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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 14 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:

Forest Structure and Roe Deer Abundance Predict Tick-Borne Encephalitis Risk in Italy:

The Western Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus often causes devastating or lethal disease. In Europe, the number of human TBE cases has increased dramatically over the last decade, risk areas are expanding and new foci are being discovered every year. The early localisation of new TBE foci and the identification of the main risk factors associated with disease emergence represent a priority for the public health community. Although a number of socio-economic parameters have been suggested to explain TBE upsurges in eastern Europe, the principal driving factors in relatively stable western European countries have not been identified. In this paper, we analyse the correlation between the upsurge of TBE in 17 alpine provinces in northern Italy from 1992 to 2006 with climatic variables, forest structure (as a proxy for small mammal reservoir host abundance), and abundance of the principal large vertebrate tick host (roe deer), using datasets available for the last 40 years. No significant differences between the pattern of changes in climatic variables in provinces where TBE has emerged compared to provinces were no clinical TBE cases have been observed to date. Instead, the best model for explaining the increase in TBE incidence in humans in this area include changes in forest structure, in particular the ratio of coppice to high stand forest, and the density of roe deer. Substantial changes in vegetation structure that improve habitat suitability for the main TBE reservoir hosts (small mammals), as well as an increase in roe deer abundance due to changes in land and wildlife management practices, are likely to be among the most crucial factors affecting the circulation potential of Western TBE virus and, consequently, the risk of TBE emergence in humans in western Europe. We believe our approach will be useful in predicting TBE risk on a wider scale.

The Effect of Transposable Element Insertions on Gene Expression Evolution in Rodents:

Many genomes contain a substantial number of transposable elements (TEs), a few of which are known to be involved in regulating gene expression. However, recent observations suggest that TEs may have played a very important role in the evolution of gene expression because many conserved non-genic sequences, some of which are know to be involved in gene regulation, resemble TEs. Here we investigate whether new TE insertions affect gene expression profiles by testing whether gene expression divergence between mouse and rat is correlated to the numbers of new transposable elements inserted near genes. We show that expression divergence is significantly correlated to the number of new LTR and SINE elements, but not to the numbers of LINEs. We also show that expression divergence is not significantly correlated to the numbers of ancestral TEs in most cases, which suggests that the correlations between expression divergence and the numbers of new TEs are causal in nature. We quantify the effect and estimate that TE insertion has accounted for ~20% (95% confidence interval: 12% to 26%) of all expression profile divergence in rodents. We conclude that TE insertions may have had a major impact on the evolution of gene expression levels in rodents.

Nitric Oxide Administration Using an Oxygen Hood: A Pilot Trial:

We have shown earlier that inhaled nitric oxide (iNO) administered by oxygen hood reduces pulmonary hypertension in an animal model (J Perinatol 2002; 22:50-6). Our objective in this study was to determine feasibility of iNO by oxygen hood in neonates with elevated alveolar-arterial oxygen gradients (A-aDO2). Masked randomized controlled pilot trial. Inclusion criteria were: gestation≥34 weeks, age<7 days, with post-ductal arterial line, and A-aDO2 400-600. Infants were randomized to study gas (iNO 20 ppm or equivalent O2 flow) for 1 hr which was then weaned over the next 4 hours. Primary outcome was PaO2 one hour post-randomization. Four infants each were randomized to iNO or O2 (controls). Two of the four infants given iNO had an increase in PaO2 of >100 torr, while oxygenation was unchanged in the controls. Methemoglobinemia and other adverse effects were not noted in any infant. Environmental levels of NO and NO2 were minimal (<1 ppm) at >0.3 m from the hood. Administration of iNO by oxygen hood is feasible. Larger randomized controlled trials are required to measure the efficacy and determine an appropriate target population for this technique.

On the Evolution of the Standard Genetic Code: Vestiges of Critical Scale Invariance from the RNA World in Current Prokaryote Genomes:

Herein two genetic codes from which the primeval RNA code could have originated the standard genetic code (SGC) are derived. One of them, called extended RNA code type I, consists of all codons of the type RNY (purine-any base-pyrimidine) plus codons obtained by considering the RNA code but in the second (NYR type) and third (YRN type) reading frames. The extended RNA code type II, comprises all codons of the type RNY plus codons that arise from transversions of the RNA code in the first (YNY type) and third (RNR) nucleotide bases. In order to test if putative nucleotide sequences in the RNA World and in both extended RNA codes, share the same scaling and statistical properties to those encountered in current prokaryotes, we used the genomes of four Eubacteria and three Archaeas. For each prokaryote, we obtained their respective genomes obeying the RNA code or the extended RNA codes types I and II. In each case, we estimated the scaling properties of triplet sequences via a renormalization group approach, and we calculated the frequency distributions of distances for each codon. Remarkably, the scaling properties of the distance series of some codons from the RNA code and most codons from both extended RNA codes turned out to be identical or very close to the scaling properties of codons of the SGC. To test for the robustness of these results, we show, via computer simulation experiments, that random mutations of current genomes, at the rates of 10−10 per site per year during three billions of years, were not enough for destroying the observed patterns. Therefore, we conclude that most current prokaryotes may still contain relics of the primeval RNA World and that both extended RNA codes may well represent two plausible evolutionary paths between the RNA code and the current SGC.

Confusion and Conflict in Assessing the Physical Activity Status of Middle-Aged Men:

hysical activity (including exercise) is prescribed for health and there are various recommendations that can be used to gauge physical activity status. The objective of the current study was to determine whether twelve commonly-used physical activity recommendations similarly classified middle-aged men as sufficiently active for general health. We examined the commonality in the classification of physical activity status between twelve variations of physical activity recommendations for general health in ninety men aged 45-64 years. Physical activity was assessed using synchronised accelerometry and heart rate. Using different guidelines but the same raw data, the proportion of men defined as active ranged from to 11% to 98% for individual recommendations (median 73%, IQR 30% to 87%). There was very poor absolute agreement between the recommendations, with an intraclass correlation coefficient (A,1) of 0.24 (95% CI, 0.15 to 0.34). Only 8% of men met all 12 recommendations and would therefore be unanimously classified as active and only one man failed to meet every recommendation and would therefore be unanimously classified as not sufficiently active. The wide variability in physical activity classification was explained by ostensibly subtle differences between the 12 recommendations for thresholds related to activity volume (time or energy), distribution (e.g., number of days of the week), moderate intensity cut-point (e.g., 3 vs. 4 metabolic equivalents or METs), and duration (including bout length). Physical activity status varies enormously depending on the physical activity recommendation that is applied and even ostensibly small differences have a major impact. Approximately nine out of every ten men in the present study could be variably described as either active or not sufficiently active. Either the effective dose or prescription that underlies each physical activity recommendation is different or each recommendation is seeking the same prescriptive outcome but with variable success.