New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

Our system was down fpr the past 17.5 hours so I could not post this last night, so here it is now. There are 22 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. 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:
Relativity Theory and Time Perception: Single or Multiple Clocks?:

Current theories of interval timing assume that humans and other animals time as if using a single, absolute stopwatch that can be stopped or reset on command. Here we evaluate the alternative view that psychological time is represented by multiple clocks, and that these clocks create separate temporal contexts by which duration is judged in a relative manner. Two predictions of the multiple-clock hypothesis were tested. First, that the multiple clocks can be manipulated (stopped and/or reset) independently. Second, that an event of a given physical duration would be perceived as having different durations in different temporal contexts, i.e., would be judged differently by each clock. Rats were trained to time three durations (e.g., 10, 30, and 90 s). When timing was interrupted by an unexpected gap in the signal, rats reset the clock used to time the “short” duration, stopped the “medium” duration clock, and continued to run the “long” duration clock. When the duration of the gap was manipulated, the rats reset these clocks in a hierarchical order, first the “short”, then the “medium”, and finally the “long” clock. Quantitative modeling assuming re-allocation of cognitive resources in proportion to the relative duration of the gap to the multiple, simultaneously timed event durations was used to account for the results. These results indicate that the three event durations were effectively timed by separate clocks operated independently, and that the same gap duration was judged relative to these three temporal contexts. Results suggest that the brain processes the duration of an event in a manner similar to Einstein’s special relativity theory: A given time interval is registered differently by independent clocks dependent upon the context.

Mobile Phone Based Clinical Microscopy for Global Health Applications:

Light microscopy provides a simple, cost-effective, and vital method for the diagnosis and screening of hematologic and infectious diseases. In many regions of the world, however, the required equipment is either unavailable or insufficiently portable, and operators may not possess adequate training to make full use of the images obtained. Counterintuitively, these same regions are often well served by mobile phone networks, suggesting the possibility of leveraging portable, camera-enabled mobile phones for diagnostic imaging and telemedicine. Toward this end we have built a mobile phone-mounted light microscope and demonstrated its potential for clinical use by imaging P. falciparum-infected and sickle red blood cells in brightfield and M. tuberculosis-infected sputum samples in fluorescence with LED excitation. In all cases resolution exceeded that necessary to detect blood cell and microorganism morphology, and with the tuberculosis samples we took further advantage of the digitized images to demonstrate automated bacillus counting via image analysis software. We expect such a telemedicine system for global healthcare via mobile phone – offering inexpensive brightfield and fluorescence microscopy integrated with automated image analysis – to provide an important tool for disease diagnosis and screening, particularly in the developing world and rural areas where laboratory facilities are scarce but mobile phone infrastructure is extensive.

Climatic Changes Lead to Declining Winter Chill for Fruit and Nut Trees in California during 1950-2099:

Winter chill is one of the defining characteristics of a location’s suitability for the production of many tree crops. We mapped and investigated observed historic and projected future changes in winter chill in California, quantified with two different chilling models (Chilling Hours, Dynamic Model). Based on hourly and daily temperature records, winter chill was modeled for two past temperature scenarios (1950 and 2000), and 18 future scenarios (average conditions during 2041-2060 and 2080-2099 under each of the B1, A1B and A2 IPCC greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, for the CSIRO-MK3, HadCM3 and MIROC climate models). For each scenario, 100 replications of the yearly temperature record were produced, using a stochastic weather generator. We then introduced and mapped a novel climatic statistic, “safe winter chill”, the 10% quantile of the resulting chilling distributions. This metric can be interpreted as the amount of chilling that growers can safely expect under each scenario. Winter chill declined substantially for all emissions scenarios, with the area of safe winter chill for many tree species or cultivars decreasing 50-75% by mid-21st century, and 90-100% by late century. Both chilling models consistently projected climatic conditions by the middle to end of the 21st century that will no longer support some of the main tree crops currently grown in California, with the Chilling Hours Model projecting greater changes than the Dynamic Model. The tree crop industry in California will likely need to develop agricultural adaptation measures (e.g. low-chill varieties and dormancy-breaking chemicals) to cope with these projected changes. For some crops, production might no longer be possible.

Archaeogenetic Evidence of Ancient Nubian Barley Evolution from Six to Two-Row Indicates Local Adaptation:

Archaeobotanical samples of barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) found at Qasr Ibrim display a two-row phenotype that is unique to the region of archaeological sites upriver of the first cataract of the Nile, characterised by the development of distinctive lateral bracts. The phenotype occurs throughout all strata at Qasr Ibrim, which range in age from 3000 to a few hundred years. We extracted ancient DNA from barley samples from the entire range of occupancy of the site, and studied the Vrs1 gene responsible for row number in extant barley. Surprisingly, we found a discord between the genotype and phenotype in all samples; all the barley had a genotype consistent with the six-row condition. These results indicate a six-row ancestry for the Qasr Ibrim barley, followed by a reassertion of the two-row condition. Modelling demonstrates that this sequence of evolutionary events requires a strong selection pressure. The two-row phenotype at Qasr Ibrim is caused by a different mechanism to that in extant barley. The strength of selection required for this mechanism to prevail indicates that the barley became locally adapted in the region in response to a local selection pressure. The consistency of the genotype/phenotype discord over time supports a scenario of adoption of this barley type by successive cultures, rather than the importation of new barley varieties associated with individual cultures.

Beyond Marine Reserves: Exploring the Approach of Selecting Areas where Fishing Is Permitted, Rather than Prohibited:

Marine populations have been declining at a worrying rate, due in large part to fishing pressures. The challenge is to secure a future for marine life while minimizing impacts on fishers and fishing communities. Rather than selecting areas where fishing is banned – as is usually the case with spatial management – we assess the concept of designating areas where fishing is permitted. We use spatial catch statistics for thirteen commercial fisheries on Canada’s west coast to determine the minimum area that would be needed to maintain a pre-ascribed target percentage of current catches. We found that small reductions in fisheries yields, if strategically allocated, could result in large unfished areas that are representative of biophysical regions and habitat types, and have the potential to achieve remarkable conservation gains. Our approach of selecting fishing areas instead of reserves could help redirect debate about the relative values that society places on conservation and extraction, in a framework that could gain much by losing little. Our ideas are intended to promote discussions about the current status quo in fisheries management, rather than providing a definitive solution.

Understanding Oceanic Migrations with Intrinsic Biogeochemical Markers:

Migratory marine vertebrates move annually across remote oceanic water masses crossing international borders. Many anthropogenic threats such as overfishing, bycatch, pollution or global warming put millions of marine migrants at risk especially during their long-distance movements. Therefore, precise knowledge about these migratory movements to understand where and when these animals are more exposed to human impacts is vital for addressing marine conservation issues. Because electronic tracking devices suffer from several constraints, mainly logistical and financial, there is emerging interest in finding appropriate intrinsic markers, such as the chemical composition of inert tissues, to study long-distance migrations and identify wintering sites. Here, using tracked pelagic seabirds and some of their own feathers which were known to be grown at different places and times within the annual cycle, we proved the value of biogeochemical analyses of inert tissue as tracers of marine movements and habitat use. Analyses of feathers grown in summer showed that both stable isotope signatures and element concentrations can signal the origin of breeding birds feeding in distinct water masses. However, only stable isotopes signalled water masses used during winter because elements mainly accumulated during the long breeding period are incorporated into feathers grown in both summer and winter. Our findings shed new light on the simple and effective assignment of marine organisms to distinct oceanic areas, providing new opportunities to study unknown migration patterns of secretive species, including in relation to human-induced mortality on specific populations in the marine environment.

Local Stressors Reduce Coral Resilience to Bleaching:

Coral bleaching, during which corals lose their symbiotic dinoflagellates, typically corresponds with periods of intense heat stress, and appears to be increasing in frequency and geographic extent as the climate warms. A fundamental question in coral reef ecology is whether chronic local stress reduces coral resistance and resilience from episodic stress such as bleaching, or alternatively promotes acclimatization, potentially increasing resistance and resilience. Here we show that following a major bleaching event, Montastraea faveolata coral growth rates at sites with higher local anthropogenic stressors remained suppressed for at least 8 years, while coral growth rates at sites with lower stress recovered in 2-3 years. Instead of promoting acclimatization, our data indicate that background stress reduces coral fitness and resilience to episodic events. We also suggest that reducing chronic stress through local coral reef management efforts may increase coral resilience to global climate change.

Hypocretin-2 Saporin Lesions of the Ventrolateral Periaquaductal Gray (vlPAG) Increase REM Sleep in Hypocretin Knockout Mice:

Ten years ago the sleep disorder narcolepsy was linked to the neuropeptide hypocretin (HCRT), also known as orexin. This disorder is characterized by excessive day time sleepiness, inappropriate triggering of rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of muscle tone during waking. It is still not known how HCRT regulates REM sleep or muscle tone since HCRT neurons are localized only in the lateral hypothalamus while REM sleep and muscle atonia are generated from the brainstem. To identify a potential neuronal circuit, the neurotoxin hypocretin-2-saporin (HCRT2-SAP) was used to lesion neurons in the ventral lateral periaquaductal gray (vlPAG). The first experiment utilized hypocretin knock-out (HCRT-ko) mice with the expectation that deletion of both HCRT and its target neurons would exacerbate narcoleptic symptoms. Indeed, HCRT-ko mice (n = 8) given the neurotoxin HCRT2-SAP (16.5 ng/23nl/sec each side) in the vlPAG had levels of REM sleep and sleep fragmentation that were considerably higher compared to HCRT-ko given saline (+39%; n = 7) or wildtype mice (+177%; n = 9). However, cataplexy attacks did not increase, nor were levels of wake or non-REM sleep changed. Experiment 2 determined the effects in mice where HCRT was present but the downstream target neurons in the vlPAG were deleted by the neurotoxin. This experiment utilized an FVB-transgenic strain of mice where eGFP identifies GABA neurons. We verified this and also determined that eGFP neurons were immunopositive for the HCRT-2 receptor. vlPAG lesions in these mice increased REM sleep (+79% versus saline controls) and it was significantly correlated (r = 0.89) with loss of eGFP neurons. These results identify the vlPAG as one site that loses its inhibitory control over REM sleep, but does not cause cataplexy, as a result of hypocretin deficiency.

Susceptibility to Infection and Immune Response in Insular and Continental Populations of Egyptian Vulture: Implications for Conservation:

A generalized decline in populations of Old World avian scavengers is occurring on a global scale. The main cause of the observed crisis in continental populations of these birds should be looked for in the interaction between two factors – changes in livestock management, including the increased use of pharmaceutical products, and disease. Insular vertebrates seem to be especially susceptible to diseases induced by the arrival of exotic pathogens, a process often favored by human activities, and sedentary and highly dense insular scavengers populations may be thus especially exposed to infection by such pathogens. Here, we compare pathogen prevalence and immune response in insular and continental populations of the globally endangered Egyptian vulture under similar livestock management scenarios, but with different ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Adult, immature, and fledgling vultures from the Canary Islands and the Iberian Peninsula were sampled to determine a) the prevalence of seven pathogen taxa and b) their immunocompetence, as measured by monitoring techniques (white blood cells counts and immunoglobulins). In the Canarian population, pathogen prevalence was higher and, in addition, an association among pathogens was apparent, contrary to the situation detected in continental populations. Despite that, insular fledglings showed lower leukocyte profiles than continental birds and Canarian fledglings infected by Chlamydophila psittaci showed poorer cellular immune response. A combination of environmental and ecological factors may contribute to explain the high susceptibility to infection found in insular vultures. The scenario described here may be similar in other insular systems where populations of carrion-eaters are in strong decline and are seriously threatened. Higher susceptibility to infection may be a further factor contributing decisively to the extinction of island scavengers in the present context of global change and increasing numbers of emerging infectious diseases.

Quality of Pharmaceutical Advertisements in Medical Journals: A Systematic Review:

Journal advertising is one of the main sources of medicines information to doctors. Despite the availability of regulations and controls of drug promotion worldwide, information on medicines provided in journal advertising has been criticized in several studies for being of poor quality. However, no attempt has been made to systematically summarise this body of research. We designed this systematic review to assess all studies that have examined the quality of pharmaceutical advertisements for prescription products in medical and pharmacy journals. Studies were identified via searching electronic databases, web library, search engine and reviewing citations (1950 – February 2006). Only articles published in English and examined the quality of information included in pharmaceutical advertisements for prescription products in medical or pharmacy journals were included. For each eligible article, a researcher independently extracted the data on the study methodology and outcomes. The data were then reviewed by a second researcher. Any disagreements were resolved by consensus. The data were analysed descriptively. The final analysis included 24 articles. The studies reviewed advertisements from 26 countries. The number of journals surveyed in each study ranged from four to 24 journals. Several outcome measures were examined including references and claims provided in advertisements, availability of product information, adherence to codes or guidelines and presentation of risk results. The majority of studies employed a convenience-sampling method. Brand name, generic name and indications were usually provided. Journal articles were commonly cited to support pharmaceutical claims. Less than 67% of the claims were supported by a systematic review, a meta-analysis or a randomised control trial. Studies that assessed misleading claims had at least one advertisement with a misleading claim. Two studies found that less than 28% of claims were unambiguous clinical claims. Most advertisements with quantitative information provided risk results as relative risk reduction. Studies were conducted in 26 countries only and then the generalizability of the results is limited. Evidence from this review indicates that low quality of journal advertising is a global issue. As information provided in journal advertising has the potential to change doctors’ prescribing behaviour, ongoing efforts to increase education about drug promotion are crucial. The results from our review suggest the need for a global pro-active and effective regulatory system to ensure that information provided in medical journal advertising is supporting the quality use of medicines.

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