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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 31 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:

A New Horned Crocodile from the Plio-Pleistocene Hominid Sites at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:

The fossil record reveals surprising crocodile diversity in the Neogene of Africa, but relationships with their living relatives and the biogeographic origins of the modern African crocodylian fauna are poorly understood. A Plio-Pleistocene crocodile from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, represents a new extinct species and shows that high crocodylian diversity in Africa persisted after the Miocene. It had prominent triangular “horns” over the ears and a relatively deep snout, these resemble those of the recently extinct Malagasy crocodile Voay robustus, but the new species lacks features found among osteolaemines and shares derived similarities with living species of Crocodylus. The holotype consists of a partial skull and skeleton and was collected on the surface between two tuffs dated to approximately 1.84 million years (Ma), in the same interval near the type localities for the hominids Homo habilis and Australopithecus boisei. It was compared with previously-collected material from Olduvai Gorge referable to the same species. Phylogenetic analysis places the new form within or adjacent to crown Crocodylus. The new crocodile species was the largest predator encountered by our ancestors at Olduvai Gorge, as indicated by hominid specimens preserving crocodile bite marks from these sites. The new species also reinforces the emerging view of high crocodylian diversity throughout the Neogene, and it represents one of the few extinct species referable to crown genus Crocodylus.

A Color Hierarchy for Automatic Target Selection:

Visual processing of color starts at the cones in the retina and continues through ventral stream visual areas, called the parvocellular pathway. Motion processing also starts in the retina but continues through dorsal stream visual areas, called the magnocellular system. Color and motion processing are functionally and anatomically discrete. Previously, motion processing areas MT and MST have been shown to have no color selectivity to a moving stimulus; the neurons were colorblind whenever color was presented along with motion. This occurs when the stimuli are luminance-defined versus the background and is considered achromatic motion processing. Is motion processing independent of color processing? We find that motion processing is intrinsically modulated by color. Color modulated smooth pursuit eye movements produced upon saccading to an aperture containing a surface of coherently moving dots upon a black background. Furthermore, when two surfaces that differed in color were present, one surface was automatically selected based upon a color hierarchy. The strength of that selection depended upon the distance between the two colors in color space. A quantifiable color hierarchy for automatic target selection has wide-ranging implications from sports to advertising to human-computer interfaces.

Structural Analysis of Biodiversity:

Large, recently-available genomic databases cover a wide range of life forms, suggesting opportunity for insights into genetic structure of biodiversity. In this study we refine our recently-described technique using indicator vectors to analyze and visualize nucleotide sequences. The indicator vector approach generates correlation matrices, dubbed Klee diagrams, which represent a novel way of assembling and viewing large genomic datasets. To explore its potential utility, here we apply the improved algorithm to a collection of almost 17000 DNA barcode sequences covering 12 widely-separated animal taxa, demonstrating that indicator vectors for classification gave correct assignment in all 11000 test cases. Indicator vector analysis revealed discontinuities corresponding to species- and higher-level taxonomic divisions, suggesting an efficient approach to classification of organisms from poorly-studied groups. As compared to standard distance metrics, indicator vectors preserve diagnostic character probabilities, enable automated classification of test sequences, and generate high-information density single-page displays. These results support application of indicator vectors for comparative analysis of large nucleotide data sets and raise prospect of gaining insight into broad-scale patterns in the genetic structure of biodiversity.

Oral Biofilm Architecture on Natural Teeth:

Periodontitis and caries are infectious diseases of the oral cavity in which oral biofilms play a causative role. Moreover, oral biofilms are widely studied as model systems for bacterial adhesion, biofilm development, and biofilm resistance to antibiotics, due to their widespread presence and accessibility. Despite descriptions of initial plaque formation on the tooth surface, studies on mature plaque and plaque structure below the gum are limited to landmark studies from the 1970s, without appreciating the breadth of microbial diversity in the plaque. We used fluorescent in situ hybridization to localize in vivo the most abundant species from different phyla and species associated with periodontitis on seven embedded teeth obtained from four different subjects. The data showed convincingly the dominance of Actinomyces sp., Tannerella forsythia, Fusobacterium nucleatum, Spirochaetes, and Synergistetes in subgingival plaque. The latter proved to be new with a possibly important role in host-pathogen interaction due to its localization in close proximity to immune cells. The present study identified for the first time in vivo that Lactobacillus sp. are the central cells of bacterial aggregates in subgingival plaque, and that Streptococcus sp. and the yeast Candida albicans form corncob structures in supragingival plaque. Finally, periodontal pathogens colonize already formed biofilms and form microcolonies therein. These in vivo observations on oral biofilms provide a clear vision on biofilm architecture and the spatial distribution of predominant species.

Sociobiological Control of Plasmid Copy Number in Bacteria:

All genes critical for plasmid replication regulation are located on the plasmid rather than on the host chromosome. It is possible therefore that there can be copy-up “cheater” mutants. In spite of this possibility, low copy number plasmids appear to exist stably in host populations. We examined this paradox using a multilevel selection model. Simulations showed that, a slightly higher copy number mutant could out-compete the wild type. Consequently, another mutant with still higher copy number could invade the first invader. However, the realized benefit of increasing intra-host fitness was saturating whereas that of inter-host fitness was exponential. As a result, above a threshold, intra-host selection was overcompensated by inter-host selection and the low copy number wild type plasmid could back invade a very high copy number plasmid. This led to a rock-paper-scissor (RPS) like situation that allowed the coexistence of plasmids with varied copy numbers. Furthermore, another type of cheater that had lost the genes required for conjugation but could hitchhike on a conjugal plasmid, could further reduce the advantage of copy-up mutants. These sociobiological interactions may compliment molecular mechanisms of replication regulation in stabilizing the copy numbers.