Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
The α-test: Rapid Cell-free CD4 Enumeration Using Whole Saliva
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College , University of Missouri-Kansas City-School of Dentistry, University of Missouri Kansas City- School of Pharmacy, Bamenda, NWP, Cameroon, Mezam Polyclinic HIV/AIDS Treatment Center, Cameroon, Institute for Human Genetics and Biochemistry.
There is an urgent need for affordable CD4 enumeration to monitor HIV disease. CD4 enumeration is out of reach in resource-limited regions due to the time and temperature restrictions, technical sophistication, and cost of reagents, in particular monoclonal antibodies to measure CD4 on blood cells, the only currently acceptable method. A commonly used cost-saving and time-saving laboratory strategy is to calculate, rather than measure certain blood values. For example, LDL levels are calculated using the measured levels of total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides1
. Thus, identification of cell-free correlates that directly regulate the number of CD4+
T cells could provide an accurate method for calculating CD4 counts due to the physiological relevance of the correlates.
The number of stem cells that enter blood and are destined to become circulating CD4+
T cells is determined by the chemokine CXCL12 and its receptor CXCR4 due to their influence on locomotion2
. The process of stem cell locomotion into blood is additionally regulated by cell surface human leukocyte elastase (HLECS
) and the HLECS
-reactive active α1
proteinase inhibitor (α1
. In HIV-1 disease, α1
PI is inactivated due to disease processes 4
. In the early asymptomatic categories of HIV-1 disease, active α1
PI was found to be below normal in 100% of untreated HIV-1 patients (median=12 μM, and to achieve normal levels during the symptomatic categories4, 5
. This pattern has been attributed to immune inactivation, not to insufficient synthesis, proteolytic inactivation, or oxygenation. We observed that in HIV-1 subjects with >220 CD4 cells/μl, CD4 counts were correlated with serum levels of active α1
=0.93, p<0.0001, n=26) and inactive α1
=0.91, p<0.0001, n=26) 5
. Administration of α1
PI to HIV-1 infected and uninfected subjects resulted in dramatic increases in CD4 counts suggesting α1
PI participates in regulating the number of CD4+
T cells in blood 3
With stimulation, whole saliva contains sufficient serous exudate (plasma containing proteinaceous material that passes through blood vessel walls into saliva) to allow measurement of active α1
PI and the correlation of this measurement is evidence that it is an accurate method for calculating CD4 counts. Briefly, sialogogues such as chewing gum or citric acid stimulate the exudation of serum into whole mouth saliva. After stimulating serum exudation, the activity of serum α1
PI in saliva is measured by its capacity to inhibit elastase activity. Porcine pancreatic elastase (PPE) is a readily available inexpensive source of elastase. PPE binds to α1
PI forming a one-to-one complex that prevents PPE from cleaving its specific substrates, one of which is the colorimetric peptide, succinyl-L-Ala-L-Ala-L-Ala-p-nitroanilide (SA3
NA). Incubating saliva with a saturating concentration of PPE for 10 min at room temperature allows the binding of PPE to all the active α1
PI in saliva. The resulting inhibition of PPE by active α1
PI can be measured by adding the PPE substrate SA3
NA. (Figure 1)
. Although CD4 counts are measured in terms of blood volume (CD4 cells/μl), the concentration of α1
PI in saliva is related to the concentration of serum in saliva, not to volume of saliva since volume can vary considerably during the day and person to person6
. However, virtually all the protein in saliva is due to serum content, and the protein content of saliva is measurable7
. Thus, active α1
PI in saliva is calculated as a ratio to saliva protein content and is termed the α1
PI Index. Results presented herein demonstrate that the α1
PI Index provides an accurate and precise physiologic method for calculating CD4 counts.
Medicine, Issue 63, CD4 count, saliva, antitrypsin, hematopoiesis, T cells, HIV/AIDS, clinical
Determining Soil-transmitted Helminth Infection Status and Physical Fitness of School-aged Children
Institutions: Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.
Soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections are common. Indeed, more than 1 billion people are affected, mainly in the developing world where poverty prevails and hygiene behavior, water supply, and sanitation are often deficient1,2
. Ascaris lumbricoides
, Trichuris trichiura
, and the two hookworm species, Ancylostoma duodenale
and Necator americanus
, are the most prevalent STHs3
. The estimated global burden due to hookworm disease, ascariasis, and trichuriasis is 22.1, 10.5, and 6.4 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), respectively4
. Furthermore, an estimated 30-100 million people are infected with Strongyloides stercoralis
, the most neglected STH species of global significance which arguably also causes a considerable public health impact5,6
. Multiple-species infections (i.e., different STHs harbored in a single individual) are common, and infections have been linked to lowered productivity and thus economic outlook of developing countries1,3
For the diagnosis of common STHs, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the Kato-Katz technique7,8
, which is a relatively straightforward method for determining the prevalence and intensity of such infections. It facilitates the detection of parasite eggs that infected subjects pass in their feces.
With regard to the diagnosis of S.stercoralis
, there is currently no simple and accurate tool available. The Baermann technique is the most widely employed method for its diagnosis. The principle behind the Baermann technique is that active S.stercoralis
larvae migrate out of an illuminated fresh fecal sample as the larvae are phototactic9
. It requires less sophisticated laboratory materials and is less time consuming than culture and immunological methods5
Morbidities associated with STH infections range from acute but common symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and pruritus, to chronic symptoms, such as anemia, under- and malnutrition, and cognitive impairment10
. Since the symptoms are generally unspecific and subtle, they often go unnoticed, are considered a normal condition by affected individuals, or are treated as symptoms of other diseases that might be more common in a given setting. Hence, it is conceivable that the true burden of STH infections is underestimated by assessment tools relying on self-declared signs and symptoms as is usually the case in population-based surveys.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Stephenson and colleagues highlighted the possibility of STH infections lowering the physical fitness of boys aged 6-12 years11,12
. This line of scientific inquiry gained new momentum recently13,14,15
. The 20-meter (m) shuttle run test was developed and validated by Léger et al.16
and is used worldwide to measure the aerobic fitness of children17
. The test is easy to standardize and can be performed wherever a 20-m long and flat running course and an audio source are available, making its use attractive in resource-constrained settings13
. To facilitate and standardize attempts at assessing whether STH infections have an effect on the physical fitness of school-aged children, we present methodologies that diagnose STH infections or measure physical fitness that are simple to execute and yet, provide accurate and reproducible outcomes. This will help to generate new evidence regarding the health impact of STH infections.
Infection, Issue 66, Immunology, Medicine, Infectious Diseases, Soil-transmitted helminths, physical fitness, Kato-Katz technique, Baermann technique, 20-meter shuttle run test, children
Functional Assessment of Intestinal Motility and Gut Wall Inflammation in Rodents: Analyses in a Standardized Model of Intestinal Manipulation
Institutions: University of Bonn.
Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract is a common reason for a variety of human diseases. Animal research models are critical in investigating the complex cellular and molecular of intestinal pathology. Although the tunica mucosa is often the organ of interest in many inflammatory diseases, recent works demonstrated that the muscularis externa (ME) is also a highly immunocompetent organ that harbours a dense network of resident immunocytes.1,2
These works were performed within the standardized model of intestinal manipulation (IM) that leads to inflammation of the bowel wall, mainly limited to the ME. Clinically this inflammation leads to prolonged intestinal dysmotility, known as postoperative ileus (POI) which is a frequent and unavoidable complication after abdominal surgery.3
The inflammation is characterized by liberation of proinflammatory mediators such as IL-64
or IL-1β or inhibitory neurotransmitters like nitric oxide (NO).5
Subsequently, tremendous numbers of immunocytes extravasate into the ME, dominated by polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) and monocytes and finally maintain POI.2
Lasting for days, this intestinal paralysis leads to an increased risk of aspiration, bacterial translocation and infectious complications up to sepsis and multi organ failure and causes a high economic burden.6
In this manuscript we demonstrate the standardized model of IM and in vivo
assessment of gastrointestinal transit (GIT) and colonic transit. Furthermore we demonstrate a method for separation of the ME from the tunica mucosa followed by immunological analysis, which is crucial to distinguish between the inflammatory responses in these both highly immunoactive bowel wall compartments. All analyses are easily transferable to any other research models, affecting gastrointestinal function.
Medicine, Issue 67, Immunology, Anatomy, Physiology, intestinal manipulation, muscularis externa, intestinal inflammation, postoperative ileus, gastrointestinal transit, gut wall
Identifying DNA Mutations in Purified Hematopoietic Stem/Progenitor Cells
Institutions: UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In recent years, it has become apparent that genomic instability is tightly related to many developmental disorders, cancers, and aging. Given that stem cells are responsible for ensuring tissue homeostasis and repair throughout life, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the stem cell population is critical for preserving genomic integrity of tissues. Therefore, significant interest has arisen in assessing the impact of endogenous and environmental factors on genomic integrity in stem cells and their progeny, aiming to understand the etiology of stem-cell based diseases.
transgenic mice carry a recoverable λ phage vector encoding the LacI
reporter system, in which the LacI
gene serves as the mutation reporter. The result of a mutated LacI
gene is the production of β-galactosidase that cleaves a chromogenic substrate, turning it blue. The LacI
reporter system is carried in all cells, including stem/progenitor cells and can easily be recovered and used to subsequently infect E. coli
. After incubating infected E. coli
on agarose that contains the correct substrate, plaques can be scored; blue plaques indicate a mutant LacI
gene, while clear plaques harbor wild-type. The frequency of blue (among clear) plaques indicates the mutant frequency in the original cell population the DNA was extracted from. Sequencing the mutant LacI
gene will show the location of the mutations in the gene and the type of mutation.
transgenic mouse model is well-established as an in vivo
mutagenesis assay. Moreover, the mice and the reagents for the assay are commercially available. Here we describe in detail how this model can be adapted to measure the frequency of spontaneously occurring DNA mutants in stem cell-enriched Lin-
(LSK) cells and other subpopulations of the hematopoietic system.
Infection, Issue 84, In vivo mutagenesis, hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, LacI mouse model, DNA mutations, E. coli
Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo
, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata,
however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e.
teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e.
urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio
), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae
. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum
) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
A Protocol for Genetic Induction and Visualization of Benign and Invasive Tumors in Cephalic Complexes of Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: Western Kentucky University .
has illuminated our understanding of the genetic basis of normal development and disease for the past several decades and today it continues to contribute immensely to our understanding of complex diseases 1-7
. Progression of tumors from a benign to a metastatic state is a complex event 8
and has been modeled in Drosophila
to help us better understand the genetic basis of this disease 9
. Here I present a simple protocol to genetically induce, observe and then analyze the progression of tumors in Drosophila
larvae. The tumor induction technique is based on the MARCM system 10
and exploits the cooperation between an activated oncogene, RasV12
and loss of cell polarity genes (scribbled
, discs large
and lethal giant larvae
) to generate invasive tumors 9
. I demonstrate how these tumors can be visualized in the intact larvae and then how these can be dissected out for further analysis. The simplified protocol presented here should make it possible for this technique to be utilized by investigators interested in understanding the role of a gene in tumor invasion.
Medicine, Issue 79, Imaginal Discs, Drosophila melanogaster, Neoplasm Metastasis, Drosophila, Invasive Tumors, Benign Tumors, Cephalic Complex, Mosaic Analysis with a Repressible Cell Marker technique
An Experimental and Bioinformatics Protocol for RNA-seq Analyses of Photoperiodic Diapause in the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus
Institutions: Georgetown University, The Ohio State University.
Photoperiodic diapause is an important adaptation that allows individuals to escape harsh seasonal environments via a series of physiological changes, most notably developmental arrest and reduced metabolism. Global gene expression profiling via RNA-Seq can provide important insights into the transcriptional mechanisms of photoperiodic diapause. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus
, is an outstanding organism for studying the transcriptional bases of diapause due to its ease of rearing, easily induced diapause, and the genomic resources available. This manuscript presents a general experimental workflow for identifying diapause-induced transcriptional differences in A. albopictus.
Rearing techniques, conditions necessary to induce diapause and non-diapause development, methods to estimate percent diapause in a population, and RNA extraction and integrity assessment for mosquitoes are documented. A workflow to process RNA-Seq data from Illumina sequencers culminates in a list of differentially expressed genes. The representative results demonstrate that this protocol can be used to effectively identify genes differentially regulated at the transcriptional level in A. albopictus
due to photoperiodic differences. With modest adjustments, this workflow can be readily adapted to study the transcriptional bases of diapause or other important life history traits in other mosquitoes.
Genetics, Issue 93, Aedes albopictus Asian tiger mosquito, photoperiodic diapause, RNA-Seq de novo transcriptome assembly, mosquito husbandry
Pre-clinical Evaluation of Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors for Treatment of Acute Leukemia
Institutions: University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, University Hospital of Essen.
Receptor tyrosine kinases have been implicated in the development and progression of many cancers, including both leukemia and solid tumors, and are attractive druggable therapeutic targets. Here we describe an efficient four-step strategy for pre-clinical evaluation of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) in the treatment of acute leukemia. Initially, western blot analysis is used to confirm target inhibition in cultured leukemia cells. Functional activity is then evaluated using clonogenic assays in methylcellulose or soft agar cultures. Experimental compounds that demonstrate activity in cell culture assays are evaluated in vivo
using NOD-SCID-gamma (NSG) mice transplanted orthotopically with human leukemia cell lines. Initial in vivo
pharmacodynamic studies evaluate target inhibition in leukemic blasts isolated from the bone marrow. This approach is used to determine the dose and schedule of administration required for effective target inhibition. Subsequent studies evaluate the efficacy of the TKIs in vivo
using luciferase expressing leukemia cells, thereby allowing for non-invasive bioluminescent monitoring of leukemia burden and assessment of therapeutic response using an in vivo
bioluminescence imaging system. This strategy has been effective for evaluation of TKIs in vitro
and in vivo
and can be applied for identification of molecularly-targeted agents with therapeutic potential or for direct comparison and prioritization of multiple compounds.
Medicine, Issue 79, Leukemia, Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases, Molecular Targeted Therapy, Therapeutics, novel small molecule inhibitor, receptor tyrosine kinase, leukemia
Flying Insect Detection and Classification with Inexpensive Sensors
Institutions: University of California, Riverside, University of California, Riverside, University of São Paulo - USP, ISCA Technologies.
An inexpensive, noninvasive system that could accurately classify flying insects would have important implications for entomological research, and allow for the development of many useful applications in vector and pest control for both medical and agricultural entomology. Given this, the last sixty years have seen many research efforts devoted to this task. To date, however, none of this research has had a lasting impact. In this work, we show that pseudo-acoustic optical sensors can produce superior data; that additional features, both intrinsic and extrinsic to the insect’s flight behavior, can be exploited to improve insect classification; that a Bayesian classification approach allows to efficiently learn classification models that are very robust to over-fitting, and a general classification framework allows to easily incorporate arbitrary number of features. We demonstrate the findings with large-scale experiments that dwarf all previous works combined, as measured by the number of insects and the number of species considered.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, flying insect detection, automatic insect classification, pseudo-acoustic optical sensors, Bayesian classification framework, flight sound, circadian rhythm
Transgenic Rodent Assay for Quantifying Male Germ Cell Mutant Frequency
Institutions: Environmental Health Centre.
mutations arise mostly in the male germline and may contribute to adverse health outcomes in subsequent generations. Traditional methods for assessing the induction of germ cell mutations require the use of large numbers of animals, making them impractical. As such, germ cell mutagenicity is rarely assessed during chemical testing and risk assessment. Herein, we describe an in vivo
male germ cell mutation assay using a transgenic rodent model that is based on a recently approved Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) test guideline. This method uses an in vitro
positive selection assay to measure in vivo
mutations induced in a transgenic λgt10 vector bearing a reporter gene directly in the germ cells of exposed males. We further describe how the detection of mutations in the transgene recovered from germ cells can be used to characterize the stage-specific sensitivity of the various spermatogenic cell types to mutagen exposure by controlling three experimental parameters: the duration of exposure (administration time), the time between exposure and sample collection (sampling time), and the cell population collected for analysis. Because a large number of germ cells can be assayed from a single male, this method has superior sensitivity compared with traditional methods, requires fewer animals and therefore much less time and resources.
Genetics, Issue 90, sperm, spermatogonia, male germ cells, spermatogenesis, de novo mutation, OECD TG 488, transgenic rodent mutation assay, N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea, genetic toxicology
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
A Functional Whole Blood Assay to Measure Viability of Mycobacteria, using Reporter-Gene Tagged BCG or M.Tb (BCG lux/M.Tb lux)
Institutions: Imperial College London , Barts & The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Functional assays have long played a key role in measuring of immunogenicity of a given vaccine. This is conventionally expressed as serum bactericidal titers. Studies of serum bactericidal titers in response to childhood vaccines have enabled us to develop and validate cut-off levels for protective immune responses and such cut-offs are in routine use. No such assays have been taken forward into the routine assessment of vaccines that induce primarily cell-mediated immunity in the form of effector T cell responses, such as TB vaccines. In the animal model, the performance of a given vaccine candidate is routinely evaluated in standardized bactericidal assays, and all current novel TB-vaccine candidates have been subjected to this step in their evaluation prior to phase 1 human trials. The assessment of immunogenicity and therefore likelihood of protective efficacy of novel anti-TB vaccines should ideally undergo a similar step-wise evaluation in the human models now, including measurements in bactericidal assays.
Bactericidal assays in the context of tuberculosis vaccine research are already well established in the animal models, where they are applied to screen potentially promising vaccine candidates. Reduction of bacterial load in various organs functions as the main read-out of immunogenicity. However, no such assays have been incorporated into clinical trials for novel anti-TB vaccines to date.
Although there is still uncertainty about the exact mechanisms that lead to killing of mycobacteria inside human macrophages, the interaction of macrophages and T cells with mycobacteria is clearly required. The assay described in this paper represents a novel generation of bactericidal assays that enables studies of such key cellular components with all other cellular and humoral factors present in whole blood without making assumptions about their relative individual contribution. The assay described by our group uses small volumes of whole blood and has already been employed in studies of adults and children in TB-endemic settings. We have shown immunogenicity of the BCG vaccine, increased growth of mycobacteria in HIV-positive patients, as well as the effect of anti-retroviral therapy and Vitamin D on mycobacterial survival in vitro
. Here we summarise the methodology, and present our reproducibility data using this relatively simple, low-cost and field-friendly model.
= M. bovis
BCG, Montreal strain, transformed with shuttle plasmid pSMT1 carrying the luxAB
genes from Vibrio harveyi
, under the control of the mycobacterial GroEL (hsp60
CFU = Colony Forming Unit (a measure of mycobacterial viability).
Immunology, Issue 55, M.tuberculosis, BCG, whole blood assay, lux reporter genes, immune responses, tuberculosis, host pathogen interactions
Estimating Virus Production Rates in Aquatic Systems
Institutions: University of Tennessee.
Viruses are pervasive components of marine and freshwater systems, and are known to be significant agents of microbial mortality. Developing quantitative estimates of this process is critical as we can then develop better models of microbial community structure and function as well as advance our understanding of how viruses work to alter aquatic biogeochemical cycles. The virus reduction technique allows researchers to estimate the rate at which virus particles are released from the endemic microbial community. In brief, the abundance of free (extracellular) viruses is reduced in a sample while the microbial community is maintained at near ambient concentration. The microbial community is then incubated in the absence of free viruses and the rate at which viruses reoccur in the sample (through the lysis of already infected members of the community) can be quantified by epifluorescence microscopy or, in the case of specific viruses, quantitative PCR. These rates can then be used to estimate the rate of microbial mortality due to virus-mediated cell lysis.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 43, Viruses, seawater, lakes, viral lysis, marine microbiology, freshwater microbiology, epifluorescence microscopy
DNA Fingerprinting of Mycobacterium leprae Strains Using Variable Number Tandem Repeat (VNTR) - Fragment Length Analysis (FLA)
Institutions: Colorado State University.
The study of the transmission of leprosy is particularly difficult since the causative agent, Mycobacterium leprae
, cannot be cultured in the laboratory. The only sources of the bacteria are leprosy patients, and experimentally infected armadillos and nude mice. Thus, many of the methods used in modern epidemiology are not available for the study of leprosy. Despite an extensive global drug treatment program for leprosy implemented by the WHO1
, leprosy remains endemic in many countries with approximately 250,000 new cases each year.2
The entire M. leprae
genome has been mapped3,4
and many loci have been identified that have repeated segments of 2 or more base pairs (called micro- and minisatellites).5
Clinical strains of M. leprae
may vary in the number of tandem repeated segments (short tandem repeats, STR) at many of these loci.5,6,7
Variable number tandem repeat (VNTR)5
analysis has been used to distinguish different strains of the leprosy bacilli. Some of the loci appear to be more stable than others, showing less variation in repeat numbers, while others seem to change more rapidly, sometimes in the same patient. While the variability of certain VNTRs has brought up questions regarding their suitability for strain typing7,8,9
, the emerging data suggest that analyzing multiple loci, which are diverse in their stability, can be used as a valuable epidemiological tool. Multiple locus VNTR analysis (MLVA)10
has been used to study leprosy evolution and transmission in several countries including China11,12
, the Philippines10,13
, and Brazil14
. MLVA involves multiple steps. First, bacterial DNA is extracted along with host tissue DNA from clinical biopsies or slit skin smears (SSS).10
The desired loci are then amplified from the extracted DNA via polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Fluorescently-labeled primers for 4-5 different loci are used per reaction, with 18 loci being amplified in a total of four reactions.10
The PCR products may be subjected to agarose gel electrophoresis to verify the presence of the desired DNA segments, and then submitted for fluorescent fragment length analysis (FLA) using capillary electrophoresis. DNA from armadillo passaged bacteria with a known number of repeat copies for each locus is used as a positive control. The FLA chromatograms are then examined using Peak Scanner
software and fragment length is converted to number of VNTR copies (allele). Finally, the VNTR haplotypes are analyzed for patterns, and when combined with patient clinical data can be used to track distribution of strain types.
Immunology, Issue 53, Mycobacterium leprae, leprosy, biopsy, STR, VNTR, PCR, fragment length analysis
Generation of Recombinant Arenavirus for Vaccine Development in FDA-Approved Vero Cells
Institutions: University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, The Scripps Research Institute.
The development and implementation of arenavirus reverse genetics represents a significant breakthrough in the arenavirus field 4
. The use of cell-based arenavirus minigenome systems together with the ability to generate recombinant infectious arenaviruses with predetermined mutations in their genomes has facilitated the investigation of the contribution of viral determinants to the different steps of the arenavirus life cycle, as well as virus-host interactions and mechanisms of arenavirus pathogenesis 1, 3, 11
. In addition, the development of trisegmented arenaviruses has permitted the use of the arenavirus genome to express additional foreign genes of interest, thus opening the possibility of arenavirus-based vaccine vector applications 5
. Likewise, the development of single-cycle infectious arenaviruses capable of expressing reporter genes provides a new experimental tool to improve the safety of research involving highly pathogenic human arenaviruses 16
. The generation of recombinant arenaviruses using plasmid-based reverse genetics techniques has so far relied on the use of rodent cell lines 7,19
, which poses some barriers for the development of Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-licensed vaccine or vaccine vectors. To overcome this obstacle, we describe here the efficient generation of recombinant arenaviruses in FDA-approved Vero cells.
Virology, Issue 78, Infection, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Viruses, arenaviruses, plasmid transfection, recombinant virus, reverse genetics techniques, vaccine/vaccine vector seed development, clinical applications
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
Detection of Infectious Virus from Field-collected Mosquitoes by Vero Cell Culture Assay
Institutions: The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Mosquitoes transmit a number of distinct viruses including important human pathogens such as West Nile virus, dengue virus, and chickungunya virus. Many of these viruses have intensified in their endemic ranges and expanded to new territories, necessitating effective surveillance and control programs to respond to these threats. One strategy to monitor virus activity involves collecting large numbers of mosquitoes from endemic sites and testing them for viral infection. In this article, we describe how to handle, process, and screen field-collected mosquitoes for infectious virus by Vero cell culture assay. Mosquitoes are sorted by trap location and species, and grouped into pools containing ≤50 individuals. Pooled specimens are homogenized in buffered saline using a mixer-mill and the aqueous phase is inoculated onto confluent Vero cell cultures (Clone E6). Cell cultures are monitored for cytopathic effect from days 3-7 post-inoculation and any viruses grown in cell culture are identified by the appropriate diagnostic assays. By utilizing this approach, we have isolated 9 different viruses from mosquitoes collected in Connecticut, USA, and among these, 5 are known to cause human disease. Three of these viruses (West Nile virus, Potosi virus, and La Crosse virus) represent new records for North America or the New England region since 1999. The ability to detect a wide diversity of viruses is critical to monitoring both established and newly emerging viruses in the mosquito population.
Immunology, Issue 52, Mosquito-borne viruses, mosquitoes, cell culture, surveillance
A Simple Chelex Protocol for DNA Extraction from Anopheles spp.
Institutions: Malaria Institute at Macha, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Endemic countries are increasingly adopting molecular tools for efficient typing, identification and surveillance against malaria parasites and vector mosquitoes, as an integral part of their control programs1,2,3,4,5
. For sustainable establishment of these accurate approaches in operations research to strengthen malaria control and elimination efforts, simple and affordable methods, with parsimonious reagent and equipment requirements are essential6,7,8
. Here we present a simple Chelex-based technique for extracting malaria parasite and vector DNA from field collected mosquito specimens.
We morphologically identified 72 Anopheles gambiae sl.
from 156 mosquitoes captured by pyrethrum spray catches in sleeping rooms of households within a 2,000 km2
vicinity of the Malaria Institute at Macha. After dissection to separate the head and thorax from the abdomen for all 72 Anopheles gambiae sl.
mosquitoes, the two sections were individually placed in 1.5 ml microcentrifuge tubes and submerged in 20 μl of deionized water. Using a sterile pipette tip, each mosquito section was separately homogenized to a uniform suspension in the deionized water. Of the ensuing homogenate from each mosquito section, 10 μl was retained while the other 10 μl was transferred to a separate autoclaved 1.5 ml tube. The separate aliquots were subjected to DNA extraction by either the simplified Chelex or the standard salting out extraction protocol9,10
. The salting out protocol is so-called and widely used because it employs high salt concentrations in lieu of hazardous organic solvents (such as phenol and chloroform) for the protein precipitation step during DNA extraction9
Extracts were used as templates for PCR amplification using primers targeting arthropod mitochondrial nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide dehydrogenase (NADH) subunit 4 gene (ND4) to check DNA quality11
, a PCR for identification of Anopheles gambiae
and a nested PCR for typing of Plasmodium falciparum
. Comparison using DNA quality (ND4) PCR showed 93% sensitivity and 82% specificity for the Chelex approach relative to the established salting out protocol. Corresponding values of sensitivity and specificity were 100% and 78%, respectively, using sibling species identification PCR and 92% and 80%, respectively for P. falciparum
detection PCR. There were no significant differences in proportion of samples giving amplicon signal with the Chelex or the regular salting out protocol across all three PCR applications. The Chelex approach required three simple reagents and 37 min to complete, while the salting out protocol entailed 10 different reagents and 2 hr and 47 min' processing time, including an overnight step. Our results show that the Chelex method is comparable to the existing salting out extraction and can be substituted as a simple and sustainable approach in resource-limited settings where a constant reagent supply chain is often difficult to maintain.
Infection, Issue 71, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Parasitology, Entomology, Malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, vector, Anopheles, Diptera, mosquitoes, Chelex, DNA, extraction, PCR, dissection, insect, vector, pathogen
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation