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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 10 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:

Mineral Preservatives in the Wood of Stradivari and Guarneri:

Following the futile efforts of generations to reach the high standard of excellence achieved by the luthiers in Cremona, Italy, by variations of design and plate tuning, current interest is being focused on differences in material properties. The long-standing question whether the wood of Stradivari and Guarneri were treated with wood preservative materials could be answered only by the examination of wood specimens from the precious antique instruments. In a recent communication (Nature, 2006), we reported about the degradation of the wood polymers in instruments of Stradivari and Guarneri, which could be explained only by chemical manipulations, possibly by preservatives. The aim of the current work was to identify the minerals from the small samples of the maple wood which were available to us from the antique instruments. The ashes of wood from one violin and one cello by Stradivari, two violins by Guarneri, one viola by H. Jay, one violin by Gand-Bernardel were analyzed and compared with a variety of commercial tone woods. The methods of analysis were the following: back-scattered electron imaging, X-ray fluorescence maps for individual elements, wave-length dispersive spectroscopy, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and quantitative microprobe analysis. All four Cremonese instruments showed the unmistakable signs of chemical treatments in the form of chemicals which are not present in natural woods, such as BaSO4, CaF2, borate, and ZrSiO4. In addition to these, there were also changes in the common wood minerals. Statistical evaluation of 12 minerals by discriminant analysis revealed: a. a difference among all four Cremona instruments, b. the difference of the Cremonese instruments from the French and English antiques, and c. only the Cremonese instruments differed from all commercial woods. These findings may provide the answer why all attempts to recreate the Stradivarius from natural wood have failed. There are many obvious implications with regard to how the green tone wood should be treated, which chould lead to changes in the practice of violin-making. This research should inspire others to analyze more antique violins for their chemical contents.

Evolution of Reproductive Morphology in Leaf Endophytes:

The endophytic lifestyle has played an important role in the evolution of the morphology of reproductive structures (body) in one of the most problematic groups in fungal classification, the Leotiomycetes (Ascomycota). Mapping fungal morphologies to two groups in the Leiotiomycetes, the Rhytismatales and Hemiphacidiaceae reveals significant divergence in body size, shape and complexity. Mapping ecological roles to these taxa reveals that the groups include endophytic fungi living on leaves and saprobic fungi living on duff or dead wood. Finally, mapping of the morphologies to ecological roles reveals that leaf endophytes produce small, highly reduced fruiting bodies covered with fungal tissue or dead host tissue, while saprobic species produce large and intricate fruiting bodies. Intriguingly, resemblance between asexual conidiomata and sexual ascomata in some leotiomycetes implicates some common developmental pathways for sexual and asexual development in these fungi.

IGFBP3 Colocalizes with and Regulates Hypocretin (Orexin):

The sleep disorder narcolepsy is caused by a vast reduction in neurons producing the hypocretin (orexin) neuropeptides. Based on the tight association with HLA, narcolepsy is believed to result from an autoimmune attack, but the cause of hypocretin cell loss is still unknown. We performed gene expression profiling in the hypothalamus to identify novel genes dysregulated in narcolepsy, as these may be the target of autoimmune attack or modulate hypocretin gene expression. We used microarrays to compare the transcriptome in the posterior hypothalamus of (1) narcoleptic versus control postmortem human brains and (2) transgenic mice lacking hypocretin neurons versus wild type mice. Hypocretin was the most downregulated gene in human narcolepsy brains. Among many additional candidates, only one, insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 (IGFBP3), was downregulated in both human and mouse models and co-expressed in hypocretin neurons. Functional analysis indicated decreased hypocretin messenger RNA and peptide content, and increased sleep in transgenic mice overexpressing human IGFBP3, an effect possibly mediated through decreased hypocretin promotor activity in the presence of excessive IGFBP3. Although we found no IGFBP3 autoantibodies nor a genetic association with IGFBP3 polymorphisms in human narcolepsy, we found that an IGFBP3 polymorphism known to increase serum IGFBP3 levels was associated with lower CSF hypocretin-1 in normal individuals. Comparison of the transcriptome in narcolepsy and narcolepsy model mouse brains revealed a novel dysregulated gene which colocalized in hypocretin cells. Functional analysis indicated that the identified IGFBP3 is a new regulator of hypocretin cell physiology that may be involved not only in the pathophysiology of narcolepsy, but also in the regulation of sleep in normal individuals, most notably during adolescence. Further studies are required to address the hypothesis that excessive IGFBP3 expression may initiate hypocretin cell death and cause narcolepsy.