The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9 because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11.
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum),and a variety of grass and forb plants9.
17 Related JoVE Articles!
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
Institutions: The University of Mississippi.
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.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological and Environmental Processes, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, extracellular enzymes, freshwater microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial activity, enzyme activity
Agar-Block Microcosms for Controlled Plant Tissue Decomposition by Aerobic Fungi
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The two principal methods for studying fungal biodegradation of lignocellulosic plant tissues were developed for wood preservative testing (soil-block; agar-block). It is well-accepted that soil-block microcosms yield higher decay rates, fewer moisture issues, lower variability among studies, and higher thresholds of preservative toxicity. Soil-block testing is thus the more utilized technique and has been standardized by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) (method D 1413-07). The soil-block design has drawbacks, however, using locally-variable soil sources and in limiting the control of nutrients external (exogenous) to the decaying tissues. These drawbacks have emerged as a problem in applying this method to other, increasingly popular research aims. These modern aims include degrading lignocellulosics for bioenergy research, testing bioremediation of co-metabolized toxics, evaluating oxidative mechanisms, and tracking translocated elements along hyphal networks. Soil-blocks do not lend enough control in these applications. A refined agar-block approach is necessary.
Here, we use the brown rot wood-degrading fungus Serpula lacrymans
to degrade wood in agar-block microcosms, using deep Petri dishes with low-calcium agar. We test the role of exogenous gypsum on decay in a time-series, to demonstrate the utility and expected variability. Blocks from a single board rip (longitudinal cut) are conditioned, weighed, autoclaved, and introduced aseptically atop plastic mesh. Fungal inoculations are at each block face, with exogenous gypsum added at interfaces. Harvests are aseptic until the final destructive harvest. These microcosms are designed to avoid block contact with agar or Petri dish walls. Condensation is minimized during plate pours and during incubation. Finally, inoculum/gypsum/wood spacing is minimized but without allowing contact. These less technical aspects of agar-block design are also the most common causes of failure and the key source of variability among studies. Video publication is therefore useful in this case, and we demonstrate low-variability, high-quality results.
Plant Biology, Issue 48, Lignocellulose, biomass, wood, fungi, filamentous, biodegradation, petri, microcosm
High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1
. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2
. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8
, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing.
Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli
the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9
, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli
expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10
and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12
We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli
. (Fig 1
) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness.
Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13
involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14
for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes
, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus
and Penicillium decumbens
(shown in Figure 2
), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
Use of Image Cytometry for Quantification of Pathogenic Fungi in Association with Host Cells
Institutions: Merrimack College, Merrimack College, Nexcelom Bioscience LLC.
Studies of the cellular pathogenesis mechanisms of pathogenic yeasts such as Candida albicans
, Histoplasma capsulatum
, and Cryptococcus neoformans
commonly employ infection of mammalian hosts or host cells (i.e.
macrophages) followed by yeast quantification using colony forming unit analysis or flow cytometry. While colony forming unit enumeration has been the most commonly used method in the field, this technique has disadvantages and limitations, including slow growth of some fungal species on solid media and low and/or variable plating efficiencies, which is of particular concern when comparing growth of wild-type and mutant strains. Flow cytometry can provide rapid quantitative information regarding yeast viability, however, adoption of flow cytometric detection for pathogenic yeasts has been limited for a number of practical reasons including its high cost and biosafety considerations. Here, we demonstrate an image-based cytometric methodology using the Cellometer Vision (Nexcelom Bioscience, LLC) for the quantification of viable pathogenic yeasts in co-culture with macrophages. Our studies focus on detection of two human fungal pathogens: Histoplasma capsulatum
and Candida albicans
. H. capsulatum
colonizes alveolar macrophages by replicating within the macrophage phagosome, and here, we quantitatively assess the growth of H. capsulatum
yeasts in RAW 264.7 macrophages using acridine orange/propidium iodide staining in combination with image cytometry. Our method faithfully recapitulates growth trends as measured by traditional colony forming unit enumeration, but with significantly increased sensitivity. Additionally, we directly assess infection of live macrophages with a GFP-expressing strain of C. albicans
. Our methodology offers a rapid, accurate, and economical means for detection and quantification of important human fungal pathogens in association with host cells.
Infection, Issue 76, Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Medicine, Immunology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Pathology, Mycology, Bacteria, Macrophages, Fungi, Candida, Candida albicans, yeast, Histoplasma, Image cytometry, macrophage, fungus, propidium iodide, acridine orange, Cellometer Vision, cell, imaging, cell culture
Customization of Aspergillus niger Morphology Through Addition of Talc Micro Particles
Institutions: Technische Universität Braunschweig.
The filamentous fungus A. niger
is a widely used strain in a broad range of industrial processes from food to pharmaceutical industry. One of the most intriguing and often uncontrollable characteristics of this filamentous organism is its complex morphology. It ranges from dense spherical pellets to viscous mycelia (Figure 1
). Various process parameters and ingredients are known to influence fungal morphology 1
. Since optimal productivity correlates strongly with a specific morphological form, the fungal morphology often represents the bottleneck of productivity in industrial production.
A straight forward and elegant approach to precisely control morphological shape is the addition of inorganic insoluble micro particles (like hydrous magnesium silicate, aluminum oxide or titanium silicate oxide) to the culture medium contributing to increased enzyme production 2-6
. Since there is an obvious correlation between micro particle dependent morphology and enzyme production it is desirable to mathematically link productivity and morphological appearance. Therefore a quantitative precise and holistic morphological description is targeted.
Thus, we present a method to generate and characterize micro particle dependent morphological structures and to correlate fungal morphology with productivity (Figure 1
) which possibly contributes to a better understanding of the morphogenesis of filamentous microorganisms.
The recombinant strain A. niger
SKAn1015 is cultivated for 72 h in a 3 L stirred tank bioreactor. By addition of talc micro particles in concentrations of 1 g/L, 3 g/L and 10 g/L prior to inoculation a variety of morphological structures is reproducibly generated. Sterile samples are taken after 24, 48 and 72 hours for determination of growth progress and activity of the produced enzyme. The formed product is the high-value enzyme β-fructofuranosidase, an important biocatalyst for neo-sugar formation in food or pharmaceutical industry, which catalyzes among others the reaction of sucrose to glucose 7-9
. Therefore, the quantification of glucose after adding sucrose implies the amount of produced β-fructofuranosidase. Glucose quantification is made by a GOD/POD-Assay 10
, which is modified for high-throughput analysis in 96-well micro titer plates.
Fungal morphology after 72 hours is examined by microscope and characterized by digital image analysis. In doing so, particle shape factors for fungal macro morphology like Feret's diameter, projected area, perimeter, circularity, aspect ratio, roundness und solidity are calculated with the open source image processing program ImageJ. Relevant parameters are combined to a dimensionless Morphology number (Mn) 11
, which enables a comprehensive characterization of fungal morphology. The close correlation of the Morphology number and productivity are highlighted by mathematical regression.
Immunology, Issue 61, morphology engineering, Morphology number (Mn), filamentous fungi, fructofuranosidase, micro particles, image analysis
Toxin Induction and Protein Extraction from Fusarium spp. Cultures for Proteomic Studies
Institutions: Centre de Recherche Public-Gabriel Lippmann.
are filamentous fungi able to produce different toxins. Fusarium mycotoxins such as deoxynivalenol, nivalenol, T2, zearelenone, fusaric acid, moniliformin, etc... have adverse effects on both human and animal health and some are considered as pathogenicity factors. Proteomic studies showed to be effective for deciphering toxin production mechanisms (Taylor et al.
, 2008) as well as for identifying potential pathogenic factors (Paper et al.
, 2007, Houterman et al.,
2007) in Fusaria
. It becomes therefore fundamental to establish reliable methods for comparing between proteomic studies in order to rely on true differences found in protein expression among experiments, strains and laboratories. The procedure that will be described should contribute to an increased level of standardization of proteomic procedures by two ways. The filmed protocol is used to increase the level of details that can be described precisely. Moreover, the availability of standardized procedures to process biological replicates should guarantee a higher robustness of data, taking into account also the human factor within the technical reproducibility of the extraction procedure.
The protocol described requires 16 days for its completion: fourteen days for cultures and two days for protein extraction (figure 1).
strains are grown on solid media for 4 days; they are then manually fragmented and transferred into a modified toxin inducing media (Jiao et al.
, 2008) for 10 days. Mycelium is collected by filtration through a Miracloth layer. Grinding is performed in a cold chamber. Different operators performed extraction replicates (n=3) in order to take into account the bias due to technical variations (figure 2). Extraction was based on a SDS/DTT buffer as described in Taylor et al. (2008) with slight modifications. Total protein extraction required a precipitation process of the proteins using Aceton/TCA/DTT buffer overnight and Acetone /DTT washing (figure 3a,3b). Proteins were finally resolubilized in the protein-labelling buffer and quantified. Results of the extraction were visualized on a 1D gel (Figure 4, SDS-PAGE), before proceeding to 2D gels (IEF/SDS-PAGE). The same procedure can be applied for proteomic analyses on other growing media and other filamentous fungi (Miles et al.,
Microbiology, Issue 36, MIAPE, Fusarium graminearum, toxin induction, fungal cultures, proteomics, sample processing, protein extraction
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
Quantification of Fungal Colonization, Sporogenesis, and Production of Mycotoxins Using Kernel Bioassays
Institutions: Texas A&M University.
The rotting of grains by seed-infecting fungi poses one of the greatest economic challenges to cereal production worldwide, not to mention serious risks to human and animal health. Among cereal production, maize is arguably the most affected crop, due to pathogen-induced losses in grain integrity and mycotoxin seed contamination. The two most prevalent and problematic mycotoxins for maize growers and food and feed processors are aflatoxin and fumonisin, produced by Aspergillus flavus
and Fusarium verticillioides
Recent studies in molecular plant-pathogen interactions have demonstrated promise in understanding specific mechanisms associated with plant responses to fungal infection and mycotoxin contamination1,2,3,4,5,6
. Because many labs are using kernel assays to study plant-pathogen interactions, there is a need for a standardized method for quantifying different biological parameters, so results from different laboratories can be cross-interpreted. For a robust and reproducible means for quantitative analyses on seeds, we have developed in-lab kernel assays and subsequent methods to quantify fungal growth, biomass, and mycotoxin contamination. Four sterilized maize kernels are inoculated in glass vials with a fungal suspension (106
) and incubated for a predetermined period. Sample vials are then selected for enumeration of conidia by hemocytometer, ergosterol-based biomass analysis by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), aflatoxin quantification using an AflaTest fluorometer method, and fumonisin quantification by HPLC.
Immunology, Issue 62, Mycotoxins, sporogenesis, Aspergillus flavus, Fusarium verticillioides, aflatoxin, fumonisin, plant-microbe interactions, plant biology
Sexual Development and Ascospore Discharge in Fusarium graminearum
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University, Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
has become a model system for studies in development and pathogenicity of filamentous fungi. F. graminearum
most easily produces fruiting bodies, called perithecia, on carrot agar. Perithecia contain numerous tissue types, produced at specific stages of perithecium development. These include (in order of appearance) formation of the perithecium initials (which give rise to the ascogenous hyphae), the outer wall, paraphyses (sterile mycelia which occupy the center of the perithecium until the asci develop), the asci, and the ascospores within the asci14
. The development of each of these tissues is separated by approximately 24 hours and has been the basis of transcriptomic studies during sexual development12,8
. Refer to Hallen et al.
(2007) for a more thorough description of development, including photographs of each stage. Here, we present the methods for generating and harvesting synchronously developing lawns of perithecia for temporal studies of gene regulation, development, and physiological processes. Although these methods are written specifically to be used with F. graminearum
, the techniques can be used for a variety of other fungi, provided that fruiting can be induced in culture and there is some synchrony to development. We have recently adapted this protocol to study the sexual development of F. verticillioides
. Although individual perithecia must be hand picked in this species, because a lawn of developing perithecia could not be induced, the process worked well for studying development (Sikhakolli and Trail, unpublished).
The most important function of fungal fruiting bodies is the dispersal of spores. In many of the species of Ascomycota (ascus producing fungi), spores are shot from the ascus, due to the generation of turgor pressure within the ascus, driving ejection of spores (and epiplasmic fluid) through the pore in the ascus tip2,7
. Our studies of forcible ascospore discharge have resulted in development of a "spore discharge assay", which we use to screen for mutations in the process. Here we present the details of this assay.
is homothallic, and thus can form fruiting bodies in the absence of a compatible partner. The advantage of homothallism is that crossing is not necessary to generate offspring homozygous for a particular trait, a facet that has facilitated the study of sexual development in this species14,7
. However, heterothallic strains have been generated that can be used for crossing5,9
. It is also possible to cross homothallic strains to obtain mutants for several genes in one strain1
. This is done by coinoculating one Petri dish with 2 strains. Along the meeting point, the majority of perithecia will be recombinant (provided a mutation in one of the parent strains does not inhibit outcrossing). As perithecia age, they exude ascospores en masse instead of forcibly discharging them. The resulting spore exudate (called a cirrhus) sits at the tip of the perithecium and can easily be removed for recovery of individual spores. Here we present a protocol to facilitate the identification of recombinant perithecia and the recovery of recombinant progeny.
Plant Biology, Issue 61, Ascospores, perithecia, forcible discharge, mycotoxin, conidia, development
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
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
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ
degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g.
fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
Synthesis and Functionalization of Nitrogen-doped Carbon Nanotube Cups with Gold Nanoparticles as Cork Stoppers
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh.
Nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes consist of many cup-shaped graphitic compartments termed as nitrogen-doped carbon nanotube cups (NCNCs). These as-synthesized graphitic nanocups from chemical vapor deposition (CVD) method were stacked in a head-to-tail fashion held only through noncovalent interactions. Individual NCNCs can be isolated out of their stacking structure through a series of chemical and physical separation processes. First, as-synthesized NCNCs were oxidized in a mixture of strong acids to introduce oxygen-containing defects on the graphitic walls. The oxidized NCNCs were then processed using high-intensity probe-tip sonication which effectively separated the stacked NCNCs into individual graphitic nanocups. Owing to their abundant oxygen and nitrogen surface functionalities, the resulted individual NCNCs are highly hydrophilic and can be effectively functionalized with gold nanoparticles (GNPs), which preferentially fit in the opening of the cups as cork stoppers. These graphitic nanocups corked with GNPs may find promising applications as nanoscale containers and drug carriers.
Physics, Issue 75, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Materials Science, Physical Chemistry, Nanotechnology, Metal Nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes (synthesis and properties), carbon nanotubes, chemical vapor deposition, CVD, gold nanoparticles, probe-tip sonication, nitrogen-doped carbon nanotube cups, nanotubes, nanoparticles, nanomaterial, synthesis