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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 19 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:

Neuroanatomical Variability of Religiosity:

We hypothesized that religiosity, a set of traits variably expressed in the population, is modulated by neuroanatomical variability. We tested this idea by determining whether aspects of religiosity were predicted by variability in regional cortical volume. We performed structural magnetic resonance imaging of the brain in 40 healthy adult participants who reported different degrees and patterns of religiosity on a survey. We identified four Principal Components of religiosity by Factor Analysis of the survey items and associated them with regional cortical volumes measured by voxel-based morphometry. Experiencing an intimate relationship with God and engaging in religious behavior was associated with increased volume of R middle temporal cortex, BA 21. Experiencing fear of God was associated with decreased volume of L precuneus and L orbitofrontal cortex BA 11. A cluster of traits related with pragmatism and doubting God’s existence was associated with increased volume of the R precuneus. Variability in religiosity of upbringing was not associated with variability in cortical volume of any region. Therefore, key aspects of religiosity are associated with cortical volume differences. This conclusion complements our prior functional neuroimaging findings in elucidating the proximate causes of religion in the brain.

Evolutionary Descent of Prion Genes from the ZIP Family of Metal Ion Transporters:

In the more than twenty years since its discovery, both the phylogenetic origin and cellular function of the prion protein (PrP) have remained enigmatic. Insights into a possible function of PrP may be obtained through the characterization of its molecular neighborhood in cells. Quantitative interactome data demonstrated the spatial proximity of two metal ion transporters of the ZIP family, ZIP6 and ZIP10, to mammalian prion proteins in vivo. A subsequent bioinformatic analysis revealed the unexpected presence of a PrP-like amino acid sequence within the N-terminal, extracellular domain of a distinct sub-branch of the ZIP protein family that includes ZIP5, ZIP6 and ZIP10. Additional structural threading and orthologous sequence alignment analyses argued that the prion gene family is phylogenetically derived from a ZIP-like ancestral molecule. The level of sequence homology and the presence of prion protein genes in most chordate species place the split from the ZIP-like ancestor gene at the base of the chordate lineage. This relationship explains structural and functional features found within mammalian prion proteins as elements of an ancient involvement in the transmembrane transport of divalent cations. The phylogenetic and spatial connection to ZIP proteins is expected to open new avenues of research to elucidate the biology of the prion protein in health and disease.

Home Educating in an Extended Family Culture and Aging Society May Fare Best during a Pandemic:

Large cities can contain populations that move rapidly from one section to another in an efficient transportation network. An emerging air-borne or contact based pathogen could use these transportation routes to rapidly spread an infection throughout an entire population in a short time. Further, in many developed countries, the aging population is increasing. The family structure in these societies may also affect the course of a disease. To help understand the impact of an epidemic on family structure in a networked population, an individual based computer model that randomly generates networked cities with a specified range of population and disease characteristics and individual schedules, infectivity, transmission and hygiene factors was developed. Several salient issues emerged. First, a city of highly active individuals may in fact diminish the number of fatalities because the average duration of the interactions between agents is reduced. Second, home schooling can significantly improve survival because the institutional clustering of weak individuals is minimized. Third, the worst scenario for an aging population is the nuclear family where the aged population is confined to large housing facilities. Naturally, hygiene is the first barrier to infection. The results suggest that societies where extended families and small groups manage most of their own affairs may also be the most suitable for defense against a pandemic. This may prove applicable in city planning and policy making.