So, let’s see what’s new in PLoS Genetics, PLoS Computational Biology and PLoS Pathogens this week. 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:
Social Contact Networks and Disease Eradicability under Voluntary Vaccination:
Interest in infectious disease models that incorporate the effects of human behavior has been growing in recent years. However, most of these models predict that it should never be possible to eradicate a disease under voluntary vaccination, due to nonvaccinating “free riders” that emerge when vaccine coverage is high. This prediction contradicts the fact that smallpox was eradicated under a voluntary vaccination policy in many jurisdictions, and that other diseases such as polio are likewise near eradication. These previous models assumed that populations mix homogeneously. However, for some diseases, such as HIV and smallpox, individuals are more likely to get the disease from certain social contacts. Here we show that using a network model that captures this social structure can reconcile the previous theories to the empirical fact that diseases can be eradicated under voluntary vaccination. When infection is transmitted only through close contacts in the network, then an outbreak can be quickly contained using only voluntary vaccination. However, when infection can potentially be transmitted to almost everyone in the network (such as for measles), a disease outbreak can never be contained using voluntary vaccination. This latter observation may have some relevance to the Measles-Mumps-Rubella autism “vaccine scare.”
Isolated populations have contributed to the discovery of loci with simple Mendelian segregation and large effects on disease risk or trait variation. We hypothesized that the use of isolated populations might also facilitate the discovery of common alleles contributing to complex traits with relatively larger effects. However, the use of association analyses to map common loci influencing trait variation in large, inbred cohorts introduces analytic challenges, as extensive relatedness between subjects violates the assumptions of independence upon which traditional association test statistics are based. We developed an analytic strategy to perform genome-wide association studies in an inbred family containing over 2,800 individuals from the island of Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia. No alleles with large effect were observed with strong statistical support in any of the 15 traits examined, suggesting that the contribution of individual common variants to complex trait variation in Kosraens is typically not much greater than that observed in other populations. We show that the effects of many loci previously identified in Caucasian populations are indistinguishable in Caucasians and Kosraens, despite very different population genetics and environmental influences.
Lepidopterans (butterflies and moths) are a rich and diverse order of insects, which, despite their economic impact and unusual biological properties, are relatively underrepresented in terms of genomic resources. The genome of the silkworm Bombyx mori has been fully sequenced, but comparative lepidopteran genomics has been hampered by the scarcity of information for other species. This is especially striking for butterflies, even though they have diverse and derived phenotypes (such as color vision and wing color patterns) and are considered prime models for the evolutionary and developmental analysis of ecologically relevant, complex traits. We focus on Bicyclus anynana butterflies, a laboratory system for studying the diversification of novelties and serially repeated traits. With a panel of 12 small families and a biphasic mapping approach, we first assigned 508 expressed genes to segregation groups and then ordered 297 of them within individual linkage groups. We also coarsely mapped seven color pattern loci. This is the richest gene-based map available for any butterfly species and allowed for a broad-coverage analysis of synteny with the lepidopteran reference genome. Based on 462 pairs of mapped orthologous markers in Bi. anynana and Bo. mori, we observed strong conservation of gene assignment to chromosomes, but also evidence for numerous large- and small-scale chromosomal rearrangements. With gene collections growing for a variety of target organisms, the ability to place those genes in their proper genomic context is paramount. Methods to map expressed genes and to compare maps with relevant model systems are crucial to extend genomic-level analysis outside classical model species. Maps with gene-based markers are useful for comparative genomics and to resolve mapped genomic regions to a tractable number of candidate genes, especially if there is synteny with related model species. This is discussed in relation to the identification of the loci contributing to color pattern evolution in butterflies.