Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
A Simple and Rapid Protocol for Measuring Neutral Lipids in Algal Cells Using Fluorescence
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Calgary.
Algae are considered excellent candidates for renewable fuel sources due to their natural lipid storage capabilities. Robust monitoring of algal fermentation processes and screening for new oil-rich strains requires a fast and reliable protocol for determination of intracellular lipid content. Current practices rely largely on gravimetric methods to determine oil content, techniques developed decades ago that are time consuming and require large sample volumes. In this paper, Nile Red, a fluorescent dye that has been used to identify the presence of lipid bodies in numerous types of organisms, is incorporated into a simple, fast, and reliable protocol for measuring the neutral lipid content of Auxenochlorella protothecoides
, a green alga. The method uses ethanol, a relatively mild solvent, to permeabilize the cell membrane before staining and a 96 well micro-plate to increase sample capacity during fluorescence intensity measurements. It has been designed with the specific application of monitoring bioprocess performance. Previously dried samples or live samples from a growing culture can be used in the assay.
Chemistry, Issue 87, engineering (general), microbiology, bioengineering (general), Eukaryota Algae, Nile Red, Fluorescence, Oil Content, Oil Extraction, Oil Quantification, Neutral Lipids, Optical Microscope, biomass
Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2
facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2
field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4
, and Ca2+
had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
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
Evaluation of Integrated Anaerobic Digestion and Hydrothermal Carbonization for Bioenergy Production
Institutions: Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering.
Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4
(VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4
at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar
was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, Biomethane, Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC), Calorific Value, Lignocellulosic Biomass, UASS, Anaerobic Digestion
Integrated Field Lysimetry and Porewater Sampling for Evaluation of Chemical Mobility in Soils and Established Vegetation
Institutions: North Carolina State University, North Carolina State University.
Potentially toxic chemicals are routinely applied to land to meet growing demands on waste management and food production, but the fate of these chemicals is often not well understood. Here we demonstrate an integrated field lysimetry and porewater sampling method for evaluating the mobility of chemicals applied to soils and established vegetation. Lysimeters, open columns made of metal or plastic, are driven into bareground or vegetated soils. Porewater samplers, which are commercially available and use vacuum to collect percolating soil water, are installed at predetermined depths within the lysimeters. At prearranged times following chemical application to experimental plots, porewater is collected, and lysimeters, containing soil and vegetation, are exhumed. By analyzing chemical concentrations in the lysimeter soil, vegetation, and porewater, downward leaching rates, soil retention capacities, and plant uptake for the chemical of interest may be quantified. Because field lysimetry and porewater sampling are conducted under natural environmental conditions and with minimal soil disturbance, derived results project real-case scenarios and provide valuable information for chemical management. As chemicals are increasingly applied to land worldwide, the described techniques may be utilized to determine whether applied chemicals pose adverse effects to human health or the environment.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89,
Lysimetry, porewater, soil, chemical leaching, pesticides, turfgrass, waste
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Electrochemically and Bioelectrochemically Induced Ammonium Recovery
Institutions: Ghent University, Rutgers University.
Streams such as urine and manure can contain high levels of ammonium, which could be recovered for reuse in agriculture or chemistry. The extraction of ammonium from an ammonium-rich stream is demonstrated using an electrochemical and a bioelectrochemical system. Both systems are controlled by a potentiostat to either fix the current (for the electrochemical cell) or fix the potential of the working electrode (for the bioelectrochemical cell). In the bioelectrochemical cell, electroactive bacteria catalyze the anodic reaction, whereas in the electrochemical cell the potentiostat applies a higher voltage to produce a current. The current and consequent restoration of the charge balance across the cell allow the transport of cations, such as ammonium, across a cation exchange membrane from the anolyte to the catholyte. The high pH of the catholyte leads to formation of ammonia, which can be stripped from the medium and captured in an acid solution, thus enabling the recovery of a valuable nutrient. The flux of ammonium across the membrane is characterized at different anolyte ammonium concentrations and currents for both the abiotic and biotic reactor systems. Both systems are compared based on current and removal efficiencies for ammonium, as well as the energy input required to drive ammonium transfer across the cation exchange membrane. Finally, a comparative analysis considering key aspects such as reliability, electrode cost, and rate is made.
This video article and protocol provide the necessary information to conduct electrochemical and bioelectrochemical ammonia recovery experiments. The reactor setup for the two cases is explained, as well as the reactor operation. We elaborate on data analysis for both reactor types and on the advantages and disadvantages of bioelectrochemical and electrochemical systems.
Chemistry, Issue 95, Electrochemical extraction, bioelectrochemical system, bioanode, ammonium recovery, microbial electrocatalysis, nutrient recovery, electrolysis cell
The Use of High-resolution Infrared Thermography (HRIT) for the Study of Ice Nucleation and Ice Propagation in Plants
Institutions: Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Kearneysville, WV, University of Innsbruck, University of Saskatechewan.
Freezing events that occur when plants are actively growing can be a lethal event, particularly if the plant has no freezing tolerance. Such frost events often have devastating effects on agricultural production and can also play an important role in shaping community structure in natural populations of plants, especially in alpine, sub-arctic, and arctic ecosystems. Therefore, a better understanding of the freezing process in plants can play an important role in the development of methods of frost protection and understanding mechanisms of freeze avoidance. Here, we describe a protocol to visualize the freezing process in plants using high-resolution infrared thermography (HRIT). The use of this technology allows one to determine the primary sites of ice formation in plants, how ice propagates, and the presence of ice barriers. Furthermore, it allows one to examine the role of extrinsic and intrinsic nucleators in determining the temperature at which plants freeze and evaluate the ability of various compounds to either affect the freezing process or increase freezing tolerance. The use of HRIT allows one to visualize the many adaptations that have evolved in plants, which directly or indirectly impact the freezing process and ultimately enables plants to survive frost events.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 99, Freeze avoidance, supercooling, ice nucleation active bacteria, frost tolerance, ice crystallization, antifreeze proteins, intrinsic nucleation, extrinsic nucleation, heterogeneous nucleation, homogeneous nucleation, differential thermal analysis
Exploring the Effects of Atmospheric Forcings on Evaporation: Experimental Integration of the Atmospheric Boundary Layer and Shallow Subsurface
Institutions: Colorado School of Mines.
Evaporation is directly influenced by the interactions between the atmosphere, land surface and soil subsurface. This work aims to experimentally study evaporation under various surface boundary conditions to improve our current understanding and characterization of this multiphase phenomenon as well as to validate numerical heat and mass transfer theories that couple Navier-Stokes flow in the atmosphere and Darcian flow in the porous media. Experimental data were collected using a unique soil tank apparatus interfaced with a small climate controlled wind tunnel. The experimental apparatus was instrumented with a suite of state of the art sensor technologies for the continuous and autonomous collection of soil moisture, soil thermal properties, soil and air temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed. This experimental apparatus can be used to generate data under well controlled boundary conditions, allowing for better control and gathering of accurate data at scales of interest not feasible in the field. Induced airflow at several distinct wind speeds over the soil surface resulted in unique behavior of heat and mass transfer during the different evaporative stages.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 100, Bare-soil evaporation, Land-atmosphere interactions, Heat and mass flux, Porous media, Wind tunnel, Soil thermal properties, Multiphase flow
Protocols for Robust Herbicide Resistance Testing in Different Weed Species
Institutions: National Research Council (CNR), Italy.
Robust protocols to test putative herbicide resistant weed populations at whole plant level are essential to confirm the resistance status. The presented protocols, based on whole-plant bioassays performed in a greenhouse, can be readily adapted to a wide range of weed species and herbicides through appropriate variants. Seed samples from plants that survived a field herbicide treatment are collected and stored dry at low temperature until used. Germination methods differ according to weed species and seed dormancy type. Seedlings at similar growth stage are transplanted and maintained in the greenhouse under appropriate conditions until plants have reached the right growth stage for herbicide treatment. Accuracy is required to prepare the herbicide solution to avoid unverifiable mistakes. Other critical steps such as the application volume and spray speed are also evaluated. The advantages of this protocol, compared to others based on whole plant bioassays using one herbicide dose, are related to the higher reliability and the possibility of inferring the resistance level. Quicker and less expensive in vivo or in vitro
diagnostic screening tests have been proposed (Petri dish bioassays, spectrophotometric tests), but they provide only qualitative information and their widespread use is hindered by the laborious set-up that some species may require. For routine resistance testing, the proposed whole plant bioassay can be applied at only one herbicide dose, so reducing the costs.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 101, Weed science, resistant biotypes, monitoring, seed germination, weed control, herbicide efficacy, herbicide treatment, resistance level.
Transcript and Metabolite Profiling for the Evaluation of Tobacco Tree and Poplar as Feedstock for the Bio-based Industry
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, Royal Holloway, University of London, VIB, UGhent, ETH Zurich, EMPA, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), European Research and Project Office GmbH, ABBA Gaia S.L., Pflanzenöltechnologie, Capax Environmental Services, Green Fuels, Neutral Consulting Ltd, University of Melbourne.
The global demand for food, feed, energy, and water poses extraordinary challenges for future generations. It is evident that robust platforms for the exploration of renewable resources are necessary to overcome these challenges. Within the multinational framework MultiBioPro we are developing biorefinery pipelines to maximize the use of plant biomass. More specifically, we use poplar and tobacco tree (Nicotiana glauca
) as target crop species for improving saccharification, isoprenoid, long chain hydrocarbon contents, fiber quality, and suberin and lignin contents. The methods used to obtain these outputs include GC-MS, LC-MS and RNA sequencing platforms. The metabolite pipelines are well established tools to generate these types of data, but also have the limitations in that only well characterized metabolites can be used. The deep sequencing will allow us to include all transcripts present during the developmental stages of the tobacco tree leaf, but has to be mapped back to the sequence of Nicotiana tabacum
. With these set-ups, we aim at a basic understanding for underlying processes and at establishing an industrial framework to exploit the outcomes. In a more long term perspective, we believe that data generated here will provide means for a sustainable biorefinery process using poplar and tobacco tree as raw material. To date the basal level of metabolites in the samples have been analyzed and the protocols utilized are provided in this article.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, botany, plants, Biorefining, Poplar, Tobacco tree, Arabidopsis, suberin, lignin, cell walls, biomass, long-chain hydrocarbons, isoprenoids, Nicotiana glauca, systems biology
Towards Biomimicking Wood: Fabricated Free-standing Films of Nanocellulose, Lignin, and a Synthetic Polycation
Institutions: Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, Illinois Institute of Technology- Moffett Campus, University of Guadalajara, Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech.
Woody materials are comprised of plant cell walls that contain a layered secondary cell wall composed of structural polymers of polysaccharides and lignin. Layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly process which relies on the assembly of oppositely charged molecules from aqueous solutions was used to build a freestanding composite film of isolated wood polymers of lignin and oxidized nanofibril cellulose (NFC). To facilitate the assembly of these negatively charged polymers, a positively charged polyelectrolyte, poly(diallyldimethylammomium chloride) (PDDA), was used as a linking layer to create this simplified model cell wall. The layered adsorption process was studied quantitatively using quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring (QCM-D) and ellipsometry. The results showed that layer mass/thickness per adsorbed layer increased as a function of total number of layers. The surface coverage of the adsorbed layers was studied with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Complete coverage of the surface with lignin in all the deposition cycles was found for the system, however, surface coverage by NFC increased with the number of layers. The adsorption process was carried out for 250 cycles (500 bilayers) on a cellulose acetate (CA) substrate. Transparent free-standing LBL assembled nanocomposite films were obtained when the CA substrate was later dissolved in acetone. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the fractured cross-sections showed a lamellar structure, and the thickness per adsorption cycle (PDDA-Lignin-PDDA-NC) was estimated to be 17 nm for two different lignin types used in the study. The data indicates a film with highly controlled architecture where nanocellulose and lignin are spatially deposited on the nanoscale (a polymer-polymer nanocomposites), similar to what is observed in the native cell wall.
Plant Biology, Issue 88, nanocellulose, thin films, quartz crystal microbalance, layer-by-layer, LbL
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
Large Volume (20L+) Filtration of Coastal Seawater Samples
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The workflow begins with the collection of coastal marine waters for downstream microbial community, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For this method, samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. This video documents large volume (≥20 L) filtration of microbial biomass, ranging between 0.22μm and 2.7μm in diameter, from the water column. Two 20L samples can be filtered simultaneously using a single pump unit equipped with four rotating heads. Filtration is done in the field on extended trips, or immediately upon return for day trips. It is important to record the amount of water passing through each sterivex filter unit. To prevent biofilm formation between sampling trips, all filtration equipment must be rinsed with dilute HCl and deionized water and autoclaved immediately after use. This procedure will take approximately 5 hours plus an additional hour for clean up.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbial biomass, filtration, sterivex, GF/D, nucleic acids, seawater, fjord, hypoxic, Saanich Inlet
Small Volume (1-3L) Filtration of Coastal Seawater Samples
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The workflow begins with the collection of coastal marine waters for downstream microbial community, nutrient and trace gas analyses. For today s demonstration samples were collected from the deck of the HMS John Strickland operating in Saanich Inlet. This video documents small volume (~1 L) filtration of microbial biomass from the water column. The protocol is an extension of the large volume sampling protocol described earlier, with one major difference: here, there is no pre-filtration step, so all size classes of biomass are collected down to the 0.22 μm filter cut-off. Samples collected this way are ideal for nucleic acid analysis. The set-up, filtration, and clean-up steps each take about 20-30 minutes. If using two peristaltic pumps simultaneously, up to 8 samples may be filtered at the same time. To prevent biofilm formation between sampling trips, all filtration equipment must be rinsed with dilute HCl and deionized water and autoclaved immediately after use.
Molecular Biology, Issue 28, microbiology, seawater, filtration, biomass concentration
High-throughput Saccharification Assay for Lignocellulosic Materials
Institutions: University of York.
Polysaccharides that make up plant lignocellulosic biomass can be broken down to produce a range of sugars that subsequently can be
used in establishing a biorefinery. These raw materials would constitute a new industrial platform, which is both sustainable and carbon neutral, to replace
the current dependency on fossil fuel. The recalcitrance to deconstruction observed in lignocellulosic materials is produced by several intrinsic properties
of plant cell walls. Crystalline cellulose is embedded in matrix polysaccharides such as xylans and arabinoxylans, and the whole structure is encased by the
phenolic polymer lignin, that is also difficult to digest 1
. In order to improve the digestibility of plant materials we need to discover the main bottlenecks
for the saccharification of cell walls and also screen mutant and breeding populations to evaluate the variability in saccharification 2
. These tasks require
a high throughput approach and here we present an analytical platform that can perform saccharification analysis in a 96-well plate format. This platform has
been developed to allow the screening of lignocellulose digestibility of large populations from varied plant species. We have scaled down the reaction volumes
for gentle pretreatment, partial enzymatic hydrolysis and sugar determination, to allow large numbers to be assessed rapidly in an automated system.
This automated platform works with milligram amounts of biomass, performing ball milling under controlled conditions to reduce the plant
materials to a standardised particle size in a reproducible manner. Once the samples are ground, the automated formatting robot dispenses specified and recorded
amounts of material into the corresponding wells of 96 deep well plate (Figure 1). Normally, we dispense the same material into 4 wells to have 4 replicates for
analysis. Once the plates are filled with the plant material in the desired layout, they are manually moved to a liquid handling station (Figure 2). In this
station the samples are subjected to a mild pretreatment with either dilute acid or alkaline and incubated at temperatures of up to 90°C. The pretreatment solution
is subsequently removed and the samples are rinsed with buffer to return them to a suitable pH for hydrolysis. The samples are then incubated with an enzyme
mixture for a variable length of time at 50°C. An aliquot is taken from the hydrolyzate and the reducing sugars are automatically determined by the MBTH
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Saccharification, lignocellulose, high-throughput, glycosyl hydrolases, biomass, biofuels
Continuously-stirred Anaerobic Digester to Convert Organic Wastes into Biogas: System Setup and Basic Operation
Institutions: Cornell University.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a bioprocess that is commonly used to convert complex organic wastes into a useful biogas with methane as the energy carrier 1-3
. Increasingly, AD is being used in industrial, agricultural, and municipal waste(water) treatment applications 4,5
. The use of AD technology allows plant operators to reduce waste disposal costs and offset energy utility expenses. In addition to treating organic wastes, energy crops are being converted into the energy carrier methane 6,7
. As the application of AD technology broadens for the treatment of new substrates and co-substrate mixtures 8
, so does the demand for a reliable testing methodology at the pilot- and laboratory-scale.
Anaerobic digestion systems have a variety of configurations, including the continuously stirred tank reactor (CSTR), plug flow (PF), and anaerobic sequencing batch reactor (ASBR) configurations 9
. The CSTR is frequently used in research due to its simplicity in design and operation, but also for its advantages in experimentation. Compared to other configurations, the CSTR provides greater uniformity of system parameters, such as temperature, mixing, chemical concentration, and substrate concentration. Ultimately, when designing a full-scale reactor, the optimum reactor configuration will depend on the character of a given substrate among many other nontechnical considerations. However, all configurations share fundamental design features and operating parameters that render the CSTR appropriate for most preliminary assessments. If researchers and engineers use an influent stream with relatively high concentrations of solids, then lab-scale bioreactor configurations cannot be fed continuously due to plugging problems of lab-scale pumps with solids or settling of solids in tubing. For that scenario with continuous mixing requirements, lab-scale bioreactors are fed periodically and we refer to such configurations as continuously stirred anaerobic digesters (CSADs).
This article presents a general methodology for constructing, inoculating, operating, and monitoring a CSAD system for the purpose of testing the suitability of a given organic substrate for long-term anaerobic digestion. The construction section of this article will cover building the lab-scale reactor system. The inoculation section will explain how to create an anaerobic environment suitable for seeding with an active methanogenic inoculum. The operating section will cover operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. The monitoring section will introduce testing protocols using standard analyses. The use of these measures is necessary for reliable experimental assessments of substrate suitability for AD. This protocol should provide greater protection against a common mistake made in AD studies, which is to conclude that reactor failure was caused by the substrate in use, when really it was improper user operation 10
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Environmental Engineering, Chemistry, Anaerobic Digestion, Bioenergy, Biogas, Methane, Organic Waste, Methanogenesis, Energy Crops
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Metabolic Labeling of Newly Transcribed RNA for High Resolution Gene Expression Profiling of RNA Synthesis, Processing and Decay in Cell Culture
Institutions: Max von Pettenkofer Institute, University of Cambridge, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich.
The development of whole-transcriptome microarrays and next-generation sequencing has revolutionized our understanding of the complexity of cellular gene expression. Along with a better understanding of the involved molecular mechanisms, precise measurements of the underlying kinetics have become increasingly important. Here, these powerful methodologies face major limitations due to intrinsic properties of the template samples they study, i.e.
total cellular RNA. In many cases changes in total cellular RNA occur either too slowly or too quickly to represent the underlying molecular events and their kinetics with sufficient resolution. In addition, the contribution of alterations in RNA synthesis, processing, and decay are not readily differentiated.
We recently developed high-resolution gene expression profiling to overcome these limitations. Our approach is based on metabolic labeling of newly transcribed RNA with 4-thiouridine (thus also referred to as 4sU-tagging) followed by rigorous purification of newly transcribed RNA using thiol-specific biotinylation and streptavidin-coated magnetic beads. It is applicable to a broad range of organisms including vertebrates, Drosophila
, and yeast. We successfully applied 4sU-tagging to study real-time kinetics of transcription factor activities, provide precise measurements of RNA half-lives, and obtain novel insights into the kinetics of RNA processing. Finally, computational modeling can be employed to generate an integrated, comprehensive analysis of the underlying molecular mechanisms.
Genetics, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Eukaryota, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Gene expression profiling, RNA synthesis, RNA processing, RNA decay, 4-thiouridine, 4sU-tagging, microarray analysis, RNA-seq, RNA, DNA, PCR, sequencing
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Using Neutron Spin Echo Resolved Grazing Incidence Scattering to Investigate Organic Solar Cell Materials
Institutions: University of Sheffield, The University of Sheffield, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
The spin echo resolved grazing incidence scattering (SERGIS) technique has been used to probe the length-scales associated with irregularly shaped crystallites. Neutrons are passed through two well defined regions of magnetic field; one before and one after the sample. The two magnetic field regions have opposite polarity and are tuned such that neutrons travelling through both regions, without being perturbed, will undergo the same number of precessions in opposing directions. In this case the neutron precession in the second arm is said to "echo" the first, and the original polarization of the beam is preserved. If the neutron interacts with a sample and scatters elastically the path through the second arm is not the same as the first and the original polarization is not recovered. Depolarization of the neutron beam is a highly sensitive probe at very small angles (<50 μrad) but still allows a high intensity, divergent beam to be used. The decrease in polarization of the beam reflected from the sample as compared to that from the reference sample can be directly related to structure within the sample.
In comparison to scattering observed in neutron reflection measurements the SERGIS signals are often weak and are unlikely to be observed if the in-plane structures within the sample under investigation are dilute, disordered, small in size and polydisperse or the neutron scattering contrast is low. Therefore, good results will most likely be obtained using the SERGIS technique if the sample being measured consist of thin films on a flat substrate and contain scattering features that contains a high density of moderately sized features (30 nm to 5 µm) which scatter neutrons strongly or the features are arranged on a lattice. An advantage of the SERGIS technique is that it can probe structures in the plane of the sample.
Physics, Issue 83, Spin Echo Resolved Grazing Incidence Scattering, Neutron, Crystallite, Organic solar cell, PCBM, P3HT
Quantification of Heavy Metals and Other Inorganic Contaminants on the Productivity of Microalgae
Institutions: Utah State University.
Increasing demand for renewable fuels has researchers investigating the feasibility of alternative feedstocks, such as microalgae. Inherent advantages include high potential yield, use of non-arable land and integration with waste streams. The nutrient requirements of a large-scale microalgae production system will require the coupling of cultivation systems with industrial waste resources, such as carbon dioxide from flue gas and nutrients from wastewater. Inorganic contaminants present in these wastes can potentially lead to bioaccumulation in microalgal biomass negatively impact productivity and limiting end use. This study focuses on the experimental evaluation of the impact and the fate of 14 inorganic contaminants (As, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Hg, Mn, Ni, Pb, Sb, Se, Sn, V and Zn) on Nannochloropsis salina
growth. Microalgae were cultivated in photobioreactors illuminated at 984 µmol m-2
and maintained at pH 7 in a growth media polluted with inorganic contaminants at levels expected based on the composition found in commercial coal flue gas systems. Contaminants present in the biomass and the medium at the end of a 7 day growth period were analytically quantified through cold vapor atomic absorption spectrometry for Hg and through inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry for As, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Mn, Ni, Pb, Sb, Se, Sn, V and Zn. Results show N. salina
is a sensitive strain to the multi-metal environment with a statistical decrease in biomass yieldwith the introduction of these contaminants. The techniques presented here are adequate for quantifying algal growth and determining the fate of inorganic contaminants.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 101, algae, heavy metals, Nannochloropsis salina, photobioreactor, flue gas, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, ICPMS, cold vapor atomic absorption spectrometry, CVAAS