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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
A Strategy for Sensitive, Large Scale Quantitative Metabolomics
Institutions: Cornell University, Cornell University.
Metabolite profiling has been a valuable asset in the study of metabolism in health and disease. However, current platforms have different limiting factors, such as labor intensive sample preparations, low detection limits, slow scan speeds, intensive method optimization for each metabolite, and the inability to measure both positively and negatively charged ions in single experiments. Therefore, a novel metabolomics protocol could advance metabolomics studies. Amide-based hydrophilic chromatography enables polar metabolite analysis without any chemical derivatization. High resolution MS using the Q-Exactive (QE-MS) has improved ion optics, increased scan speeds (256 msec at resolution 70,000), and has the capability of carrying out positive/negative switching. Using a cold methanol extraction strategy, and coupling an amide column with QE-MS enables robust detection of 168 targeted polar metabolites and thousands of additional features simultaneously. Data processing is carried out with commercially available software in a highly efficient way, and unknown features extracted from the mass spectra can be queried in databases.
Chemistry, Issue 87, high-resolution mass spectrometry, metabolomics, positive/negative switching, low mass calibration, Orbitrap
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.
Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
Institutions: NeuroCog Trials, Inc., Duke-NUS Graduate Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, Fox Evaluation and Consulting, PLLC, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes. Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements. Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning. Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity. The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
Behavior, Issue 86, Virtual Reality, Cognitive Assessment, Functional Capacity, Computer Based Assessment, Schizophrenia, Neuropsychology, Aging, Dementia
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
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
An Inverse Analysis Approach to the Characterization of Chemical Transport in Paints
Institutions: U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, OptiMetrics, Inc., a DCS Company.
The ability to directly characterize chemical transport and interactions that occur within a material (i.e.
, subsurface dynamics) is a vital component in understanding contaminant mass transport and the ability to decontaminate materials. If a material is contaminated, over time, the transport of highly toxic chemicals (such as chemical warfare agent species) out of the material can result in vapor exposure or transfer to the skin, which can result in percutaneous exposure to personnel who interact with the material. Due to the high toxicity of chemical warfare agents, the release of trace chemical quantities is of significant concern. Mapping subsurface concentration distribution and transport characteristics of absorbed agents enables exposure hazards to be assessed in untested conditions. Furthermore, these tools can be used to characterize subsurface reaction dynamics to ultimately design improved decontaminants or decontamination procedures. To achieve this goal, an inverse analysis mass transport modeling approach was developed that utilizes time-resolved mass spectroscopy measurements of vapor emission from contaminated paint coatings as the input parameter for calculation of subsurface concentration profiles. Details are provided on sample preparation, including contaminant and material handling, the application of mass spectrometry for the measurement of emitted contaminant vapor, and the implementation of inverse analysis using a physics-based diffusion model to determine transport properties of live chemical warfare agents including distilled mustard (HD) and the nerve agent VX.
Chemistry, Issue 90, Vacuum, vapor emission, chemical warfare agent, contamination, mass transport, inverse analysis, volatile organic compound, paint, coating
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Preparation of a Blood Culture Pellet for Rapid Bacterial Identification and Antibiotic Susceptibility Testing
Institutions: University Hospital Center and University of Lausanne.
Bloodstream infections and sepsis are a major cause of morbidity and mortality. The successful outcome of patients suffering from bacteremia depends on a rapid identification of the infectious agent to guide optimal antibiotic treatment. The analysis of Gram stains from positive blood culture can be rapidly conducted and already significantly impact the antibiotic regimen. However, the accurate identification of the infectious agent is still required to establish the optimal targeted treatment. We present here a simple and fast bacterial pellet preparation from a positive blood culture that can be used as a sample for several essential downstream applications such as identification by MALDI-TOF MS, antibiotic susceptibility testing (AST) by disc diffusion assay or automated AST systems and by automated PCR-based diagnostic testing. The performance of these different identification and AST systems applied directly on the blood culture bacterial pellets is very similar to the performance normally obtained from isolated colonies grown on agar plates. Compared to conventional approaches, the rapid acquisition of a bacterial pellet significantly reduces the time to report both identification and AST. Thus, following blood culture positivity, identification by MALDI-TOF can be reported within less than 1 hr whereas results of AST by automated AST systems or disc diffusion assays within 8 to 18 hr, respectively. Similarly, the results of a rapid PCR-based assay can be communicated to the clinicians less than 2 hr following the report of a bacteremia. Together, these results demonstrate that the rapid preparation of a blood culture bacterial pellet has a significant impact on the identification and AST turnaround time and thus on the successful outcome of patients suffering from bloodstream infections.
Immunology, Issue 92, blood culture, bacteriology, identification, antibiotic susceptibility testing, MALDI-TOF MS.
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
Matrix-assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Time of Flight (MALDI-TOF) Mass Spectrometric Analysis of Intact Proteins Larger than 100 kDa
Institutions: Université J. Fourier.
Effectively determining masses of proteins is critical to many biological studies (e.g.
for structural biology investigations). Accurate mass determination allows one to evaluate the correctness of protein primary sequences, the presence of mutations and/or post-translational modifications, the possible protein degradation, the sample homogeneity, and the degree of isotope incorporation in case of labelling (e.g. 13
Electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry (MS) is widely used for mass determination of denatured proteins, but its efficiency is affected by the composition of the sample buffer. In particular, the presence of salts, detergents, and contaminants severely undermines the effectiveness of protein analysis by ESI-MS. Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) MS is an attractive alternative, due to its salt tolerance and the simplicity of data acquisition and interpretation. Moreover, the mass determination of large heterogeneous proteins (bigger than 100 kDa) is easier by MALDI-MS due to the absence of overlapping high charge state distributions which are present in ESI spectra.
Here we present an accessible approach for analyzing proteins larger than 100 kDa by MALDI-time of flight (TOF). We illustrate the advantages of using a mixture of two matrices (i.e.
2,5-dihydroxybenzoic acid and α-cyano-4-hydroxycinnamic acid) and the utility of the thin layer method as approach for sample deposition. We also discuss the critical role of the matrix and solvent purity, of the standards used for calibration, of the laser energy, and of the acquisition time. Overall, we provide information necessary to a novice for analyzing intact proteins larger than 100 kDa by MALDI-MS.
Chemistry, Issue 79, Chemistry Techniques, Analytical, Mass Spectrometry, Analytic Sample Preparation Methods, biochemistry, Analysis of intact proteins, mass spectrometry, matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization, time of flight, sample preparation
Patterned Photostimulation with Digital Micromirror Devices to Investigate Dendritic Integration Across Branch Points
Institutions: University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Light is a versatile and precise means to control neuronal excitability. The recent introduction of light sensitive effectors such as channel-rhodopsin and caged neurotransmitters have led to interests in developing better means to control patterns of light in space and time that are useful for experimental neuroscience. One conventional strategy, employed in confocal and 2-photon microscopy, is to focus light to a diffraction limited spot and then scan that single spot sequentially over the region of interest. This approach becomes problematic if large areas have to be stimulated within a brief time window, a problem more applicable to photostimulation than for imaging. An alternate strategy is to project the complete spatial pattern on the target with the aid of a digital micromirror device (DMD). The DMD approach is appealing because the hardware components are relatively inexpensive and is supported by commercial interests. Because such a system is not available for upright microscopes, we will discuss the critical issues in the construction and operations of such a DMD system. Even though we will be primarily describing the construction of the system for UV photolysis, the modifications for building the much simpler visible light system for optogenetic experiments will also be provided. The UV photolysis system was used to carryout experiments to study a fundamental question in neuroscience, how are spatially distributed inputs integrated across distal dendritic branch points. The results suggest that integration can be non-linear across branch points and the supralinearity is largely mediated by NMDA receptors.
Bioengineering, Issue 49, DMD, photolysis, dendrite, photostimulation, DLP, optogenetics
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
Measuring the Subjective Value of Risky and Ambiguous Options using Experimental Economics and Functional MRI Methods
Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New York University , New York University , New York University .
Most of the choices we make have uncertain consequences. In some cases the probabilities for different possible outcomes are precisely known, a condition termed "risky". In other cases when probabilities cannot be estimated, this is a condition described as "ambiguous". While most people are averse to both risk and ambiguity1,2
, the degree of those aversions vary substantially across individuals, such that the subjective value
of the same risky or ambiguous option can be very different for different individuals. We combine functional MRI (fMRI) with an experimental economics-based method3
to assess the neural representation of the subjective values of risky and ambiguous options4
. This technique can be now used to study these neural representations in different populations, such as different age groups and different patient populations.
In our experiment, subjects make consequential choices between two alternatives while their neural activation is tracked using fMRI. On each trial subjects choose between lotteries that vary in their monetary amount and in either the probability of winning that amount or the ambiguity level associated with winning. Our parametric design allows us to use each individual's choice behavior to estimate their attitudes towards risk and ambiguity, and thus to estimate the subjective values that each option held for them. Another important feature of the design is that the outcome of the chosen lottery is not revealed during the experiment, so that no learning can take place, and thus the ambiguous options remain ambiguous and risk attitudes are stable. Instead, at the end of the scanning session one or few trials are randomly selected and played for real money. Since subjects do not know beforehand which trials will be selected, they must treat each and every trial as if it and it alone was the one trial on which they will be paid. This design ensures that we can estimate the true subjective value of each option to each subject. We then look for areas in the brain whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of risky options and for areas whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of ambiguous options.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Medicine, Molecular Biology, fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging, decision-making, value, uncertainty, risk, ambiguity
A Novel Bayesian Change-point Algorithm for Genome-wide Analysis of Diverse ChIPseq Data Types
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Texas at Dallas.
ChIPseq is a widely used technique for investigating protein-DNA interactions. Read density profiles are generated by using next-sequencing of protein-bound DNA and aligning the short reads to a reference genome. Enriched regions are revealed as peaks, which often differ dramatically in shape, depending on the target protein1
. For example, transcription factors often bind in a site- and sequence-specific manner and tend to produce punctate peaks, while histone modifications are more pervasive and are characterized by broad, diffuse islands of enrichment2
. Reliably identifying these regions was the focus of our work.
Algorithms for analyzing ChIPseq data have employed various methodologies, from heuristics3-5
to more rigorous statistical models, e.g.
Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)6-8
. We sought a solution that minimized the necessity for difficult-to-define, ad hoc parameters that often compromise resolution and lessen the intuitive usability of the tool. With respect to HMM-based methods, we aimed to curtail parameter estimation procedures and simple, finite state classifications that are often utilized.
Additionally, conventional ChIPseq data analysis involves categorization of the expected read density profiles as either punctate or diffuse followed by subsequent application of the appropriate tool. We further aimed to replace the need for these two distinct models with a single, more versatile model, which can capably address the entire spectrum of data types.
To meet these objectives, we first constructed a statistical framework that naturally modeled ChIPseq data structures using a cutting edge advance in HMMs9
, which utilizes only explicit formulas-an innovation crucial to its performance advantages. More sophisticated then heuristic models, our HMM accommodates infinite hidden states through a Bayesian model. We applied it to identifying reasonable change points in read density, which further define segments of enrichment. Our analysis revealed how our Bayesian Change Point (BCP) algorithm had a reduced computational complexity-evidenced by an abridged run time and memory footprint. The BCP algorithm was successfully applied to both punctate peak and diffuse island identification with robust accuracy and limited user-defined parameters. This illustrated both its versatility and ease of use. Consequently, we believe it can be implemented readily across broad ranges of data types and end users in a manner that is easily compared and contrasted, making it a great tool for ChIPseq data analysis that can aid in collaboration and corroboration between research groups. Here, we demonstrate the application of BCP to existing transcription factor10,11
and epigenetic data12
to illustrate its usefulness.
Genetics, Issue 70, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Immunology, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP-Seq, histone modifications, segmentation, Bayesian, Hidden Markov Models, epigenetics
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
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
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
The Generation of Higher-order Laguerre-Gauss Optical Beams for High-precision Interferometry
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Thermal noise in high-reflectivity mirrors is a major impediment for several types of high-precision interferometric experiments that aim to reach the standard quantum limit or to cool mechanical systems to their quantum ground state. This is for example the case of future gravitational wave observatories, whose sensitivity to gravitational wave signals is expected to be limited in the most sensitive frequency band, by atomic vibration of their mirror masses. One promising approach being pursued to overcome this limitation is to employ higher-order Laguerre-Gauss (LG) optical beams in place of the conventionally used fundamental mode. Owing to their more homogeneous light intensity distribution these beams average more effectively over the thermally driven fluctuations of the mirror surface, which in turn reduces the uncertainty in the mirror position sensed by the laser light.
We demonstrate a promising method to generate higher-order LG beams by shaping a fundamental Gaussian beam with the help of diffractive optical elements. We show that with conventional sensing and control techniques that are known for stabilizing fundamental laser beams, higher-order LG modes can be purified and stabilized just as well at a comparably high level. A set of diagnostic tools allows us to control and tailor the properties of generated LG beams. This enabled us to produce an LG beam with the highest purity reported to date. The demonstrated compatibility of higher-order LG modes with standard interferometry techniques and with the use of standard spherical optics makes them an ideal candidate for application in a future generation of high-precision interferometry.
Physics, Issue 78, Optics, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Gravitational waves, Laser interferometry, Metrology, Thermal noise, Laguerre-Gauss modes, interferometry
Spatial Multiobjective Optimization of Agricultural Conservation Practices using a SWAT Model and an Evolutionary Algorithm
Institutions: University of Washington, Iowa State University, North Carolina A&T University, Iowa Geological and Water Survey.
Finding the cost-efficient (i.e.
, lowest-cost) ways of targeting conservation practice investments for the achievement of specific water quality goals across the landscape is of primary importance in watershed management. Traditional economics methods of finding the lowest-cost solution in the watershed context (e.g.
) assume that off-site impacts can be accurately described as a proportion of on-site pollution generated. Such approaches are unlikely to be representative of the actual pollution process in a watershed, where the impacts of polluting sources are often determined by complex biophysical processes. The use of modern physically-based, spatially distributed hydrologic simulation models allows for a greater degree of realism in terms of process representation but requires a development of a simulation-optimization framework where the model becomes an integral part of optimization.
Evolutionary algorithms appear to be a particularly useful optimization tool, able to deal with the combinatorial nature of a watershed simulation-optimization problem and allowing the use of the full water quality model. Evolutionary algorithms treat a particular spatial allocation of conservation practices in a watershed as a candidate solution and utilize sets (populations) of candidate solutions iteratively applying stochastic operators of selection, recombination, and mutation to find improvements with respect to the optimization objectives. The optimization objectives in this case are to minimize nonpoint-source pollution in the watershed, simultaneously minimizing the cost of conservation practices. A recent and expanding set of research is attempting to use similar methods and integrates water quality models with broadly defined evolutionary optimization methods3,4,9,10,13-15,17-19,22,23,25
. In this application, we demonstrate a program which follows Rabotyagov et al.'s approach and integrates a modern and commonly used SWAT water quality model7
with a multiobjective evolutionary algorithm SPEA226
, and user-specified set of conservation practices and their costs to search for the complete tradeoff frontiers between costs of conservation practices and user-specified water quality objectives. The frontiers quantify the tradeoffs faced by the watershed managers by presenting the full range of costs associated with various water quality improvement goals. The program allows for a selection of watershed configurations achieving specified water quality improvement goals and a production of maps of optimized placement of conservation practices.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 70, Plant Biology, Civil Engineering, Forest Sciences, Water quality, multiobjective optimization, evolutionary algorithms, cost efficiency, agriculture, development
Automated Midline Shift and Intracranial Pressure Estimation based on Brain CT Images
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University Reanimation Engineering Science (VCURES) Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University.
In this paper we present an automated system based mainly on the computed tomography (CT) images consisting of two main components: the midline shift estimation and intracranial pressure (ICP) pre-screening system. To estimate the midline shift, first an estimation of the ideal midline is performed based on the symmetry of the skull and anatomical features in the brain CT scan. Then, segmentation of the ventricles from the CT scan is performed and used as a guide for the identification of the actual midline through shape matching. These processes mimic the measuring process by physicians and have shown promising results in the evaluation. In the second component, more features are extracted related to ICP, such as the texture information, blood amount from CT scans and other recorded features, such as age, injury severity score to estimate the ICP are also incorporated. Machine learning techniques including feature selection and classification, such as Support Vector Machines (SVMs), are employed to build the prediction model using RapidMiner. The evaluation of the prediction shows potential usefulness of the model. The estimated ideal midline shift and predicted ICP levels may be used as a fast pre-screening step for physicians to make decisions, so as to recommend for or against invasive ICP monitoring.
Medicine, Issue 74, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology, Biophysics, Physiology, Anatomy, Brain CT Image Processing, CT, Midline Shift, Intracranial Pressure Pre-screening, Gaussian Mixture Model, Shape Matching, Machine Learning, traumatic brain injury, TBI, imaging, clinical techniques
Designing and Implementing Nervous System Simulations on LEGO Robots
Institutions: Northeastern University, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
We present a method to use the commercially available LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics platform to test systems level neuroscience hypotheses. The first step of the method is to develop a nervous system simulation of specific reflexive behaviors of an appropriate model organism; here we use the American Lobster. Exteroceptive reflexes mediated by decussating (crossing) neural connections can explain an animal's taxis towards or away from a stimulus as described by Braitenberg and are particularly well suited for investigation using the NXT platform.1
The nervous system simulation is programmed using LabVIEW software on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. Once the nervous system is tuned properly, behavioral experiments are run on the robot and on the animal under identical environmental conditions. By controlling the sensory milieu experienced by the specimens, differences in behavioral outputs can be observed. These differences may point to specific deficiencies in the nervous system model and serve to inform the iteration of the model for the particular behavior under study. This method allows for the experimental manipulation of electronic nervous systems and serves as a way to explore neuroscience hypotheses specifically regarding the neurophysiological basis of simple innate reflexive behaviors. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit provides an affordable and efficient platform on which to test preliminary biomimetic robot control schemes. The approach is also well suited for the high school classroom to serve as the foundation for a hands-on inquiry-based biorobotics curriculum.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Bioengineering, Behavior, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Marine Biology, Biomimetics, Marine Science, Neurosciences, Synthetic Biology, Robotics, robots, Modeling, models, Sensory Fusion, nervous system, Educational Tools, programming, software, lobster, Homarus americanus, animal model
Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease