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New and Exciting in PLoS this week

Here are some titles, from all seven PLoS journals, that caught my attention this week. 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, Mendeley, 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:

Defining Global Neuroendocrine Gene Expression Patterns Associated with Reproductive Seasonality in Fish:

Many vertebrates, including the goldfish, exhibit seasonal reproductive rhythms, which are a result of interactions between external environmental stimuli and internal endocrine systems in the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis. While it is long believed that differential expression of neuroendocrine genes contributes to establishing seasonal reproductive rhythms, no systems-level investigation has yet been conducted. In the present study, by analyzing multiple female goldfish brain microarray datasets, we have characterized global gene expression patterns for a seasonal cycle. A core set of genes (873 genes) in the hypothalamus were identified to be differentially expressed between May, August and December, which correspond to physiologically distinct stages that are sexually mature (prespawning), sexual regression, and early gonadal redevelopment, respectively. Expression changes of these genes are also shared by another brain region, the telencephalon, as revealed by multivariate analysis. More importantly, by examining one dataset obtained from fish in October who were kept under long-daylength photoperiod (16 h) typical of the springtime breeding season (May), we observed that the expression of identified genes appears regulated by photoperiod, a major factor controlling vertebrate reproductive cyclicity. Gene ontology analysis revealed that hormone genes and genes functionally involved in G-protein coupled receptor signaling pathway and transmission of nerve impulses are significantly enriched in an expression pattern, whose transition is located between prespawning and sexually regressed stages. The existence of seasonal expression patterns was verified for several genes including isotocin, ependymin II, GABAA gamma2 receptor, calmodulin, and aromatase b by independent samplings of goldfish brains from six seasonal time points and real-time PCR assays. Using both theoretical and experimental strategies, we report for the first time global gene expression patterns throughout a breeding season which may account for dynamic neuroendocrine regulation of seasonal reproductive development.

The Voice of Bats: How Greater Mouse-eared Bats Recognize Individuals Based on Their Echolocation Calls:

Animals must recognize each other in order to engage in social behaviour. Vocal communication signals could be helpful for recognizing individuals, especially in nocturnal organisms such as bats. Echolocating bats continuously emit special vocalizations, known as echolocation calls, and perceive their surroundings by analyzing the returning echoes. In this work we show that bats can use these vocalizations for the recognition of individuals, despite the fact that their main function is not communication. We used a statistical approach to analyze how the bats could do so. We created a computer model that reproduces the recognition behaviour of the bats. Our model suggests that the bats learn the average calls of other individuals and recognize individuals by comparing their calls with the learnt average representations.

The Role of Geography in Human Adaptation:

Since the beginning of the study of evolution, people have been fascinated by recent human evolution and adaptation. Despite great progress in our understanding of human history, we still know relatively little about the selection pressures and historical factors that have been important over the past 100,000 years. In that time human populations have spread around the world and adapted in a wide variety of ways to the new environments they have encountered. Here, we investigate the genomic signal of these adaptations using a large set of geographically diverse human populations typed at thousands of genetic markers across the genome. We find that patterns at selected loci are predictable from the patterns found at all markers genome-wide. On the basis of this, we argue that selection has been strongly constrained by the historical relationships and gene flow between populations.

Pervasive Natural Selection in the Drosophila Genome?:

Over the past four decades, the predominant view of molecular evolution saw little connection between natural selection and genome evolution, assuming that the functionally constrained fraction of the genome is relatively small and that adaptation is sufficiently infrequent to play little role in shaping patterns of variation within and even between species. Recent evidence from Drosophila, reviewed here, suggests that this view may be invalid. Analyses of genetic variation within and between species reveal that much of the Drosophila genome is under purifying selection, and thus of functional importance, and that a large fraction of coding and noncoding differences between species are adaptive. The findings further indicate that, in Drosophila, adaptations may be both common and strong enough that the fate of neutral mutations depends on their chance linkage to adaptive mutations as much as on the vagaries of genetic drift. The emerging evidence has implications for a wide variety of fields, from conservation genetics to bioinformatics, and presents challenges to modelers and experimentalists alike.

Mind the Gap!:

In 1835, the French naturalist Felix Dujardin started crushing ciliates under the microscope and observed that the tiny cells exuded a jellylike, water-insoluble substance, which he described as a “gelĂ©e vivante” and which was eventually christened “protoplasm” by the physician Johann E. Purkinje and the botanist Hugo von Mohl. Fifty years after Dujardin’s observations, the possibility that living organisms were the evolutionary outcome of the gradual transformation of lifeless gel-like matter into protoplasm was so widespread that it found its way into musical comedies. In 1885, the self-important Pooh-Bah, Lord Chief Justice and Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado that “I am in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule.”

‘Antibiotics Are Not Automatic Anymore’–The French National Campaign To Cut Antibiotic Overuse:

Antibiotic resistance is an important public health concern [1]. Antibiotics are one of the most commonly prescribed drug classes worldwide, with considerable variation in outpatient antibiotic use between countries [2]. Viral respiratory tract infections drive antibiotic overprescribing in the outpatient setting, and this overprescribing is also influenced by patient demand and expectations [3],[4].

There has been great interest in the public health community in avoiding unnecessary prescriptions, not only by providing treatment guidelines and decision support to physicians, but also by educating the public about appropriate antibiotic use. But the most effective strategy to achieve this goal remains unknown [5]. In the 1990s, one of the first national campaigns to reduce antibiotic prescribing resulted in a decrease in antibiotic use and penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae in Iceland [6]. Since that time, there have been many other public campaigns, but published data about their impact remain scarce. Until now, the best evidence correlating a national campaign to a reduction in antibiotic use came from Belgium, where yearly mass media campaigns were associated with a 36% reduction in antibiotic prescriptions between 1999-2000 and 2006-2007 [7].