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:
Tinnitus is a frequent condition with high morbidity and impairment in quality of life. The pathophysiology is still incompletely understood. Electromagnetic fields are discussed to be involved in the multi-factorial pathogenesis of tinnitus, but data proofing this relationship are very limited. Potential health hazards of electromagnetic fields (EMF) have been under discussion for long. Especially, individuals claiming themselves to be electromagnetic hypersensitive suffer from a variety of unspecific symptoms, which they attribute to EMF-exposure. The aim of the study was to elucidate the relationship between EMF-exposure, electromagnetic hypersensitivity and tinnitus using a case-control design. Tinnitus occurrence and tinnitus severity were assessed by questionnaires in 89 electromagnetic hypersensitive patients and 107 controls matched for age-, gender, living surroundings and workplace. Using a logistic regression approach, potential risk factors for the development of tinnitus were evaluated. Tinnitus was significantly more frequent in the electromagnetic hypersensitive group (50.72% vs. 17.5%) whereas tinnitus duration and severity did not differ between groups. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity and tinnitus were independent risk factors for sleep disturbances. However, measures of individual EMF-exposure like e.g. cell phone use did not show any association with tinnitus.
Retroposition and retrogenes gain increasing attention as recent studies show that they play an important role in human new gene formation. Here we examined the patterns of retrogene distribution in 8 mammalian genomes using 4 non-mammalian genomes as a contrast. There has been a burst of young retrogenes not only in primate lineages as suggested in a recent study, but also in other mammalian lineages. In mammals, most of the retrofamilies (the gene families that have retrogenes) are shared between species. In these shared retrofamilies, 14%-18% of functional retrogenes may have originated independently in multiple mammalian species. Notably, in the independently originated retrogenes, there is an enrichment of ribosome related gene function. In sharp contrast, none of these patterns hold in non-mammals. Our results suggest that the recruitment of the specific L1 retrotransposons in mammals might have been an important evolutionary event for the split of mammals and non-mammals and retroposition continues to be an important active process in shaping the dynamics of mammalian genomes, as compared to being rather inert in non-mammals.
Imagine a photograph showing your friend’s face. Although you might think that every single detail in his face matters for recognizing him, numerous experiments have shown that the brain prefers a rather coarse resolution instead. This means that a small rectangular photograph of about 30 to 40 pixels in width (showing only the face from left ear to right ear) is optimal. But why? To answer this question, I analyzed a large number of male and female face images. (The analysis was designed to mimic the way that the brain presumably processes them.) The analysis was carried out separately for each of the internal face features (left eye, right eye, mouth, and nose), which permits us to identify the responsible feature(s) for setting the resolution level, and it turns out that the eyes and the mouth are responsible for setting it. Thus, looking at eyes and mouth at the mentioned coarse resolution gives the most reliable signals for face recognition, and the brain has built-in knowledge about that. Although a preferred resolution level for face recognition has been observed for a long time in numerous experiments, this study offers, for the first time, a plausible explanation.
In this era of complete genomes, our knowledge of neuroanatomical circuitry remains surprisingly sparse. Such knowledge is critical, however, for both basic and clinical research into brain function. Here we advocate for a concerted effort to fill this gap, through systematic, experimental mapping of neural circuits at a mesoscopic scale of resolution suitable for comprehensive, brainwide coverage, using injections of tracers or viral vectors. We detail the scientific and medical rationale and briefly review existing knowledge and experimental techniques. We define a set of desiderata, including brainwide coverage; validated and extensible experimental techniques suitable for standardization and automation; centralized, open-access data repository; compatibility with existing resources; and tractability with current informatics technology. We discuss a hypothetical but tractable plan for mouse, additional efforts for the macaque, and technique development for human. We estimate that the mouse connectivity project could be completed within five years with a comparatively modest budget.
D. deserti belongs to the Deinococcaceae, a family of bacteria characterized by an exceptional ability to withstand the lethal effects of DNA-damaging agents, including ionizing radiation, UV light, and desiccation. It was isolated from Sahara surface sands, an extreme and nutrient-poor environment, regularly exposed to intense UV radiation, cycles of extreme temperatures, and desiccation. The evolution of organisms that are able to survive acute irradiation doses of 15,000 Gy is difficult to explain given the apparent absence of highly radioactive habitats on Earth over geologic time. Thus, it seems more likely that the natural selection pressure for the evolution of radiation-resistant bacteria was chronic exposure to nonradioactive forms of DNA damage, in particular those promoted by desiccation. Here, we report the first complete genome sequence of a bacterium, D. deserti VCD115, isolated from hot, arid desert surface sand. Accurate genome annotation of its 3,455 genes was guided by extensive proteome analysis in which 1,348 proteins were uncovered after growth in standard conditions. Supplementary genes involved in manganese import, in nutrient import, and in DNA repair were identified and are likely important for survival and adaptation of D. deserti to its hostile environment.