Two of the papers published today in PLoS Genetics (now on the TOPAZ platform) got my attention:
Circadian clocks in plants, fungi, insects, and mammals all share a common transcriptional network architecture. At the cellular level, the mammalian clockwork consists of a core Per/Cry negative feedback loop and additional interlocking loops. We wished to address experimentally the contribution of the interlocking Bmal1 loop to clock function in mammals. Because behavioral rhythms do not always reflect cell-autonomous phenotypes and are subject to pleiotropic effects, we employed cell-based genetic approaches and monitored rhythms longitudinally using bioluminescent reporters of clock gene expression. We showed that REV-ERB repressors play a more prominent role than ROR activators in regulating the Bmal1 rhythm. However, significant rhythmicity remains even with constitutive expression of Bmal1, pointing to the resilience of the core loop to perturbations of the Bmal1 loop. We conclude that while the interlocking loop contributes to fine-tuning of the core loop, its primary function is to provide discrete waveforms of clock gene expression for control of local physiology. This study has important general implications not only for circadian biology across species, but also for the emerging field of systems biology that seeks to understand complex interactions in genetic networks.
Many bird species possess yellow skin and legs whereas other species have white or black skin color. Yellow or white skin is due to the presence or absence of carotenoids. The genetic basis underlying this diversity is unknown. Domestic chickens with yellow skin are homozygous for a recessive allele, and white skinned chickens carry the dominant allele. As a result, chickens represent an ideal model for analyzing genetic mechanism responsible for skin color variation. In this study we demonstrate that yellow skin is caused by regulatory mutation(s) that inhibit expression of the beta-carotene dioxygenase 2 (BCDO2) enzyme in skin, but not in other tissues. Because BCDO2 cleaves colorful carotenoids into colorless apocarotenoids, a reduction in expression of this gene produces yellow skin. This study also provides the first conclusive evidence of a hybrid origin of the domestic chicken. It has been generally assumed that the red junglefowl is the sole ancestor of the domestic chicken. A phylogenetic analysis, however, demonstrates that though the white skin allele originates from the red junglefowl, the yellow skin allele originates from a different species, most likely the grey junglefowl. This result significantly advances our understanding of chicken domestication.
Greg Laden explains.