New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 26 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:

Repeated and Time-Correlated Morphological Convergence in Cave-Dwelling Harvestmen (Opiliones, Laniatores) from Montane Western North America:

Many cave-dwelling animal species display similar morphologies (troglomorphism) that have evolved convergent within and among lineages under the similar selective pressures imposed by cave habitats. Here we study such ecomorphological evolution in cave-dwelling Sclerobuninae harvestmen (Opiliones) from the western United States, providing general insights into morphological homoplasy, rates of morphological change, and the temporal context of cave evolution. We gathered DNA sequence data from three independent gene regions, and combined these data with Bayesian hypothesis testing, morphometrics analysis, study of penis morphology, and relaxed molecular clock analyses. Using multivariate morphometric analysis, we find that phylogenetically unrelated taxa have convergently evolved troglomorphism; alternative phylogenetic hypotheses involving less morphological convergence are not supported by Bayesian hypothesis testing. In one instance, this morphology is found in specimens from a high-elevation stony debris habitat, suggesting that troglomorphism can evolve in non-cave habitats. We discovered a strong positive relationship between troglomorphy index and relative divergence time, making it possible to predict taxon age from morphology. Most of our time estimates for the origin of highly-troglomorphic cave forms predate the Pleistocene. While several regions in the eastern and central United States are well-known hotspots for cave evolution, few modern phylogenetic studies have addressed the evolution of cave-obligate species in the western United States. Our integrative studies reveal the recurrent evolution of troglomorphism in a perhaps unexpected geographic region, at surprisingly deep time depths, and in sometimes surprising habitats. Because some newly discovered troglomorphic populations represent undescribed species, our findings stress the need for further biological exploration, integrative systematic research, and conservation efforts in western US cave habitats.

Mechano-Electric Feedback in the Fish Heart:

Mechanoelectric feedback (MEF) describes the modulation of electrical activity by mechanical activity. This may occur via the activation of mechanosensitive ion channels (MSCs). MEF has not previously been investigated in fish ventricular tissue even though fish can greatly increase ventricular end diastolic volume during exercise which should therefore provide a powerful mechanical stimulus for MEF. When the ventricles of extrinsically paced, isolated working trout hearts were dilated by increasing afterload, monophasic action potential (MAP) duration was significantly shortened at 25% repolarisation, unaltered at 50% repolarisation and significantly lengthened at 90% repolarisation. This observation is consistent with the activation of cationic non-selective MSCs (MSCNSs). We then cloned the trout ortholog of TRPC1, a candidate MSCNS and confirmed its presence in the trout heart. Our results have validated the use of MAP technology for the fish heart and suggest that, in common with amphibians and mammals, MEF operates in fish ventricular myocardium, possibly via the activation of mechanosensitive TRPC1 ion channels.

The Newcomb-Benford Law in Its Relation to Some Common Distributions:

An often reported, but nevertheless persistently striking observation, formalized as the Newcomb-Benford law (NBL), is that the frequencies with which the leading digits of numbers occur in a large variety of data are far away from being uniform. Most spectacular seems to be the fact that in many data the leading digit 1 occurs in nearly one third of all cases. Explanations for this uneven distribution of the leading digits were, among others, scale- and base-invariance. Little attention, however, found the interrelation between the distribution of the significant digits and the distribution of the observed variable. It is shown here by simulation that long right-tailed distributions of a random variable are compatible with the NBL, and that for distributions of the ratio of two random variables the fit generally improves. Distributions not putting most mass on small values of the random variable (e.g. symmetric distributions) fail to fit. Hence, the validity of the NBL needs the predominance of small values and, when thinking of real-world data, a majority of small entities. Analyses of data on stock prices, the areas and numbers of inhabitants of countries, and the starting page numbers of papers from a bibliography sustain this conclusion. In all, these findings may help to understand the mechanisms behind the NBL and the conditions needed for its validity. That this law is not only of scientific interest per se, but that, in addition, it has also substantial implications can be seen from those fields where it was suggested to be put into practice. These fields reach from the detection of irregularities in data (e.g. economic fraud) to optimizing the architecture of computers regarding number representation, storage, and round-off errors.

Assessing the Value of DNA Barcodes and Other Priority Gene Regions for Molecular Phylogenetics of Lepidoptera:

Despite apparently abundant amounts of observable variation and species diversity, the order Lepidoptera exhibits a morphological homogeneity that has provided only a limited number of taxonomic characters and led to widespread use of nucleotides for inferring relationships. This study aims to characterize and develop methods to quantify the value of priority gene regions designated for Lepidoptera molecular systematics. In particular, I assess how the DNA barcode segment of the mitochondrial COI gene performs across a broad temporal range given its number one position of priority, most sequenced status, and the conflicting opinions on its phylogenetic performance. Gene regions commonly sequenced for Lepidoptera phylogenetics were scored using multiple measures across three categories: practicality, which includes universality of primers and sequence quality; phylogenetic utility; and phylogenetic signal. I found that alternative measures within a category often appeared correlated, but high scores in one category did not necessarily translate into high scores in another. The DNA barcode was easier to sequence than other genes, and had high scores for utility but low signal above the genus level. Given limited financial resources and time constraints, careful selection of gene regions for molecular phylogenetics is crucial to avoid wasted effort producing partially informative data. This study introduces an approach to assessing the value of gene regions prior to the initiation of new studies and presents empirical results to help guide future selections.

Competition between Phytophthora infestans Effectors Leads to Increased Aggressiveness on Plants Containing Broad-Spectrum Late Blight Resistance:

The destructive plant disease potato late blight is caused by the oomycete pathogen Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary. This disease has remained particularly problematic despite intensive breeding efforts to integrate resistance into cultivated potato, largely because of the pathogen’s ability to quickly evolve to overcome major resistance genes. The RB gene, identified in the wild potato species S. bulbocastanum, encodes a protein that confers broad-spectrum resistance to most P. infestans isolates through its recognition of highly conserved members of the corresponding pathogen effector family IPI-O. IpiO is a multigene family of effectors and while the majority of IPI-O proteins are recognized by RB to elicit host resistance, some variants exist that are able to elude detection (e.g. IPI-O4). In the present study, analysis of ipiO variants among 40 different P. infestans isolates collected from Guatemala, Thailand, and the United States revealed a high degree of complexity within this gene family. Isolate aggressiveness was correlated with increased ipiO diversity and especially the presence of the ipiO4 variant. Furthermore, isolates expressing IPI-O4 overcame RB-mediated resistance in transgenic potato plants even when the resistance-eliciting IPI-O1 variant was present. In support of this finding, we observed that expression of IPI-O4 via Agrobacterium blocked recognition of IPI-O1, leading to inactivation of RB-mediated programmed cell death in Nicotiana benthamiana. In this study we definitively demonstrate and provide the first evidence that P. infestans can defeat an R protein through inhibition of recognition of the corresponding effector protein.

Evolution of the sex-Related Locus and Genomic Features Shared in Microsporidia and Fungi:

Microsporidia are obligate intracellular, eukaryotic pathogens that infect a wide range of animals from nematodes to humans, and in some cases, protists. The preponderance of evidence as to the origin of the microsporidia reveals a close relationship with the fungi, either within the kingdom or as a sister group to it. Recent phylogenetic studies and gene order analysis suggest that microsporidia share a particularly close evolutionary relationship with the zygomycetes. Here we expanded this analysis and also examined a putative sex-locus for variability between microsporidian populations. Whole genome inspection reveals a unique syntenic gene pair (RPS9-RPL21) present in the vast majority of fungi and the microsporidians but not in other eukaryotic lineages. Two other unique gene fusions (glutamyl-prolyl tRNA synthetase and ubiquitin-ribosomal subunit S30) that are present in metazoans, choanoflagellates, and filasterean opisthokonts are unfused in the fungi and microsporidians. One locus previously found to be conserved in many microsporidian genomes is similar to the sex locus of zygomycetes in gene order and architecture. Both sex-related and sex loci harbor TPT, HMG, and RNA helicase genes forming a syntenic gene cluster. We sequenced and analyzed the sex-related locus in 11 different Encephalitozoon cuniculi isolates and the sibling species E. intestinalis (3 isolates) and E. hellem (1 isolate). There was no evidence for an idiomorphic sex-related locus in this Encephalitozoon species sample. According to sequence-based phylogenetic analyses, the TPT and RNA helicase genes flanking the HMG genes are paralogous rather than orthologous between zygomycetes and microsporidians. The unique genomic hallmarks between microsporidia and fungi are independent of sequence based phylogenetic comparisons and further contribute to define the borders of the fungal kingdom and support the classification of microsporidia as unusual derived fungi. And the sex/sex-related loci appear to have been subject to frequent gene conversion and translocations in microsporidia and zygomycetes.

Selection Mechanisms Underlying High Impact Biomedical Research – A Qualitative Analysis and Causal Model:

Although scientific innovation has been a long-standing topic of interest for historians, philosophers and cognitive scientists, few studies in biomedical research have examined from researchers’ perspectives how high impact publications are developed and why they are consistently produced by a small group of researchers. Our objective was therefore to interview a group of researchers with a track record of high impact publications to explore what mechanism they believe contribute to the generation of high impact publications. Researchers were located in universities all over the globe and interviews were conducted by phone. All interviews were transcribed using standard qualitative methods. A Grounded Theory approach was used to code each transcript, later aggregating concept and categories into overarching explanation model. The model was then translated into a System Dynamics mathematical model to represent its structure and behavior. Five emerging themes were found in our study. First, researchers used heuristics or rules of thumb that came naturally to them. Second, these heuristics were reinforced by positive feedback from their peers and mentors. Third, good communication skills allowed researchers to provide feedback to their peers, thus closing a positive feedback loop. Fourth, researchers exhibited a number of psychological attributes such as curiosity or open-mindedness that constantly motivated them, even when faced with discouraging situations. Fifth, the system is dominated by randomness and serendipity and is far from a linear and predictable environment. Some researchers, however, took advantage of this randomness by incorporating mechanisms that would allow them to benefit from random findings. The aggregation of these themes into a policy model represented the overall expected behavior of publications and their impact achieved by high impact researchers. The proposed selection mechanism provides insights that can be translated into research coaching programs as well as research policy models to optimize the introduction of high impact research at a broad scale among institutional and governmental agencies.

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