New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 32 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:


Novel Weapons Testing: Are Invasive Plants More Chemically Defended than Native Plants?:

Exotic species have been hypothesized to successfully invade new habitats by virtue of possessing novel biochemistry that repels native enemies. Despite the pivotal long-term consequences of invasion for native food-webs, to date there are no experimental studies examining directly whether exotic plants are any more or less biochemically deterrent than native plants to native herbivores. In a direct test of this hypothesis using herbivore feeding assays with chemical extracts from 19 invasive plants and 21 co-occurring native plants, we show that invasive plant biochemistry is no more deterrent (on average) to a native generalist herbivore than extracts from native plants. There was no relationship between extract deterrence and length of time since introduction, suggesting that time has not mitigated putative biochemical novelty. Moreover, the least deterrent plant extracts were from the most abundant species in the field, a pattern that held for both native and exotic plants. Analysis of chemical deterrence in context with morphological defenses and growth-related traits showed that native and exotic plants had similar trade-offs among traits. Overall, our results suggest that particular invasive species may possess deterrent secondary chemistry, but it does not appear to be a general pattern resulting from evolutionary mismatches between exotic plants and native herbivores. Thus, fundamentally similar processes may promote the ecological success of both native and exotic species.

Potential Costs of Acclimatization to a Warmer Climate: Growth of a Reef Coral with Heat Tolerant vs. Sensitive Symbiont Types:

One of the principle ways in which reef building corals are likely to cope with a warmer climate is by changing to more thermally tolerant endosymbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) genotypes. It is highly likely that hosting a more heat-tolerant algal genotype will be accompanied by tradeoffs in the physiology of the coral. To better understand one of these tradeoffs, growth was investigated in the Indo-Pacific reef-building coral Acropora millepora in both the laboratory and the field. In the Keppel Islands in the southern Great Barrier Reef this species naturally harbors nrDNA ITS1 thermally sensitive type C2 or thermally tolerant type D zooxanthellae of the genus Symbiodinium and can change dominant type following bleaching. We show that under controlled conditions, corals with type D symbionts grow 29% slower than those with type C2 symbionts. In the field, type D colonies grew 38% slower than C2 colonies. These results demonstrate the magnitude of trade-offs likely to be experienced by this species as they acclimatize to warmer conditions by changing to more thermally tolerant type D zooxanthellae. Irrespective of symbiont genotype, corals were affected to an even greater degree by the stress of a bleaching event which reduced growth by more than 50% for up to 18 months compared to pre-bleaching rates. The processes of symbiont change and acute thermal stress are likely to act in concert on coral growth as reefs acclimatize to more stressful warmer conditions, further compromising their regeneration capacity following climate change.

Dual Function of a Bee Venom Serine Protease: Prophenoloxidase-Activating Factor in Arthropods and Fibrin(ogen)olytic Enzyme in Mammals:

Bee venom contains a variety of peptides and enzymes, including serine proteases. While the presence of serine proteases in bee venom has been demonstrated, the role of these proteins in bee venom has not been elucidated. Furthermore, there is currently no information available regarding the melanization response or the fibrin(ogen)olytic activity of bee venom serine protease, and the molecular mechanism of its action remains unknown. Here we show that bee venom serine protease (Bi-VSP) is a multifunctional enzyme. In insects, Bi-VSP acts as an arthropod prophenoloxidase (proPO)-activating factor (PPAF), thereby triggering the phenoloxidase (PO) cascade. Bi-VSP injected through the stinger induces a lethal melanization response in target insects by modulating the innate immune response. In mammals, Bi-VSP acts similarly to snake venom serine protease, which exhibits fibrin(ogen)olytic activity. Bi-VSP activates prothrombin and directly degrades fibrinogen into fibrin degradation products, defining roles for Bi-VSP as a prothrombin activator, a thrombin-like protease, and a plasmin-like protease. These findings provide a novel view of the mechanism of bee venom in which the bee venom serine protease kills target insects via a melanization strategy and exhibits fibrin(ogen)olytic activity.

Evaluating the Relative Environmental Impact of Countries:

Environmental protection is critical to maintain ecosystem services essential for human well-being. It is important to be able to rank countries by their environmental impact so that poor performers as well as policy ‘models’ can be identified. We provide novel metrics of country-specific environmental impact ranks – one proportional to total resource availability per country and an absolute (total) measure of impact – that explicitly avoid incorporating confounding human health or economic indicators. Our rankings are based on natural forest loss, habitat conversion, marine captures, fertilizer use, water pollution, carbon emissions and species threat, although many other variables were excluded due to a lack of country-specific data. Of 228 countries considered, 179 (proportional) and 171 (absolute) had sufficient data for correlations. The proportional index ranked Singapore, Korea, Qatar, Kuwait, Japan, Thailand, Bahrain, Malaysia, Philippines and Netherlands as having the highest proportional environmental impact, whereas Brazil, USA, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, India, Russia, Australia and Peru had the highest absolute impact (i.e., total resource use, emissions and species threatened). Proportional and absolute environmental impact ranks were correlated, with mainly Asian countries having both high proportional and absolute impact. Despite weak concordance among the drivers of environmental impact, countries often perform poorly for different reasons. We found no evidence to support the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis of a non-linear relationship between impact and per capita wealth, although there was a weak reduction in environmental impact as per capita wealth increases. Using structural equation models to account for cross-correlation, we found that increasing wealth was the most important driver of environmental impact. Our results show that the global community not only has to encourage better environmental performance in less-developed countries, especially those in Asia, there is also a requirement to focus on the development of environmentally friendly practices in wealthier countries.

A Differential Role for Neuropeptides in Acute and Chronic Adaptive Responses to Alcohol: Behavioural and Genetic Analysis in Caenorhabditis elegans:

Prolonged alcohol consumption in humans followed by abstinence precipitates a withdrawal syndrome consisting of anxiety, agitation and in severe cases, seizures. Withdrawal is relieved by a low dose of alcohol, a negative reinforcement that contributes to alcohol dependency. This phenomenon of ‘withdrawal relief’ provides evidence of an ethanol-induced adaptation which resets the balance of signalling in neural circuits. We have used this as a criterion to distinguish between direct and indirect ethanol-induced adaptive behavioural responses in C. elegans with the goal of investigating the genetic basis of ethanol-induced neural plasticity. The paradigm employs a ‘food race assay’ which tests sensorimotor performance of animals acutely and chronically treated with ethanol. We describe a multifaceted C. elegans ‘withdrawal syndrome’. One feature, decrease reversal frequency is not relieved by a low dose of ethanol and most likely results from an indirect adaptation to ethanol caused by inhibition of feeding and a food-deprived behavioural state. However another aspect, an aberrant behaviour consisting of spontaneous deep body bends, did show withdrawal relief and therefore we suggest this is the expression of ethanol-induced plasticity. The potassium channel, slo-1, which is a candidate ethanol effector in C. elegans, is not required for the responses described here. However a mutant deficient in neuropeptides, egl-3, is resistant to withdrawal (although it still exhibits acute responses to ethanol). This dependence on neuropeptides does not involve the NPY-like receptor npr-1, previously implicated in C. elegans ethanol withdrawal. Therefore other neuropeptide pathways mediate this effect. These data resonate with mammalian studies which report involvement of a number of neuropeptides in chronic responses to alcohol including corticotrophin-releasing-factor (CRF), opioids, tachykinins as well as NPY. This suggests an evolutionarily conserved role for neuropeptides in ethanol-induced plasticity and opens the way for a genetic analysis of the effects of alcohol on a simple model system.

Perception of Space by Multiple Intrinsic Frames of Reference:

It has been documented that when memorizing a physical space, the person’s mental representation of that space is biased with distortion and segmentation. Two experiments reported here suggest that distortion and segmentation arise due to a hierarchical organization of the spatial representation. The spatial relations associated with salient landmarks are more strongly encoded and easier to recall than those associated with non-salient landmarks. In the presence of multiple salient landmarks, multiple intrinsic frames of reference are formed and spatial relations are anchored to each individual frame of reference. Multiple such representations may co-exist and interactively determine a person’s spatial performance.

Flavin-Dependent Monooxygenases as a Detoxification Mechanism in Insects: New Insights from the Arctiids (Lepidoptera):

Insects experience a wide array of chemical pressures from plant allelochemicals and pesticides and have developed several effective counterstrategies to cope with such toxins. Among these, cytochrome P450 monooxygenases are crucial in plant-insect interactions. Flavin-dependent monooxygenases (FMOs) seem not to play a central role in xenobiotic detoxification in insects, in contrast to mammals. However, the previously identified senecionine N-oxygenase of the arctiid moth Tyria jacobaeae (Lepidoptera) indicates that FMOs have been recruited during the adaptation of this insect to plants that accumulate toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Identification of related FMO-like sequences of various arctiids and other Lepidoptera and their combination with expressed sequence tag (EST) data and sequences emerging from the Bombyx mori genome project show that FMOs in Lepidoptera form a gene family with three members (FMO1 to FMO3). Phylogenetic analyses suggest that FMO3 is only distantly related to lepidopteran FMO1 and FMO2 that originated from a more recent gene duplication event. Within the FMO1 gene cluster, an additional gene duplication early in the arctiid lineage provided the basis for the evolution of the highly specific biochemical, physiological, and behavioral adaptations of these butterflies to pyrrolizidine-alkaloid-producing plants. The genes encoding pyrrolizidine-alkaloid-N-oxygenizing enzymes (PNOs) are transcribed in the fat body and the head of the larvae. An N-terminal signal peptide mediates the transport of the soluble proteins into the hemolymph where PNOs efficiently convert pro-toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids into their non-toxic N-oxide derivatives. Heterologous expression of a PNO of the generalist arctiid Grammia geneura produced an N-oxygenizing enzyme that shows noticeably expanded substrate specificity compared with the related enzyme of the specialist Tyria jacobaeae. The data about the evolution of FMOs within lepidopteran insects and the functional characterization of a further member of this enzyme family shed light on this almost uncharacterized detoxification system in insects.

The Effect of Disease Site (Knee, Hip, Hand, Foot, Lower Back or Neck) on Employment Reduction Due to Osteoarthritis:

Osteoarthritis (OA) has a significant impact on individuals’ ability to work. Our goal was to investigate the effects of the site of OA (knee, hip, hand, foot, lower back or neck) on employment reduction due to OA (EROA). This study involved a random sample of 6,000 patients with OA selected from the Medical Service Plan database in British Columbia, Canada. A total of 5,491 were alive and had valid addresses, and of these, 2,259 responded (response rate = 41%), from which 2,134 provided usable data. Eligible participants were 19 or older with physician diagnosed OA based on administrative data between 1992 and 2006. Data of 688 residents were used (mean age 62.1 years (27 to 86); 60% women). EROA had three levels: no reduction; reduced hours; and total cessation due to OA. The (log) odds of EROA was regressed on OA sites, adjusting for age, sex, education and comorbidity. Odds ratios (ORs) represented the effect predicting total cessation and reduced hours/total cessation. The strongest effect was found in lower back OA, with OR = 2.08 (95% CI: 1.47, 2.94), followed by neck (OR = 1.59; 95% CI: 1.11, 2.27) and knee (OR = 1.43; 95% CI: 1.02, 2.01). We found an interaction between sex and foot OA (men: OR = 1.94; 95% CI: 1.05, 3.59; women: OR = 0.89; 95% CI = 0.57, 1.39). No significant effect was found for hip OA (OR = 1.33) or hand OA (OR = 1.11). Limitations of this study included a modest response rate, the lack of an OA negative group, the use of administrative databases to identify eligible participants, and the use of patient self-reported data. After adjusting for socio-demographic variables, comorbidity, and other OA disease sites, we find that OA of the lower back, neck and knee are significant predictors for EROA. Foot OA is only significantly associated with EROA in males. For multi-site combinations, ORs are multiplicative. These findings may be used to guide resource allocation for future development/improvement of vocational rehabilitation programs for site-specific OA.

Effect of an Online Video-Based Intervention to Increase HIV Testing in Men Who Have Sex with Men in Peru:

Although many men who have sex with men (MSM) in Peru are unaware of their HIV status, they are frequent users of the Internet, and can be approached by that medium for promotion of HIV testing. We conducted an online randomized controlled trial to compare the effect of HIV-testing motivational videos versus standard public health text, both offered through a gay website. The videos were customized for two audiences based on self-identification: either gay or non-gay men. The outcomes evaluated were ‘intention to get tested’ and ‘HIV testing at the clinic.’ In the non-gay identified group, 97 men were randomly assigned to the video-based intervention and 90 to the text-based intervention. Non-gay identified participants randomized to the video-based intervention were more likely to report their intention of getting tested for HIV within the next 30 days (62.5% vs. 15.4%, Relative Risk (RR): 2.77, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.42-5.39). After a mean of 125.5 days of observation (range 42-209 days), 11 participants randomized to the video and none of the participants randomized to text attended our clinic requesting HIV testing (p = 0.001). In the gay-identified group, 142 men were randomized to the video-based intervention and 130 to the text-based intervention. Gay-identified participants randomized to the video were more likely to report intentions of getting an HIV test within 30 days, although not significantly (50% vs. 21.6%, RR: 1.54, 95% CI: 0.74-3.20). At the end of follow up, 8 participants who watched the video and 10 who read the text visited our clinic for HIV testing (Hazard Ratio: 1.07, 95% CI: 0.40-2.85). This study provides some evidence of the efficacy of a video-based online intervention in improving HIV testing among non-gay-identified MSM in Peru. This intervention may be adopted by institutions with websites oriented to motivate HIV testing among similar MSM populations.

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