular, several studies using this technique to target brain areas involved in emotion processing have reported success in training subjects to control these regions.13-18
In several cases, rt-fMRI biofeedback training has been reported to induce cognitive, emotional, or clinical changes in subjects.8, 9, 13, 19
Here we illustrate this technique as applied to the treatment of contamination anxiety in healthy subjects. This biofeedback intervention will be a valuable basic research tool: it allows researchers to perturb brain function, measure the resulting changes in brain dynamics and relate those to changes in contamination anxiety or other behavioral measures. In addition, the establishment of this method serves as a first step towards the investigation of fMRI-based biofeedback as a therapeutic intervention for OCD. Given that approximately a quarter of patients with OCD receive little benefit from the currently available forms of treatment,20-22
and that those who do benefit rarely recover completely, new approaches for treating this population are urgently needed.
Medicine, Issue 59, Real-time fMRI, rt-fMRI, neurofeedback, biofeedback, orbitofrontal cortex, OFC, obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD, contamination anxiety, resting connectivity
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