New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

Today, we unveil a brand new PLoS ONE Collection – the Prokaryotic Genome Collection. The Collection was edited by Niyaz Ahmed, who wrote an introductory Overview.
In other news, there are 17 new articles published last night and another 17 new articles published tonight in PLoS ONE. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Mendeley, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

Female Genitalia Concealment Promotes Intimate Male Courtship in a Water Strider:

Violent coercive mating initiation is typical for animals with sexual conflict over mating. In these species, the coevolutionary arms-race between female defenses against coercive mating and male counter-adaptations for increased mating success leads to coevolutionary chases of male and female traits that influence the mating. It has been controversial whether one of the sexes can evolve traits that allow them to “win” this arms race. Here, we use morphological analysis (traditional and scanning electron micrographs), laboratory experiments and comparative methods to show how females of a species characterized by typical coercive mating initiation appear to “win” a particular stage of the sexual conflict by evolving morphology to hide their genitalia from direct, forceful access by males. In an apparent response to the female morphological adaptation, males of this species added to their typically violent coercive mounting of the female new post-mounting, pre-copulatory courtship signals produced by tapping the water’s surface with the mid-legs. These courtship signals are intimate in the sense that they are aimed at the female, on whom the male is already mounted. Females respond to the signals by exposing their hidden genitalia for copulatory intromission. Our results indicate that the apparent victory of coevolutionary arms race by one sex in terms of morphology may trigger evolution of a behavioral phenotype in the opposite sex.

Tracing the Evolution of Competence in Haemophilus influenzae:

Natural competence is the genetically encoded ability of some bacteria to take up DNA from the environment. Although most of the incoming DNA is degraded, occasionally intact homologous fragments can recombine with the chromosome, displacing one resident strand. This potential to use DNA as a source of both nutrients and genetic novelty has important implications for the ecology and evolution of competent bacteria. However, it is not known how frequently competence changes during evolution, or whether non-competent strains can persist for long periods of time. We have previously studied competence in H. influenzae and found that both the amount of DNA taken up and the amount recombined varies extensively between different strains. In addition, several strains are unable to become competent, suggesting that competence has been lost at least once. To investigate how many times competence has increased or decreased during the divergence of these strains, we inferred the evolutionary relationships of strains using the largest datasets currently available. However, despite the use of three datasets and multiple inference methods, few nodes were resolved with high support, perhaps due to extensive mixing by recombination. Tracing the evolution of competence in those clades that were well supported identified changes in DNA uptake and/or transformation in most strains. The recency of these events suggests that competence has changed frequently during evolution but the poor support of basal relationships precludes the determination of whether non-competent strains can persist for long periods of time. In some strains, changes in transformation have occurred that cannot be due to changes in DNA uptake, suggesting that selection can act on transformation independent of DNA uptake.

Human Fear Conditioning and Extinction in Neuroimaging: A Systematic Review:

Fear conditioning and extinction are basic forms of associative learning that have gained considerable clinical relevance in enhancing our understanding of anxiety disorders and facilitating their treatment. Modern neuroimaging techniques have significantly aided the identification of anatomical structures and networks involved in fear conditioning. On closer inspection, there is considerable variation in methodology and results between studies. This systematic review provides an overview of the current neuroimaging literature on fear conditioning and extinction on healthy subjects, taking into account methodological issues such as the conditioning paradigm.
A Pubmed search, as of December 2008, was performed and supplemented by manual searches of bibliographies of key articles. Two independent reviewers made the final study selection and data extraction. A total of 46 studies on cued fear conditioning and/or extinction on healthy volunteers using positron emission tomography or functional magnetic resonance imaging were reviewed. The influence of specific experimental factors, such as contingency and timing parameters, assessment of conditioned responses, and characteristics of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli, on cerebral activation patterns was examined. Results were summarized descriptively. A network consisting of fear-related brain areas, such as amygdala, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex, is activated independently of design parameters. However, some neuroimaging studies do not report these findings in the presence of methodological heterogeneities. Furthermore, other brain areas are differentially activated, depending on specific design parameters. These include stronger hippocampal activation in trace conditioning and tactile stimulation. Furthermore, tactile unconditioned stimuli enhance activation of pain related, motor, and somatosensory areas.
Differences concerning experimental factors may partly explain the variance between neuroimaging investigations on human fear conditioning and extinction and should, therefore, be taken into serious consideration in the planning and the interpretation of research projects.

Exploring Empathic Space: Correlates of Perspective Transformation Ability and Biases in Spatial Attention:

Separate lines of research have noted recruitment of parietal cortex during tasks involving visuo-spatial processes and empathy. To explore the relationship between these two functions, a self-other perspective transformation task and a task of spatial attention (line bisection) were administered to 40 healthy participants (19 women). Performance on these tasks was examined in relation to self-reported empathy. Rightward biases in line bisection correlated positively with trait-level self-reported empathic concern, suggesting a left hemisphere mediation of this prosocial personality trait. Unexpectedly, speed of perspective taking in the self-other transformation task correlated negatively with empathic concern, but only in women, which we interpret in light of gender differences in empathy and strategies for egocentric mental transformations. Together, the findings partially support the commonalities in visuo-spatial attention, perspective-taking and empathy. More broadly, they shed additional light on the relationship between basic cognitive functions and complex social constructs.

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