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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 12 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

Ecological Niche of the 2003 West Nile Virus Epidemic in the Northern Great Plains of the United States:

The incidence of West Nile virus (WNv) has remained high in the northern Great Plains compared to the rest of the United States. However, the reasons for the sustained high risk of WNv transmission in this region have not been determined. To assess the environmental drivers of WNv in the northern Great Plains, we analyzed the county-level spatial pattern of human cases during the 2003 epidemic across a seven-state region. County-level data on WNv cases were examined using spatial cluster analysis, and were used to fit statistical models with weather, climate, and land use variables as predictors. In 2003 there was a single large cluster of elevated WNv risk encompassing North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska along with portions of eastern Montana and Wyoming. The relative risk of WNv remained high within the boundaries of this cluster from 2004-2007. WNv incidence during the 2003 epidemic was found to have a stronger relationship with long-term climate patterns than with annual weather in either 2002 or 2003. WNv incidence increased with mean May-July temperature and had a unimodal relationship with total May-July precipitation. WNv incidence also increased with the percentage of irrigated cropland and with the percentage of the human population living in rural areas. The spatial pattern of WNv cases during the 2003 epidemic in the northern Great Plains was associated with both climatic gradients and land use patterns. These results were interpreted as evidence that environmental conditions across much of the northern Great Plains create a favorable ecological niche for Culex tarsalis, a particularly efficient vector of WNv. Further research is needed to determine the proximal causes of sustained WNv transmission and to enhance strategies for disease prevention.

In Vivo Assessment of Cold Adaptation in Insect Larvae by Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy:

Temperatures below the freezing point of water and the ensuing ice crystal formation pose serious challenges to cell structure and function. Consequently, species living in seasonally cold environments have evolved a multitude of strategies to reorganize their cellular architecture and metabolism, and the underlying mechanisms are crucial to our understanding of life. In multicellular organisms, and poikilotherm animals in particular, our knowledge about these processes is almost exclusively due to invasive studies, thereby limiting the range of conclusions that can be drawn about intact living systems. Given that non-destructive techniques like 1H Magnetic Resonance (MR) imaging and spectroscopy have proven useful for in vivo investigations of a wide range of biological systems, we aimed at evaluating their potential to observe cold adaptations in living insect larvae. Specifically, we chose two cold-hardy insect species that frequently serve as cryobiological model systems-the freeze-avoiding gall moth Epiblema scudderiana and the freeze-tolerant gall fly Eurosta solidaginis. In vivo MR images were acquired from autumn-collected larvae at temperatures between 0°C and about −70°C and at spatial resolutions down to 27 µm. These images revealed three-dimensional (3D) larval anatomy at a level of detail currently not in reach of other in vivo techniques. Furthermore, they allowed visualization of the 3D distribution of the remaining liquid water and of the endogenous cryoprotectants at subzero temperatures, and temperature-weighted images of these distributions could be derived. Finally, individual fat body cells and their nuclei could be identified in intact frozen Eurosta larvae. These findings suggest that high resolution MR techniques provide for interesting methodological options in comparative cryobiological investigations, especially in vivo.

Telomeric Position Effect–A Third Silencing Mechanism in Eukaryotes:

Eukaryotic chromosomes terminate in telomeres, complex nucleoprotein structures that are required for chromosome integrity that are implicated in cellular senescence and cancer. The chromatin at the telomere is unique with characteristics of both heterochromatin and euchromatin. The end of the chromosome is capped by a structure that protects the end and is required for maintaining proper chromosome length. Immediately proximal to the cap are the telomere associated satellite-like (TAS) sequences. Genes inserted into the TAS sequences are silenced indicating the chromatin environment is incompatible with transcription. This silencing phenomenon is called telomeric position effect (TPE). Two other silencing mechanisms have been identified in eukaryotes, suppressors position effect variegation [Su(var)s, greater than 30 members] and Polycomb group proteins (PcG, approximately 15 members). We tested a large number of each group for their ability to suppress TPE [Su(TPE)]. Our results showed that only three Su(var)s and only one PcG member are involved in TPE, suggesting silencing in the TAS sequences occurs via a novel silencing mechanism. Since, prior to this study, only five genes have been identified that are Su(TPE)s, we conducted a candidate screen for Su(TPE) in Drosophila by testing point mutations in, and deficiencies for, proteins involved in chromatin metabolism. Screening with point mutations identified seven new Su(TPE)s and the deficiencies identified 19 regions of the Drosophila genome that harbor suppressor mutations. Chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments on a subset of the new Su(TPE)s confirm they act directly on the gene inserted into the telomere. Since the Su(TPE)s do not overlap significantly with either PcGs or Su(var)s, and the candidates were selected because they are involved generally in chromatin metabolism and act at a wide variety of sites within the genome, we propose that the Su(TPE) represent a third, widely used, silencing mechanism in the eukaryotic genome.

Survival in Nuclear Waste, Extreme Resistance, and Potential Applications Gleaned from the Genome Sequence of Kineococcus radiotolerans SRS30216:

Kineococcus radiotolerans SRS30216 was isolated from a high-level radioactive environment at the Savannah River Site (SRS) and exhibits γ-radiation resistance approaching that of Deinococcus radiodurans. The genome was sequenced by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute which suggested the existence of three replicons, a 4.76 Mb linear chromosome, a 0.18 Mb linear plasmid, and a 12.92 Kb circular plasmid. Southern hybridization confirmed that the chromosome is linear. The K. radiotolerans genome sequence was examined to learn about the physiology of the organism with regard to ionizing radiation resistance, the potential for bioremediation of nuclear waste, and the dimorphic life cycle. K. radiotolerans may have a unique genetic toolbox for radiation protection as it lacks many of the genes known to confer radiation resistance in D. radiodurans. Additionally, genes involved in the detoxification of reactive oxygen species and the excision repair pathway are overrepresented. K. radiotolerans appears to lack degradation pathways for pervasive soil and groundwater pollutants. However, it can respire on two organic acids found in SRS high-level nuclear waste, formate and oxalate, which promote the survival of cells during prolonged periods of starvation. The dimorphic life cycle involves the production of motile zoospores. The flagellar biosynthesis genes are located on a motility island, though its regulation could not be fully discerned. These results highlight the remarkable ability of K radiotolerans to withstand environmental extremes and suggest that in situ bioremediation of organic complexants from high level radioactive waste may be feasible.