Tag Archives: PLoS

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

You really need to go to a PLoS ONE paper and take a look – we have done some nifty home remodeling 😉
What is really new and important is that there are all sorts of article-level metrics on each paper. The same goes for all the other TOPAZ-based PLoS journals (i.e., all but PLoS Biology – you may have noticed that PLoS Medicine has migrated onto TOPAZ as well).
Mark Patterson explains what and why. Pete Binfield gives you a new house tour. And Richard Cave gives the information for those interested in the technical side of the changes.
Please take a look and give us feedback at any of those three links above, or here and here.
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. Due to the upgrade, trackbacks are temporarily invisible. But send them anyway – the system is saving them and will make them visible soon.
You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, 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:
Ants Can Learn to Forage on One-Way Trails:

The trails formed by many ant species between nest and food source are two-way roads on which outgoing and returning workers meet and touch each other all along. The way to get back home, after grasping a food load, is to take the same route on which they have arrived from the nest. In many species such trails are chemically marked by pheromones providing orientation cues for the ants to find their way. Other species rely on their vision and use landmarks as cues. We have developed a method to stop foraging ants from shuttling on two-way trails. The only way to forage is to take two separate roads, as they cannot go back on their steps after arriving at the food or at the nest. The condition qualifies as a problem because all their orientation cues – chemical, visual or any other – are disrupted, as all of them cannot but lead the ants back to the route on which they arrived. We have found that workers of the leaf-cutting ant Atta sexdens rubropilosa can solve the problem. They could not only find the alternative way, but also used the unidirectional traffic system to forage effectively. We suggest that their ability is an evolutionary consequence of the need to deal with environmental irregularities that cannot be negotiated by means of excessively stereotyped behavior, and that it is but an example of a widespread phenomenon. We also suggest that our method can be adapted to other species, invertebrate and vertebrate, in the study of orientation, memory, perception, learning and communication.

Local Individual Preferences for Nest Materials in a Passerine Bird:

Variation in the behavioural repertoire of animals is acquired by learning in a range of animal species. In nest-building birds, the assemblage of nest materials in an appropriate structure is often typical of a bird genus or species. Yet plasticity in the selection of nest materials may be beneficial because the nature and abundance of nest materials vary across habitats. Such plasticity can be learned, either individually or socially. In Corsican populations of blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus, females regularly add in their nests fragments of several species of aromatic plants during the whole breeding period. The selected plants represent a small fraction of the species present in the environment and have positive effects on nestlings. We investigated spatiotemporal variations of this behaviour to test whether the aromatic plant species composition in nests depends on 1) plant availability in territories, 2) female experience or 3) female identity. Our results indicate that territory plays a very marginal role in the aromatic plant species composition of nests. Female experience is not related to a change in nest plant composition. Actually, this composition clearly depends on female identity, i.e. results from individual preferences which, furthermore, are repeatable both within and across years. A puzzling fact is the strong difference in plant species composition of nests across distinct study plots. This study demonstrates that plant species composition of nests results from individual preferences that are homogeneous within study plots. We propose several hypotheses to interpret this pattern of spatial variation before discussing them in the light of preliminary results. As a conclusion, we cannot exclude the possibility of social transmission of individual preferences for aromatic plants. This is an exciting perspective for further work in birds, where nest construction behaviour has classically been considered as a stereotypic behaviour.

Cellular Communication through Light:

Information transfer is a fundamental of life. A few studies have reported that cells use photons (from an endogenous source) as information carriers. This study finds that cells can have an influence on other cells even when separated with a glass barrier, thereby disabling molecule diffusion through the cell-containing medium. As there is still very little known about the potential of photons for intercellular communication this study is designed to test for non-molecule-based triggering of two fundamental properties of life: cell division and energy uptake. The study was performed with a cellular organism, the ciliate Paramecium caudatum. Mutual exposure of cell populations occurred under conditions of darkness and separation with cuvettes (vials) allowing photon but not molecule transfer. The cell populations were separated either with glass allowing photon transmission from 340 nm to longer waves, or quartz being transmittable from 150 nm, i.e. from UV-light to longer waves. Even through glass, the cells affected cell division and energy uptake in neighboring cell populations. Depending on the cuvette material and the number of cells involved, these effects were positive or negative. Also, while paired populations with lower growth rates grew uncorrelated, growth of the better growing populations was correlated. As there were significant differences when separating the populations with glass or quartz, it is suggested that the cell populations use two (or more) frequencies for cellular information transfer, which influences at least energy uptake, cell division rate and growth correlation. Altogether the study strongly supports a cellular communication system, which is different from a molecule-receptor-based system and hints that photon-triggering is a fine tuning principle in cell chemistry.

Skin Blood Perfusion and Oxygenation Colour Affect Perceived Human Health:

Skin blood perfusion and oxygenation depends upon cardiovascular, hormonal and circulatory health in humans and provides socio-sexual signals of underlying physiology, dominance and reproductive status in some primates. We allowed participants to manipulate colour calibrated facial photographs along empirically-measured oxygenated and deoxygenated blood colour axes both separately and simultaneously, to optimise healthy appearance. Participants increased skin blood colour, particularly oxygenated, above basal levels to optimise healthy appearance. We show, therefore, that skin blood perfusion and oxygenation influence perceived health in a way that may be important to mate choice.

Non-Destructive Sampling of Ancient Insect DNA:

A major challenge for ancient DNA (aDNA) studies on insect remains is that sampling procedures involve at least partial destruction of the specimens. A recent extraction protocol reveals the possibility of obtaining DNA from past insect remains without causing visual morphological damage. We test the applicability of this protocol on historic museum beetle specimens dating back to AD 1820 and on ancient beetle chitin remains from permafrost (permanently frozen soil) dating back more than 47,000 years. Finally, we test the possibility of obtaining ancient insect DNA directly from non-frozen sediments deposited 3280-1800 years ago – an alternative approach that also does not involve destruction of valuable material. The success of the methodological approaches are tested by PCR and sequencing of COI and 16S mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) fragments of 77-204 base pairs (-bp) in size using species-specific and general insect primers. The applied non-destructive DNA extraction method shows promising potential on insect museum specimens of historical age as far back as AD 1820, but less so on the ancient permafrost-preserved insect fossil remains tested, where DNA was obtained from samples up to ca. 26,000 years old. The non-frozen sediment DNA approach appears to have great potential for recording the former presence of insect taxa not normally preserved as macrofossils and opens new frontiers in research on ancient biodiversity.

Spatio-Temporal Transmission Patterns of Black-Band Disease in a Coral Community:

Transmission mechanisms of black-band disease (BBD) in coral reefs are poorly understood, although this disease is considered to be one of the most widespread and destructive coral infectious diseases. The major objective of this study was to assess transmission mechanisms of BBD in the field based on the spatio-temporal patterns of the disease. 3,175 susceptible and infected corals were mapped over an area of 10×10 m in Eilat (northern Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea) and the distribution of the disease was examined monthly throughout almost two full disease cycles (June 2006-December 2007). Spatial and spatio-temporal analyses were applied to infer the transmission pattern of the disease and to calculate key epidemiological parameters such as (basic reproduction number). We show that the prevalence of the disease is strongly associated with high water temperature. When water temperatures rise and disease prevalence increases, infected corals exhibit aggregated distributions on small spatial scales of up to 1.9 m. Additionally, newly-infected corals clearly appear in proximity to existing infected corals and in a few cases in direct contact with them. We also present and test a model of water-borne infection, indicating that the likelihood of a susceptible coral becoming infected is defined by its spatial location and by the relative spatial distribution of nearby infected corals found in the site. Our results provide evidence that local transmission, but not necessarily by direct contact, is likely to be an important factor in the spread of the disease over the tested spatial scale. In the absence of potential disease vectors with limited mobility (e.g., snails, fireworms) in the studied site, water-borne infection is likely to be a significant transmission mechanism of BBD. Our suggested model of water-borne transmission supports this hypothesis. The spatio-temporal analysis also points out that infected corals surviving a disease season appear to play a major role in the re-introduction of the disease to the coral community in the following season.

An Awesome Whale Tale

ResearchBlogging.orgWhen I was a little kid, almost nothing was known about evolution of whales. They were huge, they were marine and they were mammals, but their evolutionary ancestry was open to speculation. Some (like Darwin himself) hypothesized that the terrestrial ancestor of whales looked like a bear. Others favored the idea of a hippo-like or even a pig-like ancestor.
Over the decades, two things happened. First, the revolution in molecular biology and computing power allowed scientists to compare many genes of many mammals and thus infer genealogical relationships between whales and other groups of mammals. Second, some smart palaeontologists decided that a good place to look for fossil whales would be Pakistan. The rest is, as they say, history. Digs in Pakistan unearthed a wealth of whale fossils over the years, so many of them, in fact, that the fossil record of prehistoric whales is now one of the best examples of the bushy tree of mammalian evolution in any lineage.
We now know that there were several gradual changes in whales over their evolutionary history from terrestrial animals to a number of branches of aquatic animals – some of these branches went extinct over time, while others have living descendants today. They tended to increase in size. Their front legs evolved into flippers. They gradually lost their hind legs: the large, strong hind legs of early whales were used for swimming by paddling, but later decreased in size as the undulating mode of swimming (and the evolution of the flat horizontal tail) took over. Today’s whales have remnants of hind legs still hidden deep inside their large bodies, in the form of two smalish bones.
While genetics discovers evolutionary relationships, and fossils can tell us about evolution of morphology, it is much more rare that a fossil find allows us to infer much about an extinct animal’s physiology, behavior or ecology. And the discovery of one such fossil was just published in PLoS ONE today: New Protocetid Whale from the Middle Eocene of Pakistan: Birth on Land, Precocial Development, and Sexual Dimorphism (also watch the accompanying video of the fossil). Here is the abstract:

Protocetidae are middle Eocene (49-37 Ma) archaeocete predators ancestral to later whales. They are found in marine sedimentary rocks, but retain four legs and were not yet fully aquatic. Protocetids have been interpreted as amphibious, feeding in the sea but returning to land to rest.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Two adult skeletons of a new 2.6 meter long protocetid, Maiacetus inuus, are described from the early middle Eocene Habib Rahi Formation of Pakistan. M. inuus differs from contemporary archaic whales in having a fused mandibular symphysis, distinctive astragalus bones in the ankle, and a less hind-limb dominated postcranial skeleton. One adult skeleton is female and bears the skull and partial skeleton of a single large near-term fetus. The fetal skeleton is positioned for head-first delivery, which typifies land mammals but not extant whales, evidence that birth took place on land. The fetal skeleton has permanent first molars well mineralized, which indicates precocial development at birth. Precocial development, with attendant size and mobility, were as critical for survival of a neonate at the land-sea interface in the Eocene as they are today. The second adult skeleton is the most complete known for a protocetid. The vertebral column, preserved in articulation, has 7 cervicals, 13 thoracics, 6 lumbars, 4 sacrals, and 21 caudals. All four limbs are preserved with hands and feet. This adult is 12% larger in linear dimensions than the female skeleton, on average, has canine teeth that are 20% larger, and is interpreted as male. Moderate sexual dimorphism indicates limited male-male competition during breeding, which in turn suggests little aggregation of food or shelter in the environment inhabited by protocetids.
Discovery of a near-term fetus positioned for head-first delivery provides important evidence that early protocetid whales gave birth on land. This is consistent with skeletal morphology enabling Maiacetus to support its weight on land and corroborates previous ideas that protocetids were amphibious. Specimens this complete are virtual ‘Rosetta stones’ providing insight into functional capabilities and life history of extinct animals that cannot be gained any other way.

What does this all mean? Unlike the gradual loss of hind legs, graudal increase in size, gradual evolution of front legs into flippers and gradual evolution of the horizontal tail, we did not have information about the way the prehistoric whales gave birth. We know that all large terrestrial mammals give birth head-first, while all aquatic mammals (not just whales, but also manatees and such) give birth tail-first. But we did not know when did this switch occur.
This paper shows that some early whales, already well along the way of evolving into creatures recognizable as whales but still possessing sizeable hind legs they used for swimming, gave birth head-first. This indicates that these animals, at least on those rare occasions when they were giving birth to their young, had to go up onto dry land. Thus, we now have the timing a little better on the question of when exatly did the whales become completely aquatic, i.e., never coming to land at all, and it is somewhat later than we thought until now.
I tried to explain this in as simple language as possible – suitable for complete laymen or middle-school students, but if you want a little more detail and some better expert opinion on this fossil find and the paper that describes it, please read what others have written about it:
Carl Zimmer
Mike Dunford
Ed Yong
Brian Switek
Greg Laden
Cosmos Magazine
WIRED Science
Philip D. Gingerich, Munir ul-Haq, Wighart von Koenigswald, William J. Sanders, B. Holly Smith, Iyad S. Zalmout (2009). New Protocetid Whale from the Middle Eocene of Pakistan: Birth on Land, Precocial Development, and Sexual Dimorphism PLoS ONE, 4 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004366

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 13 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, 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 Big One today, I’ll cover in a separate post a little later, but here I also want to point out a paper by my good friends Elsa Youngsteadt and Coby Schal, back from my NCSU days (Dr.Youngsteadt now works for Sigma Xi and attended ScienceOnline09):
Species-Specific Seed Dispersal in an Obligate Ant-Plant Mutualism by Elsa Youngsteadt, Jeniffer Alvarez Baca, Jason Osborne, Coby Schal:

Throughout lowland Amazonia, arboreal ants collect seeds of specific plants and cultivate them in nutrient-rich nests, forming diverse yet obligate and species-specific symbioses called Neotropical ant-gardens (AGs). The ants depend on their symbiotic plants for nest stability, and the plants depend on AGs for substrate and nutrients. Although the AGs are limited to specific participants, it is unknown at what stage specificity arises, and seed fate pathways in AG epiphytes are undocumented. Here we examine the specificity of the ant-seed interaction by comparing the ant community observed at general food baits to ants attracted to and removing seeds of the AG plant Peperomia macrostachya. We also compare seed removal rates under treatments that excluded vertebrates, arthropods, or both. In the bait study, only three of 70 ant species collected P. macrostachya seeds, and 84% of observed seed removal by ants was attributed to the AG ant Camponotus femoratus. In the exclusion experiment, arthropod exclusion significantly reduced seed removal rates, but vertebrate exclusion did not. We provide the most extensive empirical evidence of species specificity in the AG mutualism and begin to quantify factors that affect seed fate in order to understand conditions that favor its departure from the typical diffuse model of plant-animal mutualism.

An Ethical Facade? Medical Students’ Miscomprehensions of Substituted Judgment:

We studied how well first-year medical students understand and apply the concept of substituted judgment, following a course on clinical ethics.
Students submitted essays on one of three ethically controversial scenarios presented in class. One scenario involved a patient who had lost decisional capacity. Through an iterative process of textual analysis, the essays were studied and coded for patterns in the ways students misunderstood or misapplied the principle of substituted judgment.
Students correctly articulated course principles regarding patient autonomy, substituted judgment, and non-imposition of physician values. However, students showed misunderstanding by giving doctors the responsibility of balancing the interests of the patient against the interests of the family, by stating doctors and surrogates should be guided primarily by a best-interest standard, and by suggesting that patient autonomy becomes the guiding principle only when patients can no longer express their wishes.
Students did not appear to internalize or correctly apply the substituted judgment standard, even though they could describe it accurately. This suggests the substituted judgment standard may run counter to students’ moral intuitions, making it harder to apply in clinical practice.

New and Exciting in PLoS this week

So, let’s see what’s new in PLoS Genetics, PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Pathogens and PLoS ONE this week. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Microblogging the ISMB: A New Approach to Conference Reporting:

The International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) has become an important communication hub for bioinformaticians, and the core element of the Conference–presentations of peer-reviewed papers–is now only one of many activities. Presentation of timely journal publications (the Highlights sessions), Special Sessions organized by experts in the respective fields, Tutorials, and Special Interest Group meetings should attract attendees who might otherwise prefer smaller, more focused meetings. In addition to these formal activities, an important aspect is the informal communication between participants. This year, about 1,600 participants attended the meeting in the conference center under the CN Tower in Toronto. ISMB 2008 also left a footprint on the Web, via a Web service named FriendFeed (http://friendfeed.com/), to capture highlights from the Conference in near real time. FriendFeed allows users to share items, either directly or by importing their latest content from any Web site that generates an RSS feed, leading to a continuous stream of information around which communities build (Figure 1). In addition, and of most relevance to ISMB, FriendFeed acts as a microblogging platform: Users post short, typically single-sentence messages which generate conversations in the ensuing comment threads. Microblogging, best exemplified by the Twitter service (http://twitter.com/), is popular in the IT/tech sector, but little used by life scientists. It may be thought of as the fusion of instant messaging and traditional blogs: Anyone can follow or join a conversation, and conversations are archived. We recommend an article by Cameron Neylon entitled FriendFeed for Scientists: What, Why, and How? (http://blog.openwetware.org/scienceintheopen/2008/06/12/friendfeed-for-scientists-what-why-and-how/) for an introduction.

The Sicker Sex

Arguments about the weaker sex notwithstanding, there is no contest about the identity of the sicker sex–it is males, almost every time. Everyone knows that old age homes have more widows than widowers, but the disparity extends far beyond the elderly. Fewer women than men died in the 1917-1918 influenza epidemic; the differential mortality was not related to World War I, as originally thought, but was global and widespread among ages. Kruger and Nesse [1] compared men’s and women’s mortality rates for 11 causes of death in men and women from 20 countries, including accidents and homicide as well as infectious and non-infectious diseases, and found that men virtually always die earlier. They concluded, “Being male is now the single largest demographic risk factor for early mortality in developed countries”. Furthermore, in many free-living mammals, males are more likely than females to harbor parasites or to suffer more intensely from their effects. During the mid-20th century, a virtual cottage industry developed in which investigators experimentally infested laboratory rodents with parasites and documented any resulting sex differences in the prevalence or intensity of the infection that developed [2]. Males usually developed higher parasitemia, with castration removing the sex difference. The persistence of these patterns in the laboratory suggests that the sex difference is not merely due to differences in exposure to parasites, with males and females behaving differently in the field and hence incurring different risks of infection, but to an inherent sex difference in vulnerability.

And check out the first of PLoS ONE CollectionsStress-Induced Depression and Comorbidities: From Bench to Bedside:

This collection of articles represents the output of a group of international research institutions (informally referred to as EUMOOD) who collaborated around the causal link between stress exposure and depression vulnerability.
Within the collection, preclinical and clinical research papers present an integrated experimental effort, employing a variety of methods and concepts from different disciplines such as biological psychiatry, neuroscience, and neuroendocrinology.
Editorial oversight, and coordination of the peer-review, was provided by Bernhard Baune, PLoS ONE Section Editor for Neuroscience and Psychiatry.

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 10 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, 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:
Rhythmicity in Mice Selected for Extremes in Stress Reactivity: Behavioural, Endocrine and Sleep Changes Resembling Endophenotypes of Major Depression:

Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, including hyper- or hypo-activity of the stress hormone system, plays a critical role in the pathophysiology of mood disorders such as major depression (MD). Further biological hallmarks of MD are disturbances in circadian rhythms and sleep architecture. Applying a translational approach, an animal model has recently been developed, focusing on the deviation in sensitivity to stressful encounters. This so-called ‘stress reactivity’ (SR) mouse model consists of three separate breeding lines selected for either high (HR), intermediate (IR), or low (LR) corticosterone increase in response to stressors. In order to contribute to the validation of the SR mouse model, our study combined the analysis of behavioural and HPA axis rhythmicity with sleep-EEG recordings in the HR/IR/LR mouse lines. We found that hyper-responsiveness to stressors was associated with psychomotor alterations (increased locomotor activity and exploration towards the end of the resting period), resembling symptoms like restlessness, sleep continuity disturbances and early awakenings that are commonly observed in melancholic depression. Additionally, HR mice also showed neuroendocrine abnormalities similar to symptoms of MD patients such as reduced amplitude of the circadian glucocorticoid rhythm and elevated trough levels. The sleep-EEG analyses, furthermore, revealed changes in rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep as well as slow wave activity, indicative of reduced sleep efficacy and REM sleep disinhibition in HR mice. Thus, we could show that by selectively breeding mice for extremes in stress reactivity, clinically relevant endophenotypes of MD can be modelled. Given the importance of rhythmicity and sleep disturbances as biomarkers of MD, both animal and clinical studies on the interaction of behavioural, neuroendocrine and sleep parameters may reveal molecular pathways that ultimately lead to the discovery of new targets for antidepressant drugs tailored to match specific pathologies within MD.

Opposite Effects of Early Maternal Deprivation on Neurogenesis in Male versus Female Rats:

Major depression is more prevalent in women than in men. The underlying neurobiological mechanisms are not well understood, but recent data shows that hippocampal volume reductions in depressed women occur only when depression is preceded by an early life stressor. This underlines the potential importance of early life stress, at least in women, for the vulnerability to develop depression. Perinatal stress exposure in rodents affects critical periods of brain development that persistently alter structural, emotional and neuroendocrine parameters in adult offspring. Moreover, stress inhibits adult hippocampal neurogenesis, a form of structural plasticity that has been implicated a.o. in antidepressant action and is highly abundant early postnatally. We here tested the hypothesis that early life stress differentially affects hippocampal structural plasticity in female versus male offspring. We show that 24 h of maternal deprivation (MD) at PND3 affects hippocampal structural plasticity at PND21 in a sex-dependent manner. Neurogenesis was significantly increased in male but decreased in female offspring after MD. Since no other structural changes were found in granule cell layer volume, newborn cell survival or proliferation rate, astrocyte number or gliogenesis, this indicates that MD elicits specific changes in subsets of differentiating cells and differentially affects immature neurons. The MD induced sex-specific effects on neurogenesis cannot be explained by differences in maternal care. Our data shows that early environment has a critical influence on establishing sex differences in neural plasticity and supports the concept that the setpoint for neurogenesis may be determined during perinatal life. It is tempting to speculate that a reduced level of neurogenesis, secondary to early stress exposure, may contribute to maladaptation of the HPA axis and possibly to the increased vulnerability of women to stress-related disorders.

Crohn’s Disease and Early Exposure to Domestic Refrigeration:

Environmental risk factors playing a causative role in Crohn’s Disease (CD) remain largely unknown. Recently, it has been suggested that refrigerated food could be involved in disease development. We thus conducted a pilot case control study to explore the association of CD with the exposure to domestic refrigeration in childhood. Using a standard questionnaire we interviewed 199 CD cases and 207 age-matched patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as controls. Cases and controls were followed by the same gastroenterologists of tertiary referral clinics in Tehran, Iran. The questionnaire focused on the date of the first acquisition of home refrigerator and freezer. Data were analysed by a multivariate logistic model. The current age was in average 34 years in CD cases and the percentage of females in the case and control groups were respectively 48.3% and 63.7%. Patients were exposed earlier than controls to the refrigerator (X2 = 9.9, df = 3, P = 0.04) and refrigerator exposure at birth was found to be a risk factor for CD (OR = 2.08 (95% CI: 1.01-4.29), P = 0.05). Comparable results were obtained looking for the exposure to freezer at home. Finally, among the other recorded items reflecting the hygiene and comfort at home, we also found personal television, car and washing machine associated with CD. This study supports the opinion that CD is associated with exposure to domestic refrigeration, among other household factors, during childhood.

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 13 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, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week (wow! two circadian papers, plus dinosaurs and honeybees and heterochrony! – what a week!) – you go and look for your own favourites:
Evidence of Combat in Triceratops:

The horns and frill of Triceratops and other ceratopsids (horned dinosaurs) are interpreted variously as display structures or as weapons against conspecifics and predators. Lesions (in the form of periosteal reactive bone, healing fractures, and alleged punctures) on Triceratops skulls have been used as anecdotal support of intraspecific combat similar to that in modern horned and antlered animals. If ceratopsids with different cranial morphologies used their horns in such combat, this should be reflected in the rates of lesion occurrence across the skull. We used a G-test of independence to compare incidence rates of lesions in Triceratops (which possesses two large brow horns and a smaller nasal horn) and the related ceratopsid Centrosaurus (with a large nasal horn and small brow horns), for the nasal, jugal, squamosal, and parietal bones of the skull. The two taxa differ significantly in the occurrence of lesions on the squamosal bone of the frill (P = 0.002), but not in other cranial bones (P>0.20). This pattern is consistent with Triceratops using its horns in combat and the frill being adapted as a protective structure for this taxon. Lower pathology rates in Centrosaurus may indicate visual rather than physical use of cranial ornamentation in this genus, or a form of combat focused on the body rather than the head.

Already blogged about by one of the authors, Andy Farke and by Ed Yong.
Number-Based Visual Generalisation in the Honeybee:

Although the numerical abilities of many vertebrate species have been investigated in the scientific literature, there are few convincing accounts of invertebrate numerical competence. Honeybees, Apis mellifera, by virtue of their other impressive cognitive feats, are a prime candidate for investigations of this nature. We therefore used the well-established delayed match-to-sample paradigm, to test the limits of honeybees’ ability to match two visual patterns solely on the basis of the shared number of elements in the two patterns. Using a y-maze, we found that bees can not only differentiate between patterns containing two and three elements, but can also use this prior knowledge to differentiate three from four, without any additional training. However, bees trained on the two versus three task could not distinguish between higher numbers, such as four versus five, four versus six, or five versus six. Control experiments confirmed that the bees were not using cues such as the colour of the exact configuration of the visual elements, the combined area or edge length of the elements, or illusory contours formed by the elements. To our knowledge, this is the first report of number-based visual generalisation by an invertebrate.

Circadian Control of Dendrite Morphology in the Visual System of Drosophila melanogaster:

In the first optic neuropil (lamina) of the fly’s visual system, monopolar cells L1 and L2 and glia show circadian rhythms in morphological plasticity. They change their size and shape during the day and night. The most pronounced changes have been detected in circadian size of the L2 axons. Looking for a functional significance of the circadian plasticity observed in axons, we examined the morphological plasticity of the L2 dendrites. They extend from axons and harbor postsynaptic sites of tetrad synaptic contacts from the photoreceptor terminals. The plasticity of L2 dendrites was evaluated by measuring an outline of the L2 dendritic trees. These were from confocal images of cross sections of L2 cells labeled with GFP. They were in wild-type and clock mutant flies held under different light conditions and sacrified at different time points. We found that the L2 dendrites are longest at the beginning of the day in both males and females. This rhythm observed under a day/night regime (LD) was maintained in constant darkness (DD) but not in continuous light (LL). This rhythm was not present in the arrhythmic per01 mutant in LD or in DD. In the clock photoreceptor cryb mutant the rhythm was maintained but its pattern was different than that observed in wild-type flies. The results obtained showed that the L2 dendrites exhibit circadian structural plasticity. Their morphology is controlled by the per gene-dependent circadian clock. The L2 dendrites are longest at the beginning of the day when the daytime tetrad presynaptic sites are most numerous and L2 axons are swollen. The presence of the rhythm, but with a different pattern in cryb mutants in LD and DD indicates a new role of cry in the visual system. The new role is in maintaining the circadian pattern of changes of the L2 dendrite length and shape.

Genetic and Molecular Analysis of Wild-Derived Arrhythmic Mice:

A new circadian variant was isolated by screening the intercross offspring of wild-caught mice (Mus musculus castaneus). This variant was characterized by an initial maintenance of damped oscillations and subsequent loss of rhythmicity after being transferred from light-dark (LD) cycles to constant darkness (DD). To map the genes responsible for the persistence of rhythmicity (circadian ratio) and the length of free-running period (τ), quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis was performed using F2 mice obtained from an F1 cross between the circadian variant and C57BL/6J mice. As a result, a significant QTL with a main effect for circadian ratio (Arrhythmicity; Arrh-1) was mapped on Chromosome (Chr) 8. For τ, four significant QTLs, Short free-running period (Sfp-1) (Chr 1), Sfp-2 (Chr 6), Sfp-3 (Chr 8), Sfp-4 (Chr 11) were determined. An epistatic interaction was detected between Chr 3 (Arrh-2) and Chr 5 (Arrh-3). An in situ hybridization study of clock genes and mouse Period1::luciferase (mPer1::luc) real-time monitoring analysis in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) suggested that arrhythmicity in this variant might not be attributed to core circadian mechanisms in the SCN neurons. Our strategy using wild-derived variant mice may provide a novel opportunity to evaluate circadian and its related disorders in human that arise from the interaction between multiple variant genes.

Heterochrony and Cross-Species Intersensory Matching by Infant Vervet Monkeys:

Understanding the evolutionary origins of a phenotype requires understanding the relationship between ontogenetic and phylogenetic processes. Human infants have been shown to undergo a process of perceptual narrowing during their first year of life, whereby their intersensory ability to match the faces and voices of another species declines as they get older. We investigated the evolutionary origins of this behavioral phenotype by examining whether or not this developmental process occurs in non-human primates as well. We tested the ability of infant vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops), ranging in age from 23 to 65 weeks, to match the faces and voices of another non-human primate species (the rhesus monkey, Macaca mulatta). Even though the vervets had no prior exposure to rhesus monkey faces and vocalizations, our findings show that infant vervets can, in fact, recognize the correspondence between rhesus monkey faces and voices (but indicate that they do so by looking at the non-matching face for a greater proportion of overall looking time), and can do so well beyond the age of perceptual narrowing in human infants. Our results further suggest that the pattern of matching by vervet monkeys is influenced by the emotional saliency of the Face+Voice combination. That is, although they looked at the non-matching screen for Face+Voice combinations, they switched to looking at the matching screen when the Voice was replaced with a complex tone of equal duration. Furthermore, an analysis of pupillary responses revealed that their pupils showed greater dilation when looking at the matching natural face/voice combination versus the face/tone combination. Because the infant vervets in the current study exhibited cross-species intersensory matching far later in development than do human infants, our findings suggest either that intersensory perceptual narrowing does not occur in Old World monkeys or that it occurs later in development. We argue that these findings reflect the faster rate of neural development in monkeys relative to humans and the resulting differential interaction of this factor with the effects of early experience.

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 10 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, 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:
Mineral Preservatives in the Wood of Stradivari and Guarneri:

Following the futile efforts of generations to reach the high standard of excellence achieved by the luthiers in Cremona, Italy, by variations of design and plate tuning, current interest is being focused on differences in material properties. The long-standing question whether the wood of Stradivari and Guarneri were treated with wood preservative materials could be answered only by the examination of wood specimens from the precious antique instruments. In a recent communication (Nature, 2006), we reported about the degradation of the wood polymers in instruments of Stradivari and Guarneri, which could be explained only by chemical manipulations, possibly by preservatives. The aim of the current work was to identify the minerals from the small samples of the maple wood which were available to us from the antique instruments. The ashes of wood from one violin and one cello by Stradivari, two violins by Guarneri, one viola by H. Jay, one violin by Gand-Bernardel were analyzed and compared with a variety of commercial tone woods. The methods of analysis were the following: back-scattered electron imaging, X-ray fluorescence maps for individual elements, wave-length dispersive spectroscopy, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and quantitative microprobe analysis. All four Cremonese instruments showed the unmistakable signs of chemical treatments in the form of chemicals which are not present in natural woods, such as BaSO4, CaF2, borate, and ZrSiO4. In addition to these, there were also changes in the common wood minerals. Statistical evaluation of 12 minerals by discriminant analysis revealed: a. a difference among all four Cremona instruments, b. the difference of the Cremonese instruments from the French and English antiques, and c. only the Cremonese instruments differed from all commercial woods. These findings may provide the answer why all attempts to recreate the Stradivarius from natural wood have failed. There are many obvious implications with regard to how the green tone wood should be treated, which chould lead to changes in the practice of violin-making. This research should inspire others to analyze more antique violins for their chemical contents.

Evolution of Reproductive Morphology in Leaf Endophytes:

The endophytic lifestyle has played an important role in the evolution of the morphology of reproductive structures (body) in one of the most problematic groups in fungal classification, the Leotiomycetes (Ascomycota). Mapping fungal morphologies to two groups in the Leiotiomycetes, the Rhytismatales and Hemiphacidiaceae reveals significant divergence in body size, shape and complexity. Mapping ecological roles to these taxa reveals that the groups include endophytic fungi living on leaves and saprobic fungi living on duff or dead wood. Finally, mapping of the morphologies to ecological roles reveals that leaf endophytes produce small, highly reduced fruiting bodies covered with fungal tissue or dead host tissue, while saprobic species produce large and intricate fruiting bodies. Intriguingly, resemblance between asexual conidiomata and sexual ascomata in some leotiomycetes implicates some common developmental pathways for sexual and asexual development in these fungi.

IGFBP3 Colocalizes with and Regulates Hypocretin (Orexin):

The sleep disorder narcolepsy is caused by a vast reduction in neurons producing the hypocretin (orexin) neuropeptides. Based on the tight association with HLA, narcolepsy is believed to result from an autoimmune attack, but the cause of hypocretin cell loss is still unknown. We performed gene expression profiling in the hypothalamus to identify novel genes dysregulated in narcolepsy, as these may be the target of autoimmune attack or modulate hypocretin gene expression. We used microarrays to compare the transcriptome in the posterior hypothalamus of (1) narcoleptic versus control postmortem human brains and (2) transgenic mice lacking hypocretin neurons versus wild type mice. Hypocretin was the most downregulated gene in human narcolepsy brains. Among many additional candidates, only one, insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 (IGFBP3), was downregulated in both human and mouse models and co-expressed in hypocretin neurons. Functional analysis indicated decreased hypocretin messenger RNA and peptide content, and increased sleep in transgenic mice overexpressing human IGFBP3, an effect possibly mediated through decreased hypocretin promotor activity in the presence of excessive IGFBP3. Although we found no IGFBP3 autoantibodies nor a genetic association with IGFBP3 polymorphisms in human narcolepsy, we found that an IGFBP3 polymorphism known to increase serum IGFBP3 levels was associated with lower CSF hypocretin-1 in normal individuals. Comparison of the transcriptome in narcolepsy and narcolepsy model mouse brains revealed a novel dysregulated gene which colocalized in hypocretin cells. Functional analysis indicated that the identified IGFBP3 is a new regulator of hypocretin cell physiology that may be involved not only in the pathophysiology of narcolepsy, but also in the regulation of sleep in normal individuals, most notably during adolescence. Further studies are required to address the hypothesis that excessive IGFBP3 expression may initiate hypocretin cell death and cause narcolepsy.

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 15 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, 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:
Preparing the Perfect Cuttlefish Meal: Complex Prey Handling by Dolphins:

Dolphins are well known for their complex social and foraging behaviours. Direct underwater observations of wild dolphin feeding behaviour however are rare. At mass spawning aggregations of giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) in the Upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia, a wild female Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) was observed and recorded repeatedly catching, killing and preparing cuttlefish for consumption using a specific and ordered sequence of behaviours. Cuttlefish were herded to a sand substrate, pinned to the seafloor, killed by downward thrust, raised mid-water and beaten by the dolphin with its snout until the ink was released and drained. The deceased cuttlefish was then returned to the seafloor, inverted and forced along the sand substrate in order to strip the thin dorsal layer of skin off the mantle, thus releasing the buoyant calcareous cuttlebone. This stepped behavioural sequence significantly improves prey quality through 1) removal of the ink (with constituent melanin and tyrosine), and 2) the calcareous cuttlebone. Observations of foraging dolphin pods from above-water at this site (including the surfacing of intact clean cuttlebones) suggest that some or all of this prey handling sequence may be used widely by dolphins in the region. Aspects of the unique mass spawning aggregations of giant cuttlefish in this region of South Australia may have contributed to the evolution of this behaviour through both high abundances of spawning and weakened post-spawning cuttlefish in a small area (>10,000 animals on several kilometres of narrow rocky reef), as well as potential long-term and regular visitation by dolphin pods to this site.

Perceptual Other-Race Training Reduces Implicit Racial Bias:

Implicit racial bias denotes socio-cognitive attitudes towards other-race groups that are exempt from conscious awareness. In parallel, other-race faces are more difficult to differentiate relative to own-race faces – the “Other-Race Effect.” To examine the relationship between these two biases, we trained Caucasian subjects to better individuate other-race faces and measured implicit racial bias for those faces both before and after training. Two groups of Caucasian subjects were exposed equally to the same African American faces in a training protocol run over 5 sessions. In the individuation condition, subjects learned to discriminate between African American faces. In the categorization condition, subjects learned to categorize faces as African American or not. For both conditions, both pre- and post-training we measured the Other-Race Effect using old-new recognition and implicit racial biases using a novel implicit social measure – the “Affective Lexical Priming Score” (ALPS). Subjects in the individuation condition, but not in the categorization condition, showed improved discrimination of African American faces with training. Concomitantly, subjects in the individuation condition, but not the categorization condition, showed a reduction in their ALPS. Critically, for the individuation condition only, the degree to which an individual subject’s ALPS decreased was significantly correlated with the degree of improvement that subject showed in their ability to differentiate African American faces. Our results establish a causal link between the Other-Race Effect and implicit racial bias. We demonstrate that training that ameliorates the perceptual Other-Race Effect also reduces socio-cognitive implicit racial bias. These findings suggest that implicit racial biases are multifaceted, and include malleable perceptual skills that can be modified with relatively little training.

Are Hox Genes Ancestrally Involved in Axial Patterning? Evidence from the Hydrozoan Clytia hemisphaerica (Cnidaria):

The early evolution and diversification of Hox-related genes in eumetazoans has been the subject of conflicting hypotheses concerning the evolutionary conservation of their role in axial patterning and the pre-bilaterian origin of the Hox and ParaHox clusters. The diversification of Hox/ParaHox genes clearly predates the origin of bilaterians. However, the existence of a “Hox code” predating the cnidarian-bilaterian ancestor and supporting the deep homology of axes is more controversial. This assumption was mainly based on the interpretation of Hox expression data from the sea anemone, but growing evidence from other cnidarian taxa puts into question this hypothesis. Hox, ParaHox and Hox-related genes have been investigated here by phylogenetic analysis and in situ hybridisation in Clytia hemisphaerica, an hydrozoan species with medusa and polyp stages alternating in the life cycle. Our phylogenetic analyses do not support an origin of ParaHox and Hox genes by duplication of an ancestral ProtoHox cluster, and reveal a diversification of the cnidarian HOX9-14 genes into three groups called A, B, C. Among the 7 examined genes, only those belonging to the HOX9-14 and the CDX groups exhibit a restricted expression along the oral-aboral axis during development and in the planula larva, while the others are expressed in very specialised areas at the medusa stage. Cross species comparison reveals a strong variability of gene expression along the oral-aboral axis and during the life cycle among cnidarian lineages. The most parsimonious interpretation is that the Hox code, collinearity and conservative role along the antero-posterior axis are bilaterian innovations.

Alternative Complement Activity in the Egg Cytosol of Amphioxus Branchiostoma belcheri: Evidence for the Defense Role of Maternal Complement Components:

The eggs in most invertebrates are fertilized externally, and therefore their resulting embryos are exposed to an environment full of microbes, many of which are pathogens capable of killing other organisms. How the developing embryos of invertebrates defend themselves against pathogenic attacks is an intriguing question to biologists, and remains largely unknown. Here we clearly demonstrated that the egg cytosol prepared from the newly fertilized eggs of amphioxus Branchiostoma belcheri, an invertebrate chordate, was able to inhibit the growth of both the Gram-negative bacterium Vibrio anguillarum and the Gram-positive bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. All findings point to that it is the complement system operating via the alternative pathway that is attributable to the bacteriostatic activity. This appears to be the first report providing the evidence for the functional role of the maternal complement components in the eggs of invertebrate species, paving the way for the study of maternal immunity in other invertebrate organisms whose eggs are fertilized in vitro. It also supports the notion that the early developing embryos share some defense mechanisms common with the adult species.

Antimicrobial Peptide Evolution in the Asiatic Honey Bee Apis cerana:

The Asiatic honeybee, Apis cerana Fabricius, is an important honeybee species in Asian countries. It is still found in the wild, but is also one of the few bee species that can be domesticated. It has acquired some genetic advantages and significantly different biological characteristics compared with other Apis species. However, it has been less studied, and over the past two decades, has become a threatened species in China. We designed primers for the sequences of the four antimicrobial peptide cDNA gene families (abaecin, defensin, apidaecin, and hymenoptaecin) of the Western honeybee, Apis mellifera L. and identified all the antimicrobial peptide cDNA genes in the Asiatic honeybee for the first time. All the sequences were amplified by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). In all, 29 different defensin cDNA genes coding 7 different defensin peptides, 11 different abaecin cDNA genes coding 2 different abaecin peptides, 13 different apidaecin cDNA genes coding 4 apidaecin peptides and 34 different hymenoptaecin cDNA genes coding 13 different hymenoptaecin peptides were cloned and identified from the Asiatic honeybee adult workers. Detailed comparison of these four antimicrobial peptide gene families with those of the Western honeybee revealed that there are many similarities in the quantity and amino acid components of peptides in the abaecin, defensin and apidaecin families, while many more hymenoptaecin peptides are found in the Asiatic honeybee than those in the Western honeybee (13 versus 1). The results indicated that the Asiatic honeybee adult generated more variable antimicrobial peptides, especially hymenoptaecin peptides than the Western honeybee when stimulated by pathogens or injury. This suggests that, compared to the Western honeybee that has a longer history of domestication, selection on the Asiatic honeybee has favored the generation of more variable antimicrobial peptides as protection against pathogens.

New and Exciting in PLoS this week

Just because I was busy with the conference does not meen that PLoS stopped the virtual presses to accommodate me! Of course, there are a bunch of cool new papers in PLoS Genetics, PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Pathogens and PLoS ONE that have been published last week. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Action Potential Initiation in the Hodgkin-Huxley Model:

In 1952, Hodgkin and Huxley described the underlying mechanism for the firing of action potentials through which information is propagated in the nervous system. Hodgkin and Huxley’s model relies on the opening and closing of channels, selectively allowing ions to move across the membrane. In the original picture, the channels open independently of one another. A recent paper argues that this model is incapable of modeling a set of action potential data recorded in the cortical neurons of cats. Instead the authors suggest that to model their data it is necessary to conclude that ion channels open cooperatively, so that opening one channel increases the chance that another channel opens. We analyze the initiation of action potentials using a method from theoretical physics, the path integral. We demonstrate that deviations of the data from the predictions of the Hodgkin-Huxley model hinge on measurement of the noise strength.

Contrasting Mode of Evolution at a Coat Color Locus in Wild and Domestic Pigs:

This study addresses why coat colors of domestic animals are so variable, while those of their wild ancestors are so uniform. Specifically, we asked whether this was the result of (i) relaxed purifying selection, (ii) that some mutations affect both coat color and another trait under strong selection (for instance behavior), or (iii) direct human selection for altered coat color phenotypes. We investigated genetic variation in the melanocortin receptor 1 (MC1R) gene among wild and domestic pigs from both Europe and Asia. Though we found a similar number of mutations in wild and domestic pigs, the nature of the mutations was strikingly different. All mutations found among wild boars were silent, i.e., they did not change the protein sequence. This implies strong purifying selection in the wild that maintains camouflage coat color. In contrast, nine out of ten mutations found in domestic pigs altered the protein sequence, thereby drastically transforming the resulting coat color. These results demonstrate that early farmers intentionally selected pigs with novel coat coloring. Their motivations could have been as simple as a preference for the exotic or selection for reduced camouflage to facilitate animal husbandry and/or to make the domesticated forms distinct from their wild ancestor.

Sequences From First Settlers Reveal Rapid Evolution in Icelandic mtDNA Pool:

Ancient DNA studies have great potential to shed light on the evolution of populations because they provide the opportunity to sample from the same population at different points in time. However, ancient DNA studies are often based on DNA extracted from only one or a few individuals and, therefore, do not lend themselves to statistical inference. Here, we describe the analysis of a sample of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences from 68 Icelandic skeletal remains that are about 1,000 years old, from the time that Iceland was first settled. We show that the ancient Icelandic mtDNA sequences are more closely related to sequences from contemporary inhabitants of Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia (and several other European populations) than to those from the modern Icelandic population. It appears that the array of sequences carried by the first generations of Icelanders was better preserved in the gene pools of their ancestors than among their modern descendants because of a faster rate of evolution due to genetic drift in the Icelandic mtDNA pool during the last 1,100 years. These results demonstrate the inferential power that can be gained from studies by applying the methods of population genetics to samples of ancient DNA sequences.

Converging on the Origins of Axonal Ion Channel Clustering:

The high-density clustering of voltage-gated Na+ channels and KCNQ2/3 K+ channels at the axon initial segment (AIS; see Figure 1A) and nodes of Ranvier (Figure 1B) is essential for the final integration of synaptic inputs and the initiation and rapid propagation of action potentials (APs) in neurons [1]-[3]. The AIS also marks the transition between the axonal and somatodendritic domains of the neuron, and its molecular integrity is required to maintain neuronal polarity [4],[5]. Thus, the AIS acts as both a key functional and structural bridge between neuronal input and output. Previously, the cytoskeletal and scaffolding protein ankyrinG was shown to be essential for the clustering of Na+ channels at the AIS and at the peripheral nervous system nodes of Ranvier [6]-[8]. Efforts to identify the molecular basis of Na+ channel clustering at the AIS showed that all mammalian Na+ channels have a cytoplasmic anchor motif that mediates their interaction (and AIS clustering) with ankyrinG [9],[10]. Subsequently, a comparison between Na+ channels and KCNQ2/3 K+ channels revealed the surprising fact that these two types of channels have the ankyrinG interaction and anchor motif in common [11]. While these anchor motifs are highly conserved among vertebrates, they are not found among invertebrates. This observation led to the fascinating question of how and why ion channels from two different gene families evolved a common amino acid sequence that mediates their clustering and localization at the AIS and nodes of Ranvier.

Conidiation Color Mutants of Aspergillus fumigatus Are Highly Pathogenic to the Heterologous Insect Host Galleria mellonella:

The greater wax moth Galleria mellonella has been widely used as a heterologous host for a number of fungal pathogens including Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans. A positive correlation in pathogenicity of these yeasts in this insect model and animal models has been observed. However, very few studies have evaluated the possibility of applying this heterologous insect model to investigate virulence traits of the filamentous fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus, the leading cause of invasive aspergillosis. Here, we have examined the impact of mutations in genes involved in melanin biosynthesis on the pathogenicity of A. fumigatus in the G. mellonella model. Melanization in A. fumigatus confers bluish-grey color to conidia and is a known virulence factor in mammal models. Surprisingly, conidial color mutants in B5233 background that have deletions in the defined six-gene cluster required for DHN-melanin biosynthesis caused enhanced insect mortality compared to the parent strain. To further examine and confirm the relationship between melanization defects and enhanced virulence in the wax moth model, we performed random insertional mutagenesis in the Af293 genetic background to isolate mutants producing altered conidia colors. Strains producing conidia of previously identified colors and of novel colors were isolated. Interestingly, these color mutants displayed a higher level of pathogenicity in the insect model compared to the wild type. Although some of the more virulent color mutants showed increased resistance to hydrogen peroxide, overall phenotypic characterizations including secondary metabolite production, metalloproteinase activity, and germination rate did not reveal a general mechanism accountable for the enhanced virulence of these color mutants observed in the insect model. Our observations indicate instead, that exacerbated immune response of the wax moth induced by increased exposure of PAMPs (pathogen-associated molecular patterns) may cause self-damage that results in increased mortality of larvae infected with the color mutants. The current study underscores the limitations of using this insect model for inferring the pathogenic potential of A. fumigatus strains in mammals, but also points to the importance of understanding the innate immunity of the insect host in providing insights into the pathogenicity level of different fungal strains in this model. Additionally, our observations that melanization defective color mutants demonstrate increased virulence in the insect wax moth, suggest the potential of using melanization defective mutants of native insect fungal pathogens in the biological control of insect populations.

Differences in Context and Feedback Result in Different Trajectories and Adaptation Strategies in Reaching:

Computational models of motor control have often explained the straightness of horizontal planar reaching movements as a consequence of optimal control. Departure from rectilinearity is thus regarded as sub-optimal. Here we examine if subjects may instead select to make curved trajectories following adaptation to force fields and visuomotor rotations. Separate subjects adapted to force fields with or without visual feedback of their hand trajectory and were retested after 24 hours. Following adaptation, comparable accuracies were achieved in two ways: with visual feedback, adapted trajectories in force fields were straight whereas without it, they remained curved. The results suggest that trajectory shape is not always straight, but is also influenced by the calibration of available feedback signals for the state estimation required by the task. In a follow-up experiment, where additional subjects learned a visuomotor rotation immediately after force field, the trajectories learned in force fields (straight or curved) were transferred when directions of the perturbations were similar but not when directions were opposing. This demonstrates a strong bias by prior experience to keep using a recently acquired control policy that continues to produce successful performance inspite of differences in tasks and feedback conditions. On relearning of force fields on the second day, facilitation by intervening visuomotor rotations occurred only when required motor adjustments and calibration of feedback signals were similar in both tasks. These results suggest that both the available feedback signals and prior history of learning influence the choice and maintenance of control policy during adaptations.

Humans and Mice Express Similar Olfactory Preferences:

In humans, the pleasantness of odors is a major contributor to social relationships and food intake. Smells evoke attraction and repulsion responses, reflecting the hedonic value of the odorant. While olfactory preferences are known to be strongly modulated by experience and learning, it has been recently suggested that, in humans, the pleasantness of odors may be partly explained by the physicochemical properties of the odorant molecules themselves. If odor hedonic value is indeed predetermined by odorant structure, then it could be hypothesized that other species will show similar odor preferences to humans. Combining behavioral and psychophysical approaches, we here show that odorants rated as pleasant by humans were also those which, behaviorally, mice investigated longer and human subjects sniffed longer, thereby revealing for the first time a component of olfactory hedonic perception conserved across species. Consistent with this, we further show that odor pleasantness rating in humans and investigation time in mice were both correlated with the physicochemical properties of the molecules, suggesting that olfactory preferences are indeed partly engraved in the physicochemical structure of the odorant. That odor preferences are shared between mammal species and are guided by physicochemical features of odorant stimuli strengthens the view that odor preference is partially predetermined. These findings open up new perspectives for the study of the neural mechanisms of hedonic perception.

Complete Genome Sequence of the Aerobic CO-Oxidizing Thermophile Thermomicrobium roseum:

In order to enrich the phylogenetic diversity represented in the available sequenced bacterial genomes and as part of an “Assembling the Tree of Life” project, we determined the genome sequence of Thermomicrobium roseum DSM 5159. T. roseum DSM 5159 is a red-pigmented, rod-shaped, Gram-negative extreme thermophile isolated from a hot spring that possesses both an atypical cell wall composition and an unusual cell membrane that is composed entirely of long-chain 1,2-diols. Its genome is composed of two circular DNA elements, one of 2,006,217 bp (referred to as the chromosome) and one of 919,596 bp (referred to as the megaplasmid). Strikingly, though few standard housekeeping genes are found on the megaplasmid, it does encode a complete system for chemotaxis including both chemosensory components and an entire flagellar apparatus. This is the first known example of a complete flagellar system being encoded on a plasmid and suggests a straightforward means for lateral transfer of flagellum-based motility. Phylogenomic analyses support the recent rRNA-based analyses that led to T. roseum being removed from the phylum Thermomicrobia and assigned to the phylum Chloroflexi. Because T. roseum is a deep-branching member of this phylum, analysis of its genome provides insights into the evolution of the Chloroflexi. In addition, even though this species is not photosynthetic, analysis of the genome provides some insight into the origins of photosynthesis in the Chloroflexi. Metabolic pathway reconstructions and experimental studies revealed new aspects of the biology of this species. For example, we present evidence that T. roseum oxidizes CO aerobically, making it the first thermophile known to do so. In addition, we propose that glycosylation of its carotenoids plays a crucial role in the adaptation of the cell membrane to this bacterium’s thermophilic lifestyle. Analyses of published metagenomic sequences from two hot springs similar to the one from which this strain was isolated, show that close relatives of T. roseum DSM 5159 are present but have some key differences from the strain sequenced.

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 17 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, 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:
Mitochondrial Phylogeography Illuminates the Origin of the Extinct Caspian Tiger and Its Relationship to the Amur Tiger:

The Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) flourished in Central Asian riverine forest systems in a range disjunct from that of other tigers, but was driven to extinction in 1970 prior to a modern molecular evaluation. For over a century naturalists puzzled over the taxonomic validity, placement, and biogeographic origin of this enigmatic animal. Using ancient-DNA (aDNA) methodology, we generated composite mtDNA haplotypes from twenty wild Caspian tigers from throughout their historic range sampled from museum collections. We found that Caspian tigers carry a major mtDNA haplotype differing by only a single nucleotide from the monomorphic haplotype found across all contemporary Amur tigers (P. t. altaica). Phylogeographic analysis with extant tiger subspecies suggests that less than 10,000 years ago the Caspian/Amur tiger ancestor colonized Central Asia via the Gansu Corridor (Silk Road) from eastern China then subsequently traversed Siberia eastward to establish the Amur tiger in the Russian Far East. The conservation implications of these findings are far reaching, as the observed genetic depletion characteristic of modern Amur tigers likely reflects these founder migrations and therefore predates human influence. Also, due to their evolutionary propinquity, living Amur tigers offer an appropriate genetic source should reintroductions to the former range of the Caspian tiger be implemented.

A Trivers-Willard Effect in Contemporary Humans: Male-Biased Sex Ratios among Billionaires:

Natural selection should favour the ability of mothers to adjust the sex ratio of offspring in relation to the offspring’s potential reproductive success. In polygynous species, mothers in good condition would be advantaged by giving birth to more sons. While studies on mammals in general provide support for the hypothesis, studies on humans provide particularly inconsistent results, possibly because the assumptions of the model do not apply. Here, we take a subset of humans in very good condition: the Forbe’s billionaire list. First, we test if the assumptions of the model apply, and show that mothers leave more grandchildren through their sons than through their daughters. We then show that billionaires have 60% sons, which is significantly different from the general population, consistent with our hypothesis. However, women who themselves are billionaires have fewer sons than women having children with billionaires, suggesting that maternal testosterone does not explain the observed variation. Furthermore, paternal masculinity as indexed by achievement, could not explain the variation, since there was no variation in sex ratio between self-made or inherited billionaires. Humans in the highest economic bracket leave more grandchildren through sons than through daughters. Therefore, adaptive variation in sex ratios is expected, and human mothers in the highest economic bracket do give birth to more sons, suggesting similar sex ratio manipulation as seen in other mammals.

Reappraising Social Insect Behavior through Aversive Responsiveness and Learning:

The success of social insects can be in part attributed to their division of labor, which has been explained by a response threshold model. This model posits that individuals differ in their response thresholds to task-associated stimuli, so that individuals with lower thresholds specialize in this task. This model is at odds with findings on honeybee behavior as nectar and pollen foragers exhibit different responsiveness to sucrose, with nectar foragers having higher response thresholds to sucrose concentration. Moreover, it has been suggested that sucrose responsiveness correlates with responsiveness to most if not all other stimuli. If this is the case, explaining task specialization and the origins of division of labor on the basis of differences in response thresholds is difficult. To compare responsiveness to stimuli presenting clear-cut differences in hedonic value and behavioral contexts, we measured appetitive and aversive responsiveness in the same bees in the laboratory. We quantified proboscis extension responses to increasing sucrose concentrations and sting extension responses to electric shocks of increasing voltage. We analyzed the relationship between aversive responsiveness and aversive olfactory conditioning of the sting extension reflex, and determined how this relationship relates to division of labor. Sucrose and shock responsiveness measured in the same bees did not correlate, thus suggesting that they correspond to independent behavioral syndromes, a foraging and a defensive one. Bees which were more responsive to shock learned and memorized better aversive associations. Finally, guards were less responsive than nectar foragers to electric shocks, exhibiting higher tolerance to low voltage shocks. Consequently, foragers, which are more sensitive, were the ones learning and memorizing better in aversive conditioning.

Versatile Aggressive Mimicry of Cicadas by an Australian Predatory Katydid:

In aggressive mimicry, a predator or parasite imitates a signal of another species in order to exploit the recipient of the signal. Some of the most remarkable examples of aggressive mimicry involve exploitation of a complex signal-response system by an unrelated predator species. We have found that predatory Chlorobalius leucoviridis katydids (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae) can attract male cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) by imitating the species-specific wing-flick replies of sexually receptive female cicadas. This aggressive mimicry is accomplished both acoustically, with tegminal clicks, and visually, with synchronized body jerks. Remarkably, the katydids respond effectively to a variety of complex, species-specific Cicadettini songs, including songs of many cicada species that the predator has never encountered. We propose that the versatility of aggressive mimicry in C. leucoviridis is accomplished by exploiting general design elements common to the songs of many acoustically signaling insects that use duets in pair-formation. Consideration of the mechanism of versatile mimicry in C. leucoviridis may illuminate processes driving the evolution of insect acoustic signals, which play a central role in reproductive isolation of populations and the formation of species.

Serotonin Transporter Genotype Modulates Social Reward and Punishment in Rhesus Macaques:

Serotonin signaling influences social behavior in both human and nonhuman primates. In humans, variation upstream of the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) has recently been shown to influence both behavioral measures of social anxiety and amygdala response to social threats. Here we show that length polymorphisms in 5-HTTLPR predict social reward and punishment in rhesus macaques, a species in which 5-HTTLPR variation is analogous to that of humans. In contrast to monkeys with two copies of the long allele (L/L), monkeys with one copy of the short allele of this gene (S/L) spent less time gazing at face than non-face images, less time looking in the eye region of faces, and had larger pupil diameters when gazing at photos of a high versus low status male macaques. Moreover, in a novel primed gambling task, presentation of photos of high status male macaques promoted risk-aversion in S/L monkeys but promoted risk-seeking in L/L monkeys. Finally, as measured by a “pay-per-view” task, S/L monkeys required juice payment to view photos of high status males, whereas L/L monkeys sacrificed fluid to see the same photos. These data indicate that genetic variation in serotonin function contributes to social reward and punishment in rhesus macaques, and thus shapes social behavior in humans and rhesus macaques alike.

Molecular Implications of Repeated Aggression: Th, Dat1, Snca and Bdnf Gene Expression in the VTA of Victorious Male Mice:

It is generally recognized that recurrent aggression can be the result of various psychiatric disorders. The aim of our study was to analyze the mRNA levels, in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the midbrain, of the genes that may possibly be associated with aggression consistently shown by male mice in special experimental settings. The genes were Th, Dat1, Snca and Bdnf; the male mice were a group of animals that had each won 20 daily encounters in succession and a group of animals that had the same winning track record followed by a no-fight period for 14 days. Increased Th, Dat1 and Snca mRNA levels were in the fresh-from-the-fight group as compared to the controls. Increased Th and Dat1 mRNA levels were in the no-fight winners as compared to the controls. Significant positive correlations were found between the level of aggression and Th and Snca mRNA levels. Repeated positive fighting experience enhances the expression of the Th, Dat1 and Snca genes, which are associated with brain dopaminergic systems. The expression of the Th and Dat1 genes stays enhanced for a long time.

Evolution in PLoS ONE

Evolution is the theme of the month for January at PLoS ONE, so we have picked , for your pleasure, some of our papers for the Top picks in Evolutionary Biology. In conjuction with this, I have also conducted an interview with our Evolution Section Editor Dr.Tom Tregenza.
Dr.Tom Tregenza studies sexual selection and sexual conflict in crickets, both in the lab and in the field, and we discuss some of his research in the interview. He is also involved in a collaborative study of the amazing mimic octopus – see the movie below – so I hope you go and check out the interview: