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!
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
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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
Corneal Donor Tissue Preparation for Descemet's Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty
Institutions: University of Michigan, MidWest Eye Banks.
Descemet’s Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty (DMEK) is a form of corneal transplantation in which only a single cell layer, the corneal endothelium, along with its basement membrane (Descemet's membrane) is introduced onto the recipient's posterior stroma3
. Unlike Descemet’s Stripping Automated Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSAEK), where additional donor stroma is introduced, no unnatural stroma-to-stroma interface is created. As a result, the natural anatomy of the cornea is preserved as much as possible allowing for improved recovery time and visual acuity4
. Endothelial Keratoplasty (EK) is the procedure of choice for treatment of endothelial dysfunction. The advantages of EK include rapid recovery of vision, preservation of ocular integrity and minimal refractive change due to use of a small, peripheral incision1
. DSAEK utilizes donor tissue prepared with partial thickness stroma and endothelium. The rapid success and utilization of this procedure can be attributed to availability of eye-bank prepared precut tissue. The benefits of eye-bank preparation of donor tissue include elimination of need for specialized equipment in the operating room and availability of back up donor tissue in case of tissue perforation during preparation. In addition, high volume preparation of donor tissue by eye-bank technicians may provide improved quality of donor tissue. DSAEK may have limited best corrected visual acuity due to creation of a stromal interface between the donor and recipient cornea. Elimination of this interface with transplantation of only donor Descemet's membrane and endothelium in DMEK may improve visual outcomes and reduce complications after EK5
. Similar to DSAEK, long term success and acceptance of DMEK is dependent on ease of availability of precut, eye-bank prepared donor tissue. Here we present a stepwise approach to donor tissue preparation which may reduce some barriers eye-banks face in providing DMEK grafts.
Medicine, Issue 91, DMEK, EK, endothelial keratoplasty, Descemet’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty, corneal transplantation, eye bank, donor tissue preparation
In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ
characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3
(bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ
time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ
Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ
IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications. For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately. To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models. To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models. This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2
) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented. The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix. With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions. The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures. This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models. Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created. An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material. In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures. One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: University of Ulm.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques provide information on the microstructural processes of the cerebral white matter (WM) in vivo
. The present applications are designed to investigate differences of WM involvement patterns in different brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, by use of different DTI analyses in comparison with matched controls.
DTI data analysis is performed in a variate fashion, i.e.
voxelwise comparison of regional diffusion direction-based metrics such as fractional anisotropy (FA), together with fiber tracking (FT) accompanied by tractwise fractional anisotropy statistics (TFAS) at the group level in order to identify differences in FA along WM structures, aiming at the definition of regional patterns of WM alterations at the group level. Transformation into a stereotaxic standard space is a prerequisite for group studies and requires thorough data processing to preserve directional inter-dependencies. The present applications show optimized technical approaches for this preservation of quantitative and directional information during spatial normalization in data analyses at the group level. On this basis, FT techniques can be applied to group averaged data in order to quantify metrics information as defined by FT. Additionally, application of DTI methods, i.e.
differences in FA-maps after stereotaxic alignment, in a longitudinal analysis at an individual subject basis reveal information about the progression of neurological disorders. Further quality improvement of DTI based results can be obtained during preprocessing by application of a controlled elimination of gradient directions with high noise levels.
In summary, DTI is used to define a distinct WM pathoanatomy of different brain diseases by the combination of whole brain-based and tract-based DTI analysis.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurodegenerative Diseases, nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, MR, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, fiber tracking, group level comparison, neurodegenerative diseases, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
Setting Limits on Supersymmetry Using Simplified Models
Institutions: University College London, CERN, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
Experimental limits on supersymmetry and similar theories are difficult to set because of the enormous available parameter space and difficult to generalize because of the complexity of single points. Therefore, more phenomenological, simplified models are becoming popular for setting experimental limits, as they have clearer physical interpretations. The use of these simplified model limits to set a real limit on a concrete theory has not, however, been demonstrated. This paper recasts simplified model limits into limits on a specific and complete supersymmetry model, minimal supergravity. Limits obtained under various physical assumptions are comparable to those produced by directed searches. A prescription is provided for calculating conservative and aggressive limits on additional theories. Using acceptance and efficiency tables along with the expected and observed numbers of events in various signal regions, LHC experimental results can be recast in this manner into almost any theoretical framework, including nonsupersymmetric theories with supersymmetry-like signatures.
Physics, Issue 81, high energy physics, particle physics, Supersymmetry, LHC, ATLAS, CMS, New Physics Limits, Simplified Models
Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion.
Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via
quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
One Dimensional Turing-Like Handshake Test for Motor Intelligence
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University.
In the Turing test, a computer model is deemed to "think intelligently" if it can generate answers that are not distinguishable from those of a human. However, this test is limited to the linguistic aspects of machine intelligence. A salient function of the brain is the control of movement, and the movement of the human hand is a sophisticated demonstration of this function. Therefore, we propose a Turing-like handshake test, for machine motor intelligence. We administer the test through a telerobotic system in which the interrogator is engaged in a task of holding a robotic stylus and interacting with another party (human or artificial). Instead of asking the interrogator whether the other party is a person or a computer program, we employ a two-alternative forced choice method and ask which of two systems is more human-like. We extract a quantitative grade for each model according to its resemblance to the human handshake motion and name it "Model Human-Likeness Grade" (MHLG). We present three methods to estimate the MHLG. (i) By calculating the proportion of subjects' answers that the model is more human-like than the human; (ii) By comparing two weighted sums of human and model handshakes we fit a psychometric curve and extract the point of subjective equality (PSE); (iii) By comparing a given model with a weighted sum of human and random signal, we fit a psychometric curve to the answers of the interrogator and extract the PSE for the weight of the human in the weighted sum. Altogether, we provide a protocol to test computational models of the human handshake. We believe that building a model is a necessary step in understanding any phenomenon and, in this case, in understanding the neural mechanisms responsible for the generation of the human handshake.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Turing test, Human Machine Interface, Haptics, Teleoperation, Motor Control, Motor Behavior, Diagnostics, Perception, handshake, telepresence
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Diagnosing Pulmonary Tuberculosis with the Xpert MTB/RIF Test
Institutions: University of Bern, MCL Laboratories Inc..
Tuberculosis (TB) due to Mycobacterium tuberculosis
(MTB) remains a major public health issue: the infection affects up to one third of the world population1
, and almost two million people are killed by TB each year.2
Universal access to high-quality, patient-centered treatment for all TB patients is emphasized by WHO's Stop TB Strategy.3
The rapid detection of MTB in respiratory specimens and drug therapy based on reliable drug resistance testing results are a prerequisite for the successful implementation of this strategy. However, in many areas of the world, TB diagnosis still relies on insensitive, poorly standardized sputum microscopy methods. Ineffective TB detection and the emergence and transmission of drug-resistant MTB strains increasingly jeopardize global TB control activities.2
Effective diagnosis of pulmonary TB requires the availability - on a global scale - of standardized, easy-to-use, and robust diagnostic tools that would allow the direct detection of both the MTB complex and resistance to key antibiotics, such as rifampicin (RIF). The latter result can serve as marker for multidrug-resistant MTB (MDR TB) and has been reported in > 95% of the MDR-TB isolates.4, 5
The rapid availability of reliable test results is likely to directly translate into sound patient management decisions that, ultimately, will cure the individual patient and break the chain of TB transmission in the community.2
Cepheid's (Sunnyvale, CA, U.S.A.) Xpert MTB/RIF assay6, 7
meets the demands outlined above in a remarkable manner. It is a nucleic-acids amplification test for 1) the detection of MTB complex DNA in sputum or concentrated sputum sediments; and 2) the detection of RIF resistance-associated mutations of the rpoB
It is designed for use with Cepheid's GeneXpert Dx System that integrates and automates sample processing, nucleic acid amplification, and detection of the target sequences using real-time PCR and reverse transcriptase PCR. The system consists of an instrument, personal computer, barcode scanner, and preloaded software for running tests and viewing the results.9
It employs single-use disposable Xpert MTB/RIF cartridges that hold PCR reagents and host the PCR process. Because the cartridges are self-contained, cross-contamination between samples is eliminated.6
Current nucleic acid amplification methods used to detect MTB are complex, labor-intensive, and technically demanding. The Xpert MTB/RIF assay has the potential to bring standardized, sensitive and very specific diagnostic testing for both TB and drug resistance to universal-access point-of-care settings3
, provided that they will be able to afford it. In order to facilitate access, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) has negotiated significant price reductions. Current FIND-negotiated prices, along with the list of countries eligible for the discounts, are available on the web.10
Immunology, Issue 62, tuberculosis, drug resistance, rifampicin, rapid diagnosis, Xpert MTB/RIF test
Corneal Donor Tissue Preparation for Endothelial Keratoplasty
Institutions: University of Michigan , MidWest Eye Banks.
Over the past ten years, corneal transplantation surgical techniques have undergone revolutionary changes1,2
. Since its inception, traditional full thickness corneal transplantation has been the treatment to restore sight in those limited by corneal disease. Some disadvantages to this approach include a high degree of post-operative astigmatism, lack of predictable refractive outcome, and disturbance to the ocular surface. The development of Descemet's stripping endothelial keratoplasty (DSEK), transplanting only the posterior corneal stroma, Descemet's membrane, and endothelium, has dramatically changed treatment of corneal endothelial disease. DSEK is performed through a smaller incision; this technique avoids 'open sky' surgery with its risk of hemorrhage or expulsion, decreases the incidence of postoperative wound dehiscence, reduces unpredictable refractive outcomes, and may decrease the rate of transplant rejection3-6
Initially, cornea donor posterior lamellar dissection for DSEK was performed manually1
resulting in variable graft thickness and damage to the delicate corneal endothelial tissue during tissue processing. Automated lamellar dissection (Descemet's stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty, DSAEK) was developed to address these issues. Automated dissection utilizes the same technology as LASIK corneal flap creation with a mechanical microkeratome blade that helps to create uniform and thin tissue grafts for DSAEK surgery with minimal corneal endothelial cell loss in tissue processing.
Eye banks have been providing full thickness corneas for surgical transplantation for many years. In 2006, eye banks began to develop methodologies for supplying precut corneal tissue for endothelial keratoplasty. With the input of corneal surgeons, eye banks have developed thorough protocols to safely and effectively prepare posterior lamellar tissue for DSAEK surgery. This can be performed preoperatively at the eye bank. Research shows no significant difference in terms of the quality of the tissue7
or patient outcomes8,9
using eye bank precut tissue versus surgeon-prepared tissue for DSAEK surgery. For most corneal surgeons, the availability of precut DSAEK corneal tissue saves time and money10
, and reduces the stress of performing the donor corneal dissection in the operating room. In part because of the ability of the eye banks to provide high quality posterior lamellar corneal in a timely manner, DSAEK has become the standard of care for surgical management of corneal endothelial disease.
The procedure that we are describing is the preparation of the posterior lamellar cornea at the eye bank for transplantation in DSAEK surgery (Figure 1
Medicine, Issue 64, Physiology, Cornea, transplantation, DSAEK, DSEK, endothelial keratoplasty, lamellar, graft, Moria, microkeratome, precut, Fuchs dystrophy
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
A Quantitative Fitness Analysis Workflow
Institutions: Newcastle University Medical School.
Quantitative Fitness Analysis (QFA) is an experimental and computational workflow for comparing fitnesses of microbial cultures grown in parallel1,2,3,4
. QFA can be applied to focused observations of single cultures but is most useful for genome-wide genetic interaction or drug screens investigating up to thousands of independent cultures. The central experimental method is the inoculation of independent, dilute liquid microbial cultures onto solid agar plates which are incubated and regularly photographed. Photographs from each time-point are analyzed, producing quantitative cell density estimates, which are used to construct growth curves, allowing quantitative fitness measures to be derived. Culture fitnesses can be compared to quantify and rank genetic interaction strengths or drug sensitivities. The effect on culture fitness of any treatments added into substrate agar (e.g.
small molecules, antibiotics or nutrients) or applied to plates externally (e.g.
UV irradiation, temperature) can be quantified by QFA.
The QFA workflow produces growth rate estimates analogous to those obtained by spectrophotometric measurement of parallel liquid cultures in 96-well or 200-well plate readers. Importantly, QFA has significantly higher throughput compared with such methods. QFA cultures grow on a solid agar surface and are therefore well aerated during growth without the need for stirring or shaking.
QFA throughput is not as high as that of some Synthetic Genetic Array (SGA) screening methods5,6
. However, since QFA cultures are heavily diluted before being inoculated onto agar, QFA can capture more complete growth curves, including exponential and saturation phases3
. For example, growth curve observations allow culture doubling times to be estimated directly with high precision, as discussed previously1
Here we present a specific QFA protocol applied to thousands of S. cerevisiae
cultures which are automatically handled by robots during inoculation, incubation and imaging. Any of these automated steps can be replaced by an equivalent, manual procedure, with an associated reduction in throughput, and we also present a lower throughput manual protocol. The same QFA software tools can be applied to images captured in either workflow.
We have extensive experience applying QFA to cultures of the budding yeast S. cerevisiae
but we expect that QFA will prove equally useful for examining cultures of the fission yeast S. pombe
and bacterial cultures.
Physiology, Issue 66, Medicine, Robotic, microbial, culture, yeast, array, library, high-throughput, analysis, fitness, growth rate, quantitative, solid agar
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Determining Cell Number During Cell Culture using the Scepter Cell Counter
Institutions: Millipore Inc.
Counting cells is often a necessary but tedious step for in vitro
cell culture. Consistent cell concentrations ensure experimental reproducibility and accuracy. Cell counts are important for monitoring cell health and proliferation rate, assessing immortalization or transformation, seeding cells for subsequent experiments, transfection or infection, and preparing for cell-based assays. It is important that cell counts be accurate, consistent, and fast, particularly for quantitative measurements of cellular responses.
Despite this need for speed and accuracy in cell counting, 71% of 400 researchers surveyed1
who count cells using a hemocytometer. While hemocytometry is inexpensive, it is laborious and subject to user bias and misuse, which results in inaccurate counts. Hemocytometers are made of special optical glass on which cell suspensions are loaded in specified volumes and counted under a microscope. Sources of errors in hemocytometry include: uneven cell distribution in the sample, too many or too few cells in the sample, subjective decisions as to whether a given cell falls within the defined counting area, contamination of the hemocytometer, user-to-user variation, and variation of hemocytometer filling rate2
To alleviate the tedium associated with manual counting, 29% of researchers count cells using automated cell counting devices; these include vision-based counters, systems that detect cells using the Coulter principle, or flow cytometry1
. For most researchers, the main barrier to using an automated system is the price associated with these large benchtop instruments1
The Scepter cell counter is an automated handheld device that offers the automation and accuracy of Coulter counting at a relatively low cost. The system employs the Coulter principle of impedance-based particle detection3
in a miniaturized format using a combination of analog and digital hardware for sensing, signal processing, data storage, and graphical display. The disposable tip is engineered with a microfabricated, cell- sensing zone that enables discrimination by cell size and cell volume at sub-micron and sub-picoliter resolution. Enhanced with precision liquid-handling channels and electronics, the Scepter cell counter reports cell population statistics graphically displayed as a histogram.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, Scepter, cell counting, cell culture, hemocytometer, Coulter, Impedance-based particle detection
Quantitative Real-Time PCR using the Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Assay
Institutions: Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Products.
The Solaris qPCR Gene Expression Assay is a novel type of primer/probe set, designed to simplify the qPCR process while maintaining the sensitivity and accuracy of the assay. These primer/probe sets are pre-designed to >98% of the human and mouse genomes and feature significant improvements from previously available technologies. These improvements were made possible by virtue of a novel design algorithm, developed by Thermo Scientific bioinformatics experts.
Several convenient features have been incorporated into the Solaris qPCR Assay to streamline the process of performing quantitative real-time PCR. First, the protocol is similar to commonly employed alternatives, so the methods used during qPCR are likely to be familiar. Second, the master mix is blue, which makes setting the qPCR reactions easier to track. Third, the thermal cycling conditions are the same for all assays (genes), making it possible to run many samples at a time and reducing the potential for error. Finally, the probe and primer sequence information are provided, simplifying the publication process.
Here, we demonstrate how to obtain the appropriate Solaris reagents using the GENEius product search feature found on the ordering web site (www.thermo.com/solaris) and how to use the Solaris reagents for performing qPCR using the standard curve method.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, qPCR, probe, real-time PCR, molecular biology, Solaris, primer, gene expression assays
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1
. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1
. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2
to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4
and has been used in other studies5-8
The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9
, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10
, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11
, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well.
Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor.
Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run.
Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut