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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:

Torpor on Demand: Heterothermy in the Non-Lemur Primate Galago moholi:

Hibernation and daily torpor are energy- and water-saving adaptations employed to survive unfavourable periods mostly in temperate and arctic environments, but also in tropical and arid climates. Heterothermy has been found in a number of mammalian orders, but within the primates so far it seems to be restricted to one family of Malagasy lemurs. As currently there is no evidence of heterothermy of a primate outside of Madagascar, the aim of our study was to investigate whether small primates from mainland Africa are indeed always homeothermic despite pronounced seasonal changes in weather and food availability. One of the nearest relatives of Malagasy lemurs, the African lesser bushbaby, Galago moholi, which inhabits a highly seasonal habitat with a hot wet-season and a cold dry-season with lower food abundance, was investigated to determine whether it is capable of heterothermy. We measured skin temperature of free-ranging individuals throughout the cool dry season using temperature-sensitive collars as well as metabolic rate in captured individuals. Torpor was employed by 15% of 20 animals. Only one of these animals displayed heterothermy in response to natural availability of food and water, whereas the other animals became torpid without access to food and water. Our results show that G. moholi are physiologically capable of employing torpor. However they do not use it as a routine behaviour, but only under adverse conditions. This reluctance is presumably a result of conflicting selective pressures for energy savings versus other ecological and evolutionary forces, such as reproduction or territory defence. Our results support the view that heterothermy in primates evolved before the division of African and Malagasy Strepsirhini, with the possible implication that more primate species than previously thought might still have the potential to call upon this possibility, if the situation necessitates it.

Marginal Eyespots on Butterfly Wings Deflect Bird Attacks Under Low Light Intensities with UV Wavelengths:

Predators preferentially attack vital body parts to avoid prey escape. Consequently, prey adaptations that make predators attack less crucial body parts are expected to evolve. Marginal eyespots on butterfly wings have long been thought to have this deflective, but hitherto undemonstrated function. Here we report that a butterfly, Lopinga achine, with broad-spectrum reflective white scales in its marginal eyespot pupils deceives a generalist avian predator, the blue tit, to attack the marginal eyespots, but only under particular conditions–in our experiments, low light intensities with a prominent UV component. Under high light intensity conditions with a similar UV component, and at low light intensities without UV, blue tits directed attacks towards the butterfly head. In nature, birds typically forage intensively at early dawn, when the light environment shifts to shorter wavelengths, and the contrast between the eyespot pupils and the background increases. Among butterflies, deflecting attacks is likely to be particularly important at dawn when low ambient temperatures make escape by flight impossible, and when insectivorous birds typically initiate another day’s search for food. Our finding that the deflective function of eyespots is highly dependent on the ambient light environment helps explain why previous attempts have provided little support for the deflective role of marginal eyespots, and we hypothesize that the mechanism that we have discovered in our experiments in a laboratory setting may function also in nature when birds forage on resting butterflies under low light intensities.

Targeted Manipulation of Serotonergic Neurotransmission Affects the Escalation of Aggression in Adult Male Drosophila melanogaster:

Dopamine (DA) and serotonin (5HT) are reported to serve important roles in aggression in a wide variety of animals. Previous investigations of 5HT function in adult Drosophila behavior have relied on pharmacological manipulations, or on combinations of genetic tools that simultaneously target both DA and 5HT neurons. Here, we generated a transgenic line that allows selective, direct manipulation of serotonergic neurons and asked whether DA and 5HT have separable effects on aggression. Quantitative morphological examination demonstrated that our newly generated tryptophan hydroxylase (TRH)-Gal4 driver line was highly selective for 5HT-containing neurons. This line was used in conjunction with already available Gal4 driver lines that target DA or both DA and 5HT neurons to acutely alter the function of aminergic systems. First, we showed that acute impairment of DA and 5HT neurotransmission using expression of a temperature sensitive form of dynamin completely abolished mid- and high-level aggression. These flies did not escalate fights beyond brief low-intensity interactions and therefore did not yield dominance relationships. We showed next that manipulation of either 5HT or DA neurotransmission failed to duplicate this phenotype. Selective disruption of 5HT neurotransmission yielded flies that fought, but with reduced ability to escalate fights, leading to fewer dominance relationships. Acute activation of 5HT neurons using temperature sensitive dTrpA1 channel expression, in contrast, resulted in flies that escalated fights faster and that fought at higher intensities. Finally, acute disruption of DA neurotransmission produced hyperactive flies that moved faster than controls, and rarely engaged in any social interactions. By separately manipulating 5HT- and DA- neuron systems, we collected evidence demonstrating a direct role for 5HT in the escalation of aggression in Drosophila.

Loss and Recovery Potential of Marine Habitats: An Experimental Study of Factors Maintaining Resilience in Subtidal Algal Forests at the Adriatic Sea:

Predicting and abating the loss of natural habitats present a huge challenge in science, conservation and management. Algal forests are globally threatened by loss and severe recruitment failure, but our understanding of resilience in these systems and its potential disruption by anthropogenic factors lags well behind other habitats. We tested hypotheses regarding triggers for decline and recovery potential in subtidal forests of canopy-forming algae of the genus Cystoseira. By using a combination of historical data, and quantitative in situ observations of natural recruitment patterns we suggest that recent declines of forests along the coasts of the north Adriatic Sea were triggered by increasing cumulative impacts of natural- and human-induced habitat instability along with several extreme storm events. Clearing and transplantation experiments subsequently demonstrated that at such advanced stages of ecosystem degradation, increased substratum stability would be essential but not sufficient to reverse the loss, and that for recovery to occur removal of the new dominant space occupiers (i.e., opportunistic species including turf algae and mussels) would be required. Lack of surrounding adult canopies did not seem to impair the potential for assisted recovery, suggesting that in these systems recovery could be actively enhanced even following severe depletions. We demonstrate that sudden habitat loss can be facilitated by long term changes in the biotic and abiotic conditions in the system, that erode the ability of natural ecosystems to absorb and recover from multiple stressors of natural and human origin. Moreover, we demonstrate that the mere restoration of environmental conditions preceding a loss, if possible, may be insufficient for ecosystem restoration, and is scarcely cost-effective. We conclude that the loss of complex marine habitats in human-dominated landscapes could be mitigated with appropriate consideration and management of incremental habitat changes and of attributes facilitating system recovery.

Phylogenetic Evidence for Lateral Gene Transfer in the Intestine of Marine Iguanas:

Lateral gene transfer (LGT) appears to promote genotypic and phenotypic variation in microbial communities in a range of environments, including the mammalian intestine. However, the extent and mechanisms of LGT in intestinal microbial communities of non-mammalian hosts remains poorly understood. We sequenced two fosmid inserts obtained from a genomic DNA library derived from an agar-degrading enrichment culture of marine iguana fecal material. The inserts harbored 16S rRNA genes that place the organism from which they originated within Clostridium cluster IV, a well documented group that habitats the mammalian intestinal tract. However, sequence analysis indicates that 52% of the protein-coding genes on the fosmids have top BLASTX hits to bacterial species that are not members of Clostridium cluster IV, and phylogenetic analysis suggests that at least 10 of 44 coding genes on the fosmids may have been transferred from Clostridium cluster XIVa to cluster IV. The fosmids encoded four transposase-encoding genes and an integrase-encoding gene, suggesting their involvement in LGT. In addition, several coding genes likely involved in sugar transport were probably acquired through LGT. Our phylogenetic evidence suggests that LGT may be common among phylogenetically distinct members of the phylum Firmicutes inhabiting the intestinal tract of marine iguanas.

Morphological and Molecular Characterizations of Psychrophilic Fungus Geomyces destructans from New York Bats with White Nose Syndrome (WNS):

Massive die-offs of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) have been occurring since 2006 in hibernation sites around Albany, New York, and this problem has spread to other States in the Northeastern United States. White cottony fungal growth is seen on the snouts of affected animals, a prominent sign of White Nose Syndrome (WNS). A previous report described the involvement of the fungus Geomyces destructans in WNS, but an identical fungus was recently isolated in France from a bat that was evidently healthy. The fungus has been recovered sparsely despite plentiful availability of afflicted animals. We have investigated 100 bat and environmental samples from eight affected sites in 2008. Our findings provide strong evidence for an etiologic role of G. destructans in bat WNS. (i) Direct smears from bat snouts, Periodic Acid Schiff-stained tissue sections from infected tissues, and scanning electron micrographs of bat tissues all showed fungal structures similar to those of G. destructans. (ii) G. destructans DNA was directly amplified from infected bat tissues, (iii) Isolations of G. destructans in cultures from infected bat tissues showed 100% DNA match with the fungus present in positive tissue samples. (iv) RAPD patterns for all G. destructans cultures isolated from two sites were indistinguishable. (v) The fungal isolates showed psychrophilic growth. (vi) We identified in vitro proteolytic activities suggestive of known fungal pathogenic traits in G. destructans. Further studies are needed to understand whether G. destructans WNS is a symptom or a trigger for bat mass mortality. The availability of well-characterized G. destructans strains should promote an understanding of bat-fungus relationships, and should aid in the screening of biological and chemical control agents.

A Three-Dimensional Atlas of the Honeybee Neck:

Three-dimensional digital atlases are rapidly becoming indispensible in modern biology. We used serial sectioning combined with manual registration and segmentation of images to develop a comprehensive and detailed three-dimensional atlas of the honeybee head-neck system. This interactive atlas includes skeletal structures of the head and prothorax, the neck musculature, and the nervous system. The scope and resolution of the model exceeds atlases previously developed on similar sized animals, and the interactive nature of the model provides a far more accessible means of interpreting and comprehending insect anatomy and neuroanatomy.

The Bank of Standardized Stimuli (BOSS), a New Set of 480 Normative Photos of Objects to Be Used as Visual Stimuli in Cognitive Research:

There are currently stimuli with published norms available to study several psychological aspects of language and visual cognitions. Norms represent valuable information that can be used as experimental variables or systematically controlled to limit their potential influence on another experimental manipulation. The present work proposes 480 photo stimuli that have been normalized for name, category, familiarity, visual complexity, object agreement, viewpoint agreement, and manipulability. Stimuli are also available in grayscale, blurred, scrambled, and line-drawn version. This set of objects, the Bank Of Standardized Stimuli (BOSS), was created specifically to meet the needs of scientists in cognition, vision and psycholinguistics who work with photo stimuli.

Genomic Diversity and Introgression in O. sativa Reveal the Impact of Domestication and Breeding on the Rice Genome:

The domestication of Asian rice (Oryza sativa) was a complex process punctuated by episodes of introgressive hybridization among and between subpopulations. Deep genetic divergence between the two main varietal groups (Indica and Japonica) suggests domestication from at least two distinct wild populations. However, genetic uniformity surrounding key domestication genes across divergent subpopulations suggests cultural exchange of genetic material among ancient farmers. In this study, we utilize a novel 1,536 SNP panel genotyped across 395 diverse accessions of O. sativa to study genome-wide patterns of polymorphism, to characterize population structure, and to infer the introgression history of domesticated Asian rice. Our population structure analyses support the existence of five major subpopulations (indica, aus, tropical japonica, temperate japonica and GroupV) consistent with previous analyses. Our introgression analysis shows that most accessions exhibit some degree of admixture, with many individuals within a population sharing the same introgressed segment due to artificial selection. Admixture mapping and association analysis of amylose content and grain length illustrate the potential for dissecting the genetic basis of complex traits in domesticated plant populations. Genes in these regions control a myriad of traits including plant stature, blast resistance, and amylose content. These analyses highlight the power of population genomics in agricultural systems to identify functionally important regions of the genome and to decipher the role of human-directed breeding in refashioning the genomes of a domesticated species.