Developmental Biology


Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press’ new Drosophila Neurobiology laboratory manual covers the three main approaches taught in the CSHL course: studying neural development, recording and imaging the nervous system, and studying behavior. The featured electrophysiology paper is part of the recording/imaging section, while the second featured article in the July issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols comes from a neural development chapter.

The larval Drosophila brain has been a valuable model for investigating the role of stem cells in development. These neural stem cells, called “neuroblasts,” have provided insight into the role of cell polarity in influencing cell fate. Identifying neuroblasts and their progeny requires a method capable of recognizing cell polarity and cell fate markers. Immunofluorescent Staining of Drosophila Larval Brain Tissue, provided by Cheng-Yu Lee and colleagues, describes procedures for the collection and processing of Drosophila larval brains for analysis of these markers. Neuroblasts are identified via immunolocalization, the use of labeled antibodies that specifically bind the marker proteins of interest. As one of our featured articles, it is freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

The dynamic nature of biological processes has long been difficult to document, as researchers have been limited to static studies based on fixed specimens. Methods like immunocytochemistry or in situ hybridization can only provide accurate information on one organism at one particular time point. As Scott Fraser has remarked, it’s akin to trying to figure out the rules of football from looking at a set of still photographs taken during a game. But recent developments in imaging techniques, particularly the use of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) and its variants, have provided nondestructive ways to study dynamic processes over time, taking our understanding into the fourth dimension.

These new imaging techniques generate an enormous amount of digital image data, which can be difficult to cope with as it builds up over time. Computer-based image analysis is required for the extraction of reproducible and quantitative information. Previously, Cold Spring Harbor Protocols has featured Khuloud Jaqaman and Gaudenz Danuser’s case study using particle tracking to study cellular dynamics. In the June issue of the journal, Roland Eils and colleagues present Tracking and Quantitative Analysis of Dynamic Movements of Cells and Particles. The article sketches a general workflow for quantitative analysis of live cell images and details automated methods for image analysis including preprocessing, segmentation, registration, tracking and classification.

The rapid pace of technological progress in biological imaging has provided great insight into the processes of embryonic development. But for higher organisms with opaque eggs or internal development, optical access to the embryo is limited. While various embryonic culture methods are available, vertebrate development is best studied in an intact embryo model, one in which the natural environment has not been disrupted. In the June issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, Paul Kulesa and colleagues from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research present In Ovo Live Imaging of Avian Embryos, a detailed set of instructions for time-lapse imaging of fluorescently labeled cells within a living avian embryo. During the procedure, a hole is made in the shell, and a Teflon membrane that is oxygen-permeable and liquid-impermeable is used to provide a window for visualization of the embryo via confocal or two-photon microscopy. Imaging can take place for up to five days without dehydration or degradation of the normal developmental environment. As one of June’s featured articles, the protocol is freely available to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. Kulesa’s group also supplies a second protocol in the issue, covering Multi-Position Photoactivation and Multi-Time Acquisition for Large-Scale Cell Tracing in Avian Embryos, a technique that produced June’s cover image.

The generation of transgenic plants can be a lengthy and difficult process. Transient expression assays have been developed as faster and more convenient alternatives for investigating gene function. These assays often take advantage of the ability of Agrobacterium to transfer foreign DNA into plant cells with intact cell walls. Agrobacterium-mediated transformation is, however, inefficient and shows great variability. In the May issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, Andreas Nebenführ and colleagues from the University of Tennessee present FAST Technique for Agrobacterium-Mediated Transient Gene Expression in Seedlings of Arabidopsis and Other Plant Species, a quick, efficient and economical assay for gene function in intact plants. The technique involves cocultivation of young plant seedlings and Agrobacterium in the presence of Silwet-77. The Silwet-77 facilitates transformation, thus replacing a wounding or device-dependent vacuum step. As one of May’s featured articles, it is freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

The large size and external development of the frog Xenopus laevis make it an ideal system for in vivo imaging of dynamic cellular activity. Xenopus embryos are amenable to simple genetic manipulation techniques including knockdowns and misexpression, as well as transgenesis. The ease of collecting large numbers of embryos and the larger size of individual cells within an embryo as compared with other vertebrate model systems provides an excellent platform for the observation of cellular behavior and subcellular processes. In the May issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, John Wallingford and colleagues from the University of Texas provide a suite of articles detailing live imaging of Xenopus laevis at low magnification, confocal imaging of fixed tissues, and in one of May’s featured articles, High-Magnification In Vivo Imaging of Xenopus Embryos for Cell and Developmental Biology. This protocol describes methods for labeling and high-magnification time-lapse imaging by confocal microscopy. Like all of our featured articles, it’s freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

The goal of tissue engineering is to recapitulate healthy human organs and tissue structures in culture, and then transplant them into patients, where they are fully integrated. This is a complicated process, and the use of high-throughput imaging systems that allow researchers to directly monitor transplanted tissues in live animals over time is important for improving the culturing and implantation techniques, as well as the design of artificial tissue scaffolds. By using transgenic animals with cell-specific fluorescent reporters, parameters such as tissue perfusion, donor cell survival, and donor-host cell interaction/integration can be observed. In the April issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, Mary Dickinson and colleagues from the Baylor College of Medicine present a protocol for the use of The Mouse Cornea as a Transplantation Site for Live Imaging of Engineered Tissue Constructs. This is a modified version of the classical corneal micropocket angiogenesis assay, which employs it as a live imaging “window” to monitor angiogenic hydrogel tissue constructs. As one of April’s featured articles, it is freely available to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike.

January’s issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols wraps up the second volume of our ongoing Emerging Model Organisms series. The idea behind the series is that technical advances have allowed for great expansion in the range of organisms used for research. Each set of articles is meant to introduce the reader to a new organism, to explain why it’s useful for laboratory research and to provide information on husbandry, genetics and genomics, and a set of basic laboratory protocols. The first set of 23 emerging model systems was collected in a laboratory manual, and the current set of 18 will soon be as well. January’s organisms are:

The Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus): The rabbit is a valuable animal model for a variety of biomedical research areas including in vitro fertilization, early embryology and organogenesis, neurophysiology, ophthalmology, and cardiovascular research. The rabbit is also used as a model for toxicology studies and analyses of drug effects on embryo and fetal development, as well as for research involving the immune system, not to mention its common use in antibody production. Christoph Viebahn and colleagues from the University of Göttingen provide an overview of the rabbit as an experimental system, and protocols for mating and embryo isolation, dissection and fixation of embryos, embryo culture, staining and imaging, immunofluorescence, in situ hybridization, mounting, embedding and sectioning, embryo transfer, artificial insemination and cryopreservation of embryos.

Paramecium tetraurelia: Paramecium makes an interesting unicellular model, as the authors note:

Paramecium tetraurelia is a widely distributed, free-living unicellular organism that feeds on bacteria and can easily be cultured in the laboratory. Its position within the phylum Ciliophora, remote from the most commonly used models, offers an interesting perspective on the basic cellular and molecular processes of eukaryotic life. Its large size and complex cellular organization facilitate morphogenetic studies of conserved structures, such as cilia and basal bodies, as well as electrophysiological studies of swimming behavior. Like all ciliates, P. tetraurelia contains two distinct types of nuclei, the germline micronucleus (MIC) and the somatic macronucleus (MAC), which differentiate from copies of the zygotic nucleus after fertilization. The sexual cycle can be managed by controlling food uptake, allowing the study of a developmentally regulated differentiation program in synchronous cultures. Spectacular genome rearrangements occur during the development of the somatic macronucleus. Their epigenetic control by RNA-mediated homology-dependent mechanisms, which might underlie long-known cases of non-Mendelian inheritance, provides evolutionary insight into the diversity of small RNA pathways involved in genome regulation. Being endowed with two alternative modes of sexual reproduction (conjugation and autogamy), P. tetraurelia is ideally suited for genetic analyses, and the recent sequencing of its macronuclear genome revealed one of the largest numbers of genes in any eukaryote. Together with the development of new molecular techniques, including complementation cloning and an easily implemented technique for reverse genetics based on RNA interference (RNAi), these features make P. tetraurelia a very attractive unicellular model.

Eric Meyer and colleagues from the CNRS have written an overview of P tetraurelia as a model system, and protocols for maintaining cell lines, mass culture, gene silencing, DNA microinjection, immunocytochemistry, and fluorescence in situ hybridization.

We have some new organisms in the works for Volume 3, but would welcome your suggestions.

Cold Spring Harbor Protocols is hosting the movie figures that accompany the new lab manual, Live Cell Imaging, Second Edition, edited by Robert Goldman, Jason Swedlow and David Spector, . These movies are freely accessible to all, and worth a look if you’re interested in seeing the state of the art in time lapse imaging.

Live cell imaging techniques are driving a revolution in biological research. Instead of viewing dead tissues and cells fixed at a particular stage of activity, scientists can now visualize dynamic changes as they happen, permitting a better understanding of complete processes. The revolution has been fueled by the implementation of genetically encoded fluorescent proteins, the subject of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The diverse array of applications benefiting from fluorescent proteins ranges from markers targeted at organelles and protein fusions designed to monitor intracellular dynamics to reporters of transcriptional regulation and in vivo probes for whole-body imaging and detection of cancer. Fluorescent proteins have enabled the creation of highly specific biosensors to monitor a wide range of intracellular phenomena, including pH and metal-ion concentration, protein kinase activity, apoptosis, membrane voltage, cyclic nucleotide signaling, and tracing neuronal pathways. In the December issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, David Piston and colleagues present Fluorescent Protein Tracking and Detection: Fluorescent Protein Structure and Color Variants, a comprehensive overview of the wide variety of fluorescent proteins that are currently available. The article features more than twenty movies of different fluorescent proteins in action and is a great primer for planning imaging experiments. As one of December’s featured articles, it is freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

In addition, the same authors have also contributed Fluorescent Protein Tracking and Detection: Applications Using Fluorescent Proteins in Living Cells. This article provides some general tips for the practical aspects of using and imaging enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) and newer members of the color palette, as well as quantitative imaging of fluorescent proteins and imaging of several fluorescent proteins at the same time. Finally, an overview is provided for the different types of biosensors that have been derived from flourescent proteins.

Both articles are adapted from the spectacular new manual, Live Cell Imaging: A Laboratory Manual, Second Edition which is due out by month’s end.

CSH Protocols December Cover

CSH Protocols December Cover

We’re getting toward the end of the second volume of our Emerging Model Organisms series in Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, and November’s issue brings us a look at the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid and the genus Dioscorea, or True Yams.

Euprymna scolopes, the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid (our cover model this month, see below) is a cephalopod that’s well-suited for study in the laboratory. E. scolopes is primarily studied in three contexts:
1) as a model for cephalopod development–the embryos and protective chorions are clear, making it amenable for the observations and manipulations common in other studied model systems
2) as a model of animal-bacteria symbioses with the luminous marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri
3) as a system for studying the interaction of tissues with light, as the squid features a specialized light organ.

Heinz Gert de Couet and colleagues supply an overview of the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid as a model system, along with protocols for Preparation of Genomic DNA, Confocal Immunocytochemistry, Whole-Mount In Situ Hybridization (parts 1 and 2), and Culture and Observation.

Dioscorea is a large genus of plants that are monocots but that look like dicots, and are closely related to the phylogenetically derived group containing the grasses. It’s interesting evolutionarily because of the position it occupies, as a link between the eudicots and grasses–groups that contain all the model flowering plant species. The true yam is also important as a food crop. R. Geeta and colleagues provide an overview of the genus, and protocols for husbandry, culturing tissues, management of plantlets, controlled crosses, and DNA extraction.

CSH Protocols November Cover

CSH Protocols November Cover

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