There are 19 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:
The northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus; NFS) is a widely distributed pinniped that has been shown to exhibit a high degree of philopatry to islands, breeding areas on an island, and even to specific segments of breeding areas. This level of philopatry could conceivably lead to highly genetically divergent populations. However, northern fur seals have the potential for dispersal across large distances and have experienced repeated rapid population expansions following glacial retreat and the more recent cessation of intensive harvest pressure. Using microsatellite and mitochondrial loci, we examined population structure in NFS throughout their range. We found only weak population genetic structure among breeding islands including significant FST and ΦST values between eastern and western Pacific islands. We conclude that insufficient time since rapid population expansion events (both post glacial and following the cessation of intense harvest pressure) mixed with low levels of contemporary migration have resulted in an absence of genetic structure across the entire northern fur seal range.
Large-scale patterns or trends in species diversity have long interested ecologists. The classic pattern is for diversity (e.g., species richness) to decrease with increasing latitude. Taxonomic distinctness is a diversity measure based on the relatedness of the species within a sample. Here we examined patterns of taxonomic distinctness in relation to latitude (ca. 32-48 °N) and depth (ca. 50-1220 m) for demersal fishes on the continental shelf and slope of the US Pacific coast. Both average taxonomic distinctness (AvTD) and variation in taxonomic distinctness (VarTD) changed with latitude and depth. AvTD was highest at approximately 500 m and lowest at around 200 m bottom depth. Latitudinal trends in AvTD were somewhat weaker and were depth-specific. AvTD increased with latitude on the shelf (50-150 m) but tended to decrease with latitude at deeper depths. Variation in taxonomic distinctness (VarTD) was highest around 300 m. As with AvTD, latitudinal trends in VarTD were depth-specific. On the shelf (50-150 m), VarTD increased with latitude, while in deeper areas the patterns were more complex. Closer inspection of the data showed that the number and distribution of species within the class Chondrichthyes were the primary drivers of the overall patterns seen in AvTD and VarTD, while the relatedness and distribution of species in the order Scorpaeniformes appeared to cause the relatively low observed values of AvTD at around 200 m. These trends contrast to some extent the patterns seen in earlier studies for species richness and evenness in demersal fishes along this coast and add to our understanding of diversity of the demersal fishes of the California Current.
Polistes paper wasps are models for understanding conditions that may have characterized the origin of worker and queen castes and, therefore, the origin of paper wasp sociality. Polistes is “primitively eusocial” by virtue of having context-dependent caste determination and no morphological differences between castes. Even so, Polistes colonies have a temporal pattern in which most female larvae reared by the foundress become workers, and most reared by workers become future-reproductive gynes. This pattern is hypothesized to reflect development onto two pathways, which may utilize mechanisms that regulate diapause in other insects. Using expressed sequence tags (ESTs) for Polistes metricus we selected candidate genes differentially expressed in other insects in three categories: 1) diapause vs. non-diapause phenotypes and/or worker vs. queen differentiation, 2) behavioral subcastes of worker honey bees, and 3) no a priori expectation of a role in worker/gyne development. We also used a non-targeted proteomics screen to test for peptide/protein abundance differences that could reflect larval developmental divergence. We found that foundress-reared larvae (putative worker-destined) and worker-reared larvae (putative gyne-destined) differed in quantitative expression of sixteen genes, twelve of which were associated with caste and/or diapause in other insects, and they also differed in abundance of nine peptides/proteins. Some differentially-expressed genes are involved in diapause regulation in other insects, and other differentially-expressed genes and proteins are involved in the insulin signaling pathway, nutrient metabolism, and caste determination in highly social bees. Differential expression of a gene and a peptide encoding hexameric storage proteins is especially noteworthy. Although not conclusive, our results support hypotheses of 1) larval developmental pathway divergence that can lead to caste bias in adults and 2) nutritional differences as the foundation of the pathway divergence. Finally, the differential expression in Polistes larvae of genes and proteins also differentially expressed during queen vs. worker caste development in honey bees may indicate that regulatory mechanisms of caste outcomes share similarities between primitively eusocial and advanced eusocial Hymenoptera.
Several lines of evidence support that dopaminergic neurotransmission plays a role in creative thought and behavior. Here, we investigated the relationship between creative ability and dopamine D2 receptor expression in healthy individuals, with a focus on regions where aberrations in dopaminergic function have previously been associated with psychotic symptoms and a genetic liability to schizophrenia. Scores on divergent thinking tests (Inventiveness battery, Berliner Intelligenz Struktur Test) were correlated with regional D2 receptor densities, as measured by Positron Emission Tomography, and the radioligands [11C]raclopride and [11C]FLB 457. The results show a negative correlation between divergent thinking scores and D2 density in the thalamus, also when controlling for age and general cognitive ability. Hence, the results demonstrate that the D2 receptor system, and specifically thalamic function, is important for creative performance, and may be one crucial link between creativity and psychopathology. We suggest that decreased D2 receptor densities in the thalamus lower thalamic gating thresholds, thus increasing thalamocortical information flow. In healthy individuals, who do not suffer from the detrimental effects of psychiatric disease, this may increase performance on divergent thinking tests. In combination with the cognitive functions of higher order cortical networks, this could constitute a basis for the generative and selective processes that underlie real life creativity.
Age-related physiological changes in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as modifications in lifestyle, nutritional behaviour, and functionality of the host immune system, inevitably affect the gut microbiota, resulting in a greater susceptibility to infections. By using the Human Intestinal Tract Chip (HITChip) and quantitative PCR of 16S rRNA genes of Bacteria and Archaea, we explored the age-related differences in the gut microbiota composition among young adults, elderly, and centenarians, i.e subjects who reached the extreme limits of the human lifespan, living for over 100 years. We observed that the microbial composition and diversity of the gut ecosystem of young adults and seventy-years old people is highly similar but differs significantly from that of the centenarians. After 100 years of symbiotic association with the human host, the microbiota is characterized by a rearrangement in the Firmicutes population and an enrichment in facultative anaerobes, notably pathobionts. The presence of such a compromised microbiota in the centenarians is associated with an increased inflammatory status, also known as inflammageing, as determined by a range of peripheral blood inflammatory markers. This may be explained by a remodelling of the centenarians’ microbiota, with a marked decrease in Faecalibacterium prauznitzii and relatives, symbiotic species with reported anti-inflammatory properties. As signature bacteria of the long life we identified specifically Eubacterium limosum and relatives that were more than ten-fold increased in the centenarians. We provide evidence for the fact that the ageing process deeply affects the structure of the human gut microbiota, as well as its homeostasis with the host’s immune system. Because of its crucial role in the host physiology and health status, age-related differences in the gut microbiota composition may be related to the progression of diseases and frailty in the elderly population.