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New and Exciting in PLoS Biology

There is lots of cool new stuff in PLoS Biology this week. Take a look:

Conspicuous Chameleons is a synopsis/summary of this article:

Selection for Social Signalling Drives the Evolution of Chameleon Colour Change:

The ability to change colour has evolved in numerous vertebrate and invertebrate groups, the most well-known of which are chameleons and cephalopods (octopuses and their relatives). There is great variation among species, however, in the apparent capacity for colour change, ranging from limited changes in brightness to dramatic changes in hue. What drives the evolution of this remarkable strategy? We addressed this question by using a combination of field-based behavioural trials in which we quantified colour change, models of colour perception, and our knowledge of phylogenetic relationships for 21 distinct lineages of southern African dwarf chameleons. We show that evolutionary changes in the capacity for colour change are consistently associated with the use of social signals that are highly conspicuous to the visual system of chameleons. Moreover, capacity for colour change is unrelated to variation in the environmental backgrounds that chameleons must match in order to be camouflaged. Overall, our results suggest that the evolution of the ability to exhibit striking changes in colour evolved as a strategy to facilitate social signalling and not, as popularly believed, camouflage.

There are types of pain that naked mole-rats do not feel – Selective Inflammatory Pain Insensitivity in the African Naked Mole-Rat (Heterocephalus glaber):

Chemicals such as capsaicin and acid are considered noxious because they cause irritation and pain when applied to the skin. Acid is, for example, a very noxious stimulus and can cause intense pain. Indeed, acid is both noxious and painful to all animals including amphibians and fish. Here we describe a member of the rodent family, the African naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber), that is behaviorally completely oblivious to capsaicin and acid. Tissue injury and inflammation increase sensitivity to normally non painful stimuli, a phenomenon called hyperalgesia. Here we show that the naked mole-rat does not experience hyperalgesia to painful thermal stimuli after inflammation. To our knowledge, no other mammal has so far been described that is selectively insensitive to chemical pain or that lacks thermal hyperalgesia. Naked mole-rats live in very large subterranean social groups and are remarkably tolerant to low-oxygen and high-carbon dioxide conditions. We hypothesize that naked mole-rats are selectively pain insensitive partly because of selection pressure arising from the extremity of their normal habitat.

The Evolution of Quorum Sensing in Bacterial Biofilms:

Bacteria are increasingly recognized as highly interactive organisms with complex social lives, which are critical to their capacity to cause disease. In particular, many species inhabit dense, surface-bound communities, termed biofilms, within which they communicate and respond to local cell density through a process known as quorum sensing. Enormous effort has been devoted to understanding the genetics and biochemistry of biofilm formation and quorum sensing, but how and why they evolve remain virtually unexplored. Many bacteria use quorum sensing to regulate the secretion of sticky extracellular slime, an integral feature of biofilm life. Intriguingly, however, some pathogenic species turn on slime production at high cell density, whereas others turn it off. Using an individual-based model of biofilm growth, we investigated why different species use quorum sensing to control slime production in opposite ways. The secret underlying this variation appears to reside in the nature of infections. Turning slime on at high cell density can allow one strain to suffocate another when competition is intense, as occurs in long-lived chronic infections. Meanwhile, turning slime secretion off at high cell density can benefit a strain causing an acute infection by allowing rapid growth before departing the host.

Riders of a Modern-Day Ark:

Amphibians may not seem the hardiest of creatures, but they have roamed Earth for 360 million years–a span including at least two major Ice Ages and four warming, interglacial periods. Yet their ability to evolve in concert with an ever-changing environment may not be enough to survive a world now dominated by human activity. Over 1,800 amphibian species, one-third of all known species, are threatened with extinction, according to the Global Amphibian Assessment [1]. Countless other, yet-undescribed, species may never have their place on Earth documented. Of all amphibians–toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians–the frog’s prevalence renders it at greatest risk.