A Blog Around The Clock

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 50 new articles in PLoS ONE this week – here are some of my picks for you to check out (and post comments, ratings, etc.):

Clocking the Lyme Spirochete:

In order to clear the body of infecting spirochetes, phagocytic cells must be able to get hold of them. In real-time phase-contrast videomicroscopy we were able to measure the speed of Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), the Lyme spirochete, moving back and forth across a platelet to which it was tethered. Its mean crossing speed was 1,636 µm/min (N = 28), maximum, 2800 µm/min (N = 3). This is the fastest speed recorded for a spirochete, and upward of two orders of magnitude above the speed of a human neutrophil, the fastest cell in the body. This alacrity and its interpretation, in an organism with bidirectional motor capacity, may well contribute to difficulties in spirochete clearance by the host.

Measuring the Meltdown: Drivers of Global Amphibian Extinction and Decline:

Habitat loss, climate change, over-exploitation, disease and other factors have been hypothesised in the global decline of amphibian biodiversity. However, the relative importance of and synergies among different drivers are still poorly understood. We present the largest global analysis of roughly 45% of known amphibians (2,583 species) to quantify the influences of life history, climate, human density and habitat loss on declines and extinction risk. Multi-model Bayesian inference reveals that large amphibian species with small geographic range and pronounced seasonality in temperature and precipitation are most likely to be Red-Listed by IUCN. Elevated habitat loss and human densities are also correlated with high threat risk. Range size, habitat loss and more extreme seasonality in precipitation contributed to decline risk in the 2,454 species that declined between 1980 and 2004, compared to species that were stable (n = 1,545) or had increased (n = 28). These empirical results show that amphibian species with restricted ranges should be urgently targeted for conservation.

Revealing Historic Invasion Patterns and Potential Invasion Sites for Two Non-Native Plant Species:

The historical spatio-temporal distribution of invasive species is rarely documented, hampering efforts to understand invasion dynamics, especially at regional scales. Reconstructing historical invasions through use of herbarium records combined with spatial trend analysis and modeling can elucidate spreading patterns and identify susceptible habitats before invasion occurs. Two perennial species were chosen to contrast historic and potential phytogeographies: Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), introduced intentionally across the US; and mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), introduced largely accidentally to coastal areas. Spatial analysis revealed that early in the invasion, both species have a stochastic distribution across the contiguous US, but east of the 90th meridian, which approximates the Mississippi River, quickly spread to adjacent counties in subsequent decades. In contrast, in locations west of the 90th meridian, many populations never spread outside the founding county, probably a result of encountering unfavorable environmental conditions. Regression analysis using variables categorized as environmental or anthropogenic accounted for 24% (Japanese knotweed) and 30% (mugwort) of the variation in the current distribution of each species. Results show very few counties with high habitat suitability (≥80%) remain un-invaded (5 for Japanese knotweed and 6 for mugwort), suggesting these perennials are reaching the limits of large-scale expansion. Despite differences in initial introduction loci and pathways, Japanese knotweed and mugwort demonstrate similar historic patterns of spread and show declining rates of regional expansion. Invasion mitigation efforts should be concentrated on areas identified as highly susceptible that border invaded regions, as both species demonstrate secondary expansion from introduction loci.

Healthy Lifestyle Behaviour Decreasing Risks of Being Bullied, Violence and Injury:

Bullying and violence are problems of aggression in schools among adolescents. Basic daily healthy practices including nutritious diet, hygiene and physical activity are common approaches in comprehensive health promotion programs in school settings, however thier relationship to these aggressive behaviours is vague. We attempted to show the advantages of these healthy lifestyle behaviours in 9 developing countries by examining the association with being frequently bullied, violence and injury. A cross-sectional cross-national survey of 9 countries using the WHO Global School Based Student Health Survey dataset was used. Measurements included experiences of “being frequently bullied” in the preceding 30 days and violence/injury in the past 12 months. Association of risk behaviours (smoking, alcohol, sexual behaviour) and healthy lifestyle (nutrition, hygiene practices, physical activity) to being bullied, and violence/injury were assessed using multivariate logistic regression. Hygiene behaviour showed lower risks of being frequently bullied [male: RR = 0.7 (97.5CI: 0.5, 0.9); female: RR = 0.6 (0.5, 0.8)], and lower risk of experiences of violence/injury [RR = 0.7 (0.5, 0.9) for males], after controlling for risk behaviours, age, education, poverty, and country. Healthy lifestyle showed an association to decreased relative risk of being frequently bullied and violence/injury in developing countries. A comprehensive approach to risk and health promoting behaviours reducing bullying and violence is encouraged at school settings.

Shrimps Down Under: Evolutionary Relationships of Subterranean Crustaceans from Western Australia (Decapoda: Atyidae: Stygiocaris):

We investigated the large and small scale evolutionary relationships of the endemic Western Australian subterranean shrimp genus Stygiocaris (Atyidae) using nuclear and mitochondrial genes. Stygiocaris is part of the unique cave biota of the coastal, anchialine, limestones of the Cape Range and Barrow Island, most of whose nearest evolutionary relations are found in coastal caves of the distant North Atlantic. The dominance of atyids in tropical waters and their food resources suggest they are pivotal in understanding these groundwater ecosystems. Our nuclear and mitochondrial analyses all recovered the Mexican cave genus Typhlatya as the sister taxon of Stygiocaris, rather than any of the numerous surface and cave atyids from Australia or the Indo-Pacific region. The two described Stygiocaris species were recovered as monophyletic, and a third, cryptic, species was discovered at a single site, which has very different physiochemical properties from the sites hosting the two described species. Our findings suggest that Stygiocaris and Typhlatya may descend from a common ancestor that lived in the coastal marine habitat of the ancient Tethys Sea, and were subsequently separated by plate tectonic movements. This vicariant process is commonly thought to explain the many disjunct anchialine faunas, but has rarely been demonstrated using phylogenetic techniques. The Cape Range’s geological dynamism, which is probably responsible for the speciation of the various Stygiocaris species, has also led to geographic population structure within species. In particular, Stygiocaris lancifera is split into northern and southern groups, which correspond to population splits within other sympatric subterranean taxa.

Poor Reporting of Scientific Leadership Information in Clinical Trial Registers:

In September 2004, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) issued a Statement requiring that all clinical trials be registered at inception in a public register in order to be considered for publication. The World Health Organization (WHO) and ICMJE have identified 20 items that should be provided before a trial is considered registered, including contact information. Identifying those scientifically responsible for trial conduct increases accountability. The objective is to examine the proportion of registered clinical trials providing valid scientific leadership information. We reviewed clinical trial entries listing Canadian investigators in the two largest international and public trial registers, the International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN) register, and ClinicalTrials.gov. The main outcome measures were the proportion of clinical trials reporting valid contact information for the trials’ Principal Investigator (PI)/Co-ordinating Investigator/Study Chair/Site PI, and trial e-mail contact address, stratified by funding source, recruiting status, and register. A total of 1388 entries (142 from ISRCTN and 1246 from ClinicalTrials.gov) comprised our sample. We found non-compliance with mandatory registration requirements regarding scientific leadership and trial contact information. Non-industry and partial industry funded trials were significantly more likely to identify the individual responsible for scientific leadership (OR = 259, 95% CI: 95-701) and to provide a contact e-mail address (OR = 9.6, 95% CI: 6.6-14) than were solely industry funded trials. Despite the requirements set by WHO and ICMJE, data on scientific leadership and contact e-mail addresses are frequently omitted from clinical trials registered in the two leading public clinical trial registers. To promote accountability and transparency in clinical trials research, public clinical trials registers should ensure adequate monitoring of trial registration to ensure completion of mandatory contact information fields identifying scientific leadership

Transparent Meta-Analysis of Prospective Memory and Aging:

Prospective memory (ProM) refers to our ability to become aware of a previously formed plan at the right time and place. After two decades of research on prospective memory and aging, narrative reviews and summaries have arrived at widely different conclusions. One view is that prospective memory shows large age declines, larger than age declines on retrospective memory (RetM). Another view is that prospective memory is an exception to age declines and remains invariant across the adult lifespan. The present meta-analysis of over twenty years of research settles this controversy. It shows that prospective memory declines with aging and that the magnitude of age decline varies by prospective memory subdomain (vigilance, prospective memory proper, habitual prospective memory) as well as test setting (laboratory, natural). Moreover, this meta-analysis demonstrates that previous claims of no age declines in prospective memory are artifacts of methodological and conceptual issues afflicting prior research including widespread ceiling effects, low statistical power, age confounds, and failure to distinguish between various subdomains of prospective memory (e.g., vigilance and prospective memory proper).

The Effect of Inappropriate Calibration: Three Case Studies in Molecular Ecology:

Time-scales estimated from sequence data play an important role in molecular ecology. They can be used to draw correlations between evolutionary and palaeoclimatic events, to measure the tempo of speciation, and to study the demographic history of an endangered species. In all of these studies, it is paramount to have accurate estimates of time-scales and substitution rates. Molecular ecological studies typically focus on intraspecific data that have evolved on genealogical scales, but often these studies inappropriately employ deep fossil calibrations or canonical substitution rates (e.g., 1% per million years for birds and mammals) for calibrating estimates of divergence times. These approaches can yield misleading estimates of molecular time-scales, with significant impacts on subsequent evolutionary and ecological inferences. We illustrate this calibration problem using three case studies: avian speciation in the late Pleistocene, the demographic history of bowhead whales, and the Pleistocene biogeography of brown bears. For each data set, we compare the date estimates that are obtained using internal and external calibration points. In all three cases, the conclusions are significantly altered by the application of revised, internally-calibrated substitution rates. Collectively, the results emphasise the importance of judicious selection of calibrations for analyses of recent evolutionary events.

A Non-Human Primate Model for Gluten Sensitivity:

Gluten sensitivity is widespread among humans. For example, in celiac disease patients, an inflammatory response to dietary gluten leads to enteropathy, malabsorption, circulating antibodies against gluten and transglutaminase 2, and clinical symptoms such as diarrhea. There is a growing need in fundamental and translational research for animal models that exhibit aspects of human gluten sensitivity. Using ELISA-based antibody assays, we screened a population of captive rhesus macaques with chronic diarrhea of non-infectious origin to estimate the incidence of gluten sensitivity. A selected animal with elevated anti-gliadin antibodies and a matched control were extensively studied through alternating periods of gluten-free diet and gluten challenge. Blinded clinical and histological evaluations were conducted to seek evidence for gluten sensitivity. When fed with a gluten-containing diet, gluten-sensitive macaques showed signs and symptoms of celiac disease including chronic diarrhea, malabsorptive steatorrhea, intestinal lesions and anti-gliadin antibodies. A gluten-free diet reversed these clinical, histological and serological features, while reintroduction of dietary gluten caused rapid relapse. Gluten-sensitive rhesus macaques may be an attractive resource for investigating both the pathogenesis and the treatment of celiac disease.

Colouration and Colour Changes of the Fiddler Crab, Uca capricornis: A Descriptive Study:

Colour changes in animals may be triggered by a variety of social and environmental factors and may occur over a matter of seconds or months. Crustaceans, like fiddler crabs (genus Uca), are particularly adept at changing their colour and have been the focus of numerous studies. However, few of these studies have attempted to quantitatively describe the individual variation in colour and pattern or their adaptive significance. This paper quantitatively describes the colour patterns of the fiddler crab Uca capricornis and their ability to change on a socially significant timescale. The most dramatic changes in colour pattern are associated with moulting. These ontogenetic changes result in a general reduction of the colour pattern with increasing size, although females are more colourful and variable than similarly-sized males. Uca capricornis are also capable of rapid colour changes in response to stress, but show no endogenous rhythms associated with the semilunar and tidal cycles commonly reported in other fiddler crabs. The extreme colour polymorphism and the relative stability of the colour patterns in Uca capricornis are consistent with their use in visually mediated mate recognition.

Early Development of the Central and Peripheral Nervous Systems Is Coordinated by Wnt and BMP Signals:

The formation of functional neural circuits that process sensory information requires coordinated development of the central and peripheral nervous systems derived from neural plate and neural plate border cells, respectively. Neural plate, neural crest and rostral placodal cells are all specified at the late gastrula stage. How the early development of the central and peripheral nervous systems are coordinated remains, however, poorly understood. Previous results have provided evidence that at the late gastrula stage, graded Wnt signals impose rostrocaudal character on neural plate cells, and Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) signals specify olfactory and lens placodal cells at rostral forebrain levels. By using in vitro assays of neural crest and placodal cell differentiation, we now provide evidence that Wnt signals impose caudal character on neural plate border cells at the late gastrula stage, and that under these conditions, BMP signals induce neural crest instead of rostral placodal cells. We also provide evidence that both caudal neural and caudal neural plate border cells become independent of further exposure to Wnt signals at the head fold stage. Thus, the status of Wnt signaling in ectodermal cells at the late gastrula stage regulates the rostrocaudal patterning of both neural plate and neural plate border, providing a coordinated spatial and temporal control of the early development of the central and peripheral nervous systems.