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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 48 articles published this week in PLoS ONE, something for everyone. Read, note, comment, blog about and send trackbacks… Here are some of the titles I found cool:

Evidence of Authentic DNA from Danish Viking Age Skeletons Untouched by Humans for 1,000 Years:

Given the relative abundance of modern human DNA and the inherent impossibility for incontestable proof of authenticity, results obtained on ancient human DNA have often been questioned. The widely accepted rules regarding ancient DNA work mainly affect laboratory procedures, however, pre-laboratory contamination occurring during excavation and archaeological-/anthropological handling of human remains as well as rapid degradation of authentic DNA after excavation are major obstacles. We avoided some of these obstacles by analyzing DNA from ten Viking Age subjects that at the time of sampling were untouched by humans for 1,000 years. We removed teeth from the subjects prior to handling by archaeologists and anthropologists using protective equipment. An additional tooth was removed after standard archaeological and anthropological handling. All pre-PCR work was carried out in a “clean- laboratory” dedicated solely to ancient DNA work. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted and overlapping fragments spanning the HVR-1 region as well as diagnostic sites in the coding region were PCR amplified, cloned and sequenced. Consistent results were obtained with the “unhandled” teeth and there was no indication of contamination, while the latter was the case with half of the “handled” teeth. The results allowed the unequivocal assignment of a specific haplotype to each of the subjects, all haplotypes being compatible in their character states with a phylogenetic tree drawn from present day European populations. Several of the haplotypes are either infrequent or have not been observed in modern Scandinavians. The observation of haplogroup I in the present study (<2% in modern Scandinavians) supports our previous findings of a pronounced frequency of this haplogroup in Viking and Iron Age Danes. The present work provides further evidence that retrieval of ancient human DNA is a possible task provided adequate precautions are taken and well-considered sampling is applied.

A Reappraisal of Azhdarchid Pterosaur Functional Morphology and Paleoecology:

Azhdarchid pterosaurs were among the most widespread and successful of pterosaur clades, but their paleoecology remains controversial. Morphological features common to all azhdarchids include a long, shallow rostrum; elongate, cylindrical cervical vertebrae that formed a long and unusually inflexible neck; and proportionally short wings with an abbreviated fourth phalanx. While azhdarchids have been imagined as vulture-like scavengers, sediment probers, swimmers, waders, aerial predators, or stork-like generalists, most recent authors have regarded them as skim-feeders, trawling their lower jaws through water during flight and seizing aquatic prey from the water’s surface. Although apparently widely accepted, the skim-feeding model lacks critical support from anatomy and functional morphology. Azhdarchids lack the many cranial specialisations exhibited by extant skim-feeding birds, most notably the laterally compressed lower jaw and shock absorbing apparatus required for this feeding style. Well-preserved azhdarchid skulls are rare, but their rostra and lower jaws appear to have been sub-triangular in cross-section, and thus dissimilar to those of skim-feeders and sediment probers. Taphonomic data indicates that azhdarchids predominately inhabited inland settings, and azhdarchid morphology indicates that they were poorly suited for all proposed lifestyles bar wading and terrestrial foraging. However, azhdarchid footprints show that their feet were relatively small, padded and slender, and thus not well suited for wading. We argue that azhdarchids were stork- or ground hornbill-like generalists, foraging in diverse environments for small animals and carrion. Proficient terrestrial abilities and a relatively inflexible neck are in agreement with this interpretation.

Function of the Shaw Potassium Channel within the Drosophila Circadian Clock:

In addition to the molecular feedback loops, electrical activity has been shown to be important for the function of networks of clock neurons in generating rhythmic behavior. Most studies have used over-expression of foreign channels or pharmacological manipulations that alter membrane excitability. In order to determine the cellular mechanisms that regulate resting membrane potential (RMP) in the native clock of Drosophila we modulated the function of Shaw, a widely expressed neuronal potassium (K+) channel known to regulate RMP in Drosophila central neurons. We show that Shaw is endogenously expressed in clock neurons. Differential use of clock gene promoters was employed to express a range of transgenes that either increase or decrease Shaw function in different clusters of clock neurons. Under LD conditions, increasing Shaw levels in all clock neurons (LNv, LNd, DN1, DN2 and DN3), or in subsets of clock neurons (LNd and DNs or DNs alone) increases locomotor activity at night. In free-running conditions these manipulations result in arrhythmic locomotor activity without disruption of the molecular clock. Reducing Shaw in the DN alone caused a dramatic lengthening of the behavioral period. Changing Shaw levels in all clock neurons also disrupts the rhythmic accumulation and levels of Pigment Dispersing Factor (PDF) in the dorsal projections of LNv neurons. However, changing Shaw levels solely in LNv neurons had little effect on locomotor activity or rhythmic accumulation of PDF. Based on our results it is likely that Shaw modulates pacemaker and output neuronal electrical activity that controls circadian locomotor behavior by affecting rhythmic release of PDF. The results support an important role of the DN clock neurons in Shaw-mediated control of circadian behavior. In conclusion, we have demonstrated a central role of Shaw for coordinated and rhythmic output from clock neurons.

Blood Parasites in Owls with Conservation Implications for the Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis):

The three subspecies of Spotted Owl (Northern, Strix occidentalis caurina; California, S. o. occidentalis; and Mexican, S. o. lucida) are all threatened by habitat loss and range expansion of the Barred Owl (S. varia). An unaddressed threat is whether Barred Owls could be a source of novel strains of disease such as avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) or other blood parasites potentially harmful for Spotted Owls. Although Barred Owls commonly harbor Plasmodium infections, these parasites have not been documented in the Spotted Owl. We screened 111 Spotted Owls, 44 Barred Owls, and 387 owls of nine other species for haemosporidian parasites (Leucocytozoon, Plasmodium, and Haemoproteus spp.). California Spotted Owls had the greatest number of simultaneous multi-species infections (44%). Additionally, sequencing results revealed that the Northern and California Spotted Owl subspecies together had the highest number of Leucocytozoon parasite lineages (n = 17) and unique lineages (n = 12). This high level of sequence diversity is significant because only one Leucocytozoon species (L. danilewskyi) has been accepted as valid among all owls, suggesting that L. danilewskyi is a cryptic species. Furthermore, a Plasmodium parasite was documented in a Northern Spotted Owl for the first time. West Coast Barred Owls had a lower prevalence of infection (15%) when compared to sympatric Spotted Owls (S. o. caurina 52%, S. o. occidentalis 79%) and Barred Owls from the historic range (61%). Consequently, Barred Owls on the West Coast may have a competitive advantage over the potentially immune compromised Spotted Owls.

iTools: A Framework for Classification, Categorization and Integration of Computational Biology Resources:

The advancement of the computational biology field hinges on progress in three fundamental directions – the development of new computational algorithms, the availability of informatics resource management infrastructures and the capability of tools to interoperate and synergize. There is an explosion in algorithms and tools for computational biology, which makes it difficult for biologists to find, compare and integrate such resources. We describe a new infrastructure, iTools, for managing the query, traversal and comparison of diverse computational biology resources. Specifically, iTools stores information about three types of resources-data, software tools and web-services. The iTools design, implementation and resource meta – data content reflect the broad research, computational, applied and scientific expertise available at the seven National Centers for Biomedical Computing. iTools provides a system for classification, categorization and integration of different computational biology resources across space-and-time scales, biomedical problems, computational infrastructures and mathematical foundations. A large number of resources are already iTools-accessible to the community and this infrastructure is rapidly growing. iTools includes human and machine interfaces to its resource meta-data repository. Investigators or computer programs may utilize these interfaces to search, compare, expand, revise and mine meta-data descriptions of existent computational biology resources. We propose two ways to browse and display the iTools dynamic collection of resources. The first one is based on an ontology of computational biology resources, and the second one is derived from hyperbolic projections of manifolds or complex structures onto planar discs. iTools is an open source project both in terms of the source code development as well as its meta-data content. iTools employs a decentralized, portable, scalable and lightweight framework for long-term resource management. We demonstrate several applications of iTools as a framework for integrated bioinformatics. iTools and the complete details about its specifications, usage and interfaces are available at the iTools web page http://iTools.ccb.ucla.edu.

General Practice and Pandemic Influenza: A Framework for Planning and Comparison of Plans in Five Countries:

Although primary health care, and in particular, general practice will be at the frontline in the response to pandemic influenza, there are no frameworks to guide systematic planning for this task or to appraise available plans for their relevance to general practice. We aimed to develop a framework that will facilitate planning for general practice, and used it to appraise pandemic plans from Australia, England, USA, New Zealand and Canada. We adapted the Haddon matrix to develop the framework, populating its cells through a multi-method study that incorporated the peer-reviewed and grey literature, interviews with general practitioners, practice nurses and senior decision-makers, and desktop simulation exercises. We used the framework to analyse 89 publicly-available jurisdictional plans at similar managerial levels in the five countries. The framework identifies four functional domains: clinical care for influenza and other needs, public health responsibilities, the internal environment and the macro-environment of general practice. No plan addressed all four domains. Most plans either ignored or were sketchy about non-influenza clinical needs, and about the contribution of general practice to public health beyond surveillance. Collaborations between general practices were addressed in few plans, and inter-relationships with the broader health system, even less frequently. This is the first study to provide a framework to guide general practice planning for pandemic influenza. The framework helped identify critical shortcomings in available plans. Engaging general practice effectively in planning is challenging, particularly where governance structures for primary health care are weak. We identify implications for practice and for research.

The Dark Side of the Salad: Salmonella typhimurium Overcomes the Innate Immune Response of Arabidopsis thaliana and Shows an Endopathogenic Lifestyle:

Salmonella enterica serovar typhimurium contaminated vegetables and fruits are considerable sources of human infections. Bacteria present in raw plant-derived nutrients cause salmonellosis, the world wide most spread food poisoning. This facultative endopathogen enters and replicates in host cells and actively suppresses host immune responses. Although Salmonella survives on plants, the underlying bacterial infection mechanisms are only poorly understood. In this report we investigated the possibility to use Arabidopsis thaliana as a genetically tractable host system to study Salmonella-plant interactions. Using green fluorescent protein (GFP) marked bacteria, we show here that Salmonella can infect various Arabidopsis tissues and proliferate in intracelullar cellular compartments. Salmonella infection of Arabidopsis cells can occur via intact shoot or root tissues resulting in wilting, chlorosis and eventually death of the infected organs. Arabidopsis reacts to Salmonella by inducing the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades and enhanced expression of pathogenesis related (PR) genes. The induction of defense responses fails in plants that are compromised in ethylene or jasmonic acid signaling or in the MKK3-MPK6 MAPK pathway. These findings demonstrate that Arabidopsis represents a true host system for Salmonella, offering unique possibilities to study the interaction of this human pathogen with plants at the molecular level for developing novel drug targets and addressing current safety issues in human nutrition.

Prolonged Visual Experience in Adulthood Modulates Holistic Face Perception:

Using the well-known composite illusion as a marker of the holistic perception of faces, we tested how prolonged visual experience with a specific population of faces (4- to 6-year-old children) modulates the face perception system in adulthood. We report a face composite effect that is larger for adult than children faces in a group of adults without experience with children faces (“children-face novices”), while it is of equal magnitude for adults and children faces in a population of preschool teachers (“children-face experts”). When considering preschool teachers only, we observed a significant correlation between the number of years of experience with children faces and the differential face composite effect between children and adults faces. Participants with at least 10 years of qualitative experience with children faces had a larger composite face effect for children than adult faces. Overall, these observations indicate that even in adulthood face processes can be reshaped qualitatively, presumably to facilitate efficient processing of the differential morphological features of the frequently encountered population of faces.

Cryptic Contamination and Phylogenetic Nonsense:

Ancient human DNA has been treated cautiously ever since the problems related to this type of material were exposed in the early 1990s, but as sequential genetic data from ancient specimens have been key components in several evolutionary and ecological studies, interest in ancient human DNA is on the increase again. It is especially tempting to approach archaeological and anthropological questions through this type of material, but DNA from ancient human tissue is notoriously complicated to work with due to the risk of contamination with modern human DNA. Various ways of authenticating results based on ancient human DNA have been developed to circumvent the problems. One commonly used method is to predict what the contamination is expected to look like and then test whether the ancient human DNA fulfils this prediction. If it does, the results are rejected as contamination, while if it does not, they are often considered authentic. We show here that human contamination in ancient material may well deviate from local allele frequencies or the distributions to be found among the laboratory workers and archaeologists. We conclude that it is not reliable to authenticate ancient human DNA solely by showing that it is different from what would be expected from people who have handled the material.

Brain Networks for Integrative Rhythm Formation:

Performance of externally paced rhythmic movements requires brain and behavioral integration of sensory stimuli with motor commands. The underlying brain mechanisms to elaborate beat-synchronized rhythm and polyrhythms that musicians readily perform may differ. Given known roles in perceiving time and repetitive movements, we hypothesized that basal ganglia and cerebellar structures would have greater activation for polyrhythms than for on-the-beat rhythms. Using functional MRI methods, we investigated brain networks for performing rhythmic movements paced by auditory cues. Musically trained participants performed rhythmic movements at 2 and 3 Hz either at a 1:1 on-the-beat or with a 3:2 or a 2:3 stimulus-movement structure. Due to their prior musical experience, participants performed the 3:2 or 2:3 rhythmic movements automatically. Both the isorhythmic 1:1 and the polyrhythmic 3:2 or 2:3 movements yielded the expected activation in contralateral primary motor cortex and related motor areas and ipsilateral cerebellum. Direct comparison of functional MRI signals obtained during 3:2 or 2:3 and on-the-beat rhythms indicated activation differences bilaterally in the supplementary motor area, ipsilaterally in the supramarginal gyrus and caudate-putamen and contralaterally in the cerebellum. The activated brain areas suggest the existence of an interconnected brain network specific for complex sensory-motor rhythmic integration that might have specificity for elaboration of musical abilities.

Microbiological Implications of Periurban Agriculture and Water Reuse in Mexico City:

Recycled treated or untreated wastewater represents an important health challenge in developing countries due to potential water related microbiological exposure. Our aim was to assess water quality and health implications in a Mexico City periurban agricultural area. A longitudinal study in the Xochimilco wetland area was conducted, and 42 sites were randomly selected from 211, including irrigation water canals and effluents of treatment plants. Sample collection took place during rainy and dry seasons (2000-2001). Microbiological parameters (total coliforms, fecal coliforms, streptococci/enterococci, and bacteria other than Vibrio grown on TCBS), Helicobacter pylori, and physicochemical parameters including trihalomethanes (THM) were determined. Fecal coliforms and fecal streptococci are appropriate indicators of human or animal fecal contamination. Fecal coliform counts surpass Mexican and World Health Organization irrigation water guidelines. Identified microorganisms associated with various pathologies in humans and domestic animals comprise Escherichia coli, Klebsiella spp., Salmonella spp., Enterobacter spp., Enterococcus spp., and Pseudomonas spp; H. pylori was also present in the water. An environmental characteristic of the canal system showed high Total Organic Carbon content and relatively low dissolved oxygen concentration; residual chlorine as a disinfection control is not efficient, but THMs do not represent a problem. During the rainy season, temperature and conductivity were higher; in contrast, pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, and residual chlorine were lower. This is related with the continuous load of feces from human and animal sources, and to the aquatic systems, which vary seasonally and exhibit evidence of lower water quality in effluents from treatment plants. There is a need for improvement of wastewater treatment systems, as well as more efficient monitoring, regulation, and enforcement procedures for wastewater disposal into bodies of water.

Why Are Clinicians Not Embracing the Results from Pivotal Clinical Trials in Severe Sepsis? A Bayesian Analysis:

Five pivotal clinical trials (Intensive Insulin Therapy; Recombinant Human Activated Protein C [rhAPC]; Low-Tidal Volume; Low-Dose Steroid; Early Goal-Directed Therapy [EGDT]) demonstrated mortality reduction in patients with severe sepsis and expert guidelines have recommended them to clinical practice. Yet, the adoption of these therapies remains low among clinicians. We selected these five trials and asked: Question 1-What is the current probability that the new therapy is not better than the standard of care in my patient with severe sepsis? Question 2-What is the current probability of reducing the relative risk of death (RRR) of my patient with severe sepsis by meaningful clinical thresholds (RRR >15%; >20%; >25%)? Bayesian methodologies were applied to this study. Odds ratio (OR) was considered for Question 1, and RRR was used for Question 2. We constructed prior distributions (enthusiastic; mild, moderate, and severe skeptic) based on various effective sample sizes of other relevant clinical trials (unfavorable evidence). Posterior distributions were calculated by combining the prior distributions and the data from pivotal trials (favorable evidence). Answer 1-The analysis based on mild skeptic prior shows beneficial results with the Intensive Insulin, rhAPC, and Low-Tidal Volume trials, but not with the Low-Dose Steroid and EGDT trials. All trials’ results become unacceptable by the analyses using moderate or severe skeptic priors. Answer 2-If we aim for a RRR>15%, the mild skeptic analysis shows that the current probability of reducing death by this clinical threshold is 88% for the Intensive Insulin, 62-65% for the Low-Tidal Volume, rhAPC, EGDT trials, and 17% for the Low-Dose Steroid trial. The moderate and severe skeptic analyses show no clinically meaningful reduction in the risk of death for all trials. If we aim for a RRR >20% or >25%, all probabilities of benefits become lower independent of the degree of skepticism. Our clinical threshold analysis offers a new bedside tool to be directly applied to the care of patients with severe sepsis. Our results demonstrate that the strength of evidence (statistical and clinical) is weak for all trials, particularly for the Low-Dose Steroid and EGDT trials. It is essential to replicate the results of each of these five clinical trials in confirmatory studies if we want to provide patient care based on scientifically sound evidence.

A Critical Assessment of the Effects of Bt Transgenic Plants on Parasitoids:

The ecological safety of transgenic insecticidal plants expressing crystal proteins (Cry toxins) from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) continues to be debated. Much of the debate has focused on nontarget organisms, especially predators and parasitoids that help control populations of pest insects in many crops. Although many studies have been conducted on predators, few reports have examined parasitoids but some of them have reported negative impacts. None of the previous reports were able to clearly characterize the cause of the negative impact. In order to provide a critical assessment, we used a novel paradigm consisting of a strain of the insect pest, Plutella xylostella (herbivore), resistant to Cry1C and allowed it to feed on Bt plants and then become parasitized by Diadegma insulare, an important endoparasitoid of P. xylostella. Our results indicated that the parasitoid was exposed to a biologically active form of the Cy1C protein while in the host but was not harmed by such exposure. Parallel studies conducted with several commonly used insecticides indicated they significantly reduced parasitism rates on strains of P. xylostella resistant to these insecticides. These results provide the first clear evidence of the lack of hazard to a parasitoid by a Bt plant, compared to traditional insecticides, and describe a test to rigorously evaluate the risks Bt plants pose to predators and parasitoids.

Environmental Factors Contributing to the Spread of H5N1 Avian Influenza in Mainland China:

Since late 2003, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks caused by infection with H5N1 virus has led to the deaths of millions of poultry and more than 10 thousands of wild birds, and as of 18-March 2008, at least 373 laboratory-confirmed human infections with 236 fatalities, have occurred. The unrestrained worldwide spread of this disease has caused great anxiety about the potential of another global pandemic. However, the effect of environmental factors influencing the spread of HPAI H5N1 virus is unclear. A database including incident dates and locations was developed for 128 confirmed HPAI H5N1 outbreaks in poultry and wild birds, as well as 21 human cases in mainland China during 2004-2006. These data, together with information on wild bird migration, poultry densities, and environmental variables (water bodies, wetlands, transportation routes, main cities, precipitation and elevation), were integrated into a Geographical Information System (GIS). A case-control design was used to identify the environmental factors associated with the incidence of the disease. Multivariate logistic regression analysis indicated that minimal distance to the nearest national highway, annual precipitation and the interaction between minimal distance to the nearest lake and wetland, were important predictive environmental variables for the risk of HPAI. A risk map was constructed based on these factors. Our study indicates that environmental factors contribute to the spread of the disease. The risk map can be used to target countermeasures to stop further spread of the HPAI H5N1 at its source.

Orientation Sensitivity at Different Stages of Object Processing: Evidence from Repetition Priming and Naming:

An ongoing debate in the object recognition literature centers on whether the shape representations used in recognition are coded in an orientation-dependent or orientation-invariant manner. In this study, we asked whether the nature of the object representation (orientation-dependent vs orientation-invariant) depends on the information-processing stages tapped by the task. We employed a repetition priming paradigm in which briefly presented masked objects (primes) were followed by an upright target object which had to be named as rapidly as possible. The primes were presented for variable durations (ranging from 16 to 350 ms) and in various image-plane orientations (from 0° to 180°, in 30° steps). Significant priming was obtained for prime durations above 70 ms, but not for prime durations of 16 ms and 47 ms, and did not vary as a function of prime orientation. In contrast, naming the same objects that served as primes resulted in orientation-dependent reaction time costs. These results suggest that initial processing of object identity is mediated by orientation-independent information and that orientation costs in performance arise when objects are consolidated in visual short-term memory in order to be reported.