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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Use of Chironomidae (Diptera) Surface-Floating Pupal Exuviae as a Rapid Bioassessment Protocol for Water Bodies
Institutions: University of Minnesota, Northern State University, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, RMB Environmental Laboratories, Inc..
Rapid bioassessment protocols using benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages have been successfully used to assess human impacts on water quality. Unfortunately, traditional benthic larval sampling methods, such as the dip-net, can be time-consuming and expensive. An alternative protocol involves collection of Chironomidae surface-floating pupal exuviae (SFPE). Chironomidae is a species-rich family of flies (Diptera) whose immature stages typically occur in aquatic habitats. Adult chironomids emerge from the water, leaving their pupal skins, or exuviae, floating on the water’s surface. Exuviae often accumulate along banks or behind obstructions by action of the wind or water current, where they can be collected to assess chironomid diversity and richness. Chironomids can be used as important biological indicators, since some species are more tolerant to pollution than others. Therefore, the relative abundance and species composition of collected SFPE reflect changes in water quality. Here, methods associated with field collection, laboratory processing, slide mounting, and identification of chironomid SFPE are described in detail. Advantages of the SFPE method include minimal disturbance at a sampling area, efficient and economical sample collection and laboratory processing, ease of identification, applicability in nearly all aquatic environments, and a potentially more sensitive measure of ecosystem stress. Limitations include the inability to determine larval microhabitat use and inability to identify pupal exuviae to species if they have not been associated with adult males.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 101, biological monitoring, aquatic systems, aquatic ecology, water quality, macroinvertebrates, midge, Chironomid Pupal Exuviae Technique, rapid bioassessment protocol
A PCR-based Genotyping Method to Distinguish Between Wild-type and Ornamental Varieties of Imperata cylindrica
Institutions: The University of Alabama, Huntsville, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology.
Wild-type I. cylindrica
(cogongrass) is one of the top ten worst invasive plants in the world, negatively impacting agricultural and natural resources in 73 different countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, New Zealand, Oceania and the Americas1-2
. Cogongrass forms rapidly-spreading, monodominant stands that displace a large variety of native plant species and in turn threaten the native animals that depend on the displaced native plant species for forage and shelter. To add to the problem, an ornamental variety [I. cylindrica
(Retzius)] is widely marketed under the names of Imperata cylindrica
'Rubra', Red Baron, and Japanese blood grass (JBG). This variety is putatively sterile and noninvasive and is considered a desirable ornamental for its red-colored leaves. However, under the correct conditions, JBG can produce viable seed (Carol Holko, 2009 personal communication) and can revert to a green invasive form that is often indistinguishable from cogongrass as it takes on the distinguishing characteristics of the wild-type invasive variety4
). This makes identification using morphology a difficult task even for well-trained plant taxonomists. Reversion of JBG to an aggressive green phenotype is also not a rare occurrence. Using sequence comparisons of coding and variable regions in both nuclear and chloroplast DNA, we have confirmed that JBG has reverted to the green invasive within the states of Maryland, South Carolina, and Missouri. JBG has been sold and planted in just about every state in the continental U.S. where there is not an active cogongrass infestation. The extent of the revert problem in not well understood because reverted plants are undocumented and often destroyed.
Application of this molecular protocol provides a method to identify JBG reverts and can help keep these varieties from co-occurring and possibly hybridizing. Cogongrass is an obligate outcrosser and, when crossed with a different genotype, can produce viable wind-dispersed seeds that spread cogongrass over wide distances5-7
. JBG has a slightly different genotype than cogongrass and may be able to form viable hybrids with cogongrass. To add to the problem, JBG is more cold and shade tolerant than cogongrass8-10
, and gene flow between these two varieties is likely to generate hybrids that are more aggressive, shade tolerant, and cold hardy than wild-type cogongrass. While wild-type cogongrass currently infests over 490 million hectares worldwide, in the Southeast U.S. it infests over 500,000 hectares and is capable of occupying most of the U.S. as it rapidly spreads northward due to its broad niche and geographic potential3,7,11
. The potential of a genetic crossing is a serious concern for the USDA-APHIS Federal Noxious Week Program. Currently, the USDA-APHIS prohibits JBG in states where there are major cogongrass infestations (e.g., Florida, Alabama, Mississippi). However, preventing the two varieties from combining can prove more difficult as cogongrass and JBG expand their distributions. Furthermore, the distribution of the JBG revert is currently unknown and without the ability to identify these varieties through morphology, some cogongrass infestations may be the result of JBG reverts. Unfortunately, current molecular methods of identification typically rely on AFLP (Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms) and DNA sequencing, both of which are time consuming and costly. Here, we present the first cost-effective and reliable PCR-based molecular genotyping method to accurately distinguish between cogongrass and JBG revert.
Molecular Biology, Issue 60, Molecular genotyping, Japanese blood grass, Red Baron, cogongrass, invasive plants
Computer-Generated Animal Model Stimuli
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Communication between animals is diverse and complex. Animals may communicate using auditory, seismic, chemosensory, electrical, or visual signals. In particular, understanding the constraints on visual signal design for communication has been of great interest. Traditional methods for investigating animal interactions have used basic observational techniques, staged encounters, or physical manipulation of morphology. Less intrusive methods have tried to simulate conspecifics using crude playback tools, such as mirrors, still images, or models. As technology has become more advanced, video playback has emerged as another tool in which to examine visual communication (Rosenthal, 2000). However, to move one step further, the application of computer-animation now allows researchers to specifically isolate critical components necessary to elicit social responses from conspecifics, and manipulate these features to control interactions. Here, I provide detail on how to create an animation using the Jacky dragon as a model, but this process may be adaptable for other species. In building the animation, I elected to use Lightwave 3D to alter object morphology, add texture, install bones, and provide comparable weight shading that prevents exaggerated movement. The animation is then matched to select motor patterns to replicate critical movement features. Finally, the sequence must rendered into an individual clip for presentation. Although there are other adaptable techniques, this particular method had been demonstrated to be effective in eliciting both conspicuous and social responses in staged interactions.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, behavior, lizard, simulation, animation
Single-plant, Sterile Microcosms for Nodulation and Growth of the Legume Plant Medicago truncatula with the Rhizobial Symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti
Institutions: Florida State University.
Rhizobial bacteria form symbiotic, nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of compatible host legume plants. One of the most well-developed model systems for studying these interactions is the plant Medicago truncatula
cv. Jemalong A17 and the rhizobial bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti
1021. Repeated imaging of plant roots and scoring of symbiotic phenotypes requires methods that are non-destructive to either plants or bacteria. The symbiotic phenotypes of some plant and bacterial mutants become apparent after relatively short periods of growth, and do not require long-term observation of the host/symbiont interaction. However, subtle differences in symbiotic efficiency and nodule senescence phenotypes that are not apparent in the early stages of the nodulation process require relatively long growth periods before they can be scored. Several methods have been developed for long-term growth and observation of this host/symbiont pair. However, many of these methods require repeated watering, which increases the possibility of contamination by other microbes. Other methods require a relatively large space for growth of large numbers of plants. The method described here, symbiotic growth of M. truncatula/S. meliloti
in sterile, single-plant microcosms, has several advantages. Plants in these microcosms have sufficient moisture and nutrients to ensure that watering is not required for up to 9 weeks, preventing cross-contamination during watering. This allows phenotypes to be quantified that might be missed in short-term growth systems, such as subtle delays in nodule development and early nodule senescence. Also, the roots and nodules in the microcosm are easily viewed through the plate lid, so up-rooting of the plants for observation is not required.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Plant Roots, Medicago, Gram-Negative Bacteria, Nitrogen, Microbiological Techniques, Bacterial Processes, Symbiosis, botany, microbiology, Medicago truncatula, Sinorhizobium meliloti, nodule, nitrogen fixation, legume, rhizobia, bacteria
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
Herbivore-induced Blueberry Volatiles and Intra-plant Signaling
Institutions: Rutgers University .
Herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) are commonly emitted from plants after herbivore attack1,2
. These HIPVs are mainly regulated by the defensive plant hormone jasmonic acid (JA) and its volatile derivative methyl jasmonate (MeJA)3,4,5
. Over the past 3 decades researchers have documented that HIPVs can repel or attract herbivores, attract the natural enemies of herbivores, and in some cases they can induce or prime plant defenses prior to herbivore attack. In a recent paper6
, I reported that feeding by gypsy moth caterpillars, exogenous MeJA application, and mechanical damage induce the emissions of volatiles from blueberry plants, albeit differently. In addition, blueberry branches respond to HIPVs emitted from neighboring branches of the same plant by increasing the levels of JA and resistance to herbivores (i.e., direct plant defenses), and by priming volatile emissions (i.e., indirect plant defenses). Similar findings have been reported recently for sagebrush7
, and lima beans9
Here, I describe a push-pull method for collecting blueberry volatiles induced by herbivore (gypsy moth) feeding, exogenous MeJA application, and mechanical damage. The volatile collection unit consists of a 4 L volatile collection chamber, a 2-piece guillotine, an air delivery system that purifies incoming air, and a vacuum system connected to a trap filled with Super-Q adsorbent to collect volatiles5,6,10
. Volatiles collected in Super-Q traps are eluted with dichloromethane and then separated and quantified using Gas Chromatography (GC). This volatile collection method was used n my study6
to investigate the volatile response of undamaged branches to exposure to volatiles from herbivore-damaged branches within blueberry plants. These methods are described here. Briefly, undamaged blueberry branches are exposed to HIPVs from neighboring branches within the same plant. Using the same techniques described above, volatiles emitted from branches after exposure to HIPVs are collected and analyzed.
Plant Biology, Issue 58, herbivore-induced plant volatiles, HIPV, eavesdropping, plant defense, priming
VIGS-Mediated Forward Genetics Screening for Identification of Genes Involved in Nonhost Resistance
Institutions: The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
Nonhost disease resistance of plants against bacterial pathogens is controlled by complex defense pathways. Understanding this mechanism is important for developing durable disease-resistant plants against wide range of pathogens. Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS)-based forward genetics screening is a useful approach for identification of plant defense genes imparting nonhost resistance. Tobacco rattle virus
(TRV)-based VIGS vector is the most efficient VIGS vector to date and has been efficiently used to silence endogenous target genes in Nicotiana benthamiana
In this manuscript, we demonstrate a forward genetics screening approach for silencing of individual clones from a cDNA library in N. benthamiana
and assessing the response of gene silenced plants for compromised nonhost resistance against nonhost pathogens, Pseudomonas syringae
T1, P. syringae
, and X. campestris
. These bacterial pathogens are engineered to express GFPuv protein and their green fluorescing colonies can be seen by naked eye under UV light in the nonhost pathogen inoculated plants if the silenced target gene is involved in imparting nonhost resistance. This facilitates reliable and faster identification of gene silenced plants susceptible to nonhost pathogens. Further, promising candidate gene information can be known by sequencing the plant gene insert in TRV vector. Here we demonstrate the high throughput capability of VIGS-mediated forward genetics to identify genes involved in nonhost resistance. Approximately, 100 cDNAs can be individually silenced in about two to three weeks and their relevance in nonhost resistance against several nonhost bacterial pathogens can be studied in a week thereafter. In this manuscript, we enumerate the detailed steps involved in this screening. VIGS-mediated forward genetics screening approach can be extended not only to identifying genes involved in nonhost resistance but also to studying genes imparting several biotic and abiotic stress tolerances in various plant species.
Virology, Issue 78, Plant Biology, Infection, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Genomics, Pathology, plants, Nonhost Resistance, Virus-induced gene silencing, VIGS, disease resistance, gene silencing, Pseudomonas, GFPuv, sequencing, virus, Nicotiana benthamiana, plant model
Lesion Explorer: A Video-guided, Standardized Protocol for Accurate and Reliable MRI-derived Volumetrics in Alzheimer's Disease and Normal Elderly
Institutions: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto.
Obtaining in vivo
human brain tissue volumetrics from MRI is often complicated by various technical and biological issues. These challenges are exacerbated when significant brain atrophy and age-related white matter changes (e.g.
Leukoaraiosis) are present. Lesion Explorer (LE) is an accurate and reliable neuroimaging pipeline specifically developed to address such issues commonly observed on MRI of Alzheimer's disease and normal elderly. The pipeline is a complex set of semi-automatic procedures which has been previously validated in a series of internal and external reliability tests1,2
. However, LE's accuracy and reliability is highly dependent on properly trained manual operators to execute commands, identify distinct anatomical landmarks, and manually edit/verify various computer-generated segmentation outputs.
LE can be divided into 3 main components, each requiring a set of commands and manual operations: 1) Brain-Sizer, 2) SABRE, and 3) Lesion-Seg. Brain-Sizer's manual operations involve editing of the automatic skull-stripped total intracranial vault (TIV) extraction mask, designation of ventricular cerebrospinal fluid (vCSF), and removal of subtentorial structures. The SABRE component requires checking of image alignment along the anterior and posterior commissure (ACPC) plane, and identification of several anatomical landmarks required for regional parcellation. Finally, the Lesion-Seg component involves manual checking of the automatic lesion segmentation of subcortical hyperintensities (SH) for false positive errors.
While on-site training of the LE pipeline is preferable, readily available visual teaching tools with interactive training images are a viable alternative. Developed to ensure a high degree of accuracy and reliability, the following is a step-by-step, video-guided, standardized protocol for LE's manual procedures.
Medicine, Issue 86, Brain, Vascular Diseases, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Neuroimaging, Alzheimer Disease, Aging, Neuroanatomy, brain extraction, ventricles, white matter hyperintensities, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer disease
A Rapid and Efficient Method for Assessing Pathogenicity of Ustilago maydis on Maize and Teosinte Lines
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Maize is a major cereal crop worldwide. However, susceptibility to biotrophic pathogens is the primary constraint to increasing productivity. U. maydis
is a biotrophic fungal pathogen and the causal agent of corn smut on maize. This disease is responsible for significant yield losses of approximately $1.0 billion annually in the U.S.1
Several methods including crop rotation, fungicide application and seed treatments are currently used to control corn smut2
. However, host resistance is the only practical method for managing corn smut. Identification of crop plants including maize, wheat, and rice that are resistant to various biotrophic pathogens has significantly decreased yield losses annually3-5
. Therefore, the use of a pathogen inoculation method that efficiently and reproducibly delivers the pathogen in between the plant leaves, would facilitate the rapid identification of maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis
. As, a first step toward indentifying maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis
, a needle injection inoculation method and a resistance reaction screening method was utilized to inoculate maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines with a U. maydis
strain and to select resistant plants.
Maize, teosinte and maize x teosinte introgression lines, consisting of about 700 plants, were planted, inoculated with a strain of U. maydis
, and screened for resistance. The inoculation and screening methods successfully identified three teosinte lines resistant to U. maydis
. Here a detailed needle injection inoculation and resistance reaction screening protocol for maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines is presented. This study demonstrates that needle injection inoculation is an invaluable tool in agriculture that can efficiently deliver U. maydis
in between the plant leaves and has provided plant lines that are resistant to U. maydis
that can now be combined and tested in breeding programs for improved disease resistance.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, Bacterial Infections, Signs and Symptoms, Eukaryota, Plant Physiological Phenomena, Ustilago maydis, needle injection inoculation, disease rating scale, plant-pathogen interactions
In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo
, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871
, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro
starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro
reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g.,
pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g.,
protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro
currently used in our laboratory,
and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
Identification of Post-translational Modifications of Plant Protein Complexes
Institutions: University of Warwick, Norwich Research Park, The Australian National University.
Plants adapt quickly to changing environments due to elaborate perception and signaling systems. During pathogen attack, plants rapidly respond to infection via
the recruitment and activation of immune complexes. Activation of immune complexes is associated with post-translational modifications (PTMs) of proteins, such as phosphorylation, glycosylation, or ubiquitination. Understanding how these PTMs are choreographed will lead to a better understanding of how resistance is achieved.
Here we describe a protein purification method for nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat (NB-LRR)-interacting proteins and the subsequent identification of their post-translational modifications (PTMs). With small modifications, the protocol can be applied for the purification of other plant protein complexes. The method is based on the expression of an epitope-tagged version of the protein of interest, which is subsequently partially purified by immunoprecipitation and subjected to mass spectrometry for identification of interacting proteins and PTMs.
This protocol demonstrates that: i). Dynamic changes in PTMs such as phosphorylation can be detected by mass spectrometry; ii). It is important to have sufficient quantities of the protein of interest, and this can compensate for the lack of purity of the immunoprecipitate; iii). In order to detect PTMs of a protein of interest, this protein has to be immunoprecipitated to get a sufficient quantity of protein.
Plant Biology, Issue 84, plant-microbe interactions, protein complex purification, mass spectrometry, protein phosphorylation, Prf, Pto, AvrPto, AvrPtoB
Using an EEG-Based Brain-Computer Interface for Virtual Cursor Movement with BCI2000
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, New York State Dept. of Health.
A brain-computer interface (BCI) functions by translating a neural signal, such as the electroencephalogram (EEG), into a signal that can be used to control a computer or other device. The amplitude of the EEG signals in selected frequency bins are measured and translated into a device command, in this case the horizontal and vertical velocity of a computer cursor. First, the EEG electrodes are applied to the user s scalp using a cap to record brain activity. Next, a calibration procedure is used to find the EEG electrodes and features that the user will learn to voluntarily modulate to use the BCI. In humans, the power in the mu (8-12 Hz) and beta (18-28 Hz) frequency bands decrease in amplitude during a real or imagined movement. These changes can be detected in the EEG in real-time, and used to control a BCI (,). Therefore, during a screening test, the user is asked to make several different imagined movements with their hands and feet to determine the unique EEG features that change with the imagined movements. The results from this calibration will show the best channels to use, which are configured so that amplitude changes in the mu and beta frequency bands move the cursor either horizontally or vertically. In this experiment, the general purpose BCI system BCI2000 is used to control signal acquisition, signal processing, and feedback to the user .
Neuroscience, Issue 29, BCI, EEG, brain-computer interface, BCI2000
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut
Generation of Comprehensive Thoracic Oncology Database - Tool for Translational Research
Institutions: University of Chicago, University of Chicago, Northshore University Health Systems, University of Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Chicago.
The Thoracic Oncology Program Database Project was created to serve as a comprehensive, verified, and accessible repository for well-annotated cancer specimens and clinical data to be available to researchers within the Thoracic Oncology Research Program. This database also captures a large volume of genomic and proteomic data obtained from various tumor tissue studies. A team of clinical and basic science researchers, a biostatistician, and a bioinformatics expert was convened to design the database. Variables of interest were clearly defined and their descriptions were written within a standard operating manual to ensure consistency of data annotation. Using a protocol for prospective tissue banking and another protocol for retrospective banking, tumor and normal tissue samples from patients consented to these protocols were collected. Clinical information such as demographics, cancer characterization, and treatment plans for these patients were abstracted and entered into an Access database. Proteomic and genomic data have been included in the database and have been linked to clinical information for patients described within the database. The data from each table were linked using the relationships function in Microsoft Access to allow the database manager to connect clinical and laboratory information during a query. The queried data can then be exported for statistical analysis and hypothesis generation.
Medicine, Issue 47, Database, Thoracic oncology, Bioinformatics, Biorepository, Microsoft Access, Proteomics, Genomics
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
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 (http://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
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
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Enhanced Reduced Representation Bisulfite Sequencing for Assessment of DNA Methylation at Base Pair Resolution
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Medical College, University of Michigan.
DNA methylation pattern mapping is heavily studied in normal and diseased tissues. A variety of methods have been established to interrogate the cytosine methylation patterns in cells. Reduced representation of whole genome bisulfite sequencing was developed to detect quantitative base pair resolution cytosine methylation patterns at GC-rich genomic loci. This is accomplished by combining the use of a restriction enzyme followed by bisulfite conversion. Enhanced Reduced Representation Bisulfite Sequencing (ERRBS) increases the biologically relevant genomic loci covered and has been used to profile cytosine methylation in DNA from human, mouse and other organisms. ERRBS initiates with restriction enzyme digestion of DNA to generate low molecular weight fragments for use in library preparation. These fragments are subjected to standard library construction for next generation sequencing. Bisulfite conversion of unmethylated cytosines prior to the final amplification step allows for quantitative base resolution of cytosine methylation levels in covered genomic loci. The protocol can be completed within four days. Despite low complexity in the first three bases sequenced, ERRBS libraries yield high quality data when using a designated sequencing control lane. Mapping and bioinformatics analysis is then performed and yields data that can be easily integrated with a variety of genome-wide platforms. ERRBS can utilize small input material quantities making it feasible to process human clinical samples and applicable in a range of research applications. The video produced demonstrates critical steps of the ERRBS protocol.
Genetics, Issue 96, Epigenetics, bisulfite sequencing, DNA methylation, genomic DNA, 5-methylcytosine, high-throughput
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
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
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