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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Prostaglandin Extraction and Analysis in Caenorhabditis elegans
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Alabama at Birmingham.
is emerging as a powerful animal model to study the biology of lipids1-9
. Prostaglandins are an important class of eicosanoids, which are lipid signals derived from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)10-14
. These signalling molecules are difficult to study because of their low abundance and reactive nature. The characteristic feature of prostaglandins is a cyclopentane ring structure located within the fatty acid backbone. In mammals, prostaglandins can be formed through cyclooxygenase enzyme-dependent and -independent pathways10,15
. C. elegans
synthesizes a wide array of prostaglandins independent of cyclooxygenases6,16,17
. A large class of F-series prostaglandins has been identified, but the study of eicosanoids is at an early stage with ample room for new discoveries. Here we describe a procedure for extracting and analyzing prostaglandins and other eicosanoids. Charged lipids are extracted from mass worm cultures using a liquid-liquid extraction technique and analyzed by liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS/MS). The inclusion of deuterated analogs of prostaglandins, such as PGF2 α
as an internal standard is recommended for quantitative analysis. Multiple reaction monitoring or MRM can be used to quantify and compare specific prostaglandin types between wild-type and mutant animals. Collision-induced decomposition or MS/MS can be used to obtain information on important structural features. Liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) survey scans of a selected mass range, such as m/z
315-360 can be used to evaluate global changes in prostaglandin levels. We provide examples of all three analyses. These methods will provide researchers with a toolset for discovering novel eicosanoids and delineating their metabolic pathways.
Developmental Biology, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Eicosanoids, Tandem Mass Spectrometry, Fertilization, C. elegans, prostaglandin, eicosanoid, polyunsaturated fatty acid, extraction, mass spectrometry, lipidomics, lipids
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
Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1
. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2
or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4
. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g.
PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6
and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10
. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
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
A New Approach for the Comparative Analysis of Multiprotein Complexes Based on 15N Metabolic Labeling and Quantitative Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: University of Münster, Carnegie Institution for Science.
The introduced protocol provides a tool for the analysis of multiprotein complexes in the thylakoid membrane, by revealing insights into complex composition under different conditions. In this protocol the approach is demonstrated by comparing the composition of the protein complex responsible for cyclic electron flow (CEF) in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii
, isolated from genetically different strains. The procedure comprises the isolation of thylakoid membranes, followed by their separation into multiprotein complexes by sucrose density gradient centrifugation, SDS-PAGE, immunodetection and comparative, quantitative mass spectrometry (MS) based on differential metabolic labeling (14
N) of the analyzed strains. Detergent solubilized thylakoid membranes are loaded on sucrose density gradients at equal chlorophyll concentration. After ultracentrifugation, the gradients are separated into fractions, which are analyzed by mass-spectrometry based on equal volume. This approach allows the investigation of the composition within the gradient fractions and moreover to analyze the migration behavior of different proteins, especially focusing on ANR1, CAS, and PGRL1. Furthermore, this method is demonstrated by confirming the results with immunoblotting and additionally by supporting the findings from previous studies (the identification and PSI-dependent migration of proteins that were previously described to be part of the CEF-supercomplex such as PGRL1, FNR, and cyt f
). Notably, this approach is applicable to address a broad range of questions for which this protocol can be adopted and e.g.
used for comparative analyses of multiprotein complex composition isolated from distinct environmental conditions.
Microbiology, Issue 85, Sucrose density gradients, Chlamydomonas, multiprotein complexes, 15N metabolic labeling, thylakoids
Methods for Quantitative Detection of Antibody-induced Complement Activation on Red Blood Cells
Institutions: University of Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam.
Antibodies against red blood cells (RBCs) can lead to complement activation resulting in an accelerated clearance via complement receptors in the liver (extravascular hemolysis) or leading to intravascular lysis of RBCs. Alloantibodies (e.g.
ABO) or autoantibodies to RBC antigens (as seen in autoimmune hemolytic anemia, AIHA) leading to complement activation are potentially harmful and can be - especially when leading to intravascular lysis - fatal1
. Currently, complement activation due to (auto)-antibodies on RBCs is assessed in vitro
by using the Coombs test reflecting complement deposition on RBC or by a nonquantitative hemolytic assay reflecting RBC lysis1-4
. However, to assess the efficacy of complement inhibitors, it is mandatory to have quantitative techniques. Here we describe two such techniques. First, an assay to detect C3 and C4 deposition on red blood cells that is induced by antibodies in patient serum is presented. For this, FACS analysis is used with fluorescently labeled anti-C3 or anti-C4 antibodies. Next, a quantitative hemolytic assay is described. In this assay, complement-mediated hemolysis induced by patient serum is measured making use of spectrophotometric detection of the released hemoglobin. Both of these assays are very reproducible and quantitative, facilitating studies of antibody-induced complement activation.
Immunology, Issue 83, Complement, red blood cells, auto-immune hemolytic anemia, hemolytic assay, FACS, antibodies, C1-inhibitor
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
Stabilizing Hepatocellular Phenotype Using Optimized Synthetic Surfaces
Institutions: University of Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh.
Currently, one of the major limitations in cell biology is maintaining differentiated cell phenotype. Biological matrices are commonly used for culturing and maintaining primary and pluripotent stem cell derived hepatocytes. While biological matrices are useful, they permit short term culture of hepatocytes, limiting their widespread application. We have attempted to overcome the limitations using a synthetic polymer coating. Polymers represent one of the broadest classes of biomaterials and possess a wide range of mechanical, physical and chemical properties, which can be fine-tuned for purpose. Importantly, such materials can be scaled to quality assured standards and display batch-to-batch consistency. This is essential if cells are to be expanded for high through-put screening in the pharmaceutical testing industry or for cellular based therapy. Polyurethanes (PUs) are one group of materials that have shown promise in cell culture. Our recent progress in optimizing a polyurethane coated surface, for long-term culture of human hepatocytes displaying stable phenotype, is presented and discussed.
Chemistry, Issue 91, Pluripotent stem cell, polyurethane, polymer coating, p450 metabolism, stable phenotype, gamma irradiation, ultraviolet irradiation.
Assessment of Mitochondrial Functions and Cell Viability in Renal Cells Overexpressing Protein Kinase C Isozymes
Institutions: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences .
The protein kinase C (PKC) family of isozymes is involved in numerous physiological and pathological processes. Our recent data demonstrate that PKC regulates mitochondrial function and cellular energy status. Numerous reports demonstrated that the activation of PKC-a and PKC-ε improves mitochondrial function in the ischemic heart and mediates cardioprotection. In contrast, we have demonstrated that PKC-α and PKC-ε are involved in nephrotoxicant-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and cell death in kidney cells. Therefore, the goal of this study was to develop an in vitro
model of renal cells maintaining active mitochondrial functions in which PKC isozymes could be selectively activated or inhibited to determine their role in regulation of oxidative phosphorylation and cell survival. Primary cultures of renal proximal tubular cells (RPTC) were cultured in improved conditions resulting in mitochondrial respiration and activity of mitochondrial enzymes similar to those in RPTC in vivo
. Because traditional transfection techniques (Lipofectamine, electroporation) are inefficient in primary cultures and have adverse effects on mitochondrial function, PKC-ε mutant cDNAs were delivered to RPTC through adenoviral vectors. This approach results in transfection of over 90% cultured RPTC.
Here, we present methods for assessing the role of PKC-ε in: 1. regulation of mitochondrial morphology and functions associated with ATP synthesis, and 2. survival of RPTC in primary culture. PKC-ε is activated by overexpressing the constitutively active PKC-ε mutant. PKC-ε is inhibited by overexpressing the inactive mutant of PKC-ε. Mitochondrial function is assessed by examining respiration, integrity of the respiratory chain, activities of respiratory complexes and F0
-ATPase, ATP production rate, and ATP content. Respiration is assessed in digitonin-permeabilized RPTC as state 3 (maximum respiration in the presence of excess substrates and ADP) and uncoupled respirations. Integrity of the respiratory chain is assessed by measuring activities of all four complexes of the respiratory chain in isolated mitochondria. Capacity of oxidative phosphorylation is evaluated by measuring the mitochondrial membrane potential, ATP production rate, and activity of F0
-ATPase. Energy status of RPTC is assessed by determining the intracellular ATP content. Mitochondrial morphology in live cells is visualized using MitoTracker Red 580, a fluorescent dye that specifically accumulates in mitochondria, and live monolayers are examined under a fluorescent microscope. RPTC viability is assessed using annexin V/propidium iodide staining followed by flow cytometry to determine apoptosis and oncosis.
These methods allow for a selective activation/inhibition of individual PKC isozymes to assess their role in cellular functions in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions that can be reproduced in in vitro
Cellular Biology, Issue 71, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Pharmacology, Physiology, Medicine, Protein, Mitochondrial dysfunction, mitochondria, protein kinase C, renal proximal tubular cells, reactive oxygen species, oxygen consumption, electron transport chain, respiratory complexes, ATP, adenovirus, primary culture, ischemia, cells, flow cytometry
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
Respirometric Oxidative Phosphorylation Assessment in Saponin-permeabilized Cardiac Fibers
Institutions: University of Calgary, University of Calgary.
Investigation of mitochondrial function represents an important parameter of cardiac physiology as mitochondria are involved in energy metabolism, oxidative stress, apoptosis, aging, mitochondrial encephalomyopathies and drug toxicity. Given this, technologies to measure cardiac mitochondrial function are in demand. One technique that employs an integrative approach to measure mitochondrial function is respirometric oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) analysis.
The principle of respirometric OXPHOS assessment is centered around measuring oxygen concentration utilizing a Clark electrode. As the permeabilized fiber bundle consumes oxygen, oxygen concentration in the closed chamber declines. Using selected substrate-inhibitor-uncoupler titration protocols, electrons are provided to specific sites of the electron transport chain, allowing evaluation of mitochondrial function. Prior to respirometric analysis of mitochondrial function, mechanical and chemical preparatory techniques are utilized to permeabilize the sarcolemma of muscle fibers. Chemical permeabilization employs saponin to selectively perforate the cell membrane while maintaining cellular architecture.
This paper thoroughly describes the steps involved in preparing saponin-skinned cardiac fibers for oxygen consumption measurements to evaluate mitochondrial OXPHOS. Additionally, troubleshooting advice as well as specific substrates, inhibitors and uncouplers that may be used to determine mitochondria function at specific sites of the electron transport chain are provided. Importantly, the described protocol may be easily applied to cardiac and skeletal tissue of various animal models and human samples.
Physiology, Issue 48, cardiac fibers, mitochondria, oxygen consumption, mouse, methodology
Activation of Apoptosis by Cytoplasmic Microinjection of Cytochrome c
Institutions: University of North Carolina , University of North Carolina .
Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a conserved and highly regulated pathway by which cells die1
. Apoptosis can be triggered when cells encounter a wide range of cytotoxic stresses. These insults initiate signaling cascades that ultimately cause the release of cytochrome c
from the mitochondrial intermembrane space to the cytoplasm2
. The release of cytochrome c
from mitochondria is a key event that triggers the rapid activation of caspases, the key cellular proteases which ultimately execute cell death3-4
The pathway of apoptosis is regulated at points upstream and downstream of cytochrome c
release from mitochondria5
. In order to study the post-mitochondrial regulation of caspase activation, many investigators have turned to direct cytoplasmic microinjection of holocytochrome c
(heme-attached) protein into cells6-9
. Cytochrome c
is normally localized to the mitochondria where attachment of a heme group is necessary to enable it to activate apoptosis10-11
. Therefore, to directly activate caspases, it is necessary to inject the holocytochrome c
protein instead of its cDNA, because while the expression of cytochrome c
from cDNA constructs will result in mitochondrial targeting and heme attachment, it will be sequestered from cytosolic caspases. Thus, the direct cytosolic microinjection of purified heme-attached cytochrome c
protein is a useful tool to mimic mitochondrial cytochrome c
release and apoptosis without the use of toxic insults which cause cellular and mitochondrial damage.
In this article, we describe a method for the microinjection of cytochrome c
protein into cells, using mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) and primary sympathetic neurons as examples. While this protocol focuses on the injection of cytochrome c
for investigations of apoptosis, the techniques shown here can also be easily adapted for microinjection of other proteins of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 52, Microinjection, apoptosis, cytochrome c, fibroblasts, neurons
Robust Generation of Hepatocyte-like Cells from Human Embryonic Stem Cell Populations
Institutions: University of Edinburgh.
Despite progress in modelling human drug toxicity, many compounds fail during clinical trials due to unpredicted side effects. The cost of clinical studies are substantial, therefore it is essential that more predictive toxicology screens are developed and deployed early on in drug development (Greenhough et al 2010). Human hepatocytes represent the current gold standard model for evaluating drug toxicity, but are a limited resource that exhibit variable function. Therefore, the use of immortalised cell lines and animal tissue models are routinely employed due to their abundance. While both sources are informative, they are limited by poor function, species variability and/or instability in culture (Dalgetty et al 2009). Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) are an attractive alternative source of human hepatocyte like cells (HLCs) (Medine et al 2010). PSCs are capable of self renewal and differentiation to all somatic cell types found in the adult and thereby represent a potentially inexhaustible source of differentiated cells. We have developed a procedure that is simple, highly efficient, amenable to automation and yields functional human HLCs (Hay et al 2008 ; Fletcher et al 2008 ; Hannoun et al 2010 ; Payne et al 2011 and Hay et al 2011). We believe our technology will lead to the scalable production of HLCs for drug discovery, disease modeling, the construction of extra-corporeal devices and possibly cell based transplantation therapies.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Stem Cells, hESC, Development, Endoderm, Liver, Hepatocyte, Endocrine Function, Exocrine Function
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Cellular Lipid Extraction for Targeted Stable Isotope Dilution Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry Analysis
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania , University of Pennsylvania .
The metabolism of fatty acids, such as arachidonic acid (AA) and linoleic acid (LA), results in the formation of oxidized bioactive lipids, including numerous stereoisomers1,2
. These metabolites can be formed from free or esterified fatty acids. Many of these oxidized metabolites have biological activity and have been implicated in various diseases including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, asthma, and cancer3-7
. Oxidized bioactive lipids can be formed enzymatically or by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Enzymes that metabolize fatty acids include cyclooxygenase (COX), lipoxygenase (LO), and cytochromes P450 (CYPs)1,8
. Enzymatic metabolism results in enantioselective formation whereas ROS oxidation results in the racemic formation of products.
While this protocol focuses primarily on the analysis of AA- and some LA-derived bioactive metabolites; it could be easily applied to metabolites of other fatty acids. Bioactive lipids are extracted from cell lysate or media using liquid-liquid (l-l) extraction. At the beginning of the l-l extraction process, stable isotope internal standards are added to account for errors during sample preparation. Stable isotope dilution (SID) also accounts for any differences, such as ion suppression, that metabolites may experience during the mass spectrometry (MS) analysis9
. After the extraction, derivatization with an electron capture (EC) reagent, pentafluorylbenzyl bromide (PFB) is employed to increase detection sensitivity10,11
. Multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) is used to increase the selectivity of the MS analysis. Before MS analysis, lipids are separated using chiral normal phase high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The HPLC conditions are optimized to separate the enantiomers and various stereoisomers of the monitored lipids12
. This specific LC-MS method monitors prostaglandins (PGs), isoprostanes (isoPs), hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acids (HETEs), hydroxyoctadecadienoic acids (HODEs), oxoeicosatetraenoic acids (oxoETEs) and oxooctadecadienoic acids (oxoODEs); however, the HPLC and MS parameters can be optimized to include any fatty acid metabolites13
Most of the currently available bioanalytical methods do not take into account the separate quantification of enantiomers. This is extremely important when trying to deduce whether or not the metabolites were formed enzymatically or by ROS. Additionally, the ratios of the enantiomers may provide evidence for a specific enzymatic pathway of formation. The use of SID allows for accurate quantification of metabolites and accounts for any sample loss during preparation as well as the differences experienced during ionization. Using the PFB electron capture reagent increases the sensitivity of detection by two orders of magnitude over conventional APCI methods. Overall, this method, SID-LC-EC-atmospheric pressure chemical ionization APCI-MRM/MS, is one of the most sensitive, selective, and accurate methods of quantification for bioactive lipids.
Bioengineering, Issue 57, lipids, extraction, stable isotope dilution, chiral chromatography, electron capture, mass spectrometry
Annotation of Plant Gene Function via Combined Genomics, Metabolomics and Informatics
Given the ever expanding number of model plant species for which complete genome sequences are available and the abundance of bio-resources such as knockout mutants, wild accessions and advanced breeding populations, there is a rising burden for gene functional annotation. In this protocol, annotation of plant gene function using combined co-expression gene analysis, metabolomics and informatics is provided (Figure 1
). This approach is based on the theory of using target genes of known function to allow the identification of non-annotated genes likely to be involved in a certain metabolic process, with the identification of target compounds via metabolomics. Strategies are put forward for applying this information on populations generated by both forward and reverse genetics approaches in spite of none of these are effortless. By corollary this approach can also be used as an approach to characterise unknown peaks representing new or specific secondary metabolites in the limited tissues, plant species or stress treatment, which is currently the important trial to understanding plant metabolism.
Plant Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Metabolomics, Plant metabolism, Transcriptome analysis, Functional annotation, Computational biology, Plant biology, Theoretical biology, Spectroscopy and structural analysis
The CYP2D6 Animal Model: How to Induce Autoimmune Hepatitis in Mice
Institutions: Goethe University Hospital Frankfurt.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare but life threatening autoimmune disease of the liver of unknown etiology1,2
. In the past many attempts have been made to generate an animal model that reflects the characteristics of the human disease 3-5
. However, in various models the induction of disease was rather complex and often hepatitis was only transient3-5
. Therefore, we have developed a straightforward mouse model that uses the major human autoantigen in type 2 autoimmune hepatitis (AIH-2), namely hCYP2D6, as a trigger6
. Type 1 liver-kidney microsomal antibodies (LKM-1) antibodies recognizing hCYP2D6 are the hallmark of AIH-27,8
. Delivery of hCYP2D6 into wildtype FVB or C57BL/6 mice was by an Adenovirus construct (Ad-2D6) that ensures a direct delivery of the triggering antigen to the liver. Thus, the ensuing local inflammation generates a fertile field9
for the subsequent development of autoimmunity. A combination of intravenous and intraperitoneal injection of Ad-2D6 is the most effective route to induce a long-lasting autoimmune damage to the liver (section 1). Here we provide a detailed protocol on how autoimmune liver disease is induced in the CYP2D6 model and how the different aspects of liver damage can be assessed. First, the serum levels of markers indicating hepatocyte destruction, such as aminotransferases, as well as the titers of hCYP2D6 antibodies are determined by sampling blood retroorbitaly (section 2). Second, the hCYP2D6-specific T cell response is characterized by collecting lymphocytes from the spleen and the liver. In order to obtain pure liver lymphocytes, the livers are perfused by PBS via the portal vein (section 3), digested in collagen and purified over a Percoll gradient (section 4). The frequency of hCYP2D6-specific T cells is analyzed by stimulation with hCYP2D6 peptides and identification of IFNγ-producing cells by flow cytometry (section 5). Third, cellular infiltration and fibrosis is determined by immunohistochemistry of liver sections (section 6). Such analysis regimen has to be conducted at several times after initiation of the disease in order to prove the chronic nature of the model. The magnitude of the immune response characterized by the frequency and activity of hCYP2D6-specific T and/or B cells and the degree of the liver damage and fibrosis have to be assessed for a subsequent evaluation of possible treatments to prevent, delay or abrogate the autodestructive process of the liver.
Medicine, Issue 60, autoimmunity, liver, autoantigen, fibrosis, perfusion
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution