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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7
. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4
Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9
. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10
. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12
Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14
) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila
, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
Using Insect Electroantennogram Sensors on Autonomous Robots for Olfactory Searches
Institutions: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Institut d'Ecologie et des Sciences de l'Environnement de Paris, Institut Pasteur.
Robots designed to track chemical leaks in hazardous industrial facilities1
or explosive traces in landmine fields2
face the same problem as insects foraging for food or searching for mates3
: the olfactory search is constrained by the physics of turbulent transport4
. The concentration landscape of wind borne odors is discontinuous and consists of sporadically located patches. A pre-requisite to olfactory search is that intermittent odor patches are detected. Because of its high speed and sensitivity5-6
, the olfactory organ of insects provides a unique opportunity for detection. Insect antennae have been used in the past to detect not only sex pheromones7
but also chemicals that are relevant to humans, e.g.
, volatile compounds emanating from cancer cells8
or toxic and illicit substances9-11
. We describe here a protocol for using insect antennae on autonomous robots and present a proof of concept for tracking odor plumes to their source. The global response of olfactory neurons is recorded in situ
in the form of electroantennograms (EAGs). Our experimental design, based on a whole insect preparation, allows stable recordings within a working day. In comparison, EAGs on excised antennae have a lifetime of 2 hr. A custom hardware/software interface was developed between the EAG electrodes and a robot. The measurement system resolves individual odor patches up to 10 Hz, which exceeds the time scale of artificial chemical sensors12
. The efficiency of EAG sensors for olfactory searches is further demonstrated in driving the robot toward a source of pheromone. By using identical olfactory stimuli and sensors as in real animals, our robotic platform provides a direct means for testing biological hypotheses about olfactory coding and search strategies13
. It may also prove beneficial for detecting other odorants of interests by combining EAGs from different insect species in a bioelectronic nose configuration14
or using nanostructured gas sensors that mimic insect antennae15
Neuroscience, Issue 90, robotics, electroantennogram, EAG, gas sensor, electronic nose, olfactory search, surge and casting, moth, insect, olfaction, neuron
Targeted Training of Ultrasonic Vocalizations in Aged and Parkinsonian Rats
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin.
Voice deficits are a common complication of both Parkinson disease (PD) and aging; they can significantly diminish quality of life by impacting communication abilities. 1, 2
Targeted training (speech/voice therapy) can improve specific voice deficits,3, 4
although the underlying mechanisms of behavioral interventions are not well understood. Systematic investigation of voice deficits and therapy should consider many factors that are difficult to control in humans, such as age, home environment, age post-onset of disease, severity of disease, and medications. The method presented here uses an animal model of vocalization that allows for systematic study of how underlying sensorimotor mechanisms change with targeted voice training. The ultrasonic recording and analysis procedures outlined in this protocol are applicable to any investigation of rodent ultrasonic vocalizations.
The ultrasonic vocalizations of rodents are emerging as a valuable model to investigate the neural substrates of behavior.5-8
Both rodent and human vocalizations carry semiotic value and are produced by modifying an egressive airflow with a laryngeal constriction.9, 10
Thus, rodent vocalizations may be a useful model to study voice deficits in a sensorimotor context. Further, rat models allow us to study the neurobiological underpinnings of recovery from deficits with targeted training.
To model PD we use Long-Evans rats (Charles River Laboratories International, Inc.) and induce parkinsonism by a unilateral infusion of 7 μg of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) into the medial forebrain bundle which causes moderate to severe degeneration of presynaptic striatal neurons (for details see Ciucci, 2010).11, 12
For our aging model we use the Fischer 344/Brown Norway F1 (National Institute on Aging).
Our primary method for eliciting vocalizations is to expose sexually-experienced male rats to sexually receptive female rats. When the male becomes interested in the female, the female is removed and the male continues to vocalize. By rewarding complex vocalizations with food or water, both the number of complex vocalizations and the rate of vocalizations can be increased (Figure 1).
An ultrasonic microphone mounted above the male's home cage records the vocalizations. Recording begins after the female rat is removed to isolate the male calls. Vocalizations can be viewed in real time for training or recorded and analyzed offline. By recording and acoustically analyzing vocalizations before and after vocal training, the effects of disease and restoration of normal function with training can be assessed. This model also allows us to relate the observed behavioral (vocal) improvements to changes in the brain and neuromuscular system.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, ultrasonic vocalization, rat, aging, Parkinson disease, exercise, 6-hydroxydopamine, voice disorders, voice therapy
Assessment of Ultrasonic Vocalizations During Drug Self-administration in Rats
Institutions: University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Austin.
Drug self-administration procedures are commonly used to study behavioral and neurochemical changes associated with human drug abuse, addiction and relapse. Various types of behavioral activity are commonly utilized as measures of drug motivation in animals. However, a crucial component of drug abuse relapse in abstinent cocaine users is "drug craving", which is difficult to model in animals, as it often occurs in the absence of overt behaviors. Yet, it is possible that a class of ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) in rats may be a useful marker for affective responses to drug administration, drug anticipation and even drug craving. Rats vocalize in ultrasonic frequencies that serve as a communicatory function and express subjective emotional states. Several studies have shown that different call frequency ranges are associated with negative and positive emotional states. For instance, high frequency calls ("50-kHz") are associated with positive affect, whereas low frequency calls ("22-kHz") represent a negative emotional state. This article describes a procedure to assess rat USVs associated with daily cocaine self-administration. For this procedure, we utilized standard single-lever operant chambers housed within sound-attenuating boxes for cocaine self-administration sessions and utilized ultrasonic microphones, multi-channel recording hardware and specialized software programs to detect and analyze USVs. USVs measurements reflect emotionality of rats before, during and after drug availability and can be correlated with commonly assessed drug self-administration behavioral data such lever responses, inter-response intervals and locomotor activity. Since USVs can be assessed during intervals prior to drug availability (e.g., anticipatory USVs) and during drug extinction trials, changes in affect associated with drug anticipation and drug abstinence can also be determined. In addition, determining USV changes over the course of short- and long-term drug exposure can provide a more detailed interpretation of drug exposure effects on affective functioning.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, ultrasound, behavior, self-administration, emotionality, anticipation, reward
Assessing Differences in Sperm Competitive Ability in Drosophila
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
Competition among conspecific males for fertilizing the ova is one of the mechanisms of sexual selection, i.e.
selection that operates on maximizing the number of successful mating events rather than on maximizing survival and viability 1
. Sperm competition represents the competition between males after copulating with the same female 2
, in which their sperm are coincidental in time and space. This phenomenon has been reported in multiple species of plants and animals 3
. For example, wild-caught D. melanogaster
females usually contain sperm from 2-3 males 4
. The sperm are stored in specialized organs with limited storage capacity, which might lead to the direct competition of the sperm from different males 2,5
Comparing sperm competitive ability of different males of interest (experimental male types) has been performed through controlled double-mating experiments in the laboratory 6,7
. Briefly, a single female is exposed to two different males consecutively, one experimental male and one cross-mating reference male. The same mating scheme is then followed using other experimental male types thus facilitating the indirect comparison of the competitive ability of their sperm through a common reference. The fraction of individuals fathered by the experimental and reference males is identified using markers, which allows one to estimate sperm competitive ability using simple mathematical expressions 7,8
. In addition, sperm competitive ability can be estimated in two different scenarios depending on whether the experimental male is second or first to mate (offense and defense assay, respectively) 9
, which is assumed to be reflective of different competence attributes.
Here, we describe an approach that helps to interrogate the role of different genetic factors that putatively underlie the phenomenon of sperm competitive ability in D. melanogaster
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Spermatozoa, Drosophila melanogaster, Biological Evolution, Phenotype, genetics (animal and plant), animal biology, double-mating experiment, sperm competitive ability, male fertility, Drosophila, fruit fly, animal model
Profiling the Triacylglyceride Contents in Bat Integumentary Lipids by Preparative Thin Layer Chromatography and MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: Arkansas State University, Arkansas State University, Arkansas State University.
The mammalian integument includes sebaceous glands that secrete an oily material onto the skin surface. Sebum production is part of the innate immune system that is protective against pathogenic microbes. Abnormal sebum production and chemical composition are also a clinical symptom of specific skin diseases. Sebum contains a complex mixture of lipids, including triacylglycerides, which is species-specific. The broad chemical properties exhibited by diverse lipid classes hinder the specific determination of sebum composition. Analytical techniques for lipids typically require chemical derivatizations that are labor-intensive and increase sample preparation costs. This paper describes how to extract lipids from mammalian integument, separate broad lipid classes by thin-layer chromatography, and profile the triacylglyceride contents using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. This robust method enables a direct determination of the triacylglyceride profiles among species and individuals, and it can be readily applied to any taxonomic group of mammals.
Chemistry, Issue 79, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Anatomy, Physiology, Eukaryota, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, Life Sciences (General), Triacylglyceride, Plagiopatagium, Integument, Sebaceous gland, White-Nose Syndrome, Matrix-Assisted Laser-desorption/Ionization Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry, Thin-Layer Chromatography, animal model
Getting to Compliance in Forced Exercise in Rodents: A Critical Standard to Evaluate Exercise Impact in Aging-related Disorders and Disease
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
There is a major increase in the awareness of the positive impact of exercise on improving several disease states with neurobiological basis; these include improving cognitive function and physical performance. As a result, there is an increase in the number of animal studies employing exercise. It is argued that one intrinsic value of forced exercise is that the investigator has control over the factors that can influence the impact of exercise on behavioral outcomes, notably exercise frequency, duration, and intensity of the exercise regimen. However, compliance in forced exercise regimens may be an issue, particularly if potential confounds of employing foot-shock are to be avoided. It is also important to consider that since most cognitive and locomotor impairments strike in the aged individual, determining impact of exercise on these impairments should consider using aged rodents with a highest possible level of compliance to ensure minimal need for test subjects. Here, the pertinent steps and considerations necessary to achieve nearly 100% compliance to treadmill exercise in an aged rodent model will be presented and discussed. Notwithstanding the particular exercise regimen being employed by the investigator, our protocol should be of use to investigators that are particularly interested in the potential impact of forced exercise on aging-related impairments, including aging-related Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease.
Behavior, Issue 90, Exercise, locomotor, Parkinson’s disease, aging, treadmill, bradykinesia, Parkinsonism
Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ
hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ
hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ
experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies
). Here we present a modified DIG in situ
hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies
. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana
and Brassica napus
. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3
were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana
and B. napus
and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies
. For P. abies
the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ
protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film.
Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study.
Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at Anna.Karlgren@ebc.uu.se and Jens F. Sundström at Jens.Sundstrom@vbsg.slu.se
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
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
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
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
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2
However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3
This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ
NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries.
We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ
NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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
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
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
Testing Visual Sensitivity to the Speed and Direction of Motion in Lizards
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Visual sensitivity, motion perception, operant conditioning, speed, coherence, Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus)
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
Enabling High Grayscale Resolution Displays and Accurate Response Time Measurements on Conventional Computers
Institutions: The Ohio State University, University of Southern California, University of Southern California, University of Southern California, The Ohio State University.
Display systems based on conventional computer graphics cards are capable of generating images with 8-bit gray level resolution. However, most experiments in vision research require displays with more than 12 bits of luminance resolution. Several solutions are available. Bit++ 1
and DataPixx 2
use the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) output from graphics cards and high resolution (14 or 16-bit) digital-to-analog converters to drive analog display devices. The VideoSwitcher 3
described here combines analog video signals from the red and blue channels of graphics cards with different weights using a passive resister network 4
and an active circuit to deliver identical video signals to the three channels of color monitors. The method provides an inexpensive way to enable high-resolution monochromatic displays using conventional graphics cards and analog monitors. It can also provide trigger signals that can be used to mark stimulus onsets, making it easy to synchronize visual displays with physiological recordings or response time measurements.
Although computer keyboards and mice are frequently used in measuring response times (RT), the accuracy of these measurements is quite low. The RTbox is a specialized hardware and software solution for accurate RT measurements. Connected to the host computer through a USB connection, the driver of the RTbox is compatible with all conventional operating systems. It uses a microprocessor and high-resolution clock to record the identities and timing of button events, which are buffered until the host computer retrieves them. The recorded button events are not affected by potential timing uncertainties or biases associated with data transmission and processing in the host computer. The asynchronous storage greatly simplifies the design of user programs. Several methods are available to synchronize the clocks of the RTbox and the host computer. The RTbox can also receive external triggers and be used to measure RT with respect to external events.
Both VideoSwitcher and RTbox are available for users to purchase. The relevant information and many demonstration programs can be found at https://lobes.usc.edu/.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, VideoSwitcher, Visual stimulus, Luminance resolution, Contrast, Trigger, RTbox, Response time