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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 28 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:

Prestige Affects Cultural Learning in Chimpanzees:

Humans follow the example of prestigious, high-status individuals much more readily than that of others, such as when we copy the behavior of village elders, community leaders, or celebrities. This tendency has been declared uniquely human, yet remains untested in other species. Experimental studies of animal learning have typically focused on the learning mechanism rather than on social issues, such as who learns from whom. The latter, however, is essential to understanding how habits spread. Here we report that when given opportunities to watch alternative solutions to a foraging problem performed by two different models of their own species, chimpanzees preferentially copy the method shown by the older, higher-ranking individual with a prior track-record of success. Since both solutions were equally difficult, shown an equal number of times by each model and resulted in equal rewards, we interpret this outcome as evidence that the preferred model in each of the two groups tested enjoyed a significant degree of prestige in terms of whose example other chimpanzees chose to follow. Such prestige-based cultural transmission is a phenomenon shared with our own species. If similar biases operate in wild animal populations, the adoption of culturally transmitted innovations may be significantly shaped by the characteristics of performers.

Specific Appetite for Carotenoids in a Colorful Bird:

Since carotenoids have physiological functions necessary for maintaining health, individuals should be selected to actively seek and develop a specific appetite for these compounds. Great tits Parus major in a diet choice experiment, both in captivity and the field, preferred carotenoid-enriched diets to control diets. The food items did not differ in any other aspects measured besides carotenoid content. Specific appetite for carotenoids is here demonstrated for the first time, placing these compounds on a par with essential nutrients as sodium or calcium.

The Origin and Genetic Variation of Domestic Chickens with Special Reference to Junglefowls Gallus g. gallus and G. varius:

It is postulated that chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) became domesticated from wild junglefowls in Southeast Asia nearly 10,000 years ago. Based on 19 individual samples covering various chicken breeds, red junglefowl (G. g. gallus), and green junglefowl (G. varius), we address the origin of domestic chickens, the relative roles of ancestral polymorphisms and introgression, and the effects of artificial selection on the domestic chicken genome. DNA sequences from 30 introns at 25 nuclear loci are determined for both diploid chromosomes from a majority of samples. The phylogenetic analysis shows that the DNA sequences of chickens, red and green junglefowls formed reciprocally monophyletic clusters. The Markov chain Monte Carlo simulation further reveals that domestic chickens diverged from red junglefowl 58,000±16,000 years ago, well before the archeological dating of domestication, and that their common ancestor in turn diverged from green junglefowl 3.6 million years ago. Several shared haplotypes nonetheless found between green junglefowl and chickens are attributed to recent unidirectional introgression of chickens into green junglefowl. Shared haplotypes are more frequently found between red junglefowl and chickens, which are attributed to both introgression and ancestral polymorphisms. Within each chicken breed, there is an excess of homozygosity, but there is no significant reduction in the nucleotide diversity. Phenotypic modifications of chicken breeds as a result of artificial selection appear to stem from ancestral polymorphisms at a limited number of genetic loci.

The Mediterranean Sea Regime Shift at the End of the 1980s, and Intriguing Parallelisms with Other European Basins:

Regime shifts are abrupt changes encompassing a multitude of physical properties and ecosystem variables, which lead to new regime conditions. Recent investigations focus on the changes in ecosystem diversity and functioning associated to such shifts. Of particular interest, because of the implication on climate drivers, are shifts that occur synchronously in separated basins. In this work we analyze and review long-term records of Mediterranean ecological and hydro-climate variables and find that all point to a synchronous change in the late 1980s. A quantitative synthesis of the literature (including observed oceanic data, models and satellite analyses) shows that these years mark a major change in Mediterranean hydrographic properties, surface circulation, and deep water convection (the Eastern Mediterranean Transient). We provide novel analyses that link local, regional and basin scale hydrological properties with two major indicators of large scale climate, the North Atlantic Oscillation index and the Northern Hemisphere Temperature index, suggesting that the Mediterranean shift is part of a large scale change in the Northern Hemisphere. We provide a simplified scheme of the different effects of climate vs. temperature on pelagic ecosystems. Our results show that the Mediterranean Sea underwent a major change at the end of the 1980s that encompassed atmospheric, hydrological, and ecological systems, for which it can be considered a regime shift. We further provide evidence that the local hydrography is linked to the larger scale, northern hemisphere climate. These results suggest that the shifts that affected the North, Baltic, Black and Mediterranean (this work) Seas at the end of the 1980s, that have been so far only partly associated, are likely linked as part a northern hemisphere change. These findings bear wide implications for the development of climate change scenarios, as synchronous shifts may provide the key for distinguishing local (i.e., basin) anthropogenic drivers, such as eutrophication or fishing, from larger scale (hemispheric) climate drivers.

Sequencing, Analysis, and Annotation of Expressed Sequence Tags for Camelus dromedarius:

Despite its economical, cultural, and biological importance, there has not been a large scale sequencing project to date for Camelus dromedarius. With the goal of sequencing complete DNA of the organism, we first established and sequenced camel EST libraries, generating 70,272 reads. Following trimming, chimera check, repeat masking, cluster and assembly, we obtained 23,602 putative gene sequences, out of which over 4,500 potentially novel or fast evolving gene sequences do not carry any homology to other available genomes. Functional annotation of sequences with similarities in nucleotide and protein databases has been obtained using Gene Ontology classification. Comparison to available full length cDNA sequences and Open Reading Frame (ORF) analysis of camel sequences that exhibit homology to known genes show more than 80% of the contigs with an ORF>300 bp and ~40% hits extending to the start codons of full length cDNAs suggesting successful characterization of camel genes. Similarity analyses are done separately for different organisms including human, mouse, bovine, and rat. Accompanying web portal, CAGBASE (http://camel.kacst.edu.sa/), hosts a relational database containing annotated EST sequences and analysis tools with possibility to add sequences from public domain. We anticipate our results to provide a home base for genomic studies of camel and other comparative studies enabling a starting point for whole genome sequencing of the organism.


Feed-Forward Segmentation of Figure-Ground and Assignment of Border-Ownership:

Figure-ground is the segmentation of visual information into objects and their surrounding backgrounds. Two main processes herein are boundary assignment and surface segregation, which rely on the integration of global scene information. Recurrent processing either by intrinsic horizontal connections that connect surrounding neurons or by feedback projections from higher visual areas provide such information, and are considered to be the neural substrate for figure-ground segmentation. On the contrary, a role of feedforward projections in figure-ground segmentation is unknown. To have a better understanding of a role of feedforward connections in figure-ground organization, we constructed a feedforward spiking model using a biologically plausible neuron model. By means of surround inhibition our simple 3-layered model performs figure-ground segmentation and one-sided border-ownership coding. We propose that the visual system uses feed forward suppression for figure-ground segmentation and border-ownership assignment.

The Complete Plastid Genomes of the Two ‘Dinotoms’ Durinskia baltica and Kryptoperidinium foliaceum:

In one small group of dinoflagellates, photosynthesis is carried out by a tertiary endosymbiont derived from a diatom, giving rise to a complex cell that we collectively refer to as a ‘dinotom’. The endosymbiont is separated from its host by a single membrane and retains plastids, mitochondria, a large nucleus, and many other eukaryotic organelles and structures, a level of complexity suggesting an early stage of integration. Although the evolution of these endosymbionts has attracted considerable interest, the plastid genome has not been examined in detail, and indeed no tertiary plastid genome has yet been sequenced. Here we describe the complete plastid genomes of two closely related dinotoms, Durinskia baltica and Kryptoperidinium foliaceum. The D. baltica (116470 bp) and K. foliaceum (140426 bp) plastid genomes map as circular molecules featuring two large inverted repeats that separate distinct single copy regions. The organization and gene content of the D. baltica plastid closely resemble those of the pennate diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum. The K. foliaceum plastid genome is much larger, has undergone more reorganization, and encodes a putative tyrosine recombinase (tyrC) also found in the plastid genome of the heterokont Heterosigma akashiwo, and two putative serine recombinases (serC1 and serC2) homologous to recombinases encoded by plasmids pCf1 and pCf2 in another pennate diatom, Cylindrotheca fusiformis. The K. foliaceum plastid genome also contains an additional copy of serC1, two degenerate copies of another plasmid-encoded ORF, and two non-coding regions whose sequences closely resemble portions of the pCf1 and pCf2 plasmids. These results suggest that while the plastid genomes of two dinotoms share very similar gene content and genome organization with that of the free-living pennate diatom P. tricornutum, the K. folicaeum plastid genome has absorbed two exogenous plasmids. Whether this took place before or after the tertiary endosymbiosis is not clear.