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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 22 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:

Bee Threat Elicits Alarm Call in African Elephants:

Unlike the smaller and more vulnerable mammals, African elephants have relatively few predators that threaten their survival. The sound of disturbed African honeybees Apis meliffera scutellata causes African elephants Loxodonta africana to retreat and produce warning vocalizations that lead other elephants to join the flight. In our first experiment, audio playbacks of bee sounds induced elephants to retreat and elicited more head-shaking and dusting, reactive behaviors that may prevent bee stings, compared to white noise control playbacks. Most importantly, elephants produced distinctive “rumble” vocalizations in response to bee sounds. These rumbles exhibited an upward shift in the second formant location, which implies active vocal tract modulation, compared to rumbles made in response to white noise playbacks. In a second experiment, audio playbacks of these rumbles produced in response to bees elicited increased headshaking, and further and faster retreat behavior in other elephants, compared to control rumble playbacks with lower second formant frequencies. These responses to the bee rumble stimuli occurred in the absence of any bees or bee sounds. This suggests that these elephant rumbles may function as referential signals, in which a formant frequency shift alerts nearby elephants about an external threat, in this case, the threat of bees.

A Geometrical Perspective for the Bargaining Problem:

A new treatment to determine the Pareto-optimal outcome for a non-zero-sum game is presented. An equilibrium point for any game is defined here as a set of strategy choices for the players, such that no change in the choice of any single player will increase the overall payoff of all the players. Determining equilibrium for multi-player games is a complex problem. An intuitive conceptual tool for reducing the complexity, via the idea of spatially representing strategy options in the bargaining problem is proposed. Based on this geometry, an equilibrium condition is established such that the product of their gains over what each receives is maximal. The geometrical analysis of a cooperative bargaining game provides an example for solving multi-player and non-zero-sum games efficiently.

Potential Hazard to Human Health from Exposure to Fragments of Lead Bullets and Shot in the Tissues of Game Animals:

Lead is highly toxic to animals. Humans eating game killed using lead ammunition generally avoid swallowing shot or bullets and dietary lead exposure from this source has been considered low. Recent evidence illustrates that lead bullets fragment on impact, leaving small lead particles widely distributed in game tissues. Our paper asks whether lead gunshot pellets also fragment upon impact, and whether lead derived from spent gunshot and bullets in the tissues of game animals could pose a threat to human health. Wild-shot gamebirds (6 species) obtained in the UK were X-rayed to determine the number of shot and shot fragments present, and cooked using typical methods. Shot were then removed to simulate realistic practice before consumption, and lead concentrations determined. Data from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate Statutory Surveillance Programme documenting lead levels in raw tissues of wild gamebirds and deer, without shot being removed, are also presented. Gamebirds containing ≥5 shot had high tissue lead concentrations, but some with fewer or no shot also had high lead concentrations, confirming X-ray results indicating that small lead fragments remain in the flesh of birds even when the shot exits the body. A high proportion of samples from both surveys had lead concentrations exceeding the European Union Maximum Level of 100 ppb w.w. (0.1 mg kg−1 w.w.) for meat from bovine animals, sheep, pigs and poultry (no level is set for game meat), some by several orders of magnitude. High, but feasible, levels of consumption of some species could result in the current FAO/WHO Provisional Weekly Tolerable Intake of lead being exceeded. The potential health hazard from lead ingested in the meat of game animals may be larger than previous risk assessments indicated, especially for vulnerable groups, such as children, and those consuming large amounts of game.

Epigenetic Variation in Mangrove Plants Occurring in Contrasting Natural Environment:

Epigenetic modifications, such as cytosine methylation, are inherited in plant species and may occur in response to biotic or abiotic stress, affecting gene expression without changing genome sequence. Laguncularia racemosa, a mangrove species, occurs in naturally contrasting habitats where it is subjected daily to salinity and nutrient variations leading to morphological differences. This work aims at unraveling how CpG-methylation variation is distributed among individuals from two nearby habitats, at a riverside (RS) or near a salt marsh (SM), with different environmental pressures and how this variation is correlated with the observed morphological variation. Significant differences were observed in morphological traits such as tree height, tree diameter, leaf width and leaf area between plants from RS and SM locations, resulting in smaller plants and smaller leaf size in SM plants. Methyl-Sensitive Amplified Polymorphism (MSAP) was used to assess genetic and epigenetic (CpG-methylation) variation in L. racemosa genomes from these populations. SM plants were hypomethylated (14.6% of loci had methylated samples) in comparison to RS (32.1% of loci had methylated samples). Within-population diversity was significantly greater for epigenetic than genetic data in both locations, but SM also had less epigenetic diversity than RS. Frequency-based (GST) and multivariate (βST) methods that estimate population structure showed significantly greater differentiation among locations for epigenetic than genetic data. Co-Inertia analysis, exploring jointly the genetic and epigenetic data, showed that individuals with similar genetic profiles presented divergent epigenetic profiles that were characteristic of the population in a particular environment, suggesting that CpG-methylation changes may be associated with environmental heterogeneity. In spite of significant morphological dissimilarities, individuals of L. racemosa from salt marsh and riverside presented little genetic but abundant DNA methylation differentiation, suggesting that epigenetic variation in natural plant populations has an important role in helping individuals to cope with different environments.

Effect of Parenchymal Stiffness on Canine Airway Size with Lung Inflation:

Although airway patency is partially maintained by parenchymal tethering, this structural support is often ignored in many discussions of asthma. However, agonists that induce smooth muscle contraction also stiffen the parenchyma, so such parenchymal stiffening may serve as a defense mechanism to prevent airway narrowing or closure. To quantify this effect, specifically how changes in parenchymal stiffness alter airway size at different levels of lung inflation, in the present study, we devised a method to separate the effect of parenchymal stiffening from that of direct airway narrowing. Six anesthetized dogs were studied under four conditions: baseline, after whole lung aerosol histamine challenge, after local airway histamine challenge, and after complete relaxation of the airways. In each of these conditions, we used High resolution Computed Tomography to measure airway size and lung volume at five different airway pressures (0, 12, 25, 32, and 45 cm H2O). Parenchymal stiffening had a protective effect on airway narrowing, a fact that may be important in the airway response to deep inspiration in asthma. When the parenchyma was stiffened by whole lung aerosol histamine challenge, at every lung volume above FRC, the airways were larger than when they were directly challenged with histamine to the same initial constriction. These results show for the first time that a stiff parenchyma per se minimizes the airway narrowing that occurs with histamine challenge at any lung volume. Thus in clinical asthma, it is not simply increased airway smooth muscle contraction, but perhaps a lack of homogeneous parenchymal stiffening that contributes to the symptomatic airway hyperresponsiveness.