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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

Today’s crop of new articles published in PLoS ONE is an emebarassment of riches. It’s hard to make just a couple of picks out of 39 papers, but I’ll try to restrain myself and you go and look around for the rest of them….

Chimpanzee Autarky:

Economists believe that barter is the ultimate cause of social wealth–and even much of our human culture–yet little is known about the evolution and development of such behavior. It is useful to examine the circumstances under which other species will or will not barter to more fully understand the phenomenon. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are an interesting test case as they are an intelligent species, closely related to humans, and known to participate in reciprocal interactions and token economies with humans, yet they have not spontaneously developed costly barter. Although chimpanzees do engage in noncostly barter, in which otherwise value-less tokens are exchanged for food, this lack of risk is not typical of human barter. Thus, we systematically examined barter in chimpanzees to ascertain under what circumstances chimpanzees will engage in costly barter of commodities, that is, trading food items for other food items with a human experimenter. We found that chimpanzees do barter, relinquishing lower value items to obtain higher value items (and not the reverse). However, they do not trade in all beneficial situations, maintaining possession of less preferred items when the relative gains they stand to make are small. Two potential explanations for this puzzling behavior are that chimpanzees lack ownership norms, and thus have limited opportunity to benefit from the gains of trade, and that chimpanzees’ risk of defection is sufficiently high that large gains must be imminent to justify the risk. Understanding the conditions that support barter in chimpanzees may increase understanding of situations in which humans, too, do not maximize their gains.

Prelude to Passion: Limbic Activation by ‘Unseen’ Drug and Sexual Cues:

The human brain responds to recognizable signals for sex and for rewarding drugs of abuse by activation of limbic reward circuitry. Does the brain respond in similar way to such reward signals even when they are “unseen”, i.e., presented in a way that prevents their conscious recognition? Can the brain response to “unseen” reward cues predict the future affective response to recognizable versions of such cues, revealing a link between affective/motivational processes inside and outside awareness? We exploited the fast temporal resolution of event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test the brain response to “unseen” (backward-masked) cocaine, sexual, aversive and neutral cues of 33 milliseconds duration in male cocaine patients (n = 22). Two days after scanning, the affective valence for visible versions of each cue type was determined using an affective bias (priming) task. We demonstrate, for the first time, limbic brain activation by “unseen” drug and sexual cues of only 33 msec duration. Importantly, increased activity in an large interconnected ventral pallidum/amygdala cluster to the “unseen” cocaine cues strongly predicted future positive affect to visible versions of the same cues in subsequent off-magnet testing, pointing both to the functional significance of the rapid brain response, and to shared brain substrates for appetitive motivation within and outside awareness. These findings represent the first evidence that brain reward circuitry responds to drug and sexual cues presented outside awareness. The results underscore the sensitivity of the brain to “unseen” reward signals and may represent the brain’s primordial signature for desire. The limbic brain response to reward cues outside awareness may represent a potential vulnerability in disorders (e.g., the addictions) for whom poorly-controlled appetitive motivation is a central feature.

Protecting Biodiversity when Money Matters: Maximizing Return on Investment:

Conventional wisdom identifies biodiversity hotspots as priorities for conservation investment because they capture dense concentrations of species. However, density of species does not necessarily imply conservation ‘efficiency’. Here we explicitly consider conservation efficiency in terms of species protected per dollar invested. We apply a dynamic return on investment approach to a global biome and compare it with three alternate priority setting approaches and a random allocation of funding. After twenty years of acquiring habitat, the return on investment approach protects between 32% and 69% more species compared to the other priority setting approaches. To correct for potential inefficiencies of protecting the same species multiple times we account for the complementarity of species, protecting up to three times more distinct vertebrate species than alternate approaches. Incorporating costs in a return on investment framework expands priorities to include areas not traditionally highlighted as priorities based on conventional irreplaceability and vulnerability approaches.

Shark Attacks in Dakar and the Cap Vert Peninsula, Senegal: Low Incidence despite High Occurrence of Potentially Dangerous Species:

The International Shark Attack File mentions only four unprovoked shark attacks on the coast of West Africa during the period 1828-2004, an area where high concentrations of sharks and 17 species potentially dangerous to man have been observed. To investigate if the frequency of shark attacks could be really low and not just under-reported and whether there are potentially sharks that might attack in the area, a study was carried out in Dakar and the Cap Vert peninsula, Senegal. Personnel of health facilities, administrative services, traditional authorities and groups of fishermen from the region of Dakar were interviewed about the occurrence of shark attacks, and visual censuses were conducted along the coastline to investigate shark communities associated with the coasts of Dakar and the Cap Vert peninsula. Six attacks were documented for the period 1947-2005, including two fatal ones attributed to the tiger shark Galeocerdo cuvieri. All attacks concerned fishermen and only one occurred after 1970. Sharks were observed year round along the coastline in waters 3-15 m depth. Two species potentially dangerous for man, the nurse shark Ginglymostoma cirratum and the blacktip shark Carcharhinus limbatus, represented together 94% of 1,071 sharks enumerated during 1,459 hours of observations. Threatening behaviour from sharks was noted in 12 encounters (1.1%), including 8 encounters with C. limbatus, one with Galeocerdo cuvieri and 3 with unidentified sharks. These findings suggest that the frequency of shark attacks on the coast of West Africa is underestimated. However, they also indicate that the risk is very low despite the abundance of sharks. In Dakar area, most encounters along the coastline with potentially dangerous species do not result in an attack. Compared to other causes of water related deaths, the incidence of shark attack appears negligible, at least one thousand fold lower.

Human and Chimpanzee Gene Expression Differences Replicated in Mice Fed Different Diets:

Although the human diet is markedly different from the diets of closely related primate species, the influence of diet on phenotypic and genetic differences between humans and other primates is unknown. In this study, we analyzed gene expression in laboratory mice fed diets typical of humans and of chimpanzees. The effects of human diets were found to be significantly different from that of a chimpanzee diet in the mouse liver, but not in the brain. Importantly, 10% of the genes that differ in their expression between humans and chimpanzee livers differed also between the livers of mice fed the human and chimpanzee diets. Furthermore, both the promoter sequences and the amino acid sequences of these diet-related genes carry more differences between humans and chimpanzees than random genes. Our results suggest that the mouse can be used to study at least some aspects of human-specific traits.

Transmissibility of the Influenza Virus in the 1918 Pandemic:

With a heightened increase in concern for an influenza pandemic we sought to better understand the 1918 Influenza pandemic, the most devastating epidemic of the previous century. We use data from several communities in Maryland, USA as well as two ships that experienced well-documented outbreaks of influenza in 1918. Using a likelihood-based method and a nonparametric method, we estimate the serial interval and reproductive number throughout the course of each outbreak. This analysis shows the basic reproductive number to be slightly lower in the Maryland communities (between 1.34 and 3.21) than for the enclosed populations on the ships (R0 = 4.97, SE = 3.31). Additionally the effective reproductive number declined to sub epidemic levels more quickly on the ships (within around 10 days) than in the communities (within 30-40 days). The mean serial interval for the ships was consistent (3.33, SE = 5.96 and 3.81, SE = 3.69), while the serial intervals in the communities varied substantially (between 2.83, SE = 0.53 and 8.28, SE = 951.95). These results illustrate the importance of considering the population dynamics when making statements about the epidemiological parameters of Influenza. The methods that we employ for estimation of the reproductive numbers and the serial interval can be easily replicated in other populations and with other diseases.

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  1. #1 Kieran
    January 29, 2008

    Awesome, can’t wait to read ‘em!