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1.  Generation and characterization of a stable cell population releasing fluorescent HIV-1-based Virus Like Particles in an inducible way 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:52.
The availability of cell lines releasing fluorescent viral particles can significantly support a variety of investigations, including the study of virus-cell interaction and the screening of antiviral compounds. Regarding HIV-1, the recovery of such biologic reagents represents a very hard challenge due to the intrinsic cytotoxicity of many HIV-1 products. We sought to overcome such a limitation by using a cell line releasing HIV-1 particles in an inducible way, and by exploiting the ability of a HIV-1 Nef mutant to be incorporated in virions at quite high levels.
Here, we report the isolation and characterization of a HIV-1 packaging cell line, termed 18-4s, able to release valuable amounts of fluorescent HIV-1 based Virus-Like Particles (VLPs) in an inducible way. 18-4s cells were recovered by constitutively expressing the HIV-1 NefG3C mutant fused with the enhanced-green fluorescent protein (NefG3C-GFP) in a previously isolated inducible HIV-1 packaging cell line. The G3C mutation creates a palmitoylation site which results in NefG3C-GFP incorporation into virions greatly exceeding that of the wild type counterpart. Upon induction of 18-4s cells with ponasterone A and sodium butyrate, up to 4 μg/ml of VLPs, which had incorporated about 150 molecules of NefG3C-GFP per viral particle, were released into the culture supernatant. Due to their intrinsic strong fluorescence, the 18-4s VLPs were easily detectable by a novel cytofluorometric-based assay developed here. The treatment of target cells with fluorescent 18-4 VLPs pseudotyped with different glycoprotein receptors resulted in these becoming fluorescent as early as two hours post-challenge.
We created a stable cell line releasing fluorescent HIV-1 based VLPs upon induction useful for several applications including the study of virus-cell interactions and the screening of antiviral compounds.
PMCID: PMC1769370  PMID: 17192195
2.  Multiplexed expression and screening for recombinant protein production in mammalian cells 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:49.
A variety of approaches to understanding protein structure and function require production of recombinant protein. Mammalian based expression systems have advantages over bacterial systems for certain classes of protein but can be slower and more laborious. Thus the availability of a simple system for production and rapid screening of constructs or conditions for mammalian expression would be of great benefit. To this end we have coupled an efficient recombinant protein production system based on transient transfection in HEK-293 EBNA1 (HEK-293E) suspension cells with a dot blot method allowing pre-screening of proteins expressed in cells in a high throughput manner.
A nested PCR approach was used to clone 21 extracellular domains of mouse receptors as CD4 fusions within a mammalian GATEWAY expression vector system. Following transient transfection, HEK-293E cells grown in 2 ml cultures in 24-deep well blocks showed similar growth kinetics, viability and recombinant protein expression profiles, to those grown in 50 ml shake flask cultures as judged by western blotting. Following optimisation, fluorescent dot blot analysis of transfection supernatants was shown to be a rapid method for analysing protein expression yielding similar results as western blot analysis. Addition of urea enhanced the binding of glycoproteins to a nitrocellulose membrane. A good correlation was observed between the results of a plate based small scale transient transfection dot blot pre-screen and successful purification of proteins expressed at the 50 ml scale.
The combination of small scale multi-well plate culture and dot blotting described here will allow the multiplex analysis of different mammalian expression experiments enabling a faster identification of high yield expression constructs or conditions prior to large scale protein production. The methods for parallel GATEWAY cloning and expression of multiple constructs in cell culture will also be useful for applications such as the generation of receptor protein microarrays.
PMCID: PMC1769369  PMID: 17187663
3.  On the activity loss of hydrolases in organic solvents: II. a mechanistic study of subtilisin Carlsberg 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:51.
Enzymes have been extensively used in organic solvents to catalyze a variety of transformations of biological and industrial significance. It has been generally accepted that in dry aprotic organic solvents, enzymes are kinetically trapped in their conformation due to the high-energy barrier needed for them to unfold, suggesting that in such media they should remain catalytically active for long periods. However, recent studies on a variety of enzymes demonstrate that their initial high activity is severely reduced after exposure to organic solvents for several hours. It was speculated that this could be due to structural perturbations, changes of the enzyme's pH memory, enzyme aggregation, or dehydration due to water removal by the solvents. Herein, we systematically study the possible causes for this undesirable activity loss in 1,4-dioxane.
As model enzyme, we employed the protease subtilisin Carlsberg, prepared by lyophilization and colyophilization with the additive methyl-β-cyclodextrin (MβCD). Our results exclude a mechanism involving a change in ionization state of the enzyme, since the enzyme activity shows a similar pH dependence before and after incubation for 5 days in 1,4-dioxane. No apparent secondary or tertiary structural perturbations resulting from prolonged exposure in this solvent were detected. Furthermore, active site titration revealed that the number of active sites remained constant during incubation. Additionally, the hydration level of the enzyme does not seem to affect its stability. Electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy studies revealed no substantial increase in the rotational freedom of a paramagnetic nitroxide inhibitor bound to the active site (a spin-label) during incubation in neat 1,4-dioxane, when the water activity was kept constant using BaBr2 hydrated salts. Incubation was also accompanied by a substantial decrease in Vmax/KM.
These results exclude some of the most obvious causes for the observed low enzyme storage stability in 1,4-dioxane, mainly structural, dynamics and ionization state changes. The most likely explanation is possible rearrangement of water molecules within the enzyme that could affect its dielectric environment. However, other mechanisms, such as small distortions around the active site or rearrangement of counter ions, cannot be excluded at this time.
PMCID: PMC1764882  PMID: 17187678
4.  Development and validation of vectors containing multiple siRNA expression cassettes for maximizing the efficiency of gene silencing 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:50.
RNA interference (RNAi) was originally identified as a biological process in which short double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) suppress the expression of genes complimentary to the dsRNA. This cellular intrinsic gene silencing mechanism has subsequently been developed as a useful tool for studies of gene function. A major strategy for producing small interfering RNA (siRNA) in cultured cells involves the use of siRNA expression vectors in which a RNA polymerase III (Pol III) promoter and transcription stop signal are designed to constitute a functional siRNA expression cassette for production of siRNA. However, most of the available vectors contain only one siRNA expression cassette.
In order to maximize the efficiency and versatility of the vector-based siRNA approach, we have developed vectors containing multiple (up to six) tandem siRNA expression cassettes. Moreover, we demonstrated that these vectors can be used not only to produce different siRNA to simultaneously suppress the expression of multiple genes but also to maximize the silencing of a singe gene.
The vectors containing multiple siRNA expression cassettes can serve as useful tools for maximizing the efficiency of gene silencing.
PMCID: PMC1780051  PMID: 17187675
5.  A time- and dose-dependent STAT1 expression system 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:48.
The signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) family of transcription factors mediates a variety of cytokine dependent gene regulations. STAT1 has been mainly characterized by its role in interferon (IFN) type I and II signaling and STAT1 deficiency leads to high susceptibility to several pathogens. For fine-tuned analysis of STAT1 function we established a dimerizer-inducible system for STAT1 expression in vitro and in vivo.
The functionality of the dimerizer-induced STAT1 system is demonstrated in vitro in mouse embryonic fibroblasts and embryonic stem cells. We show that this two-vector based system is highly inducible and does not show any STAT1 expression in the absence of the inducer. Reconstitution of STAT1 deficient cells with inducible STAT1 restores IFNγ-mediated gene induction, antiviral responses and STAT1 activation remains dependent on cytokine stimulation. STAT1 expression is induced rapidly upon addition of dimerizer and expression levels can be regulated in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore we show that in transgenic mice STAT1 can be induced upon stimulation with the dimerizer, although only at low levels.
These results prove that the dimerizer-induced system is a powerful tool for STAT1 analysis in vitro and provide evidence that the system is suitable for the use in transgenic mice. To our knowledge this is the first report for inducible STAT1 expression in a time- and dose-dependent manner.
PMCID: PMC1770918  PMID: 17184522
6.  Target labelling for the detection and profiling of microRNAs expressed in CNS tissue using microarrays 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:47.
MicroRNAs (miRNA) are a novel class of small, non-coding, gene regulatory RNA molecules that have diverse roles in a variety of eukaryotic biological processes. High-throughput detection and differential expression analysis of these molecules, by microarray technology, may contribute to a greater understanding of the many biological events regulated by these molecules. In this investigation we compared two different methodologies for the preparation of labelled miRNAs from mouse CNS tissue for microarray analysis. Labelled miRNAs were prepared either by a procedure involving linear amplification of miRNAs (labelled-aRNA) or using a direct labelling strategy (labelled-cDNA) and analysed using a custom miRNA microarray platform. Our aim was to develop a rapid, sensitive methodology to profile miRNAs that could be adapted for use on limited amounts of tissue.
We demonstrate the detection of an equivalent set of miRNAs from mouse CNS tissues using both amplified and non-amplified labelled miRNAs. Validation of the expression of these miRNAs in the CNS by multiplex real-time PCR confirmed the reliability of our microarray platform. We found that although the amplification step increased the sensitivity of detection of miRNAs, we observed a concomitant decrease in specificity for closely related probes, as well as increased variation introduced by dye bias.
The data presented in this investigation identifies several important sources of systematic bias that must be considered upon linear amplification of miRNA for microarray analysis in comparison to directly labelled miRNA.
PMCID: PMC1713234  PMID: 17164008
7.  A simple vector system to improve performance and utilisation of recombinant antibodies 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:46.
Isolation of recombinant antibody fragments from antibody libraries is well established using technologies such as phage display. Phage display vectors are ideal for efficient display of antibody fragments on the surface of bacteriophage particles. However, they are often inefficient for expression of soluble antibody fragments, and sub-cloning of selected antibody populations into dedicated soluble antibody fragment expression vectors can enhance expression.
We have developed a simple vector system for expression, dimerisation and detection of recombinant antibody fragments in the form of single chain Fvs (scFvs). Expression is driven by the T7 RNA polymerase promoter in conjunction with the inducible lysogen strain BL21 (DE3). The system is compatible with a simple auto-induction culture system for scFv production. As an alternative to periplasmic expression, expression directly in the cytoplasm of a mutant strain with a more oxidising cytoplasmic environment (Origami 2™ (DE3)) was investigated and found to be inferior to periplasmic expression in BL21 (DE3) cells. The effect on yield and binding activity of fusing scFvs to the N terminus of maltose binding protein (a solubility enhancing partner), bacterial alkaline phosphatase (a naturally dimeric enzymatic reporter molecule), or the addition of a free C-terminal cysteine was determined. Fusion of scFvs to the N-terminus of maltose binding protein increased scFv yield but binding activity of the scFv was compromised. In contrast, fusion to the N-terminus of bacterial alkaline phosphatase led to an improved performance. Alkaline phosphatase provides a convenient tag allowing direct enzymatic detection of scFv fusions within crude extracts without the need for secondary reagents. Alkaline phosphatase also drives dimerisation of the scFv leading to an improvement in performance compared to monovalent constructs. This is illustrated by ELISA, western blot and immunohistochemistry.
Nine scFv expression vectors have been generated and tested. Three vectors showed utility for expression of functional scFv fragments. One vector, pSANG14-3F, produces scFv-alkaline phosphatase fusion molecules which offers a simple, convenient and sensitive way of determining the reactivity of recombinant antibody fragments in a variety of common assay systems.
PMCID: PMC1712229  PMID: 17156422
8.  In vitro cell cultures obtained from different explants of Corylus avellana produce Taxol and taxanes 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:45.
Taxol is an effective antineoplastic agent, originally extracted from the bark of Taxus brevifolia with a low yield. Many attempts have been made to produce Taxol by chemical synthesis, semi-synthesis and plant tissue cultures. However, to date, the availability of this compound is not sufficient to satisfy the commercial requirements. The aim of the present work was to produce suspension cell cultures from plants not belonging to Taxus genus and to verify whether they produced Taxol and taxanes. For this purpose different explants of hazel (Corylus avellana species) were used to optimize the protocol for inducing in vitro callus, an undifferentiated tissue from which suspension cell cultures were established.
Calli were successfully induced from stems, leaves and seeds grown in various hormone concentrations and combinations. The most suitable callus to establish suspension cell cultures was obtained from seeds. Media recovered from suspension cell cultures contained taxanes, and showed antiproliferative activity on human tumour cells. Taxol, 10-deacetyltaxol and 10-deacetylbaccatin III were the main taxanes identified. The level of Taxol recovered from the media of hazel cultures was similar to that found in yew cultures. Moreover, the production of taxanes in hazel cell cultures increased when elicitors were used.
Here we show that hazel cell cultures produce Taxol and taxanes under controlled conditions. This result suggests that hazel possesses the enzymes for Taxol production, which until now was considered to be a pathway particular to Taxus genus. The main benefit of producing taxanes through hazel cell cultures is that hazel is widely available, grows at a much faster rate in vivo, and is easier to cultivate in vitro than yew. In addition, the production of callus directly from hazel seeds shortens the culture time and minimizes the probability of contamination. Therefore, hazel could become a commercial source of Taxol and taxanes, both to be used as new therapeutic agents or as new precursors for Taxol semi-synthesis.
PMCID: PMC1702537  PMID: 17150090
9.  Two-temperature LATE-PCR endpoint genotyping 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:44.
In conventional PCR, total amplicon yield becomes independent of starting template number as amplification reaches plateau and varies significantly among replicate reactions. This paper describes a strategy for reconfiguring PCR so that the signal intensity of a single fluorescent detection probe after PCR thermal cycling reflects genomic composition. The resulting method corrects for product yield variations among replicate amplification reactions, permits resolution of homozygous and heterozygous genotypes based on endpoint fluorescence signal intensities, and readily identifies imbalanced allele ratios equivalent to those arising from gene/chromosomal duplications. Furthermore, the use of only a single colored probe for genotyping enhances the multiplex detection capacity of the assay.
Two-Temperature LATE-PCR endpoint genotyping combines Linear-After-The-Exponential (LATE)-PCR (an advanced form of asymmetric PCR that efficiently generates single-stranded DNA) and mismatch-tolerant probes capable of detecting allele-specific targets at high temperature and total single-stranded amplicons at a lower temperature in the same reaction. The method is demonstrated here for genotyping single-nucleotide alleles of the human HEXA gene responsible for Tay-Sachs disease and for genotyping SNP alleles near the human p53 tumor suppressor gene. In each case, the final probe signals were normalized against total single-stranded DNA generated in the same reaction. Normalization reduces the coefficient of variation among replicates from 17.22% to as little as 2.78% and permits endpoint genotyping with >99.7% accuracy. These assays are robust because they are consistent over a wide range of input DNA concentrations and give the same results regardless of how many cycles of linear amplification have elapsed. The method is also sufficiently powerful to distinguish between samples with a 1:1 ratio of two alleles from samples comprised of 2:1 and 1:2 ratios of the same alleles.
SNP genotyping via Two-Temperature LATE-PCR takes place in a homogeneous closed-tube format and uses a single hybridization probe per SNP site. These assays are convenient, rely on endpoint analysis, improve the options for construction of multiplex assays, and are suitable for SNP genotyping, mutation scanning, and detection of DNA duplication or deletions.
PMCID: PMC1698914  PMID: 17144924
10.  The cumate gene-switch: a system for regulated expression in mammalian cells 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:43.
A number of expression systems have been developed where transgene expression can be regulated. They all have specific characteristics making them more suitable for certain applications than for others. Since some applications require the regulation of several genes, there is a need for a variety of independent yet compatible systems.
We have used the regulatory mechanisms of bacterial operons (cmt and cym) to regulate gene expression in mammalian cells using three different strategies. In the repressor configuration, regulation is mediated by the binding of the repressor (CymR) to the operator site (CuO), placed downstream of a strong constitutive promoter. Addition of cumate, a small molecule, relieves the repression. In the transactivator configuration, a chimaeric transactivator (cTA) protein, formed by the fusion of CymR with the activation domain of VP16, is able to activate transcription when bound to multiple copies of CuO, placed upstream of the CMV minimal promoter. Cumate addition abrogates DNA binding and therefore transactivation by cTA. Finally, an adenoviral library of cTA mutants was screened to identify a reverse cumate activator (rcTA), which activates transcription in the presence rather than the absence of cumate.
We report the generation of a new versatile inducible expression system.
PMCID: PMC1654148  PMID: 17083727
11.  Transformation of Anaplasma phagocytophilum 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:42.
Tick-borne pathogens cause emerging zoonoses, and include fastidious organisms such as Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Because of their obligate intracellular nature, methods for mutagenesis and transformation have not been available.
To facilitate genetic manipulation, we transformed A. phagocytophilum (Ap) to express a green fluorescent protein (GFP) with the Himar1 transposase system and selection with the clinically irrelevant antibiotic spectinomycin.
These transformed bacteria (GFP/Ap) grow at normal rates and are brightly fluorescent in human, monkey, and tick cell culture. Molecular characterization of the GFP/Ap genomic DNA confirmed transposition and the flanking genomic insertion locations were sequenced. Three mice inoculated with GFP/Ap by intraperitoneal injection became infected as demonstrated by the appearance of morulae in a peripheral blood neutrophil and re-isolation of the bacteria in culture.
PMCID: PMC1635035  PMID: 17076894
12.  Development of a new set of reference genes for normalization of real-time RT-PCR data of porcine backfat and longissimus dorsi muscle, and evaluation with PPARGC1A 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:41.
An essential part of using real-time RT-PCR is that expression results have to be normalized before any conclusions can be drawn. This can be done by using one or multiple, validated reference genes, depending on the desired accuracy of the results. In the pig however, very little information is available on the expression stability of reference genes. The aim of this study was therefore to develop a new set of reference genes which can be used for normalization of mRNA expression data of genes expressed in porcine backfat and longissimus dorsi muscle, both representing an economically important part of a pig's carcass. Because of its multiple functions in fat metabolism and muscle fibre type composition, peroxisome proliferative activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PPARGC1A) is a very interesting candidate gene for meat quality, and was an ideal gene to evaluate our developed set of reference genes for normalization of mRNA expression data of both tissue types.
The mRNA expression stability of 10 reference genes was determined. The expression of RPL13A and SDHA appeared to be highly unstable. After normalization to the geometric mean of the three most stably expressed reference genes (ACTB, TBP and TOP2B), the results not only showed that the mRNA expression of PPARGC1A was significantly higher in each of the longissimus dorsi muscle samples than in backfat (P < 0.05), but also that the expression was significantly higher in the most cranial of the three muscle samples (P < 0.05).
This study provides a new set of reference genes (ACTB, TBP and TOP2B) suitable for normalization of real-time RT-PCR data of backfat and longissimus dorsi muscle in the pig. The obtained PPARGC1A expression results, after application of this set of reference genes, are a first step in unravelling the PPARGC1A expression pattern in the pig and provide a basis for possible selection towards improved meat quality while maintaining a lean carcass.
PMCID: PMC1609116  PMID: 17026777
13.  Bifunctional recombinant fusion proteins for rapid detection of antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2 in whole blood 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:39.
Availability of accurate diagnostic tests has been helpful in curtailing the spread of HIV infection. Among these, simple, point of care, inexpensive tests which require only a drop of blood from finger-prick and give reliable results within minutes are a must for expansion of testing services and for reaching mobile and marginalised populations. Such tests will not only be a boon for the infrastructure-starved developing and underdeveloped countries but will also be extremely useful in developed countries where post-testing compliance is a major problem. Our laboratory has been involved in developing reagents for heamagglutination-based rapid detection of antibodies to HIV in whole blood using recombinant molecules specific for either HIV-1 or HIV-2. Since it is not required of a screening test to differentially detect HIV and HIV-2, it would useful to create a single molecule capable of simultaneous detection of both HIV-1 and HIV-2 in a drop of blood.
The present paper describes designing, high-level expression and large-scale purification of new molecules comprising recombinant anti-RBC Fab fused to immunodominant regions of envelope sequences from both gp41 of HIV-1 and gp36 of HIV-2. These immunodominant regions of HIV envelope contain cysteine residues, which make disulfide bond and can interfere with the assembly of light chain and heavy chain fragment to make Fab molecule in vitro. To circumvent this problem, a series of fusion proteins having different combinations of native and mutant envelope sequences were constructed, purified and evaluated for their efficacy in detecting antibodies to HIV-1 and HIV-2. A chimeric molecule comprising native envelope sequence of gp41 of HIV-1 and modified envelope sequence of gp36 of HIV-2 gave good production yield and also detected both HIV-1 and HIV-2 samples with high sensitivity and specificity.
The new bifunctional antibody fusion protein identified in this study detects both HIV-1 and HIV-2 infected samples efficiently and can be used in place of molecules that detect only HIV-1 or HIV-2. This will make reagent production more economical as only one molecule has to be produced in place of two molecules. Also, it will simplify the testing procedure allowing detection of both HIV-1 and HIV-2 infections in a single drop of blood.
PMCID: PMC1599719  PMID: 16995928
14.  Flip-Flop HSV-BAC: bacterial artificial chromosome based system for rapid generation of recombinant herpes simplex virus vectors using two independent site-specific recombinases 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:40.
Oncolytic herpes simplex virus (HSV) vectors that specifically replicate in and kill tumor cells sparing normal cells are a promising cancer therapy. Traditionally, recombinant HSV vectors have been generated through homologous recombination between the HSV genome and a recombination plasmid, which usually requires laborious screening or selection and can take several months. Recent advances in bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) technology have enabled cloning of the whole HSV genome as a BAC plasmid and subsequent manipulation in E. coli. Thus, we sought a method to generate recombinant oncolytic HSV vectors more easily and quickly using BAC technology.
We have developed an HSV-BAC system, termed the Flip-Flop HSV-BAC system, for the rapid generation of oncolytic HSV vectors. This system has the following features: (i) two site-specific recombinases, Cre and FLPe, are used sequentially to integrate desired sequences and to excise the BAC sequences, respectively; and (ii) the size of the HSV-BAC-insert genome exceeds the packaging limit of HSV so only correctly recombined virus grows efficiently. We applied this to the construction of an HSV-BAC plasmid that can be used for the generation of transcriptionally-targeted HSV vectors. BAC sequences were recombined into the UL39 gene of HSV ICP4-deletion mutant d120 to generate M24-BAC virus, from which HSV-BAC plasmid pM24-BAC was isolated. An ICP4 expression cassette driven by an exogenous promoter was re-introduced to pM24-BAC by Cre-mediated recombination and nearly pure preparations of recombinant virus were obtained typically in two weeks. Insertion of the ICP4 coding sequence alone did not restore viral replication and was only minimally better than an ICP4-null construct, whereas insertion of a CMVIE promoter-ICP4 transgene (bM24-CMV) efficiently drove viral replication. The levels of bM24-CMV replication in tumor cells varied considerably compared to hrR3 (UL39 mutant).
Our Flip-Flop HSV-BAC system enables rapid generation of HSV vectors carrying transgene inserts. By introducing a tumor-specific-promoter-driven ICP4 cassette into pM24-BAC using this system, one should be able to generate transcriptionally-targeted oncolytic HSV vectors. We believe this system will greatly facilitate the screening of a plethora of clinically useful tumor-specific promoters in the context of oncolytic HSV vectors.
PMCID: PMC1609115  PMID: 16995942
15.  Development of a Premature Stop Codon-detection method based on a bacterial two-hybrid system 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:38.
The detection of Premature Stop Codons (PSCs) in human genes is very useful for the genetic diagnosis of different hereditary cancers, e.g. Familial Breast Cancer and Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC). The products of these PSCs are truncated proteins, detectable in vitro by the Protein Truncation Test and in vivo by using the living translation machinery of yeast or bacteria. These living strategies are based on the construction of recombinant plasmids where the human sequence of interest is inserted upstream of a reporter gene. Although simple, these assays have their limitations. The yeast system requires extensive work to enhance its specificity, and the bacterial systems yield many false results due to translation re-initiation events occurring post PSCs. Our aim was to design a recombinant plasmid useful for detecting PSCs in human genes and resistant to bacterial translation re-initiation interferences.
A functional recombinant plasmid (pREAL) was designed based on a bacterial two-hybrid system. In our design, the in vivo translation of fused fragments of the Bordetella pertussis adenylate cyclase triggers the production of cAMP giving rise to a selectable bacterial phenotype. When a gene of interest is inserted between the two fragments, any PSC inhibits the enzymatic activity of the product, and translation re-initiation events post-PSC yield separated inactive fragments. We demonstrated that the system can accurately detect PSCs in human genes by inserting mutated fragments of the brca1 and msh2 gene. Western Blot assays revealed translation re-initiation events in all the tested colonies, implying that a simpler plasmid would not be resistant to this source of false negative results. The application of the system to a HNPCC family with a nonsense mutation in the msh2 gene correctly diagnosed wild type homozygous and heterozygous patients.
The developed pREAL is applicable to the detection of PSCs in human genes related to different diseases and is resistant to translation re-initiation events. The diagnosis steps are easy, have a low cost, detect only pathologic mutations, and allow the analysis of separated alleles.
PMCID: PMC1569827  PMID: 16948859
16.  Critical points of DNA quantification by real-time PCR – effects of DNA extraction method and sample matrix on quantification of genetically modified organisms 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:37.
Real-time PCR is the technique of choice for nucleic acid quantification. In the field of detection of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) quantification of biotech products may be required to fulfil legislative requirements. However, successful quantification depends crucially on the quality of the sample DNA analyzed. Methods for GMO detection are generally validated on certified reference materials that are in the form of powdered grain material, while detection in routine laboratories must be performed on a wide variety of sample matrixes. Due to food processing, the DNA in sample matrixes can be present in low amounts and also degraded. In addition, molecules of plant origin or from other sources that affect PCR amplification of samples will influence the reliability of the quantification. Further, the wide variety of sample matrixes presents a challenge for detection laboratories. The extraction method must ensure high yield and quality of the DNA obtained and must be carefully selected, since even components of DNA extraction solutions can influence PCR reactions. GMO quantification is based on a standard curve, therefore similarity of PCR efficiency for the sample and standard reference material is a prerequisite for exact quantification. Little information on the performance of real-time PCR on samples of different matrixes is available.
Five commonly used DNA extraction techniques were compared and their suitability for quantitative analysis was assessed. The effect of sample matrix on nucleic acid quantification was assessed by comparing 4 maize and 4 soybean matrixes. In addition 205 maize and soybean samples from routine analysis were analyzed for PCR efficiency to assess variability of PCR performance within each sample matrix. Together with the amount of DNA needed for reliable quantification, PCR efficiency is the crucial parameter determining the reliability of quantitative results, therefore it was chosen as the primary criterion by which to evaluate the quality and performance on different matrixes and extraction techniques. The effect of PCR efficiency on the resulting GMO content is demonstrated.
The crucial influence of extraction technique and sample matrix properties on the results of GMO quantification is demonstrated. Appropriate extraction techniques for each matrix need to be determined to achieve accurate DNA quantification. Nevertheless, as it is shown that in the area of food and feed testing matrix with certain specificities is impossible to define strict quality controls need to be introduced to monitor PCR. The results of our study are also applicable to other fields of quantitative testing by real-time PCR.
PMCID: PMC1569826  PMID: 16907967
17.  Efficient generation of double heterologous promoter controlled oncolytic adenovirus vectors by a single homologous recombination step in Escherichia coli 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:36.
Oncolytic adenoviruses are promising agents for the multimodal treatment of cancer. However, tumor-selectivity is crucial for their applicability in patients. Recent studies by several groups demonstrated that oncolytic adenoviruses with tumor-/tissue-specific expression of the E1 and E4 genes, which are pivotal for adenoviral replication, have a specificity profile that is superior to viruses that solely target the expression of E1 or E4 genes. Presently the E1 and E4 regions are modified in a time consuming sequential fashion.
Based on the widely used adenoviral cloning system AdEasy we generated a novel transfer vector that allows efficient and rapid generation of conditionally replication-competent adenovirus type 5 based vectors with the viral E1 and E4 genes under the transcriptional control of heterologous promoters. For insertion of the promoters of interest our transfer vector has two unique multiple cloning sites. Additionally, our shuttle plasmid allows encoding of a transgene within the E1A transcription unit. The modifications, including E1 mutations, are introduced into the adenoviral genome by a single homologous recombination step in Escherichia coli. Subsequently infectious viruses are rescued from plasmids. As a proof-of-concept we generated two conditionally replication-competent adenoviruses Ad.Ki•COX and Ad.COX•Ki with the promoters of the Ki-67 protein and the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) driving E1 and E4 and vice versa.
We demonstrated with our cloning system efficient generation of double heterologous promoter controlled oncolytic adenoviral vectors by a single homologous recombination step in bacteria. The generated viruses showed preferential replication in tumor cells and in a subcutaneous HT-29 colon cancer xenograft model the viruses demonstrated significant oncolytic activity comparable with dl327.
PMCID: PMC1557486  PMID: 16887042
18.  NERVE: New Enhanced Reverse Vaccinology Environment 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:35.
Since a milestone work on Neisseria meningitidis B, Reverse Vaccinology has strongly enhanced the identification of vaccine candidates by replacing several experimental tasks using in silico prediction steps. These steps have allowed scientists to face the selection of antigens from the predicted proteome of pathogens, for which cell culture is difficult or impossible, saving time and money. However, this good example of bioinformatics-driven immunology can be further developed by improving in silico steps and implementing biologist-friendly tools.
We introduce NERVE (New Enhanced Reverse Vaccinology Environment), an user-friendly software environment for the in silico identification of the best vaccine candidates from whole proteomes of bacterial pathogens. The software integrates multiple robust and well-known algorithms for protein analysis and comparison. Vaccine candidates are ranked and presented in a html table showing relevant information and links to corresponding primary data. Information concerning all proteins of the analyzed proteome is not deleted along selection steps but rather flows into an SQL database for further mining and analyses.
After learning from recent years' works in this field and analysing a large dataset, NERVE has been implemented and tuned as the first available tool able to rank a restricted pool (~8–9% of the whole proteome) of vaccine candidates and to show high recall (~75–80%) of known protective antigens. These vaccine candidates are required to be "safe" (taking into account autoimmunity risk) and "easy" for further experimental, high-throughput screening (avoiding possibly not soluble antigens). NERVE is expected to help save time and money in vaccine design and is available as an additional file with this manuscript; updated versions will be available at .
PMCID: PMC1570458  PMID: 16848907
19.  Comparison of lentiviral vector titration methods 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:34.
Lentiviral vectors are efficient vehicles for stable gene transfer in dividing and non-dividing cells. Several improvements in vector design to increase biosafety and transgene expression, have led to the approval of these vectors for use in clinical studies. Methods are required to analyze the quality of lentiviral vector production, the efficiency of gene transfer and the extent of therapeutic gene expression.
We compared lentiviral vector titration methods that measure pg p24/ml, RNA equivalents/ml, transducing units (TU/ml) or mRNA equivalents. The amount of genomic RNA in vector particles proves to be reliable to assess the production quality of vectors encoding non-fluorescent proteins. However, the RNA and p24 titers of concentrated vectors are rather poor in predicting transduction efficiency, due to the high variability of vector production based on transient transfection. Moreover, we demonstrate that transgenic mRNA levels correlate well with TU and can be used for functional titration of non-fluorescent transgenes.
The different titration methods have specific advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the experimental set-up one titration method should be preferred over the others.
PMCID: PMC1534021  PMID: 16836756
20.  Routes to improving the reliability of low level DNA analysis using real-time PCR 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:33.
Accurate quantification of DNA using quantitative real-time PCR at low levels is increasingly important for clinical, environmental and forensic applications. At low concentration levels (here referring to under 100 target copies) DNA quantification is sensitive to losses during preparation, and suffers from appreciable valid non-detection rates for sampling reasons. This paper reports studies on a real-time quantitative PCR assay targeting a region of the human SRY gene over a concentration range of 0.5 to 1000 target copies. The effects of different sample preparation and calibration methods on quantitative accuracy were investigated.
At very low target concentrations of 0.5–10 genome equivalents (g.e.) eliminating any replicates within each DNA standard concentration with no measurable signal (non-detects) compromised calibration. Improved calibration could be achieved by eliminating all calibration replicates for any calibration standard concentration with non-detects ('elimination by sample'). Test samples also showed positive bias if non-detects were removed prior to averaging; less biased results were obtained by converting to concentration, including non-detects as zero concentration, and averaging all values.
Tube plastic proved to have a strongly significant effect on DNA quantitation at low levels (p = 1.8 × 10-4). At low concentrations (under 10 g.e.), results for assays prepared in standard plastic were reduced by about 50% compared to the low-retention plastic. Preparation solution (carrier DNA or stabiliser) was not found to have a significant effect in this study.
Detection probabilities were calculated using logistic regression. Logistic regression over large concentration ranges proved sensitive to non-detected replicate reactions due to amplification failure at high concentrations; the effect could be reduced by regression against log (concentration) or, better, by eliminating invalid responses.
Use of low-retention plastic tubes is advised for quantification of DNA solutions at levels below 100 g.e. For low-level calibration using linear least squares, it is better to eliminate the entire replicate group for any standard that shows non-detects reasonably attributable to sampling effects than to either eliminate non-detects or to assign arbitrary high Ct values. In calculating concentrations for low-level test samples with non-detects, concentrations should be calculated for each replicate, zero concentration assigned to non-detects, and all resulting concentration values averaged. Logistic regression is a useful method of estimating detection probability at low DNA concentrations.
PMCID: PMC1559608  PMID: 16824215
21.  pTcINDEX: a stable tetracycline-regulated expression vector for Trypanosoma cruzi 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:32.
Trypanosoma cruzi is a protozoan pathogen of major medical importance in Latin America. It is also an early diverging eukaryote that displays many unusual biochemical features. The completion of the T. cruzi genome project has highlighted the need to extend the range of techniques available to study gene function. To this end we report the development of a stable tetracycline-dependent expression vector applicable to this parasite and describe in detail the parameters of the system.
We first produced T. cruzi cell lines that constitutively expressed bacteriophage T7 RNA polymerase and the tetracycline repressor protein from a multicopy episome. An integrative vector with an inducible expression site under the control of a tetracycline-regulatable T7 promoter (pTcINDEX) was targeted to the transcriptionally silent ribosomal RNA spacer region of these parasites and transformants selected using a T7 RNA polymerase-dependent hygromycin resistance gene. To test the system we used two marker proteins, luciferase and red fluorescent protein (RFP), and an endogenous parasite protein (a mitochondrial superoxide dismutase). In each case we found that induction was both time and dose-dependent. Luciferase mRNA could be induced by at least 100-fold, and luciferase activity up to 60-fold, within 24 hours of the addition of tetracycline. When we examined RFP induction by confocal microscopy and fluorescence activated cell sorter, we observed very high levels of expression (>1000-fold increase in fluorescence intensity), although this was not synchronous throughout clonal populations. Induction of superoxide dismutase resulted in an 18-fold increase in cellular activity. The observation that a tagged version of the enzyme was correctly targeted to the mitochondrion demonstrates that our expression system may also provide a high-throughput strategy for subcellular localisation.
Our results show that pTcINDEX represents a valuable addition to the genetic tools available for T. cruzi. The vector system is sufficiently flexible that it should have widespread uses including inducible expression of tagged proteins, generation of conditional knockout cell lines and the application of dominant-negative approaches.
PMCID: PMC1544328  PMID: 16824206
22.  Generation of non-genomic oligonucleotide tag sequences for RNA template-specific PCR 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:31.
In order to overcome genomic DNA contamination in transcriptional studies, reverse template-specific polymerase chain reaction, a modification of reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, is used. The possibility of using tags whose sequences are not found in the genome further improves reverse specific polymerase chain reaction experiments. Given the absence of software available to produce genome suitable tags, a simple tool to fulfill such need was developed.
The program was developed in Perl, with separate use of the basic local alignment search tool, making the tool platform independent (known to run on Windows XP and Linux). In order to test the performance of the generated tags, several molecular experiments were performed. The results show that Tagenerator is capable of generating tags with good priming properties, which will deliberately not result in PCR amplification of genomic DNA.
The program Tagenerator is capable of generating tag sequences that combine genome absence with good priming properties for RT-PCR based experiments, circumventing the effects of genomic DNA contamination in an RNA sample.
PMCID: PMC1526424  PMID: 16820068
23.  Conditional gene expression in the mouse using a Sleeping Beauty gene-trap transposon 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:30.
Insertional mutagenesis techniques with transposable elements have been popular among geneticists studying model organisms from E. coli to Drosophila and, more recently, the mouse. One such element is the Sleeping Beauty (SB) transposon that has been shown in several studies to be an effective insertional mutagen in the mouse germline. SB transposon vector studies have employed different functional elements and reporter molecules to disrupt and report the expression of endogenous mouse genes. We sought to generate a transposon system that would be capable of reporting the expression pattern of a mouse gene while allowing for conditional expression of a gene of interest in a tissue- or temporal-specific pattern.
Here we report the systematic development and testing of a transposon-based gene-trap system incorporating the doxycycline-repressible Tet-Off (tTA) system that is capable of activating the expression of genes under control of a Tet response element (TRE) promoter. We demonstrate that the gene trap system is fully functional in vitro by introducing the "gene-trap tTA" vector into human cells by transposition and identifying clones that activate expression of a TRE-luciferase transgene in a doxycycline-dependent manner. In transgenic mice, we mobilize gene-trap tTA vectors, discover parameters that can affect germline mobilization rates, and identify candidate gene insertions to demonstrate the in vivo functionality of the vector system. We further demonstrate that the gene-trap can act as a reporter of endogenous gene expression and it can be coupled with bioluminescent imaging to identify genes with tissue-specific expression patterns.
Akin to the GAL4/UAS system used in the fly, we have made progress developing a tool for mutating and revealing the expression of mouse genes by generating the tTA transactivator in the presence of a secondary TRE-regulated reporter molecule. A vector like the gene-trap tTA could provide a means for both annotating mouse genes and creating a resource of mice that express a regulable transcription factor in temporally- and tissue-specific patterns for conditional gene expression studies. These mice would be a valuable resource to the mouse genetics community for purpose of dissecting mammalian gene function.
PMCID: PMC1557845  PMID: 16800892
24.  In planta production of two peptides of the Classical Swine Fever Virus (CSFV) E2 glycoprotein fused to the coat protein of potato virus X 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:29.
Classical Swine Fever (CSFV) is one of the most important viral infectious diseases affecting wild boars and domestic pigs. The etiological agent of the disease is the CSF virus, a single stranded RNA virus belonging to the family Flaviviridae.
All preventive measures in domestic pigs have been focused in interrupting the chain of infection and in avoiding the spread of CSFV within wild boars as well as interrupting transmission from wild boars to domestic pigs. The use of plant based vaccine against CSFV would be advantageous as plant organs can be distributed without the need of particular treatments such as refrigeration and therefore large areas, populated by wild animals, could be easily covered.
We report the in planta production of peptides of the classical swine fever (CSF) E2 glycoprotein fused to the coat protein of potato virus X. RT-PCR studies demonstrated that the peptide encoding sequences are correctly retained in the PVX construct after three sequential passage in Nicotiana benthamiana plants. Sequence analysis of RT-PCR products confirmed that the epitope coding sequences are replicated with high fidelity during PVX infection. Partially purified virions were able to induce an immune response in rabbits.
Previous reports have demonstrated that E2 synthetic peptides can efficiently induce an immunoprotective response in immunogenized animals. In this work we have showed that E2 peptides can be expressed in planta by using a modified PVX vector. These results are particularly promising for designing strategies for disease containment in areas inhabited by wild boars.
PMCID: PMC1534020  PMID: 16792815
25.  PCR-based generation of shRNA libraries from cDNAs 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:28.
The use of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to silence target gene expression has greatly facilitated mammalian genetic analysis by generating loss-of-function mutants. In recent years, high-throughput, genome-wide screening of siRNA libraries has emerged as a viable approach. Two different methods have been used to generate short hairpin RNA (shRNA) libraries; one is to use chemically synthesized oligonucleotides, and the other is to convert complementary DNAs (cDNAs) into shRNA cassettes enzymatically. The high cost of chemical synthesis and the low efficiency of the enzymatic approach have hampered the widespread use of screening with shRNA libraries.
We report here an improved method for constructing genome-wide shRNA libraries enzymatically. The method includes steps of cDNA fragmentation and endonuclease MmeI digestion to generate 19-bp fragments, capping the 19-bp cDNA fragments with a hairpin oligonucleotide, and amplification of the hairpin structures by PCR. The PCR step converts hairpins into double-stranded DNAs that contain head-to-head cDNA fragments that can be cloned into a vector downstream of a Pol III promoter.
This method can readily be used to generate shRNA libraries from a small amount of mRNA and thus can be used to create cell- or tissue-specific libraries.
PMCID: PMC1533825  PMID: 16790063

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