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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

Another Tuesday night, another embarrassment of riches on PLoS ONE (yeah, yeah, I work there, OK). There are 35 new articles published today and it is hard for me to pick and choose as so many are interesting to me, including a couple I may have to write separate posts about (and test the new BPR3 icon). If any of these, or any of older ONE articles (or any of yet-to-be-published articles – ask me by e-mail) are in your area of interest/expertise and you would like to volunteer your group (research lab group, graduate seminar, honors class, whatever counts as a “group” of scientists) for a future Journal Club, let me know. In the meantime, you know what you need to do: read the papers, rate them, annotate them, post comments, blog about them and send trackbacks. Here are my picks for this week:

The LARK RNA-Binding Protein Selectively Regulates the Circadian Eclosion Rhythm by Controlling E74 Protein Expression:

Despite substantial progress in defining central components of the circadian pacemaker, the output pathways coupling the clock to rhythmic physiological events remain elusive. We previously showed that LARK is a Drosophila RNA-binding protein which functions downstream of the clock to mediate behavioral outputs. To better understand the roles of LARK in the circadian system, we sought to identify RNA molecules associated with it, in vivo, using a three-part strategy to (1) capture RNA ligands by immunoprecipitation, (2) visualize the captured RNAs using whole-genome microarrays, and (3) identify functionally relevant targets through genetic screens. We found that LARK is associated with a large number of RNAs, in vivo, consistent with its broad expression pattern. Overexpression of LARK increases protein abundance for certain targets without affecting RNA level, suggesting a translational regulatory role for the RNA-binding protein. Phenotypic screens of target-gene mutants have identified several with rhythm-specific circadian defects, indicative of effects on clock output pathways. In particular, a hypomorphic mutation in the E74 gene, E74BG01805, was found to confer an early-eclosion phenotype reminiscent of that displayed by a mutant with decreased LARK gene dosage. Molecular analyses demonstrate that E74A protein shows diurnal changes in abundance, similar to LARK. In addition, the E74BG01805 allele enhances the lethal phenotype associated with a lark null mutation, whereas overexpression of LARK suppresses the early eclosion phenotype of E74BG01805, consistent with the idea that E74 is a target, in vivo. Our results suggest a model wherein LARK mediates the transfer of temporal information from the molecular oscillator to different output pathways by interacting with distinct RNA targets.

Chemical Magnetoreception: Bird Cryptochrome 1a Is Excited by Blue Light and Forms Long-Lived Radical-Pairs:

Cryptochromes (Cry) have been suggested to form the basis of light-dependent magnetic compass orientation in birds. However, to function as magnetic compass sensors, the cryptochromes of migratory birds must possess a number of key biophysical characteristics. Most importantly, absorption of blue light must produce radical pairs with lifetimes longer than about a microsecond. Cryptochrome 1a (gwCry1a) and the photolyase-homology-region of Cry1 (gwCry1-PHR) from the migratory garden warbler were recombinantly expressed and purified from a baculovirus/Sf9 cell expression system. Transient absorption measurements show that these flavoproteins are indeed excited by light in the blue spectral range leading to the formation of radicals with millisecond lifetimes. These biophysical characteristics suggest that gwCry1a is ideally suited as a primary light-mediated, radical-pair-based magnetic compass receptor.

Exceptionally Preserved Jellyfishes from the Middle Cambrian:

Cnidarians are a group of animals including corals, jellyfish and sea anemones. Due to the early emergence of this group, it may provide important clues for understanding animal evolution. The authors of this paper describe cnidarian fossils from Utah believed to be approximately 505 million years old. These fossils have very well preserved soft tissue, which the authors interpret as evidence that representatives of modern jellyfish existed by the middle Cambrian period.

Underestimation of Species Richness in Neotropical Frogs Revealed by mtDNA Analyses:

Previously unknown amphibian species are being discovered every year as a result of increased exploration in poorly surveyed tropical areas. However, this group is also experiencing high rates of extinction. The authors of this paper analyze rDNA sequences from 60 frog species in South America to estimate the number of undescribed species in this region. The results indicate that more than half the frog species in the Amazonian part of the Guianas are as yet undiscovered, suggesting that the global decline of amphibians may be more serious than previously thought.

Selection at the Y Chromosome of the African Buffalo Driven by Rainfall:

Selection coefficients at the mammalian Y chromosome typically do not deviate strongly from neutrality. Here we show that strong balancing selection, maintaining intermediate frequencies of DNA sequence variants, acts on the Y chromosome in two populations of African buffalo (Syncerus caffer). Significant correlations exist between sequence variant frequencies and annual rainfall in the years before conception, with five- to eightfold frequency changes over short time periods. Annual rainfall variation drives the balancing of sequence variant frequencies, probably by affecting parental condition. We conclude that sequence variants confer improved male reproductive success after either dry or wet years, making the population composition and dynamics very sensitive to climate change. The mammalian Y chromosome, interacting with ecological processes, may affect male reproductive success much more strongly than previously thought.

How Emotion Strengthens the Recollective Experience: A Time-Dependent Hippocampal Process:

Emotion significantly strengthens the subjective recollective experience even when objective accuracy of the memory is not improved. Here, we examine if this modulation is related to the effect of emotion on hippocampal-dependent memory consolidation. Two critical predictions follow from this hypothesis. First, since consolidation is assumed to take time, the enhancement in the recollective experience for emotional compared to neutral memories should become more apparent following a delay. Second, if the emotion advantage is critically dependent on the hippocampus, then the effects should be reduced in amnesic patients with hippocampal damage. To test these predictions we examined the recollective experience for emotional and neutral photos at two retention intervals (Experiment 1), and in amnesics and controls (Experiment 2). Emotional memories were associated with an enhancement in the recollective experience that was greatest after a delay, whereas familiarity was not influenced by emotion. In amnesics with hippocampal damage the emotion effect on recollective experience was reduced. Surprisingly, however, these patients still showed a general memory advantage for emotional compared to neutral items, but this effect was manifest primarily as a facilitation of familiarity. The results support the consolidation hypothesis of recollective experience, but suggest that the effects of emotion on episodic memory are not exclusively hippocampally mediated. Rather, emotion may enhance recognition by facilitating familiarity when recollection is impaired due to hippocampal damage.

A Step Towards Seascape Scale Conservation: Using Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) to Map Fishing Activity:

Conservation of marine ecosystems will require a holistic understanding of fisheries with concurrent spatial patterns of biodiversity. Using data from the UK Government Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) deployed on UK-registered large fishing vessels we investigate patterns of fisheries activity on annual and seasonal scales. Analysis of VMS data shows that regions of the UK European continental shelf (i.e. Western Channel and Celtic Sea, Northern North Sea and the Goban Spur) receive consistently greater fisheries pressure than the rest of the UK continental shelf fishing zone. VMS provides a unique and independent method from which to derive patterns of spatially and temporally explicit fisheries activity. Such information may feed into ecosystem management plans seeking to achieve sustainable fisheries while minimising putative risk to non-target species (e.g. cetaceans, seabirds and elasmobranchs) and habitats of conservation concern. With multilateral collaboration VMS technologies may offer an important solution to quantifying and managing ecosystem disturbance, particularly on the high-seas.

More under the fold:

Treating Cancer as an Infectious Disease–Viral Antigens as Novel Targets for Treatment and Potential Prevention of Tumors of Viral Etiology:

Previous studies have estimated that almost 20% of human cancers worldwide are caused by infections. In this study, Dadachova and colleagues assessed the possibility of targeting virus-associated tumors by delivering radiolabeled antibodies against viral antigens on such tumors. This strategy was evaluated in experimental mouse models for cervical carcinoma and hepatocellular carcinoma, with encouraging results.

Solar Disinfection of MODS Mycobacterial Cultures in Resource-Poor Settings:

Safe disposal of TB culture material in which the infectious burden of clinical samples has been greatly amplified is an important challenge in resource-limited settings. The bactericidal capacity of solar cookers has been demonstrated previously for conventional bacteria and contaminated clinical waste. We investigated the use of a simple solar cooker for the sterilization of mycobacterial broth cultures from the microscopic observation drug susceptibility assay (MODS). Simulated TB culture materials were prepared by inoculating 24-well MODS plates with 500 µL of a known concentration of Mycobacterium bovis BCG. In a series of experiments, samples were simultaneously placed inside a box-type solar cooker and control box and removed at timepoints between 15 minutes and 6 hours. Quantitative cultures were performed using retrieved samples to determine sterilization effect. All cultures from the control box were positive at or within 1-4 logs of inoculation concentration. Simulated culture plates at concentrations from 103colony-forming-units (CFU)/ml to 107 CFU/ml were completely sterilized after only one hour of cooker exposure, at temperatures between 50-102°C. At 109 CFU/ml (far in excess of diagnostic cultures), it was only possible to recover mycobacterial growth in plates removed after 15 minutes. By 30 minutes all plates were effectively sterilized. Solar disinfection provides a very effective, safe and low-cost alternative to conventional equipment used for disposal of mycobacterial culture material. Effect of climatic conditions and optimal operating procedure remain to be defined.

Direct and Indirect Induction of a Compensatory Phenotype that Alleviates the Costs of an Inducible Defense:

Organisms often exhibit phenotypic plasticity in multiple traits in response to impending environmental change. Multiple traits phenotypic plasticity is complex syndrome brought on by causal relations in ecological and physiological context. Larvae of the salamander Hynobius retardatus exhibit inducible phenotypic plasticity of two traits, when at risk of predation by dragonfly larvae. One induced phenotype is an adaptive defense behaviour, i.e., stasis at the bottom of water column, directly triggered by the predation risk. Another one is a compensatory phenotype, i.e., enlarged external gills, for an unavoidable cost (hypoxia) associated with the induced defense. We identified two ways by which this compensatory phenotype could be induced. The compensatory phenotype is induced in response to not only the associated hypoxic conditions resulting from the induced defense but also the most primary but indirect cause, presence of the predator.

Rampant Adaptive Evolution in Regions of Proteins with Unknown Function in Drosophila simulans:

Adaptive protein evolution is pervasive in Drosophila. Genomic studies, thus far, have analyzed each protein as a single entity. However, the targets of adaptive events may be localized to particular parts of proteins, such as protein domains or regions involved in protein folding. We compared the population genetic mechanisms driving sequence polymorphism and divergence in defined protein domains and non-domain regions. Interestingly, we find that non-domain regions of proteins are more frequent targets of directional selection. Protein domains are also evolving under directional selection, but appear to be under stronger purifying selection than non-domain regions. Non-domain regions of proteins clearly play a major role in adaptive protein evolution on a genomic scale and merit future investigations of their functional properties.

Creating Physical 3D Stereolithograph Models of Brain and Skull:

The human brain and skull are three dimensional (3D) anatomical structures with complex surfaces. However, medical images are often two dimensional (2D) and provide incomplete visualization of structural morphology. To overcome this loss in dimension, we developed and validated a freely available, semi-automated pathway to build 3D virtual reality (VR) and hand-held, stereolithograph models. To evaluate whether surface visualization in 3D was more informative than in 2D, undergraduate students (n = 50) used the Gillespie scale to rate 3D VR and physical models of both a living patient-volunteer’s brain and the skull of Phineas Gage, a historically famous railroad worker whose misfortune with a projectile tamping iron provided the first evidence of a structure-function relationship in brain. Using our processing pathway, we successfully fabricated human brain and skull replicas and validated that the stereolithograph model preserved the scale of the VR model. Based on the Gillespie ratings, students indicated that the biological utility and quality of visual information at the surface of VR and stereolithograph models were greater than the 2D images from which they were derived. The method we developed is useful to create VR and stereolithograph 3D models from medical images and can be used to model hard or soft tissue in living or preserved specimens. Compared to 2D images, VR and stereolithograph models provide an extra dimension that enhances both the quality of visual information and utility of surface visualization in neuroscience and medicine.