New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

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:
Improvements of Sound Localization Abilities by the Facial Ruff of the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) as Demonstrated by Virtual Ruff Removal:

When sound arrives at the eardrum it has already been filtered by the body, head, and outer ear. This process is mathematically described by the head-related transfer functions (HRTFs), which are characteristic for the spatial position of a sound source and for the individual ear. HRTFs in the barn owl (Tyto alba) are also shaped by the facial ruff, a specialization that alters interaural time differences (ITD), interaural intensity differences (ILD), and the frequency spectrum of the incoming sound to improve sound localization. Here we created novel stimuli to simulate the removal of the barn owl’s ruff in a virtual acoustic environment, thus creating a situation similar to passive listening in other animals, and used these stimuli in behavioral tests. HRTFs were recorded from an owl before and after removal of the ruff feathers. Normal and ruff-removed conditions were created by filtering broadband noise with the HRTFs. Under normal virtual conditions, no differences in azimuthal head-turning behavior between individualized and non-individualized HRTFs were observed. The owls were able to respond differently to stimuli from the back than to stimuli from the front having the same ITD. By contrast, such a discrimination was not possible after the virtual removal of the ruff. Elevational head-turn angles were (slightly) smaller with non-individualized than with individualized HRTFs. The removal of the ruff resulted in a large decrease in elevational head-turning amplitudes. The facial ruff a) improves azimuthal sound localization by increasing the ITD range and b) improves elevational sound localization in the frontal field by introducing a shift of iso-ILD lines out of the midsagittal plane, which causes ILDs to increase with increasing stimulus elevation. The changes at the behavioral level could be related to the changes in the binaural physical parameters that occurred after the virtual removal of the ruff. These data provide new insights into the function of external hearing structures and open up the possibility to apply the results on autonomous agents, creation of virtual auditory environments for humans, or in hearing aids.

Correlating Molecular Phylogeny with Venom Apparatus Occurrence in Panamic Auger Snails (Terebridae):

Central to the discovery of neuroactive compounds produced by predatory marine snails of the superfamily Conoidea (cone snails, terebrids, and turrids) is identifying those species with a venom apparatus. Previous analyses of western Pacific terebrid specimens has shown that some Terebridae groups have secondarily lost their venom apparatus. In order to efficiently characterize terebrid toxins, it is essential to devise a key for identifying which species have a venom apparatus. The findings presented here integrate molecular phylogeny and the evolution of character traits to infer the presence or absence of the venom apparatus in the Terebridae. Using a combined dataset of 156 western and 33 eastern Pacific terebrid samples, a phylogenetic tree was constructed based on analyses of 16S, COI and 12S mitochondrial genes. The 33 eastern Pacific specimens analyzed represent four different species: Acus strigatus, Terebra argyosia, T. ornata, and T. cf. formosa. Anatomical analysis was congruent with molecular characters, confirming that species included in the clade Acus do not have a venom apparatus, while those in the clade Terebra do. Discovery of the association between terebrid molecular phylogeny and the occurrence of a venom apparatus provides a useful tool for effectively identifying the terebrid lineages that may be investigated for novel pharmacological active neurotoxins, enhancing conservation of this important resource, while providing supplementary information towards understanding terebrid evolutionary diversification.

Effect before Cause: Supramodal Recalibration of Sensorimotor Timing:

Our motor actions normally generate sensory events, but how do we know which events were self generated and which have external causes? Here we use temporal adaptation to investigate the processing stage and generality of our sensorimotor timing estimates. Adaptation to artificially-induced delays between action and event can produce a startling percept–upon removal of the delay it feels as if the sensory event precedes its causative action. This temporal recalibration of action and event occurs in a quantitatively similar manner across the sensory modalities. Critically, it is robust to the replacement of one sense during the adaptation phase with another sense during the test judgment. Our findings suggest a high-level, supramodal recalibration mechanism. The effects are well described by a simple model which attempts to preserve the expected synchrony between action and event, but only when causality indicates it is reasonable to do so. We further demonstrate that this model successfully characterises related adaptation data from outside the sensorimotor domain.

Visual Properties of Transgenic Rats Harboring the Channelrhodopsin-2 Gene Regulated by the Thy-1.2 Promoter:

Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), one of the archea-type rhodopsins from green algae, is a potentially useful optogenetic tool for restoring vision in patients with photoreceptor degeneration, such as retinitis pigmentosa. If the ChR2 gene is transferred to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which send visual information to the brain, the RGCs may be repurposed to act as photoreceptors. In this study, by using a transgenic rat expressing ChR2 specifically in the RGCs under the regulation of a Thy-1.2 promoter, we tested the possibility that direct photoactivation of RGCs could restore effective vision. Although the contrast sensitivities of the optomotor responses of transgenic rats were similar to those observed in the wild-type rats, they were enhanced for visual stimuli of low-spatial frequency after the degeneration of native photoreceptors. This result suggests that the visual signals derived from the ChR2-expressing RGCs were reinterpreted by the brain to form behavior-related vision.

A Decade Later, How Much of Rwanda’s Musculoskeletal Impairment Is Caused by the War in 1994 and by Related Violence?:

In 1994 there was a horrific genocide in Rwanda following years of tension, resulting in the murder of at least 800,000 people. Although many people were injured in addition to those killed, no attempt has been made to assess the lasting burden of physical injuries related to these events. The aim of this study was to estimate the current burden of musculoskeletal impairment (MSI) attributable to the 1994 war and related violence. A national cross-sectional survey of MSI was conducted in Rwanda. 105 clusters of 80 people were selected through probability proportionate to size sampling. Households within clusters were selected through compact segment sampling. Enumerated people answered a seven-question screening test to assess whether they might have an MSI. Those who were classed as potential cases in the screening test were examined and interviewed by a physiotherapist, using a standard protocol that recorded the site, nature, cause, and severity of the MSI. People with MSI due to trauma were asked whether this trauma occurred during the 1990-1994 war or during the episodes that preceded or followed this war. Out of 8,368 people enumerated, 6,757 were available for screening and examination (80.8%). 352 people were diagnosed with an MSI (prevalence = 5.2%, 95% CI = 4.5-5.9%). 106 cases of MSI (30.6%) were classified as resulting from trauma, based on self-report and the physiotherapist’s assessment. Of these, 14 people (13.2%) reported that their trauma-related MSI occurred during the 1990-1994 war, and a further 7 (6.6%) that their trauma-related MSI occurred during the violent episodes that preceded and followed the war, giving an overall prevalence of trauma-related MSI related to the 1990-1994 war of 0.3% (95% CI = 0.2-0.4%). A decade on, the overall prevalence of MSI was relatively high in Rwanda but few cases appeared to be the result of the 1994 war or related violence.

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