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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Measuring Glutathione-induced Feeding Response in Hydra
Institutions: India Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune.
Hydra is among the most primitive organisms possessing a nervous system and chemosensation for detecting reduced glutathione (GSH) for capturing the prey. The movement of prey organisms causes mechanosensory discharge of the stinging cells called nematocysts from hydra, which are inserted into the prey. The feeding response in hydra, which includes curling of the tentacles to bring the prey towards the mouth, opening of the mouth and consequent engulfing of the prey, is triggered by GSH present in the fluid released from the injured prey. To be able to identify the molecular mechanism of the feeding response in hydra which is unknown to date, it is necessary to establish an assay to measure the feeding response. Here, we describe a simple method for the quantitation of the feeding response in which the distance between the apical end of the tentacle and mouth of hydra is measured and the ratio of such distance before and after the addition of GSH is determined. The ratio, called the relative tentacle spread, was found to give a measure of the feeding response. This assay was validated using a starvation model in which starved hydra show an enhanced feeding response in comparison with daily fed hydra.
Basic Protocols, Issue 93, Hydra, chemosensation, feeding response, feeding status, glutathione, prey, starvation
A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1
. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2
. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps
). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
High-throughput Saccharification Assay for Lignocellulosic Materials
Institutions: University of York.
Polysaccharides that make up plant lignocellulosic biomass can be broken down to produce a range of sugars that subsequently can be
used in establishing a biorefinery. These raw materials would constitute a new industrial platform, which is both sustainable and carbon neutral, to replace
the current dependency on fossil fuel. The recalcitrance to deconstruction observed in lignocellulosic materials is produced by several intrinsic properties
of plant cell walls. Crystalline cellulose is embedded in matrix polysaccharides such as xylans and arabinoxylans, and the whole structure is encased by the
phenolic polymer lignin, that is also difficult to digest 1
. In order to improve the digestibility of plant materials we need to discover the main bottlenecks
for the saccharification of cell walls and also screen mutant and breeding populations to evaluate the variability in saccharification 2
. These tasks require
a high throughput approach and here we present an analytical platform that can perform saccharification analysis in a 96-well plate format. This platform has
been developed to allow the screening of lignocellulose digestibility of large populations from varied plant species. We have scaled down the reaction volumes
for gentle pretreatment, partial enzymatic hydrolysis and sugar determination, to allow large numbers to be assessed rapidly in an automated system.
This automated platform works with milligram amounts of biomass, performing ball milling under controlled conditions to reduce the plant
materials to a standardised particle size in a reproducible manner. Once the samples are ground, the automated formatting robot dispenses specified and recorded
amounts of material into the corresponding wells of 96 deep well plate (Figure 1). Normally, we dispense the same material into 4 wells to have 4 replicates for
analysis. Once the plates are filled with the plant material in the desired layout, they are manually moved to a liquid handling station (Figure 2). In this
station the samples are subjected to a mild pretreatment with either dilute acid or alkaline and incubated at temperatures of up to 90°C. The pretreatment solution
is subsequently removed and the samples are rinsed with buffer to return them to a suitable pH for hydrolysis. The samples are then incubated with an enzyme
mixture for a variable length of time at 50°C. An aliquot is taken from the hydrolyzate and the reducing sugars are automatically determined by the MBTH
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Saccharification, lignocellulose, high-throughput, glycosyl hydrolases, biomass, biofuels
2D and 3D Chromosome Painting in Malaria Mosquitoes
Institutions: Virginia Tech.
Fluorescent in situ
hybridization (FISH) of whole arm chromosome probes is a robust technique for mapping genomic regions of interest, detecting chromosomal rearrangements, and studying three-dimensional (3D) organization of chromosomes in the cell nucleus. The advent of laser capture microdissection (LCM) and whole genome amplification (WGA) allows obtaining large quantities of DNA from single cells. The increased sensitivity of WGA kits prompted us to develop chromosome paints and to use them for exploring chromosome organization and evolution in non-model organisms. Here, we present a simple method for isolating and amplifying the euchromatic segments of single polytene chromosome arms from ovarian nurse cells of the African malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae
. This procedure provides an efficient platform for obtaining chromosome paints, while reducing the overall risk of introducing foreign DNA to the sample. The use of WGA allows for several rounds of re-amplification, resulting in high quantities of DNA that can be utilized for multiple experiments, including 2D and 3D FISH. We demonstrated that the developed chromosome paints can be successfully used to establish the correspondence between euchromatic portions of polytene and mitotic chromosome arms in An. gambiae
. Overall, the union of LCM and single-chromosome WGA provides an efficient tool for creating significant amounts of target DNA for future cytogenetic and genomic studies.
Immunology, Issue 83, Microdissection, whole genome amplification, malaria mosquito, polytene chromosome, mitotic chromosomes, fluorescence in situ hybridization, chromosome painting
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
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
Using Fluorescent Proteins to Monitor Glycosome Dynamics in the African Trypanosome
Institutions: Clemson University Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center.
is a kinetoplastid parasite that causes human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), or sleeping sickness, and a wasting disease, nagana, in cattle1
. The parasite alternates between the bloodstream of the mammalian host and the tsetse fly vector. The composition of many cellular organelles changes in response to these different extracellular conditions2-5
Glycosomes are highly specialized peroxisomes in which many of the enzymes involved in glycolysis are compartmentalized. Glycosome composition changes in a developmental and environmentally regulated manner4-11
. Currently, the most common techniques used to study glycosome dynamics are electron and fluorescence microscopy; techniques that are expensive, time and labor intensive, and not easily adapted to high throughput analyses.
To overcome these limitations, a fluorescent-glycosome reporter system in which enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (eYFP) is fused to a peroxisome targeting sequence (PTS2), which directs the fusion protein to glycosomes12
, has been established. Upon import of the PTS2eYFP fusion protein, glycosomes become fluorescent. Organelle degradation and recycling results in the loss of fluorescence that can be measured by flow cytometry. Large numbers of cells (5,000 cells/sec) can be analyzed in real-time without extensive sample preparation such as fixation and mounting. This method offers a rapid way of detecting changes in organelle composition in response to fluctuating environmental conditions.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, glycosomes, trypanosomes, flow cytometry, kinetoplastids, fluorescent protein, peroxisomes
Measurement of Greenhouse Gas Flux from Agricultural Soils Using Static Chambers
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems Watershed Management Research Unit.
Measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes between the soil and the atmosphere, in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems, is critical to understanding the biogeochemical drivers of climate change and to the development and evaluation of GHG mitigation strategies based on modulation of landscape management practices. The static chamber-based method described here is based on trapping gases emitted from the soil surface within a chamber and collecting samples from the chamber headspace at regular intervals for analysis by gas chromatography. Change in gas concentration over time is used to calculate flux. This method can be utilized to measure landscape-based flux of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, and to estimate differences between treatments or explore system dynamics over seasons or years. Infrastructure requirements are modest, but a comprehensive experimental design is essential. This method is easily deployed in the field, conforms to established guidelines, and produces data suitable to large-scale GHG emissions studies.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, greenhouse gas, trace gas, gas flux, static chamber, soil, field, agriculture, climate
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Procedures for Identifying Infectious Prions After Passage Through the Digestive System of an Avian Species
Infectious prion (PrPRes
) material is likely the cause of fatal, neurodegenerative transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) diseases1
. Transmission of TSE diseases, such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), is presumed to be from animal to animal2,3
as well as from environmental sources4-6
. Scavengers and carnivores have potential to translocate PrPRes
material through consumption and excretion of CWD-contaminated carrion. Recent work has documented passage of PrPRes
material through the digestive system of American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos
), a common North American scavenger7
We describe procedures used to document passage of PrPRes
material through American crows. Crows were gavaged with RML-strain mouse-adapted scrapie and their feces were collected 4 hr post gavage. Crow feces were then pooled and injected intraperitoneally into C57BL/6 mice. Mice were monitored daily until they expressed clinical signs of mouse scrapie and were thereafter euthanized. Asymptomatic mice were monitored until 365 days post inoculation. Western blot analysis was conducted to confirm disease status. Results revealed that prions remain infectious after traveling through the digestive system of crows and are present in the feces, causing disease in test mice.
Infection, Issue 81, American crows, feces, mouse model, prion detection, PrPRes, scrapie, TSE transmission
Transient Expression of Proteins by Hydrodynamic Gene Delivery in Mice
Institutions: Hunter College, CUNY.
Efficient expression of transgenes in vivo
is of critical importance in studying gene function and developing treatments for diseases. Over the past years, hydrodynamic gene delivery (HGD) has emerged as a simple, fast, safe and effective method for delivering transgenes into rodents. This technique relies on the force generated by the rapid injection of a large volume of physiological solution to increase the permeability of cell membranes of perfused organs and thus deliver DNA into cells. One of the main advantages of HGD is the ability to introduce transgenes into mammalian cells using naked plasmid DNA (pDNA). Introducing an exogenous gene using a plasmid is minimally laborious, highly efficient and, contrary to viral carriers, remarkably safe. HGD was initially used to deliver genes into mice, it is now used to deliver a wide range of substances, including oligonucleotides, artificial chromosomes, RNA, proteins and small molecules into mice, rats and, to a limited degree, other animals. This protocol describes HGD in mice and focuses on three key aspects of the method that are critical to performing the procedure successfully: correct insertion of the needle into the vein, the volume of injection and the speed of delivery. Examples are given to show the application of this method to the transient expression of two genes that encode secreted, primate-specific proteins, apolipoprotein L-I (APOL-I) and haptoglobin-related protein (HPR).
Genetics, Issue 87, hydrodynamic gene delivery, hydrodynamics-based transfection, mouse, gene therapy, plasmid DNA, transient gene expression, tail vein injection
Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2
facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2
field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4
, and Ca2+
had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
Split-Ubiquitin Based Membrane Yeast Two-Hybrid (MYTH) System: A Powerful Tool For Identifying Protein-Protein Interactions
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
The fundamental biological and clinical importance of integral membrane proteins prompted the development of a yeast-based system for the high-throughput identification of protein-protein interactions (PPI) for full-length transmembrane proteins. To this end, our lab developed the split-ubiquitin based Membrane Yeast Two-Hybrid (MYTH) system. This technology allows for the sensitive detection of transient and stable protein interactions using Saccharomyces cerevisiae
as a host organism. MYTH takes advantage of the observation that ubiquitin can be separated into two stable moieties: the C-terminal half of yeast ubiquitin (Cub
) and the N-terminal half of the ubiquitin moiety (Nub
). In MYTH, this principle is adapted for use as a 'sensor' of protein-protein interactions. Briefly, the integral membrane bait protein is fused to Cub
which is linked to an artificial transcription factor. Prey proteins, either in individual or library format, are fused to the Nub
moiety. Protein interaction between the bait and prey leads to reconstitution of the ubiquitin moieties, forming a full-length 'pseudo-ubiquitin' molecule. This molecule is in turn recognized by cytosolic deubiquitinating enzymes, resulting in cleavage of the transcription factor, and subsequent induction of reporter gene expression. The system is highly adaptable, and is particularly well-suited to high-throughput screening. It has been successfully employed to investigate interactions using integral membrane proteins from both yeast and other organisms.
Cellular Biology, Issue 36, protein-protein interaction, membrane, split-ubiquitin, yeast, library screening, Y2H, yeast two-hybrid, MYTH
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
Laboratory Estimation of Net Trophic Transfer Efficiencies of PCB Congeners to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) from Its Prey
Institutions: U. S. Geological Survey, Grand Valley State University, Shedd Aquarium.
A technique for laboratory estimation of net trophic transfer efficiency (γ) of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners to piscivorous fish from their prey is described herein. During a 135-day laboratory experiment, we fed bloater (Coregonus hoyi
) that had been caught in Lake Michigan to lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush
) kept in eight laboratory tanks. Bloater is a natural prey for lake trout. In four of the tanks, a relatively high flow rate was used to ensure relatively high activity by the lake trout, whereas a low flow rate was used in the other four tanks, allowing for low lake trout activity. On a tank-by-tank basis, the amount of food eaten by the lake trout on each day of the experiment was recorded. Each lake trout was weighed at the start and end of the experiment. Four to nine lake trout from each of the eight tanks were sacrificed at the start of the experiment, and all 10 lake trout remaining in each of the tanks were euthanized at the end of the experiment. We determined concentrations of 75 PCB congeners in the lake trout at the start of the experiment, in the lake trout at the end of the experiment, and in bloaters fed to the lake trout during the experiment. Based on these measurements, γ was calculated for each of 75 PCB congeners in each of the eight tanks. Mean γ was calculated for each of the 75 PCB congeners for both active and inactive lake trout. Because the experiment was replicated in eight tanks, the standard error about mean γ could be estimated. Results from this type of experiment are useful in risk assessment models to predict future risk to humans and wildlife eating contaminated fish under various scenarios of environmental contamination.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, trophic transfer efficiency, polychlorinated biphenyl congeners, lake trout, activity, contaminants, accumulation, risk assessment, toxic equivalents
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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
Analysis of Fatty Acid Content and Composition in Microalgae
Institutions: Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center.
A method to determine the content and composition of total fatty acids present in microalgae is described. Fatty acids are a major constituent of microalgal biomass. These fatty acids can be present in different acyl-lipid classes. Especially the fatty acids present in triacylglycerol (TAG) are of commercial interest, because they can be used for production of transportation fuels, bulk chemicals, nutraceuticals (ω-3 fatty acids), and food commodities. To develop commercial applications, reliable analytical methods for quantification of fatty acid content and composition are needed. Microalgae are single cells surrounded by a rigid cell wall. A fatty acid analysis method should provide sufficient cell disruption to liberate all acyl lipids and the extraction procedure used should be able to extract all acyl lipid classes.
With the method presented here all fatty acids present in microalgae can be accurately and reproducibly identified and quantified using small amounts of sample (5 mg) independent of their chain length, degree of unsaturation, or the lipid class they are part of.
This method does not provide information about the relative abundance of different lipid classes, but can be extended to separate lipid classes from each other.
The method is based on a sequence of mechanical cell disruption, solvent based lipid extraction, transesterification of fatty acids to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), and quantification and identification of FAMEs using gas chromatography (GC-FID). A TAG internal standard (tripentadecanoin) is added prior to the analytical procedure to correct for losses during extraction and incomplete transesterification.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, chemical analysis techniques, Microalgae, fatty acid, triacylglycerol, lipid, gas chromatography, cell disruption
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
Avidity-based Extracellular Interaction Screening (AVEXIS) for the Scalable Detection of Low-affinity Extracellular Receptor-Ligand Interactions
Institutions: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
Extracellular protein:protein interactions between secreted or membrane-tethered proteins are critical for both initiating intercellular communication and ensuring cohesion within multicellular organisms. Proteins predicted to form extracellular interactions are encoded by approximately a quarter of human genes1
, but despite their importance and abundance, the majority of these proteins have no documented binding partner. Primarily, this is due to their biochemical intractability: membrane-embedded proteins are difficult to solubilise in their native conformation and contain structurally-important posttranslational modifications. Also, the interaction affinities between receptor proteins are often characterised by extremely low interaction strengths (half-lives < 1 second) precluding their detection with many commonly-used high throughput methods2
Here, we describe an assay, AVEXIS (AVidity-based EXtracellular Interaction Screen) that overcomes these technical challenges enabling the detection of very weak protein interactions (t1/2
≤ 0.1 sec) with a low false positive rate3
. The assay is usually implemented in a high throughput format to enable the systematic screening of many thousands of interactions in a convenient microtitre plate format (Fig. 1). It relies on the production of soluble recombinant protein libraries that contain the ectodomain fragments of cell surface receptors or secreted proteins within which to screen for interactions; therefore, this approach is suitable for type I, type II, GPI-linked cell surface receptors and secreted proteins but not for multipass membrane proteins such as ion channels or transporters.
The recombinant protein libraries are produced using a convenient and high-level mammalian expression system4
, to ensure that important posttranslational modifications such as glycosylation and disulphide bonds are added. Expressed recombinant proteins are secreted into the medium and produced in two forms: a biotinylated bait which can be captured on a streptavidin-coated solid phase suitable for screening, and a pentamerised enzyme-tagged (β-lactamase) prey. The bait and prey proteins are presented to each other in a binary fashion to detect direct interactions between them, similar to a conventional ELISA (Fig. 1). The pentamerisation of the proteins in the prey is achieved through a peptide sequence from the cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) and increases the local concentration of the ectodomains thereby providing significant avidity gains to enable even very transient interactions to be detected. By normalising the activities of both the bait and prey to predetermined levels prior to screening, we have shown that interactions having monomeric half-lives of 0.1 sec can be detected with low false positive rates3
Molecular Biology, Issue 61, Receptor-ligand pairs, Extracellular protein interactions, AVEXIS, Adhesion receptors, Transient/weak interactions, High throughput screening
A Visual Assay to Monitor T6SS-mediated Bacterial Competition
Institutions: Imperial College London .
Type VI secretion systems (T6SSs) are molecular nanomachines allowing Gram-negative bacteria to transport and inject proteins into a wide variety of target cells1,2
. The T6SS is composed of 13 core components and displays structural similarities with the tail-tube of bacteriophages3
. The phage uses a tube and a puncturing device to penetrate the cell envelope of target bacteria and inject DNA. It is proposed that the T6SS is an inverted bacteriophage device creating a specific path in the bacterial cell envelope to drive effectors and toxins to the surface. The process could be taken further and the T6SS device could perforate other cells with which the bacterium is in contact, thus injecting the effectors into these targets. The tail tube and puncturing device parts of the T6SS are made with Hcp and VgrG proteins, respectively4,5
The versatility of the T6SS has been demonstrated through studies using various bacterial pathogens. The Vibrio cholerae
T6SS can remodel the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic host cells by injecting an "evolved" VgrG carrying a C-terminal actin cross-linking domain6,7
. Another striking example was recently documented using Pseudomonas aeruginosa
which is able to target and kill bacteria in a T6SS-dependent manner, therefore promoting the establishment of bacteria in specific microbial niches and competitive environment8,9,10
In the latter case,
three T6SS-secreted proteins, namely Tse1, Tse2 and Tse3 have been identified as the toxins injected in the target bacteria (Figure 1
). The donor cell is protected from the deleterious effect of these effectors via an anti-toxin mechanism, mediated by the Tsi1, Tsi2 and Tsi3 immunity proteins8,9,10
. This antimicrobial activity can be monitored when T6SS-proficient bacteria are co-cultivated on solid surfaces in competition with other bacterial species or with T6SS-inactive bacteria of the same species8,11,12,13
The data available emphasized a numerical approach to the bacterial competition assay, including time-consuming CFU counting that depends greatly on antibiotic makers. In the case of antibiotic resistant strains like P. aeruginosa
, these methods can be inappropriate. Moreover, with the identification of about 200 different T6SS loci in more than 100 bacterial genomes14
, a convenient screening tool is highly desirable. We developed an assay that is easy to use and requires standard laboratory material and reagents. The method offers a rapid and qualitative technique to monitor the T6SS-dependent bactericidal/bacteriostasis activity by using a reporter strain as a prey (in this case Escherichia coli
DH5α) allowing a-complementation of the lacZ
gene. Overall, this method is graphic and allows rapid identification of T6SS-related phenotypes on agar plates. This experimental protocol may be adapted to other strains or bacterial species taking into account specific conditions such as growth media, temperature or time of contact.
Infection, Issue 73, Microbiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Bacteriology, Bacteria, Type Six Secretion System, T6SS, Bacterial Competition, Killing Assay, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, E. coli, lacZ, CFU, bacterial screen, pathogens, assay
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
In-vivo Detection of Protein-protein Interactions on Micro-patterned Surfaces
Institutions: Johannes Kepler Universitat Linz.
Unraveling the interaction network of molecules in-vivo
is key to understanding the mechanisms that regulate cell function and metabolism. A multitude of methodological options for addressing molecular interactions in cells have been developed, but most of these methods suffer from being rather indirect and therefore hardly quantitative. On the contrary, a few high-end quantitative approaches were introduced, which however are difficult to extend to high throughput. To combine high throughput capabilities with the possibility to extract quantitative information, we recently developed a new concept for identifying protein-protein interactions (Schwarzenbacher et al
., 2008). Here, we describe a detailed protocol for the design and the construction of this system which allows for analyzing interactions between a fluorophore-labeled protein ("prey") and a membrane protein ("bait") in-vivo
. Cells are plated on micropatterned surfaces functionalized with antibodies against the bait exoplasmic domain. Bait-prey interactions are assayed via the redistribution of the fluorescent prey. The method is characterized by high sensitivity down to the level of single molecules, the capability to detect weak interactions, and high throughput capability, making it applicable as screening tool.
Bioengineering, Issue 37, protein-protein interactions, quantification, in-vivo, micro-contact-printing, micro-patterned surfaces
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
Small Volume (1-3L) Filtration of Coastal Seawater Samples
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The workflow begins with the collection of coastal marine waters for downstream microbial community, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For today s demonstration samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. This video documents small volume (~1 L) filtration of microbial biomass from the water column. The protocol is an extension of the large volume sampling protocol described earlier, with one major difference: here, there is no pre-filtration step, so all size classes of biomass are collected down to the 0.22 μm filter cut-off. Samples collected this way are ideal for nucleic acid analysis. The set-up, filtration, and clean-up steps each take about 20-30 minutes. If using two peristaltic pumps simultaneously, up to 8 samples may be filtered at the same time. To prevent biofilm formation between sampling trips, all filtration equipment must be rinsed with dilute HCl and deionized water and autoclaved immediately after use.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbiology, seawater, filtration, biomass concentration
Large Volume (20L+) Filtration of Coastal Seawater Samples
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The workflow begins with the collection of coastal marine waters for downstream microbial community, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For this method, samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. This video documents large volume (≥20 L) filtration of microbial biomass, ranging between 0.22μm and 2.7μm in diameter, from the water column. Two 20L samples can be filtered simultaneously using a single pump unit equipped with four rotating heads. Filtration is done in the field on extended trips, or immediately upon return for day trips. It is important to record the amount of water passing through each sterivex filter unit. To prevent biofilm formation between sampling trips, all filtration equipment must be rinsed with dilute HCl and deionized water and autoclaved immediately after use. This procedure will take approximately 5 hours plus an additional hour for clean up.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbial biomass, filtration, sterivex, GF/D, nucleic acids, seawater, fjord, hypoxic, Saanich Inlet