There are 9 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Coral reefs worldwide face a variety of threats and many coral species are increasingly endangered. It is often assumed that rare coral species face higher risks of extinction because they have very small effective population sizes, a predicted consequence of which is decreased genetic diversity and adaptive potential. Here we show that some Indo-Pacific members of the coral genus Acropora have very small global population sizes and are likely to be unidirectional hybrids. Whether this reflects hybrid origins or secondary hybridization following speciation is unclear. The interspecific gene flow demonstrated here implies increased genetic diversity and adaptive potential in these coral species. Rare Acropora species may therefore be less vulnerable to extinction than has often been assumed because of their propensity for hybridization and introgression, which may increase their adaptive potential.
Colonisation of sessile eukaryotic host surfaces (e.g. invertebrates and seaweeds) by bacteria is common in the marine environment and is expected to create significant inter-species competition and other interactions. The bacterium Pseudoalteromonas tunicata is a successful competitor on marine surfaces owing primarily to its ability to produce a number of inhibitory molecules. As such P. tunicata has become a model organism for the studies into processes of surface colonisation and eukaryotic host-bacteria interactions. To gain a broader understanding into the adaptation to a surface-associated life-style, we have sequenced and analysed the genome of P. tunicata and compared it to the genomes of closely related strains. We found that the P. tunicata genome contains several genes and gene clusters that are involved in the production of inhibitory compounds against surface competitors and secondary colonisers. Features of P. tunicata’s oxidative stress response, iron scavenging and nutrient acquisition show that the organism is well adapted to high-density communities on surfaces. Variation of the P. tunicata genome is suggested by several landmarks of genetic rearrangements and mobile genetic elements (e.g. transposons, CRISPRs, phage). Surface attachment is likely to be mediated by curli, novel pili, a number of extracellular polymers and potentially other unexpected cell surface proteins. The P. tunicata genome also shows a utilisation pattern of extracellular polymers that would avoid a degradation of its recognised hosts, while potentially causing detrimental effects on other host types. In addition, the prevalence of recognised virulence genes suggests that P. tunicata has the potential for pathogenic interactions. The genome analysis has revealed several physiological features that would provide P. tunciata with competitive advantage against other members of the surface-associated community. We have also identified properties that could mediate interactions with surfaces other than its currently recognised hosts. This together with the detection of known virulence genes leads to the hypothesis that P. tunicata maintains a carefully regulated balance between beneficial and detrimental interactions with a range of host surfaces.