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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:

Explaining the Imperfection of the Molecular Clock of Hominid Mitochondria:

The molecular clock of mitochondrial DNA has been extensively used to date various genetic events. However, its substitution rate among humans appears to be higher than rates inferred from human-chimpanzee comparisons, limiting the potential of interspecies clock calibrations for intraspecific dating. It is not well understood how and why the substitution rate accelerates. We have analyzed a phylogenetic tree of 3057 publicly available human mitochondrial DNA coding region sequences for changes in the ratios of mutations belonging to different functional classes. The proportion of non-synonymous and RNA genes substitutions has reduced over hundreds of thousands of years. The highest mutation ratios corresponding to fast acceleration in the apparent substitution rate of the coding sequence have occurred after the end of the Last Ice Age. We recalibrate the molecular clock of human mtDNA as 7990 years per synonymous mutation over the mitochondrial genome. However, the distribution of substitutions at synonymous sites in human data significantly departs from a model assuming a single rate parameter and implies at least 3 different subclasses of sites. Neutral model with 3 synonymous substitution rates can explain most, if not all, of the apparent molecular clock difference between the intra- and interspecies levels. Our findings imply the sluggishness of purifying selection in removing the slightly deleterious mutations from the human as well as the Neandertal and chimpanzee populations. However, for humans, the weakness of purifying selection has been further exacerbated by the population expansions associated with the out-of Africa migration and the end of the Last Ice Age.

Reverse Evolution: Driving Forces Behind the Loss of Acquired Photosynthetic Traits:

The loss of photosynthesis has occurred often in eukaryotic evolution, even more than its acquisition, which occurred at least nine times independently and which generated the evolution of the supergroups Archaeplastida, Rhizaria, Chromalveolata and Excavata. This secondary loss of autotrophic capability is essential to explain the evolution of eukaryotes and the high diversity of protists, which has been severely underestimated until recently. However, the ecological and evolutionary scenarios behind this evolutionary “step back” are still largely unknown. Using a dynamic model of heterotrophic and mixotrophic flagellates and two types of prey, large bacteria and ultramicrobacteria, we examine the influence of DOC concentration, mixotroph’s photosynthetic growth rate, and external limitations of photosynthesis on the coexistence of both types of flagellates. Our key premises are: large bacteria grow faster than small ones at high DOC concentrations, and vice versa; and heterotrophic flagellates are more efficient than the mixotrophs grazing small bacteria (both empirically supported). We show that differential efficiency in bacteria grazing, which strongly depends on cell size, is a key factor to explain the loss of photosynthesis in mixotrophs (which combine photosynthesis and bacterivory) leading to purely heterotrophic lineages. Further, we show in what conditions an heterotroph mutant can coexist, or even out-compete, its mixotrophic ancestor, suggesting that bacterivory and cell size reduction may have been major triggers for the diversification of eukaryotes. Our results suggest that, provided the mixotroph’s photosynthetic advantage is not too large, the (small) heterotroph will also dominate in nutrient-poor environments and will readily invade a community of mixotrophs and bacteria, due to its higher efficiency exploiting the ultramicrobacteria. As carbon-limited conditions were presumably widespread throughout Earth history, such a scenario may explain the numerous transitions from phototrophy to mixotrophy and further to heterotrophy within virtually all major algal lineages. We challenge prevailing concepts that affiliated the evolution of phagotrophy with eutrophic or strongly light-limited environments only.

Improving the Clinical Diagnosis of Influenza–a Comparative Analysis of New Influenza A (H1N1) Cases:

The presentation of new influenza A(H1N1) is broad and evolving as it continues to affect different geographic locations and populations. To improve the accuracy of predicting influenza infection in an outpatient setting, we undertook a comparative analysis of H1N1(2009), seasonal influenza, and persons with acute respiratory illness (ARI) in an outpatient setting. Comparative analyses of one hundred non-matched cases each of PCR confirmed H1N1(2009), seasonal influenza, and ARI cases. Multivariate analysis was performed to look for predictors of influenza infection. Receiver operating characteristic curves were constructed for various combinations of clinical and laboratory case definitions. The initial clinical and laboratory features of H1N1(2009) and seasonal influenza were similar. Among ARI cases, fever, cough, headache, rhinorrhea, the absence of leukocytosis, and a normal chest radiograph positively predict for both PCR-confirmed H1N1-2009 and seasonal influenza infection. The sensitivity and specificity of current WHO and CDC influenza-like illness (ILI) criteria were modest in predicting influenza infection. However, the combination of WHO ILI criteria with the absence of leukocytosis greatly improved the accuracy of diagnosing H1N1(2009) and seasonal influenza (positive LR of 7.8 (95%CI 3.5-17.5) and 9.2 (95%CI 4.1-20.3) respectively). The clinical presentation of H1N1(2009) infection is largely indistinguishable from that of seasonal influenza. Among patients with acute respiratory illness, features such as a temperature greater than 38°C, rhinorrhea, a normal chest radiograph, and the absence of leukocytosis or significant gastrointestinal symptoms were all positively associated with H1N1(2009) and seasonal influenza infection. An enhanced ILI criteria that combines both a symptom complex with the absence of leukocytosis on testing can improve the accuracy of predicting both seasonal and H1N1-2009 influenza infection.