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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 23 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:

Does Sleep Really Influence Face Recognition Memory?:

Mounting evidence implicates sleep in the consolidation of various kinds of memories. We investigated the effect of sleep on memory for face identity, a declarative form of memory that is indispensable for nearly all social interaction. In the acquisition phase, observers viewed faces that they were required to remember over a variable retention period (0-36 hours). In the test phase, observers viewed intermixed old and new faces and judged seeing each before. Participants were classified according to acquisition and test times into seven groups. Memory strength (d′) and response bias (c) were evaluated. Substantial time spent awake (12 hours or more) during the retention period impaired face recognition memory evaluated at test, whereas sleep per se during the retention period did little to enhance the memory. Wakefulness during retention also led to a tightening of the decision criterion. Our findings suggest that sleep passively and transiently shelters face recognition memory from waking interference (exposure) but does not actively aid in its long-term consolidation.

Diurnally Entrained Anticipatory Behavior in Archaea:

By sensing changes in one or few environmental factors biological systems can anticipate future changes in multiple factors over a wide range of time scales (daily to seasonal). This anticipatory behavior is important to the fitness of diverse species, and in context of the diurnal cycle it is overall typical of eukaryotes and some photoautotrophic bacteria but is yet to be observed in archaea. Here, we report the first observation of light-dark (LD)-entrained diurnal oscillatory transcription in up to 12% of all genes of a halophilic archaeon Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1. Significantly, the diurnally entrained transcription was observed under constant darkness after removal of the LD stimulus (free-running rhythms). The memory of diurnal entrainment was also associated with the synchronization of oxic and anoxic physiologies to the LD cycle. Our results suggest that under nutrient limited conditions halophilic archaea take advantage of the causal influence of sunlight (via temperature) on O2 diffusivity in a closed hypersaline environment to streamline their physiology and operate oxically during nighttime and anoxically during daytime.

Hippocampal Lesions Impair Rapid Learning of a Continuous Spatial Alternation Task:

The hippocampus is essential for the formation of memories for events, but the specific features of hippocampal neural activity that support memory formation are not yet understood. The ideal experiment to explore this issue would be to monitor changes in hippocampal neural coding throughout the entire learning process, as subjects acquire and use new episodic memories to guide behavior. Unfortunately, it is not clear whether established hippocampally-dependent learning paradigms are suitable for this kind of experiment. The goal of this study was to determine whether learning of the W-track continuous alternation task depends on the hippocampal formation. We tested six rats with NMDA lesions of the hippocampal formation and four sham-operated controls. Compared to controls, rats with hippocampal lesions made a significantly higher proportion of errors and took significantly longer to reach learning criterion. The effect of hippocampal lesion was not due to a deficit in locomotion or motivation, because rats with hippocampal lesions ran well on a linear track for food reward. Rats with hippocampal lesions also exhibited a pattern of perseverative errors during early task experience suggestive of an inability to suppress behaviors learned during pretraining on a linear track. Our findings establish the W-track continuous alternation task as a hippocampally-dependent learning paradigm which may be useful for identifying changes in the neural representation of spatial sequences and reward contingencies as rats learn and apply new task rules.

Genetic Structure of Europeans: A View from the North-East:

Using principal component (PC) analysis, we studied the genetic constitution of 3,112 individuals from Europe as portrayed by more than 270,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) genotyped with the Illumina Infinium platform. In cohorts where the sample size was >100, one hundred randomly chosen samples were used for analysis to minimize the sample size effect, resulting in a total of 1,564 samples. This analysis revealed that the genetic structure of the European population correlates closely with geography. The first two PCs highlight the genetic diversity corresponding to the northwest to southeast gradient and position the populations according to their approximate geographic origin. The resulting genetic map forms a triangular structure with a) Finland, b) the Baltic region, Poland and Western Russia, and c) Italy as its vertexes, and with d) Central- and Western Europe in its centre. Inter- and intra- population genetic differences were quantified by the inflation factor lambda (λ) (ranging from 1.00 to 4.21), fixation index (Fst) (ranging from 0.000 to 0.023), and by the number of markers exhibiting significant allele frequency differences in pair-wise population comparisons. The estimated lambda was used to assess the real diminishing impact to association statistics when two distinct populations are merged directly in an analysis. When the PC analysis was confined to the 1,019 Estonian individuals (0.1% of the Estonian population), a fine structure emerged that correlated with the geography of individual counties. With at least two cohorts available from several countries, genetic substructures were investigated in Czech, Finnish, German, Estonian and Italian populations. Together with previously published data, our results allow the creation of a comprehensive European genetic map that will greatly facilitate inter-population genetic studies including genome wide association studies (GWAS).

Quantifying the Risk of Localised Animal Movement Bans for Foot-and-Mouth Disease:

The maintenance of disease-free status from Foot-and-Mouth Disease is of significant socio-economic importance to countries such as the UK. The imposition of bans on the movement of susceptible livestock following the discovery of an outbreak is deemed necessary to prevent the spread of what is a highly contagious disease, but has a significant economic impact on the agricultural community in itself. Here we consider the risk of applying movement restrictions only in localised zones around outbreaks in order to help evaluate how quickly nation-wide restrictions could be lifted after notification. We show, with reference to the 2001 and 2007 UK outbreaks, that it would be practical to implement such a policy provided the basic reproduction ratio of known infected premises can be estimated. It is ultimately up to policy makers and stakeholders to determine the acceptable level of risk, involving a cost benefit analysis of the potential outcomes, but quantifying the risk of spread from different sized zones is a prerequisite for this. The approach outlined is relevant to the determination of control zones and vaccination policies and has the potential to be applied to future outbreaks of other diseases.

Reduced Population Control of an Insect Pest in Managed Willow Monocultures:

There is a general belief that insect outbreak risk is higher in plant monocultures than in natural and more diverse habitats, although empirical studies investigating this relationship are lacking. In this study, using density data collected over seven years at 40 study sites, we compare the temporal population variability of the leaf beetle Phratora vulgatissima between willow plantations and natural willow habitats. The study was conducted in 1999-2005. The density of adult P. vulgatissima was estimated in the spring every year by a knock-down sampling technique. We used two measures of population variability, CV and PV, to compare temporal variations in leaf beetle density between plantation and natural habitat. Relationships between density and variability were also analyzed to discern potential underlying processes behind stability in the two systems. The results showed that the leaf beetle P. vulgatissima had a greater temporal population variability and outbreak risk in willow plantations than in natural willow habitats. We hypothesize that the greater population stability observed in the natural habitat was due to two separate processes operating at different levels of beetle density. First, stable low population equilibrium can be achieved by the relatively high density of generalist predators observed in natural stands. Second, stable equilibrium can also be imposed at higher beetle density due to competition, which occurs through depletion of resources (plant foliage) in the natural habitat. In willow plantations, competition is reduced mainly because plants grow close enough for beetle larvae to move to another plant when foliage is consumed. To our knowledge, this is the first empirical study confirming that insect pest outbreak risk is higher in monocultures. The study suggests that comparative studies of insect population dynamics in different habitats may improve our ability to predict insect pest outbreaks and could facilitate the development of sustainable pest control in managed systems.

Endocrine Activity of Extraembryonic Membranes Extends beyond Placental Amniotes:

During development, all amniotes (mammals, reptiles, and birds) form extraembryonic membranes, which regulate gas and water exchange, remove metabolic wastes, provide shock absorption, and transfer maternally derived nutrients. In viviparous (live-bearing) amniotes, both extraembryonic membranes and maternal uterine tissues contribute to the placenta, an endocrine organ that synthesizes, transports, and metabolizes hormones essential for development. Historically, endocrine properties of the placenta have been viewed as an innovation of placental amniotes. However, an endocrine role of extraembryonic membranes has not been investigated in oviparous (egg-laying) amniotes despite similarities in their basic structure, function, and shared evolutionary ancestry. In this study, we ask whether the oviparous chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) of chicken (Gallus gallus) has the capability to synthesize and receive signaling of progesterone, a major placental steroid hormone. We quantified mRNA expression of key steroidogenic enzymes involved in progesterone synthesis and found that 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, which converts pregnenolone to progesterone exhibited a 464 fold increase in the CAM from day 8 to day 18 of embryonic development (F5, 68 = 89.282, p<0.0001). To further investigate progesterone synthesis, we performed explant culture and found that the CAM synthesizes progesterone in vitro in the presence of a steroid precursor. Finally, we quantified mRNA expression and performed protein immunolocalization of the progesterone receptor in the CAM. Collectively, our data indicate that the chick CAM is steroidogenic and has the capability to both synthesize progesterone and receive progesterone signaling. These findings represent a paradigm shift in evolutionary reproductive biology by suggesting that endocrine activity of extraembryonic membranes is not a novel characteristic of placental amniotes. Rather, we hypothesize that these membranes may share an additional unifying characteristic, steroidogenesis, across amniotes at large.

Cyanogenesis of Wild Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) Is an Efficient Direct Defence in Nature:

In natural systems plants face a plethora of antagonists and thus have evolved multiple defence strategies. Lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) is a model plant for studies of inducible indirect anti-herbivore defences including the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and extrafloral nectar (EFN). In contrast, studies on direct chemical defence mechanisms as crucial components of lima beans’ defence syndrome under natural conditions are nonexistent. In this study, we focus on the cyanogenic potential (HCNp; concentration of cyanogenic glycosides) as a crucial parameter determining lima beans’ cyanogenesis, i.e. the release of toxic hydrogen cyanide from preformed precursors. Quantitative variability of cyanogenesis in a natural population of wild lima bean in Mexico was significantly correlated with missing leaf area. Since existing correlations do not by necessity mean causal associations, the function of cyanogenesis as efficient plant defence was subsequently analysed in feeding trials. We used natural chrysomelid herbivores and clonal lima beans with known cyanogenic features produced from field-grown mother plants. We show that in addition to extensively investigated indirect defences, cyanogenesis has to be considered as an important direct defensive trait affecting lima beans’ overall defence in nature. Our results indicate the general importance of analysing ‘multiple defence syndromes’ rather than single defence mechanisms in future functional analyses of plant defences.