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New and Exciting in PLoS this week

Four of seven PLoS journals published today. I think these, below, are the most interesting and bloggable. 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:

Chikungunya: A Potentially Emerging Epidemic?:

Chikungunya virus is a mosquito-borne emerging pathogen that has a major health impact in humans and causes fever disease, headache, rash, nausea, vomiting, myalgia, and arthralgia. Indigenous to tropical Africa, recent large outbreaks have been reported in parts of South East Asia and several of its neighboring islands in 2005-07 and in Europe in 2007. Furthermore, positive cases have been confirmed in the United States in travelers returning from known outbreak areas. Currently, there is no vaccine or antiviral treatment. With the threat of an emerging global pandemic, the peculiar problems associated with the more immediate and seasonal epidemics warrant the development of an effective vaccine. In this review, we summarize the evidence supporting these concepts.

Reduced Context Effects on Retrieval in First-Episode Schizophrenia:

A recent modeling study by the authors predicted that contextual information is poorly integrated into episodic representations in schizophrenia, and that this is a main cause of the retrieval deficits seen in schizophrenia. We have tested this prediction in patients with first-episode schizophrenia and matched controls. The benefit from contextual cues in retrieval was strongly reduced in patients. On the other hand, retrieval based on item cues was spared. These results suggest that reduced integration of context information into episodic representations is a core deficit in schizophrenia and one of the main causes of episodic memory impairment.

China’s Engagement with Global Health Diplomacy: Was SARS a Watershed?:

SARS not only exposed a fundamental shortcoming of China’s public health surveillance system as well as its single-minded pursuit of economic growth since the late 1970s, but also forced China to realize that, in the era of globalization, public health is no longer a domestic, social issue that can be isolated from foreign-policy concern.

Its ailing health care system, its aspiration to be seen as a “responsible state,” and international demands for health cooperation have compelled China to be more proactive in the global health domain.

There are signs that China is now using public health as a means to strengthen its diplomatic relations with the developing world, in particular the African continent.

While China has embraced multilateral cooperation in a wide array of global health issues, its engagement remains “state centric” and therefore leaders attach primary significance to intergovernmental organizations, particularly the UN agencies.

The Light-Driven Proton Pump Proteorhodopsin Enhances Bacterial Survival during Tough Times:

Some microorganisms contain proteins that can interact with light and convert it into energy for growth and survival, or into sensory information that guides cells towards or away from light. The simplest energy-harvesting photoproteins are the rhodopsins, which consist of a single, membrane-embedded protein covalently bound to the chromophore retinal (a light-sensitive pigment) [1]. One class of archaeal photoproteins (called bacteriorhodopsin) was shown to function as a light-driven proton pump, generating biochemical energy from light [2],[3]. For many years, these light-driven proton pumps were thought to be found only in relatively obscure Archaea living in high salinity.

Nuclear Weapons and Neglected Diseases: The ‘Ten-Thousand-to-One Gap’:

Together, the world’s eight acknowledged nuclear powers–the United States (US), Russia, United Kingdom (UK), France, China, India, Pakistan, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)–have amassed an arsenal of almost 30,000 nuclear weapons since 1945. In addition, Israel is believed to be a nuclear power while Iran (and possibly Syria as well) is also suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Despite the technological sophistication that has enabled the 11 nuclear weapons states to produce and deliver nuclear bombs, most of these nations simultaneously also suffer from high internal rates of poverty and endemic neglected diseases. They include high prevalence rates of neglected tropical diseases in India, China, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria, and related neglected infections of poverty in the US and Europe. Indeed, the 11 nuclear weapons states together account for up to one-half of the global disease burden from all neglected diseases. However, for a tiny fraction (less than 1/10,000th) of the costs of producing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal the 11 nuclear powers could eliminate most of their neglected diseases and engage in joint neglected disease research and development efforts that help to reduce international tensions and promote world peace.

Maintenance of Positive Diversity-Stability Relations along a Gradient of Environmental Stress:

Environmental stress is widely considered to be an important factor in regulating whether changes in diversity will affect the functioning and stability of ecological communities. We investigated the effects of a major environmental stressor (a decrease in water volume) on diversity-abundance and diversity-stability relations in laboratory microcosms composed of temperate multi-trophic rock pool communities to identify differences in community and functional group responses to increasing functional group richness along a gradient of environmental stress (low, medium, and high water volume). When a greater number of functional groups were present, communities were less temporally variable and achieved higher abundances. The stabilizing effect of increased functional group richness was observed regardless of the level of environmental stress the community was subjected too. Despite the strong consistent stabilizing effect of increased functional group richness on abundance, the way that individual functional groups were affected by functional group richness differed along the stress gradient. Under low stress, communities with more functional groups present were more productive and showed evidence of strong facilitative interactions. As stress increased, the positive effect of functional group richness on community abundance was no longer observed and compensatory responses became more common. Responses of individual functional groups to functional group richness became increasing heterogeneous are stress increased, prompting shifts from linear diversity-variability/abundance relations under low stress to a mix of linear and non-linear responses under medium and high stress. The strength of relations between functional group richness and both the abundances and temporal variability of functional groups also increased as stress increased. While stress did not affect the relation between functional group richness and stability per se, the way in which functional groups responded to changes in functional group richness differed as stress increased. These differences, which include increases in the heterogeneity of responses of individual functional groups, increases in compensatory dynamics, and increases in the strength of richness-abundance and richness-variability relations, may be critical to maintaining stability under increasingly stressful environmental conditions.

The Effect of Rural-to-Urban Migration on Obesity and Diabetes in India: A Cross-Sectional Study:

Migration from rural areas of India contributes to urbanisation and may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes. We tested the hypotheses that rural-to-urban migrants have a higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes than rural nonmigrants, that migrants would have an intermediate prevalence of obesity and diabetes compared with life-long urban and rural dwellers, and that longer time since migration would be associated with a higher prevalence of obesity and of diabetes.

Adaptation, Plasticity, and Extinction in a Changing Environment: Towards a Predictive Theory:

Many species are experiencing sustained environmental change mainly due to human activities. The unusual rate and extent of anthropogenic alterations of the environment may exceed the capacity of developmental, genetic, and demographic mechanisms that populations have evolved to deal with environmental change. To begin to understand the limits to population persistence, we present a simple evolutionary model for the critical rate of environmental change beyond which a population must decline and go extinct. We use this model to highlight the major determinants of extinction risk in a changing environment, and identify research needs for improved predictions based on projected changes in environmental variables. Two key parameters relating the environment to population biology have not yet received sufficient attention. Phenotypic plasticity, the direct influence of environment on the development of individual phenotypes, is increasingly considered an important component of phenotypic change in the wild and should be incorporated in models of population persistence. Environmental sensitivity of selection, the change in the optimum phenotype with the environment, still crucially needs empirical assessment. We use environmental tolerance curves and other examples of ecological and evolutionary responses to climate change to illustrate how these mechanistic approaches can be developed for predictive purposes.

Comparative Effectiveness Research: Challenges for Medical Journals:

In order to optimize health outcomes within the constraints of inevitably limited resources, low- and high-income countries alike require unbiased means of assessing health care interventions for their relative effectiveness. Such interventions include diagnostic tests and treatments (both established and newly developed) and implementation of health policy [1]. Likewise, health care professionals and patients need better information to inform health care decisions that require weighing benefits and risks in light of the patient’s medical history and personal preferences.

Evolutionary Process of Deep-Sea Bathymodiolus Mussels:

Since the discovery of deep-sea chemosynthesis-based communities, much work has been done to clarify their organismal and environmental aspects. However, major topics remain to be resolved, including when and how organisms invade and adapt to deep-sea environments; whether strategies for invasion and adaptation are shared by different taxa or unique to each taxon; how organisms extend their distribution and diversity; and how they become isolated to speciate in continuous waters. Deep-sea mussels are one of the dominant organisms in chemosynthesis-based communities, thus investigations of their origin and evolution contribute to resolving questions about life in those communities. We investigated worldwide phylogenetic relationships of deep-sea Bathymodiolus mussels and their mytilid relatives by analyzing nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 4 (ND4) genes. Phylogenetic analysis of the concatenated sequence data showed that mussels of the subfamily Bathymodiolinae from vents and seeps were divided into four groups, and that mussels of the subfamily Modiolinae from sunken wood and whale carcasses assumed the outgroup position and shallow-water modioline mussels were positioned more distantly to the bathymodioline mussels. We provisionally hypothesized the evolutionary history of Bathymodilolus mussels by estimating evolutionary time under a relaxed molecular clock model. Diversification of bathymodioline mussels was initiated in the early Miocene, and subsequently diversification of the groups occurred in the early to middle Miocene. The phylogenetic relationships support the “Evolutionary stepping stone hypothesis,” in which mytilid ancestors exploited sunken wood and whale carcasses in their progressive adaptation to deep-sea environments. This hypothesis is also supported by the evolutionary transition of symbiosis in that nutritional adaptation to the deep sea proceeded from extracellular to intracellular symbiotic states in whale carcasses. The estimated evolutionary time suggests that the mytilid ancestors were able to exploit whales during adaptation to the deep sea.