The Path Brightens for Vaccine Researchers: Luminescent Reporter Viruses Detect Neutralizing Antibodies

Developing a vaccine that is safe, effective, easily manufactured and distributed is a daunting task. Yet, that is exactly what is needed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccine development, safety and efficacy testing take time. The mumps vaccine is thought to be the quickest infectious disease vaccine ever produced, and its development required four years from sample collection to licensing (2). However, there are many reasons to anticipate quicker development for a COVID-19 vaccine: Researchers are collaborating in unprecedented ways, and most COVID-19 scientific publications are free for all to access and often available as preprints. As of August 11, 2020, researchers around the globe have more than 165 vaccine candidates in development, 30 of which are in some phase of human clinical trials (1). The range of vaccine formulations available to scientists has expanded to include RNA and DNA vaccines, replication-defective adenovirus vaccines, inactivated or killed vaccines and subunit protein vaccines. Equally important is that vaccine developers and researchers have greater access to powerful molecular biology tools like bioluminescent reporters that enable quicker testing and development.

Continue reading “The Path Brightens for Vaccine Researchers: Luminescent Reporter Viruses Detect Neutralizing Antibodies”

NanoLuc: Tiny Tag with a Big Impact

Synthetic biology—genetically engineering an organism to do or make something useful—is the central goal of the iGEM competition each year. After teams conquer the challenge of cloning their gene, the next hurdle is demonstrating that the engineered gene is expressing the desired protein (and possibly quantifying the level of expression), which they may do using a reporter gene.

Reporters can also play a more significant role in iGEM projects when teams design their organism with reporter genes to detect and signal the presence of specific molecules, like environmental toxins or biomarkers. Three of the iGEM teams Promega sponsored this year opted to incorporate some version of NanoLuc® Luciferase into their projects.

NanoLuc® luciferase is a small monomeric enzyme (19.1kDa, 171 amino acids) based on the luciferase from the deep sea shrimp Oplophorus gracilirostris. This engineered enzyme uses a novel substrate, furimazine, to produce high-intensity, glow-type luminescence in an ATP-independent reaction. Unlike other molecules for tagging and detecting proteins, NanoLuc® luciferase is less likely to interfere with enzyme activity and affect protein production due to its small size.

NanoLuc® Luciferase has also been engineered into a structural complementation reporter system, NanoBiT® Luciferase, that contains a Large subunit (LgBiT) and two small subunit options: low affinity SmBiT and high affinity HiBiT. Together, these NanoLuc® technologies provide a bioluminescent toolbox that was used by the iGEM teams to address a diverse set of biological challenges.

Here is an overview of each team’s project and how they incorporated NanoLuc® technology.

Continue reading “NanoLuc: Tiny Tag with a Big Impact”

Why You Don’t Need to Select a Wavelength for a Luciferase Assay

It’s a question I’m asked probably once a week. “What wavelength do I select on my luminometer when performing a luciferase assay?” The question is a good and not altogether unexpected one, especially for those new to bioluminescent assays. The answer is that in most cases, you don’t and in fact shouldn’t select a wavelength (the exception to this rule is if you’re measuring light emitted in two simultaneous luciferase reactions). To understand why requires a bit of an explanation of absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence assays, and the differences among them.

Absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence assays are all means to quantify something of interest, be that a genetic reporter, cell viability, cytotoxicity, apoptosis, or other markers. In principle, they are all similar. For example, a genetic reporter assay is an indicator of gene expression. The promoter of a gene of interest can be cloned upstream of a reporter such as β-galactosidase, GFP, or firefly luciferase. The amount of each of these reporters that is transcribed into mRNA and translated into protein by the cell is indicative of the endogenous expression of the gene of interest. Continue reading “Why You Don’t Need to Select a Wavelength for a Luciferase Assay”

When Proteins Get Together: Shedding (Blue) Light on Cellular LOV

NanoBRETNo protein is an island. Within a cell, protein-protein interactions (PPIs) are involved in highly regulated and specific pathways that control gene expression and cell signaling. The disruption of PPIs can lead to a variety of disease states, including cancer.

Two general approaches are commonly used to study PPIs. Real-time assays measure PPI activity in live cells using fluorescent or luminescent tags. A second approach includes methods that measure a specific PPI “after the fact”; popular examples include a reporter system, such as the classic yeast two-hybrid system.

Continue reading “When Proteins Get Together: Shedding (Blue) Light on Cellular LOV”

Eight Considerations for Getting the Best Data from Your Luminescent Assays

The stage is set. You’ve spent days setting up this experiment. Your bench is spotless. All the materials you need to finally collect data are laid neatly before you. You fetch your cells from the incubator, add your detection reagents, and carefully slide the assay plate into the luminometer. It whirs and buzzes, and data begin to appear on the computer screen. But wait!

Bad data
These data are garbage!

Don’t let this dramatic person be you. Here are 8 tips from us on things to watch out for before you start your next luminescent assay. Make sure you’ll be getting good data before wasting precious sample!

Continue reading “Eight Considerations for Getting the Best Data from Your Luminescent Assays”

Dual-Luciferase or Dual-Glo Luciferase Assay System? Which one should I choose for my reporter assays?

Confused womanI’ve got a set of experiments planned that, if all goes well, will provide me with the answer I have been seeking for months. Plus, my supervisor is eagerly awaiting the results because she needs the data for a grant application, so I don’t want to mess it up. However, I am faced with a choice for my firefly and Renilla luciferase reporter assays: Do I use the Dual-Luciferase® Reporter Assay System or Dual-Glo® Luciferase Assay System? What’s the difference? How do I decide which to use? I’m so confused! Help!

Sound familiar? Not to worry! The choice is not difficult once you know how these assays work and how they differ.
Continue reading “Dual-Luciferase or Dual-Glo Luciferase Assay System? Which one should I choose for my reporter assays?”

Probing RGS:Gα Protein Interactions with NanoBiT Assays

gpcr_in_membrane_on_white2When I was a post-doc at UT Southwestern, I was fortunate to interact with two Nobel prize winners, Johann Deisenhofer and Fred Gilman.  Johann once helped me move a -80°C freezer into his lab when we lost power in my building. I once replaced my boss at small faculty mixer with a guest speaker and had a drink with Fred Gilman and several other faculty members from around the university. Among the faculty, one professor had a cell phone on his belt, an odd sight in 1995. Fred Gilman asked him what it was and why he had it. It was so his lab could notify him of good results anytime of the day. Fred laughed and told him to get rid of it – if it’s good data, it will survive until morning.

I was reminded of this story when I read a recent paper by Bodle, C.R. et al (1) about the development of a NanoBiT® Complementation Assay (2) to measure interactions of Regulators of G Protein Signaling (RGS) with Gα proteins in cells. (Fred Gilman was the first to isolate a G protein and that led to him being a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1994). The authors created over a dozen NanoBiT Gα:RGS domain pairs and found they could classify different RGS proteins by the speed of the interaction in a cellular context. The interactions were readily reversible with known inhibitors and were suitable for high-throughput screening due to Z’ factors exceeding 0.5. The study paves the way for future work to identify broad spectrum RGS domain:Gα inhibitors and even RGS domain-specific inhibitors. This is the second paper applying NanoBiT Technology to GPCR studies (3).

A Little Background…
A primary function of GPCRs is transmission of extracellular signals across the plasma membrane via coupling with intracellular heterotrimeric G proteins. Upon receptor stimulation, the Gα subunit dissociates from the βγ subunit, initiating the cascade of downstream second messenger pathways that alter transcription (4). The Gα subunits are actually slow GTPases that propagate signals when GTP is bound but shutdown and reassociate with the βγ subunit when GTP is cleaved to GDP. This activation process is known as the GTPase cycle. G proteins are extremely slow GTPases. Continue reading “Probing RGS:Gα Protein Interactions with NanoBiT Assays”

Shining Light on a Superbug

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and their potential to cause epidemics with no viable treatment options have been in the news a lot. These “superbugs,” which have acquired genes giving them resistance to common and so-called “last resort” antibiotics, are a huge concern as effective treatment options dwindle. Less attention has been given to an infection that is not just impervious to antibiotics, but is actually enabled by them.

Clostridium diffic33553646_lile Infection (CDI) is one of the most common healthcare-associated infections and a significant global healthcare problem. Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a Gram-positive anaerobic bacterium, is the source of the infection. C. diff spores are very resilient to environmental stressors, such as pH, temperature and even antibiotics, and can be found pretty much everywhere around us, including on most of the food we eat. Ingesting the spores does not usually lead to infection inside the body without also being exposed to antibiotics.

Individuals taking antibiotics are 7-10 times more likely to acquire a CDI. Antibiotics disrupt the normal flora of the intestine, allowing C. diff to compete for resources and flourish. Once exposed to the anaerobic conditions of the human gut, these spores germinate into active cells that embed into the tissue lining the colon. The bacteria are then able to produce the toxins that can cause disease and result in severe damage, or even death. Continue reading “Shining Light on a Superbug”

Two light stories for Friday

For this Friday blog, here’s a sampling of two recent papers highlighting use of the small, bright, NanoLuc luciferase in interesting ways.

Bioluminescence-based hormone:receptor binding studies

A review by Ya-Li Liu and Zhan-Yun Guo, published this week in Amino Acids summarizes recent work of the authors and others using NanoLuc luciferase labeled protein/peptide hormones in receptor binding assays. Typically, studies assessing binding of hormones to receptors have used radioactive tracers. The brightness of NanoLuc luciferase makes bioluminescence an attractive alternative as a sensitive and safer option. Because cell membrane receptors are difficult to purify in quantity, the amounts available for experiments are usually limited. Therefore, tracers used in binding assays need to have a high affinity for the receptor, must not interfere with binding, and must be highly sensitive. Continue reading “Two light stories for Friday”

Targeting MYC: The Need to Study Protein:Protein Interactions in Cells

Crystal Structure of MYC MAX Heterodimer bound to DNA ImageSource=RCSB PDB; StructureID=1nkp; DOI=http://dx.doi.org/10.2210/pdb1nkp/pdb;
Crystal Structure of MYC MAX Heterodimer bound to DNA ImageSource=RCSB PDB; StructureID=1nkp; DOI=http://dx.doi.org/10.2210/pdb1nkp/pdb;

In 1982, picked up because of its homology to chicken virus genes that could transform cells, MYC became one of the first human genes identified that could drive cellular transformation (1,2). Since that time countless laboratories have prodded and poked the human MYC gene, the MYC protein, their homologs in other animal models, and their transforming viral counterparts.

MYC is a transcription factor and forms heterodimers with a required protein partner, MAX, before binding to the E box sequences of DNA regulatory regions (3). MYC regulates gene expression of many targets through interactions with a host of proteins, often referred to as the MYC Interactome (2).  In fact, MYC is estimated to bind 10–15% of the genome, and it regulates the expression of genes that  are transcribed by by each of the three RNA polymerases (2).

MYC plays a central role in regulating cell growth, proliferation, apoptosis, differentiation and transformation, acting as a central integrator of cellular signals. MYC is tightly regulated at multiple levels from gene expression to protein stability. Dysregulation (usually upregulation) of the amount and stability of Myc protein is observed in many human cancers. Even in cancers in which MYC is not directly involved in transforming cells, its normal expression is often required to support the extracellular matrix and/or vascularization necessary for tumor growth and formation (4).

Because MYC is such a central player cancer pathology, it is an attractive target for cancer therapeutics  (2) . Continue reading “Targeting MYC: The Need to Study Protein:Protein Interactions in Cells”