So, let’s see what’s new in PLoS Genetics, PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Pathogens and PLoS ONE this week. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
The International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) has become an important communication hub for bioinformaticians, and the core element of the Conference–presentations of peer-reviewed papers–is now only one of many activities. Presentation of timely journal publications (the Highlights sessions), Special Sessions organized by experts in the respective fields, Tutorials, and Special Interest Group meetings should attract attendees who might otherwise prefer smaller, more focused meetings. In addition to these formal activities, an important aspect is the informal communication between participants. This year, about 1,600 participants attended the meeting in the conference center under the CN Tower in Toronto. ISMB 2008 also left a footprint on the Web, via a Web service named FriendFeed (http://friendfeed.com/), to capture highlights from the Conference in near real time. FriendFeed allows users to share items, either directly or by importing their latest content from any Web site that generates an RSS feed, leading to a continuous stream of information around which communities build (Figure 1). In addition, and of most relevance to ISMB, FriendFeed acts as a microblogging platform: Users post short, typically single-sentence messages which generate conversations in the ensuing comment threads. Microblogging, best exemplified by the Twitter service (http://twitter.com/), is popular in the IT/tech sector, but little used by life scientists. It may be thought of as the fusion of instant messaging and traditional blogs: Anyone can follow or join a conversation, and conversations are archived. We recommend an article by Cameron Neylon entitled FriendFeed for Scientists: What, Why, and How? (http://blog.openwetware.org/scienceintheopen/2008/06/12/friendfeed-for-scientists-what-why-and-how/) for an introduction.
Arguments about the weaker sex notwithstanding, there is no contest about the identity of the sicker sex–it is males, almost every time. Everyone knows that old age homes have more widows than widowers, but the disparity extends far beyond the elderly. Fewer women than men died in the 1917-1918 influenza epidemic; the differential mortality was not related to World War I, as originally thought, but was global and widespread among ages. Kruger and Nesse  compared men’s and women’s mortality rates for 11 causes of death in men and women from 20 countries, including accidents and homicide as well as infectious and non-infectious diseases, and found that men virtually always die earlier. They concluded, “Being male is now the single largest demographic risk factor for early mortality in developed countries”. Furthermore, in many free-living mammals, males are more likely than females to harbor parasites or to suffer more intensely from their effects. During the mid-20th century, a virtual cottage industry developed in which investigators experimentally infested laboratory rodents with parasites and documented any resulting sex differences in the prevalence or intensity of the infection that developed . Males usually developed higher parasitemia, with castration removing the sex difference. The persistence of these patterns in the laboratory suggests that the sex difference is not merely due to differences in exposure to parasites, with males and females behaving differently in the field and hence incurring different risks of infection, but to an inherent sex difference in vulnerability.
And check out the first of PLoS ONE Collections – Stress-Induced Depression and Comorbidities: From Bench to Bedside:
This collection of articles represents the output of a group of international research institutions (informally referred to as EUMOOD) who collaborated around the causal link between stress exposure and depression vulnerability.
Within the collection, preclinical and clinical research papers present an integrated experimental effort, employing a variety of methods and concepts from different disciplines such as biological psychiatry, neuroscience, and neuroendocrinology.
Editorial oversight, and coordination of the peer-review, was provided by Bernhard Baune, PLoS ONE Section Editor for Neuroscience and Psychiatry.