A Blog Around The Clock

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 21 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, 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:

Possible Brucellosis in an Early Hominin Skeleton from Sterkfontein, South Africa:

We report on the paleopathological analysis of the partial skeleton of the late Pliocene hominin species Australopithecus africanus Stw 431 from Sterkfontein, South Africa. A previous study noted the presence of lesions on vertebral bodies diagnosed as spondylosis deformans due to trauma. Instead, we suggest that these lesions are pathological changes due to the initial phases of an infectious disease, brucellosis. The macroscopic, microscopic and radiological appearance of the lytic lesions of the lumbar vertebrae is consistent with brucellosis. The hypothesis of brucellosis (most often associated with the consumption of animal proteins) in a 2.4 to 2.8 million year old hominid has a host of important implications for human evolution. The consumption of meat has been regarded an important factor in supporting, directing or altering human evolution. Perhaps the earliest (up to 2.5 million years ago) paleontological evidence for meat eating consists of cut marks on animal remains and stone tools that could have made these marks. Now with the hypothesis of brucellosis in A. africanus, we may have evidence of occasional meat eating directly linked to a fossil hominin.

Melanism in Peromyscus Is Caused by Independent Mutations in Agouti:

Identifying the molecular basis of phenotypes that have evolved independently can provide insight into the ways genetic and developmental constraints influence the maintenance of phenotypic diversity. Melanic (darkly pigmented) phenotypes in mammals provide a potent system in which to study the genetic basis of naturally occurring mutant phenotypes because melanism occurs in many mammals, and the mammalian pigmentation pathway is well understood. Spontaneous alleles of a few key pigmentation loci are known to cause melanism in domestic or laboratory populations of mammals, but in natural populations, mutations at one gene, the melanocortin-1 receptor (Mc1r), have been implicated in the vast majority of cases, possibly due to its minimal pleiotropic effects. To investigate whether mutations in this or other genes cause melanism in the wild, we investigated the genetic basis of melanism in the rodent genus Peromyscus, in which melanic mice have been reported in several populations. We focused on two genes known to cause melanism in other taxa, Mc1r and its antagonist, the agouti signaling protein (Agouti). While variation in the Mc1r coding region does not correlate with melanism in any population, in a New Hampshire population, we find that a 125-kb deletion, which includes the upstream regulatory region and exons 1 and 2 of Agouti, results in a loss of Agouti expression and is perfectly associated with melanic color. In a second population from Alaska, we find that a premature stop codon in exon 3 of Agouti is associated with a similar melanic phenotype. These results show that melanism has evolved independently in these populations through mutations in the same gene, and suggest that melanism produced by mutations in genes other than Mc1r may be more common than previously thought.

Mining Biological Pathways Using WikiPathways Web Services:

WikiPathways is a platform for creating, updating, and sharing biological pathways [1]. Pathways can be edited and downloaded using the wiki-style website. Here we present a SOAP web service that provides programmatic access to WikiPathways that is complementary to the website. We describe the functionality that this web service offers and discuss several use cases in detail. Exposing WikiPathways through a web service opens up new ways of utilizing pathway information and assisting the community curation process.

Reading between Eye Saccades:

Skilled adult readers, in contrast to beginners, show no or little increase in reading latencies as a function of the number of letters in words up to seven letters. The information extraction strategy underlying such efficiency in word identification is still largely unknown, and methods that allow tracking of the letter information extraction through time between eye saccades are needed to fully address this question. The present study examined the use of letter information during reading, by means of the Bubbles technique. Ten participants each read 5,000 five-letter French words sampled in space-time within a 200 ms window. On the temporal dimension, our results show that two moments are especially important during the information extraction process. On the spatial dimension, we found a bias for the upper half of words. We also show for the first time that letter positions four, one, and three are particularly important for the identification of five-letter words. Our findings are consistent with either a partially parallel reading strategy or an optimal serial reading strategy. We show using computer simulations that this serial reading strategy predicts an absence of a word-length effect for words from four- to seven letters in length. We believe that the Bubbles technique will play an important role in further examining the nature of reading between eye saccades.

The Effects of Tail Biopsy for Genotyping on Behavioral Responses to Nociceptive Stimuli:

Removal of a small segment of tail at weaning is a common method used to obtain tissue for the isolation of genomic DNA to identify genetically modified mice. When genetically manipulated mice are used for pain research, this practice could result in confounding changes to the animals’ responses to noxious stimuli. In this study, we sought to systematically investigate whether tail biopsy representative of that used in standard genotyping methods affects behavioral responses to a battery of tests of nociception. Wild-type littermate C57BL/6J and 129S6 female and male mice received either tail biopsies or control procedural handling at Day 21 after birth and were then tested at 6-9 weeks for mechanical and thermal sensitivity. C57BL/6J mice were also tested in the formalin model of inflammatory pain. In all tests performed (von Frey, Hargreaves, modified Randall Selitto, and formalin), C57BL/6J tail-biopsied animals’ behavioral responses were not significantly different from control animals. In 129S6 animals, tail biopsy did not have a significant effect on behavioral responses in either sex to the von Frey and the modified Randall-Selitto tests of mechanical sensitivity. Interestingly, however, both sexes exhibited small but significant differences between tail biopsied and control responses to a radiant heat stimulus. These results indicate that tail biopsy for genotyping purposes has no effect on nocifensive behavioral responses of C57BL/6J mice, and in 129S6 mice, causes only a minor alteration in response to a radiant heat stimulus while other nocifensive behavioral responses are unchanged. The small effect seen is modality- and strain-specific.