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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Topographical Estimation of Visual Population Receptive Fields by fMRI
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience.
Visual cortex is retinotopically organized so that neighboring populations of cells map to neighboring parts of the visual field. Functional magnetic resonance imaging allows us to estimate voxel-based population receptive fields (pRF), i.e.
, the part of the visual field that activates the cells within each voxel. Prior, direct, pRF estimation methods1
suffer from certain limitations: 1) the pRF model is chosen a-priori and may not fully capture the actual pRF shape, and 2) pRF centers are prone to mislocalization near the border of the stimulus space. Here a new topographical pRF estimation method2
is proposed that largely circumvents these limitations. A linear model is used to predict the Blood Oxygen Level-Dependent (BOLD) signal by convolving the linear response of the pRF to the visual stimulus with the canonical hemodynamic response function. PRF topography is represented as a weight vector whose components represent the strength of the aggregate response of voxel neurons to stimuli presented at different visual field locations. The resulting linear equations can be solved for the pRF weight vector using ridge regression3
, yielding the pRF topography. A pRF model that is matched to the estimated topography can then be chosen post-hoc, thereby improving the estimates of pRF parameters such as pRF-center location, pRF orientation, size, etc
. Having the pRF topography available also allows the visual verification of pRF parameter estimates allowing the extraction of various pRF properties without having to make a-priori assumptions about the pRF structure. This approach promises to be particularly useful for investigating the pRF organization of patients with disorders of the visual system.
Behavior, Issue 96, population receptive field, vision, functional magnetic resonance imaging, retinotopy
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
A Method for Investigating Age-related Differences in the Functional Connectivity of Cognitive Control Networks Associated with Dimensional Change Card Sort Performance
Institutions: University of Western Ontario.
The ability to adjust behavior to sudden changes in the environment develops gradually in childhood and adolescence. For example, in the Dimensional Change Card Sort task, participants switch from sorting cards one way, such as shape, to sorting them a different way, such as color. Adjusting behavior in this way exacts a small performance cost, or switch cost, such that responses are typically slower and more error-prone on switch trials in which the sorting rule changes as compared to repeat trials in which the sorting rule remains the same. The ability to flexibly adjust behavior is often said to develop gradually, in part because behavioral costs such as switch costs typically decrease with increasing age. Why aspects of higher-order cognition, such as behavioral flexibility, develop so gradually remains an open question. One hypothesis is that these changes occur in association with functional changes in broad-scale cognitive control networks. On this view, complex mental operations, such as switching, involve rapid interactions between several distributed brain regions, including those that update and maintain task rules, re-orient attention, and select behaviors. With development, functional connections between these regions strengthen, leading to faster and more efficient switching operations. The current video describes a method of testing this hypothesis through the collection and multivariate analysis of fMRI data from participants of different ages.
Behavior, Issue 87, Neurosciences, fMRI, Cognitive Control, Development, Functional Connectivity
Optimization of Synthetic Proteins: Identification of Interpositional Dependencies Indicating Structurally and/or Functionally Linked Residues
Institutions: The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Protein alignments are commonly used to evaluate the similarity of protein residues, and the derived consensus sequence used for identifying functional units (e.g.,
domains). Traditional consensus-building models fail to account for interpositional dependencies – functionally required covariation of residues that tend to appear simultaneously throughout evolution and across the phylogentic tree. These relationships can reveal important clues about the processes of protein folding, thermostability, and the formation of functional sites, which in turn can be used to inform the engineering of synthetic proteins. Unfortunately, these relationships essentially form sub-motifs which cannot be predicted by simple “majority rule” or even HMM-based consensus models, and the result can be a biologically invalid “consensus” which is not only never seen in nature but is less viable than any extant protein. We have developed a visual analytics tool, StickWRLD, which creates an interactive 3D representation of a protein alignment and clearly displays covarying residues. The user has the ability to pan and zoom, as well as dynamically change the statistical threshold underlying the identification of covariants. StickWRLD has previously been successfully used to identify functionally-required covarying residues in proteins such as Adenylate Kinase and in DNA sequences such as endonuclease target sites.
Chemistry, Issue 101, protein engineering, covariation, codependent residues, visualization
Label-free in situ Imaging of Lignification in Plant Cell Walls
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Meeting growing energy demands safely and efficiently is a pressing global challenge. Therefore, research into biofuels production that seeks to find cost-effective and sustainable solutions has become a topical and critical task. Lignocellulosic biomass is poised to become the primary source of biomass for the conversion to liquid biofuels1-6
. However, the recalcitrance of these plant cell wall materials to cost-effective and efficient degradation presents a major impediment for their use in the production of biofuels and chemicals4
. In particular, lignin, a complex and irregular poly-phenylpropanoid heteropolymer, becomes problematic to the postharvest deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass. For example in biomass conversion for biofuels, it inhibits saccharification in processes aimed at producing simple sugars for fermentation7
. The effective use of plant biomass for industrial purposes is in fact largely dependent on the extent to which the plant cell wall is lignified. The removal of lignin is a costly and limiting factor8
and lignin has therefore become a key plant breeding and genetic engineering target in order to improve cell wall conversion.
Analytical tools that permit the accurate rapid characterization of lignification of plant cell walls become increasingly important for evaluating a large number of breeding populations. Extractive procedures for the isolation of native components such as lignin are inevitably destructive, bringing about significant chemical and structural modifications9-11
. Analytical chemical in situ
methods are thus invaluable tools for the compositional and structural characterization of lignocellulosic materials. Raman microscopy is a technique that relies on inelastic or Raman scattering of monochromatic light, like that from a laser, where the shift in energy of the laser photons is related to molecular vibrations and presents an intrinsic label-free molecular "fingerprint" of the sample. Raman microscopy can afford non-destructive and comparatively inexpensive measurements with minimal sample preparation, giving insights into chemical composition and molecular structure in a close to native state. Chemical imaging by confocal Raman microscopy has been previously used for the visualization of the spatial distribution of cellulose and lignin in wood cell walls12-14
. Based on these earlier results, we have recently adopted this method to compare lignification in wild type and lignin-deficient transgenic Populus trichocarpa
(black cottonwood) stem wood15
. Analyzing the lignin Raman bands16,17
in the spectral region between 1,600 and 1,700 cm-1
, lignin signal intensity and localization were mapped in situ
. Our approach visualized differences in lignin content, localization, and chemical composition. Most recently, we demonstrated Raman imaging of cell wall polymers in Arabidopsis thaliana
with lateral resolution that is sub-μm18
. Here, this method is presented affording visualization of lignin in plant cell walls and comparison of lignification in different tissues, samples or species without staining or labeling of the tissues.
Plant Biology, Issue 45, Raman microscopy, lignin, poplar wood, Arabidopsis thaliana
Sonication-facilitated Immunofluorescence Staining of Late-stage Embryonic and Larval Drosophila Tissues In Situ
Institutions: College of William & Mary.
Studies performed in Drosophila melanogaster
embryos and larvae provide crucial insight into developmental processes such as cell fate specification and organogenesis. Immunostaining allows for the visualization of developing tissues and organs. However, a protective cuticle that forms at the end of embryogenesis prevents permeation of antibodies into late-stage embryos and larvae. While dissection prior to immunostaining is regularly used to analyze Drosophila
larval tissues, it proves inefficient for some analyses because small tissues may be difficult to locate and isolate. Sonication provides an alternative to dissection in larval Drosophila
immunostaining protocols. It allows for quick, simultaneous processing of large numbers of late-stage embryos and larvae and maintains in situ
morphology. After fixation in formaldehyde, a sample is sonicated. Sample is then subjected to immunostaining with antigen-specific primary antibodies and fluorescently labeled secondary antibodies to visualize target cell types and specific proteins via fluorescence microscopy. During the process of sonication, proper placement of a sonicating probe above the sample, as well as the duration and intensity of sonication, is critical. Additonal minor modifications to standard immunostaining protocols may be required for high quality stains. For antibodies with low signal to noise ratio, longer incubation times are typically necessary. As a proof of concept for this sonication-facilitated protocol, we show immunostains of three tissue types (testes, ovaries, and neural tissues) at a range of developmental stages.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90,
Drosophila, embryo, larvae, sonication, fixation, immunostain, immunofluorescence, organogenesis, development
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
Germ Cell Transplantation and Testis Tissue Xenografting in Mice
Institutions: University of Calgary .
Germ cell transplantation was developed by Dr. Ralph Brinster and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in 19941,2
. These ground-breaking studies showed that microinjection of germ cells from fertile donor mice into the seminiferous tubules of infertile recipient mice results in donor-derived spermatogenesis and sperm production by the recipient animal2
. The use of donor males carrying the bacterial β-galactosidase gene allowed identification of donor-derived spermatogenesis and transmission of the donor haplotype to the offspring by recipient animals1
. Surprisingly, after transplantation into the lumen of the seminiferous tubules, transplanted germ cells were able to move from the luminal compartment to the basement membrane where spermatogonia are located3
. It is generally accepted that only SSCs are able to colonize the niche and re-establish spermatogenesis in the recipient testis. Therefore, germ cell transplantation provides a functional approach to study the stem cell niche in the testis and to characterize putative spermatogonial stem cells. To date, germ cell transplantation is used to elucidate basic stem cell biology, to produce transgenic animals through genetic manipulation of germ cells prior to transplantation4,5
, to study Sertoli cell-germ cell interaction6,7
, SSC homing and colonization3,8
, as well as SSC self-renewal and differentiation9,10
Germ cell transplantation is also feasible in large species11
. In these, the main applications are preservation of fertility, dissemination of elite genetics in animal populations, and generation of transgenic animals as the study of spermatogenesis and SSC biology with this technique is logistically more difficult and expensive than in rodents. Transplantation of germ cells from large species into the seminiferous tubules of mice results in colonization of donor cells and spermatogonial expansion, but not in their full differentiation presumably due to incompatibility of the recipient somatic cell compartment with the germ cells from phylogenetically distant species12
. An alternative approach is transplantation of germ cells from large species together with their surrounding somatic compartment. We first reported in 2002, that small fragments of testis tissue from immature males transplanted under the dorsal skin of immunodeficient mice are able to survive and undergo full development with the production of fertilization competent sperm13
. Since then testis tissue xenografting has been shown to be successful in many species and emerged as a valuable alternative to study testis development and spermatogenesis of large animals in mice14
Developmental Biology, Issue 60, Spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), germ cell transplantation, spermatogenesis, testis development, testis tissue xenografting
Methods for Culturing Human Femur Tissue Explants to Study Breast Cancer Cell Colonization of the Metastatic Niche
Institutions: Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine.
Bone is the most common site of breast cancer metastasis. Although it is widely accepted that the microenvironment influences cancer cell behavior, little is known about breast cancer cell properties and behaviors within the native microenvironment of human bone tissue.
We have developed approaches to track, quantify and modulate human breast cancer cells within the microenvironment of cultured human bone tissue fragments isolated from discarded femoral heads following total hip replacement surgeries. Using breast cancer cells engineered for luciferase and enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) expression, we are able to reproducibly quantitate migration and proliferation patterns using bioluminescence imaging (BLI), track cell interactions within the bone fragments using fluorescence microscopy, and evaluate breast cells after colonization with flow cytometry. The key advantages of this model include: 1) a native, architecturally intact tissue microenvironment that includes relevant human cell types, and 2) direct access to the microenvironment, which facilitates rapid quantitative and qualitative monitoring and perturbation of breast and bone cell properties, behaviors and interactions. A primary limitation, at present, is the finite viability of the tissue fragments, which confines the window of study to short-term culture. Applications of the model system include studying the basic biology of breast cancer and other bone-seeking malignancies within the metastatic niche, and developing therapeutic strategies to effectively target breast cancer cells in bone tissues.
Medicine, Issue 97, Metastatic niche, bone microenvironment, breast cancer metastasis, human bone, osteotropism, ex vivo model, explant culture system, bioluminescence imaging
Making Record-efficiency SnS Solar Cells by Thermal Evaporation and Atomic Layer Deposition
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University.
Tin sulfide (SnS) is a candidate absorber material for Earth-abundant, non-toxic solar cells. SnS offers easy phase control and rapid growth by congruent thermal evaporation, and it absorbs visible light strongly. However, for a long time the record power conversion efficiency of SnS solar cells remained below 2%. Recently we demonstrated new certified record efficiencies of 4.36% using SnS deposited by atomic layer deposition, and 3.88% using thermal evaporation. Here the fabrication procedure for these record solar cells is described, and the statistical distribution of the fabrication process is reported. The standard deviation of efficiency measured on a single substrate is typically over 0.5%. All steps including substrate selection and cleaning, Mo sputtering for the rear contact (cathode), SnS deposition, annealing, surface passivation, Zn(O,S) buffer layer selection and deposition, transparent conductor (anode) deposition, and metallization are described. On each substrate we fabricate 11 individual devices, each with active area 0.25 cm2
. Further, a system for high throughput measurements of current-voltage curves under simulated solar light, and external quantum efficiency measurement with variable light bias is described. With this system we are able to measure full data sets on all 11 devices in an automated manner and in minimal time. These results illustrate the value of studying large sample sets, rather than focusing narrowly on the highest performing devices. Large data sets help us to distinguish and remedy individual loss mechanisms affecting our devices.
Engineering, Issue 99, Solar cells, thin films, thermal evaporation, atomic layer deposition, annealing, tin sulfide
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
Patient-specific Modeling of the Heart: Estimation of Ventricular Fiber Orientations
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Patient-specific simulations of heart (dys)function aimed at personalizing cardiac therapy are hampered by the absence of in vivo
imaging technology for clinically acquiring myocardial fiber orientations. The objective of this project was to develop a methodology to estimate cardiac fiber orientations from in vivo
images of patient heart geometries. An accurate representation of ventricular geometry and fiber orientations was reconstructed, respectively, from high-resolution ex vivo structural magnetic resonance (MR) and diffusion tensor (DT) MR images of a normal human heart, referred to as the atlas. Ventricular geometry of a patient heart was extracted, via
semiautomatic segmentation, from an in vivo
computed tomography (CT) image. Using image transformation algorithms, the atlas ventricular geometry was deformed to match that of the patient. Finally, the deformation field was applied to the atlas fiber orientations to obtain an estimate of patient fiber orientations. The accuracy of the fiber estimates was assessed using six normal and three failing canine hearts. The mean absolute difference between inclination angles of acquired and estimated fiber orientations was 15.4 °. Computational simulations of ventricular activation maps and pseudo-ECGs in sinus rhythm and ventricular tachycardia indicated that there are no significant differences between estimated and acquired fiber orientations at a clinically observable level.The new insights obtained from the project will pave the way for the development of patient-specific models of the heart that can aid physicians in personalized diagnosis and decisions regarding electrophysiological interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 71, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Cardiology, Myocytes, Cardiac, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cardiac Electrophysiology, computerized simulation (general), mathematical modeling (systems analysis), Cardiomyocyte, biomedical image processing, patient-specific modeling, Electrophysiology, simulation
Using Informational Connectivity to Measure the Synchronous Emergence of fMRI Multi-voxel Information Across Time
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania.
It is now appreciated that condition-relevant information can be present within distributed patterns of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain activity, even for conditions with similar levels of univariate activation. Multi-voxel pattern (MVP) analysis has been used to decode this information with great success. FMRI investigators also often seek to understand how brain regions interact in interconnected networks, and use functional connectivity (FC) to identify regions that have correlated responses over time. Just as univariate analyses can be insensitive to information in MVPs, FC may not fully characterize the brain networks that process conditions with characteristic MVP signatures. The method described here, informational connectivity (IC), can identify regions with correlated changes in MVP-discriminability across time, revealing connectivity that is not accessible to FC. The method can be exploratory, using searchlights to identify seed-connected areas, or planned, between pre-selected regions-of-interest. The results can elucidate networks of regions that process MVP-related conditions, can breakdown MVPA searchlight maps into separate networks, or can be compared across tasks and patient groups.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, fMRI, MVPA, connectivity, informational connectivity, functional connectivity, networks, multi-voxel pattern analysis, decoding, classification, method, multivariate
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Automated Quantification of Hematopoietic Cell – Stromal Cell Interactions in Histological Images of Undecalcified Bone
Institutions: German Rheumatism Research Center, a Leibniz Institute, German Rheumatism Research Center, a Leibniz Institute, Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Wimasis GmbH, Charité - University of Medicine.
Confocal microscopy is the method of choice for the analysis of localization of multiple cell types within complex tissues such as the bone marrow. However, the analysis and quantification of cellular localization is difficult, as in many cases it relies on manual counting, thus bearing the risk of introducing a rater-dependent bias and reducing interrater reliability. Moreover, it is often difficult to judge whether the co-localization between two cells results from random positioning, especially when cell types differ strongly in the frequency of their occurrence. Here, a method for unbiased quantification of cellular co-localization in the bone marrow is introduced. The protocol describes the sample preparation used to obtain histological sections of whole murine long bones including the bone marrow, as well as the staining protocol and the acquisition of high-resolution images. An analysis workflow spanning from the recognition of hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic cell types in 2-dimensional (2D) bone marrow images to the quantification of the direct contacts between those cells is presented. This also includes a neighborhood analysis, to obtain information about the cellular microenvironment surrounding a certain cell type. In order to evaluate whether co-localization of two cell types is the mere result of random cell positioning or reflects preferential associations between the cells, a simulation tool which is suitable for testing this hypothesis in the case of hematopoietic as well as stromal cells, is used. This approach is not limited to the bone marrow, and can be extended to other tissues to permit reproducible, quantitative analysis of histological data.
Developmental Biology, Issue 98, Image analysis, neighborhood analysis, bone marrow, stromal cells, bone marrow niches, simulation, bone cryosectioning, bone histology
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
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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
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
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
Phage Phenomics: Physiological Approaches to Characterize Novel Viral Proteins
Institutions: San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, Argonne National Laboratory, Broad Institute.
Current investigations into phage-host interactions are dependent on extrapolating knowledge from (meta)genomes. Interestingly, 60 - 95% of all phage sequences share no homology to current annotated proteins. As a result, a large proportion of phage genes are annotated as hypothetical. This reality heavily affects the annotation of both structural and auxiliary metabolic genes. Here we present phenomic methods designed to capture the physiological response(s) of a selected host during expression of one of these unknown phage genes. Multi-phenotype Assay Plates (MAPs) are used to monitor the diversity of host substrate utilization and subsequent biomass formation, while metabolomics provides bi-product analysis by monitoring metabolite abundance and diversity. Both tools are used simultaneously to provide a phenotypic profile associated with expression of a single putative phage open reading frame (ORF). Representative results for both methods are compared, highlighting the phenotypic profile differences of a host carrying either putative structural or metabolic phage genes. In addition, the visualization techniques and high throughput computational pipelines that facilitated experimental analysis are presented.
Immunology, Issue 100, phenomics, phage, viral metagenome, Multi-phenotype Assay Plates (MAPs), continuous culture, metabolomics
Characterization of Surface Modifications by White Light Interferometry: Applications in Ion Sputtering, Laser Ablation, and Tribology Experiments
Institutions: Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, MassThink LLC.
In materials science and engineering it is often necessary to obtain quantitative measurements of surface topography with micrometer lateral resolution. From the measured surface, 3D topographic maps can be subsequently analyzed using a variety of software packages to extract the information that is needed.
In this article we describe how white light interferometry, and optical profilometry (OP) in general, combined with generic surface analysis software, can be used for materials science and engineering tasks. In this article, a number of applications of white light interferometry for investigation of surface modifications in mass spectrometry, and wear phenomena in tribology and lubrication are demonstrated. We characterize the products of the interaction of semiconductors and metals with energetic ions (sputtering), and laser irradiation (ablation), as well as ex situ
measurements of wear of tribological test specimens.
Specifically, we will discuss:
Aspects of traditional ion sputtering-based mass spectrometry such as sputtering rates/yields measurements on Si and Cu and subsequent time-to-depth conversion.
Results of quantitative characterization of the interaction of femtosecond laser irradiation with a semiconductor surface. These results are important for applications such as ablation mass spectrometry, where the quantities of evaporated material can be studied and controlled via pulse duration and energy per pulse. Thus, by determining the crater geometry one can define depth and lateral resolution versus experimental setup conditions.
Measurements of surface roughness parameters in two dimensions, and quantitative measurements of the surface wear that occur as a result of friction and wear tests.
Some inherent drawbacks, possible artifacts, and uncertainty assessments of the white light interferometry approach will be discussed and explained.
Materials Science, Issue 72, Physics, Ion Beams (nuclear interactions), Light Reflection, Optical Properties, Semiconductor Materials, White Light Interferometry, Ion Sputtering, Laser Ablation, Femtosecond Lasers, Depth Profiling, Time-of-flight Mass Spectrometry, Tribology, Wear Analysis, Optical Profilometry, wear, friction, atomic force microscopy, AFM, scanning electron microscopy, SEM, imaging, visualization
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
Establishment of Human Epithelial Enteroids and Colonoids from Whole Tissue and Biopsy
Institutions: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine.
The epithelium of the gastrointestinal tract is constantly renewed as it turns over. This process is triggered by the proliferation of intestinal stem cells (ISCs) and progeny that progressively migrate and differentiate toward the tip of the villi. These processes, essential for gastrointestinal homeostasis, have been extensively studied using multiple approaches. Ex vivo
technologies, especially primary cell cultures have proven to be promising for understanding intestinal epithelial functions. A long-term primary culture system for mouse intestinal crypts has been established to generate 3-dimensional epithelial organoids. These epithelial structures contain crypt- and villus-like domains reminiscent of normal gut epithelium. Commonly, termed “enteroids” when derived from small intestine and “colonoids” when derived from colon, they are different from organoids that also contain mesenchyme tissue. Additionally, these enteroids/colonoids continuously produce all cell types found normally within the intestinal epithelium. This in vitro
organ-like culture system is rapidly becoming the new gold standard for investigation of intestinal stem cell biology and epithelial cell physiology. This technology has been recently transferred to the study of human gut. The establishment of human derived epithelial enteroids and colonoids from small intestine and colon has been possible through the utilization of specific culture media that allow their growth and maintenance over time. Here, we describe a method to establish a small intestinal and colon crypt-derived system from human whole tissue or biopsies. We emphasize the culture modalities that are essential for the successful growth and maintenance of human enteroids and colonoids.
Medicine, Issue 97, Intestinal stem cells, 3-dimensional cell culture, human, small intestine, colon, biopsy, enteroids, minigut, epithelial organoids, in-vitro, colonoids, enterospheres