A Blog Around The Clock

New and Exciting in PLoS this week

Monday – and new articles in PLoS Biology, PLoS Medicine, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases and PLoS ONE. 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:

Skeeter Buster: A Stochastic, Spatially Explicit Modeling Tool for Studying Aedes aegypti Population Replacement and Population Suppression Strategies:

Dengue is a viral disease that affects approximately 50 million people annually, and is estimated to result in 12,500 fatalities. Dengue viruses are vectored by mosquitoes, predominantly by the species Aedes aegypti. Because there is currently no vaccine or specific treatment, the only available strategy to reduce dengue transmission is to control the populations of these mosquitoes. This can be achieved by traditional approaches such as insecticides, or by recently developed genetic methods that propose the release of mosquitoes genetically engineered to be unable to transmit dengue viruses. The expected outcome of different control strategies can be compared by simulating the population dynamics and genetics of mosquitoes at a given location. Development of optimal control strategies can then be guided by the modeling approach. To that end, we introduce a new modeling tool called Skeeter Buster. This model describes the dynamics and the genetics of Ae. aegypti populations at a very fine scale, simulating the contents of individual houses, and even the individual water-holding containers in which mosquito larvae reside. Skeeter Buster can be used to compare the predicted outcomes of multiple control strategies, traditional or genetic, making it an important tool in the fight against dengue.

REV-ERBα Participates in Circadian SREBP Signaling and Bile Acid Homeostasis:

The mammalian circadian timing system has a hierarchical architecture: a central pacemaker in the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizes subsidiary oscillators present in most peripheral cell types. In both SCN neurons and peripheral cells, circadian oscillators are thought to rely on two negative feedback loops. A major feedback loop involves the two cryptochromes CRY1 and CRY2 and the two period proteins PER1 and PER2, which serve as transcriptional repressors for their own genes. An accessory feedback loop couples the expression and activity of the transcriptional activators CLOCK and BMAL1 to the expression of cryptochrome and period proteins. The orphan nuclear receptor REV-ERBα is a key player in this accessory feedback loop, in that it periodically represses Bmal1 transcription. In liver, molecular clocks mediate the temporal gating of metabolic processes. Here we demonstrate that hepatocyte clocks participate in the control of cholesterol and bile acid homeostasis. According to this scenario, REV-ERBα shapes the circadian expression pattern of insulin-induced gene 2 (INSIG2), a resident protein of the endoplasmic reticulum that interferes with the proteolytic activation of sterol response element binding proteins (SREBPs). In turn SREBPs govern the rhythmic expression of enzymes with key functions in sterol and fatty acid synthesis. The circadian production of sterols (in particular oxysterols) may engender the cyclic activation of LXR nuclear receptors, which serve as critical activators of Cyp7a1 transcription. CYP7A1, also known as cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase, catalyzes the rate-limiting step in bile acid synthesis.

How Humans Differ from Other Animals in Their Levels of Morphological Variation:

Animal species come in many shapes and sizes, as do the individuals and populations that make up each species. To us, humans might seem to show particularly high levels of morphological variation, but perhaps this perception is simply based on enhanced recognition of individual conspecifics relative to individual heterospecifics. We here more objectively ask how humans compare to other animals in terms of body size variation. We quantitatively compare levels of variation in body length (height) and mass within and among 99 human populations and 848 animal populations (210 species). We find that humans show low levels of within-population body height variation in comparison to body length variation in other animals. Humans do not, however, show distinctive levels of within-population body mass variation, nor of among-population body height or mass variation. These results are consistent with the idea that natural and sexual selection have reduced human height variation within populations, while maintaining it among populations. We therefore hypothesize that humans have evolved on a rugged adaptive landscape with strong selection for body height optima that differ among locations.

A Many-Body Field Theory Approach to Stochastic Models in Population Biology:

Many models used in theoretical ecology, or mathematical epidemiology are stochastic, and may also be spatially-explicit. Techniques from quantum field theory have been used before in reaction-diffusion systems, principally to investigate their critical behavior. Here we argue that they make many calculations easier and are a possible starting point for new approximations. We review the many-body field formalism for Markov processes and illustrate how to apply it to a ‘Brownian bug’ population model, and to an epidemic model. We show how the master equation and the moment hierarchy can both be written in particularly compact forms. The introduction of functional methods allows the systematic computation of the effective action, which gives the dynamics of mean quantities. We obtain the 1-loop approximation to the effective action for general (space-) translation invariant systems, and thus approximations to the non-equilibrium dynamics of the mean fields. The master equations for spatial stochastic systems normally take a neater form in the many-body field formalism. One can write down the dynamics for generating functional of physically-relevant moments, equivalent to the whole moment hierarchy. The 1-loop dynamics of the mean fields are the same as those of a particular moment-closure.

The Effects of Governmental Protected Areas and Social Initiatives for Land Protection on the Conservation of Mexican Amphibians:

Traditionally, biodiversity conservation gap analyses have been focused on governmental protected areas (PAs). However, an increasing number of social initiatives in conservation (SICs) are promoting a new perspective for analysis. SICs include all of the efforts that society implements to conserve biodiversity, such as land protection, from private reserves to community zoning plans some of which have generated community-protected areas. This is the first attempt to analyze the status of conservation in Latin America when some of these social initiatives are included. The analyses were focused on amphibians because they are one of the most threatened groups worldwide. Mexico is not an exception, where more than 60% of its amphibians are endemic. We used a niche model approach to map the potential and real geographical distribution (extracting the transformed areas) of the endemic amphibians. Based on remnant distribution, all the species have suffered some degree of loss, but 36 species have lost more than 50% of their potential distribution. For 50 micro-endemic species we could not model their potential distribution range due to the small number of records per species, therefore the analyses were performed using these records directly. We then evaluated the efficiency of the existing set of governmental protected areas and established the contribution of social initiatives (private and community) for land protection for amphibian conservation. We found that most of the species have some proportion of their potential ecological niche distribution protected, but 20% are not protected at all within governmental PAs. 73% of endemic and 26% of micro-endemic amphibians are represented within SICs. However, 30 micro-endemic species are not represented within either governmental PAs or SICs. This study shows how the role of land conservation through social initiatives is therefore becoming a crucial element for an important number of species not protected by governmental PAs.