There are 12 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:
Importance of Achromatic Contrast in Short-Range Fruit Foraging of Primates:
Trichromatic primates have a ‘red-green’ chromatic channel in addition to luminance and ‘blue-yellow’ channels. It has been argued that the red-green channel evolved in primates as an adaptation for detecting reddish or yellowish objects, such as ripe fruits, against a background of foliage. However, foraging advantages to trichromatic primates remain unverified by behavioral observation of primates in their natural habitats. New World monkeys (platyrrhines) are an excellent model for this evaluation because of the highly polymorphic nature of their color vision due to allelic variation of the L-M opsin gene on the X chromosome. In this study we carried out field observations of a group of wild, frugivorous black-handed spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi frontatus, Gray 1842, Platyrrhini), consisting of both dichromats (n = 12) and trichromats (n = 9) in Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica. We determined the color vision types of individuals in this group by genotyping their L-M opsin and measured foraging efficiency of each individual for fruits located at a grasping distance. Contrary to the predicted advantage for trichromats, there was no significant difference between dichromats and trichromats in foraging efficiency and we found that the luminance contrast was the main determinant of the variation of foraging efficiency among red-green, blue-yellow and luminance contrasts. Our results suggest that luminance contrast can serve as an important cue in short-range foraging attempts despite other sensory cues that could be available. Additionally, the advantage of red-green color vision in primates may not be as salient as previously thought and needs to be evaluated in further field observations.
Human umbilical mesenchymal stem cells (HUMSCs) isolated from Wharton’s jelly of the umbilical cord can be easily obtained and processed compared with embryonic or bone marrow stem cells. These cells may be a valuable source in the repair of spinal cord injury. We examine the effects of HUMSC transplantation after complete spinal cord transection in rats. Approximately 5×105 HUMSCs were transplanted into the lesion site. Three groups of rats were implanted with either untreated HUMSCs (referred to as the stem cell group), or HUMSCs treated with neuronal conditioned medium (NCM) for either three days or six days (referred to as NCM-3 and NCM-6 days, respectively). The control group received no HUMSCs in the transected spinal cord. Three weeks after transplantation, significant improvements in locomotion were observed in all the three groups receiving HUMSCs (stem cell, NCM-3 and NCM-6 days groups). This recovery was accompanied by increased numbers of regenerated axons in the corticospinal tract and neurofilament-positive fibers around the lesion site. There were fewer microglia and reactive astrocytes in both the rostral and caudal stumps of the spinal cord in the stem cell group than in the control group. Transplanted HUMSCs survived for 16 weeks and produced large amounts of human neutrophil-activating protein-2, neurotrophin-3, basic fibroblast growth factor, glucocorticoid induced tumor necrosis factor receptor, and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 3 in the host spinal cord, which may help spinal cord repair. Transplantation of HUMSCs is beneficial to wound healing after spinal cord injury in rats.
Studies of gene function are often hampered by gene-redundancy, especially in organisms with large genomes such as rice (Oryza sativa). We present an approach for using transcriptomics data to focus functional studies and address redundancy. To this end, we have constructed and validated an inexpensive and publicly available rice oligonucleotide near-whole genome array, called the rice NSF45K array. We generated expression profiles for light- vs. dark-grown rice leaf tissue and validated the biological significance of the data by analyzing sources of variation and confirming expression trends with reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. We examined trends in the data by evaluating enrichment of gene ontology terms at multiple false discovery rate thresholds. To compare data generated with the NSF45K array with published results, we developed publicly available, web-based tools (www.ricearray.org). The Oligo and EST Anatomy Viewer enables visualization of EST-based expression profiling data for all genes on the array. The Rice Multi-platform Microarray Search Tool facilitates comparison of gene expression profiles across multiple rice microarray platforms. Finally, we incorporated gene expression and biochemical pathway data to reduce the number of candidate gene products putatively participating in the eight steps of the photorespiration pathway from 52 to 10, based on expression levels of putatively functionally redundant genes. We confirmed the efficacy of this method to cope with redundancy by correctly predicting participation in photorespiration of a gene with five paralogs. Applying these methods will accelerate rice functional genomics.
The mitochondrial (mt) gene tree of placental mammals reveals a very strong acceleration of the amino acid (AA) replacement rate and a change in AA compositional bias in the lineage leading to the higher primates (simians), in contrast to the nuclear gene tree. Whether this acceleration and compositional bias were caused by adaptive evolution at the AA level or directional mutation pressure at the DNA level has been vigorously debated. Our phylogenetic analysis indicates that the rate acceleration in the simian lineage is accompanied by a marked increase in threonine (Thr) residues in the transmembrane helix regions of mt DNA-encoded proteins. This Thr increase involved the replacement of hydrophobic AAs in the membrane interior. Even after accounting for lack of independence due to phylogeny, a regression analysis reveals a statistical significant positive correlation between Thr composition and longevity in primates. Because crucial roles of Thr and Ser in membrane proteins have been proposed to be the formation of hydrogen bonds enhancing helix-helix interactions, the Thr increase detected in the higher primates might be adaptive by serving to reinforce stability of mt proteins in the inner membrane. The correlation between Thr composition in the membrane interior and the longevity of animals is striking, especially because some mt functions are thought to be involved in aging.
Despite sharing the same genes, identical twins demonstrate substantial variability in behavioral traits and in their risk for disease. Epigenetic factors-DNA and chromatin modifications that affect levels of gene expression without affecting the DNA sequence-are thought to be important in establishing this variability. Epigenetically-mediated differences in the levels of gene expression that are associated with individual variability traditionally are thought to occur only in a gene-specific manner. We challenge this idea by exploring the large-scale organizational patterns of gene expression in an epigenetic model of behavioral variability. To study the effects of epigenetic influences on behavioral variability, we examine gene expression in genetically identical mice. Using a novel approach to microarray analysis, we show that variability in the large-scale organization of gene expression levels, rather than differences in the expression levels of specific genes, is associated with individual differences in behavior. Specifically, increased activity in the open field is associated with increased variance of log-transformed measures of gene expression in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in open field activity. Early life experience that increases adult activity in the open field also similarly modifies the variance of gene expression levels. The same association of the variance of gene expression levels with behavioral variability is found with levels of gene expression in the hippocampus of genetically heterogeneous outbred populations of mice, suggesting that variation in the large-scale organization of gene expression levels may also be relevant to phenotypic differences in outbred populations such as humans. We find that the increased variance in gene expression levels is attributable to an increasing separation of several large, log-normally distributed families of gene expression levels. We also show that the presence of these multiple log-normal distributions of gene expression levels is a universal characteristic of gene expression in eurkaryotes. We use data from the MicroArray Quality Control Project (MAQC) to demonstrate that our method is robust and that it reliably detects biological differences in the large-scale organization of gene expression levels. Our results contrast with the traditional belief that epigenetic effects on gene expression occur only at the level of specific genes and suggest instead that the large-scale organization of gene expression levels provides important insights into the relationship of gene expression with behavioral variability. Understanding the epigenetic, genetic, and environmental factors that regulate the large-scale organization of gene expression levels, and how changes in this large-scale organization influences brain development and behavior will be a major future challenge in the field of behavioral genomics.