New and Exciting in PLoS this week

Monday – let’s see what’s up in PLoS Biology, PLoS Medicine, PLoS ONE and PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 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:

Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study:

About 1 in 10 women and 1 in 4 men have a chronic condition called sleep-disordered breathing although most are unaware of their problem. Sleep-disordered breathing, which is commonest in middle-aged and elderly people, is characterized by numerous, brief (10 second or so) interruptions of breathing during sleep. These interruptions, which usually occur when relaxation of the upper airway muscles decreases airflow, lower the level of oxygen in the blood and, as a result, affected individuals are frequently aroused from deep sleep as they struggle to breathe. Symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing include loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. Treatments include lifestyle changes such as losing weight (excess fat around the neck increases airway collapse) and smoking cessation. Affected people can also use special devices to prevent them sleeping on their backs, but for severe sleep-disordered breathing, doctors often recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a machine that pressurizes the upper airway through a face mask to keep it open.

Generation of Functional Eyes from Pluripotent Cells:

The goal of regenerative medicine is to replace dead or dying cells. Successful cell replacement depends on the ability of donor cells to differentiate into all functional cell types lost in the target organ. Blindness resulting from retinal disease or damage, for example, would require the replacement of as many as seven specialized cell types found in the retina. The most celebrated characteristic of pluripotent cells is their ability to differentiate into any adult cell type. This defining feature, however, presents the challenge of identifying the conditions for their conversion to the cell types needed for tissue repair. We asked if pluripotent cells could be directed to generate all the retinal cell types necessary to form a functional eye in the frog, Xenopus laevis. If left untreated, transplanted pluripotent cells only form the epidermal layer of the skin. However, when forced to express the eye field transcription factor (EFTF) genes, the cells differentiate into all seven retinal cell classes and eventually organize themselves into a functioning eye that can detect light and guide tadpoles in a vision-based behavior. Our results demonstrate that pluripotent cells can be purposely altered to generate all the functional retinal cell classes necessary for sight.

Co-authorship Network Analysis: A Powerful Tool for Strategic Planning of Research, Development and Capacity Building Programs on Neglected Diseases:

The selection and prioritization of research proposals is always a challenge, particularly when addressing neglected tropical diseases, as the scientific communities are relatively small, funding is usually limited and the disparity between the science and technology capacity of different countries and regions is enormous. When the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Technology of Brazil decided to launch an R&D program on neglected diseases for which at least 30% of the Program’s resources were supposed to be invested in institutions and authors from the poorest regions of Brazil, it became clear to us that new strategies and approaches would be required. Social network analysis of co-authorship networks is one of the new approaches we are exploring to develop new tools to help policy-/decision-makers and academia jointly plan, implement, monitor and evaluate investments in this area. Publications retrieved from international databases provide the starting material. After standardization of names and addresses of authors and institutions with text mining tools, networks are assembled and visualized using social network analysis software. This study enabled the development of innovative criteria and parameters, allowing better strategic planning, smooth implementation and strong support and endorsement of the Program by key stakeholders.

The Impact of Boundary Spanning Scholarly Publications and Patents:

Human knowledge and innovation are recorded in two media: scholarly publication and patents. These records not only document a new scientific insight or new method developed, but they also carefully cite prior work upon which the innovation is built. We quantify the impact of information flow across fields using two large citation dataset: one spanning over a century of scholarly work in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, and second spanning a quarter century of United States patents. We find that a publication’s citing across disciplines is tied to its subsequent impact. In the case of patents and natural science publications, those that are cited at least once are cited slightly more when they draw on research outside of their area. In contrast, in the social sciences, citing within one’s own field tends to be positively correlated with impact.

Solar Water Disinfection in Household Settings: Hype or Hope?:

Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7, and its target 3, aims to halve the proportions of people globally without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 [1]. Others have argued that access to safe drinking water is a fundamental human right [2]. Several interventions to improve access to clean water and sanitation, including one reported in this week’s PLoS Medicine [3], have been evaluated and found to have varying degrees of success. As such, the key question remains unanswered: do water and sanitation interventions offer hype or hope?

A Validated Genome Wide Association Study to Breed Cattle Adapted to an Environment Altered by Climate Change:

Continued production of food in areas predicted to be most affected by climate change, such as dairy farming regions of Australia, will be a major challenge in coming decades. Along with rising temperatures and water shortages, scarcity of inputs such as high energy feeds is predicted. With the motivation of selecting cattle adapted to these changing environments, we conducted a genome wide association study to detect DNA markers (single nucleotide polymorphisms) associated with the sensitivity of milk production to environmental conditions. To do this we combined historical milk production and weather records with dense marker genotypes on dairy sires with many daughters milking across a wide range of production environments in Australia. Markers associated with sensitivity of milk production to feeding level and sensitivity of milk production to temperature humidity index on chromosome nine and twenty nine respectively were validated in two independent populations, one a different breed of cattle. As the extent of linkage disequilibrium across cattle breeds is limited, the underlying causative mutations have been mapped to a small genomic interval containing two promising candidate genes. The validated marker panels we have reported here will aid selection for high milk production under anticipated climate change scenarios, for example selection of sires whose daughters will be most productive at low levels of feeding.


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