A Blog Around The Clock

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:

Arboreal Ants Use the “Velcro® Principle” to Capture Very Large Prey:

Plant-ants live in a mutualistic association with host plants known as “myrmecophytes” that provide them with a nesting place and sometimes with extra-floral nectar (EFN) and/or food bodies (FBs); the ants can also attend sap-sucking Hemiptera for their honeydew. In return, plant-ants, like most other arboreal ants, protect their host plants from defoliators. To satisfy their nitrogen requirements, however, some have optimized their ability to capture prey in the restricted environment represented by the crowns of trees by using elaborate hunting techniques. In this study, we investigated the predatory behavior of the ant Azteca andreae which is associated with the myrmecophyte Cecropia obtusa. We noted that up to 8350 ant workers per tree hide side-by-side beneath the leaf margins of their host plant with their mandibles open, waiting for insects to alight. The latter are immediately seized by their extremities, and then spread-eagled; nestmates are recruited to help stretch, carve up and transport prey. This group ambush hunting technique is particularly effective when the underside of the leaves is downy, as is the case for C. obtusa. In this case, the hook-shaped claws of the A. andreae workers and the velvet-like structure of the underside of the leaves combine to act like natural Velcro® that is reinforced by the group ambush strategy of the workers, allowing them to capture prey of up to 13,350 times the mean weight of a single worker.

Can Preening Contribute to Influenza A Virus Infection in Wild Waterbirds?:

Wild aquatic birds in the Orders Anseriformes and Charadriiformes are the main reservoir hosts perpetuating the genetic pool of all influenza A viruses, including pandemic viruses. High viral loads in feces of infected birds permit a fecal-oral route of transmission. Numerous studies have reported the isolation of avian influenza viruses (AIVs) from surface water at aquatic bird habitats. These isolations indicate aquatic environments have an important role in the transmission of AIV among wild aquatic birds. However, the progressive dilution of infectious feces in water could decrease the likelihood of virus/host interactions. To evaluate whether alternate mechanisms facilitate AIV transmission in aquatic bird populations, we investigated whether the preen oil gland secretions by which all aquatic birds make their feathers waterproof could support a natural mechanism that concentrates AIVs from water onto birds’ bodies, thus, representing a possible source of infection by preening activity. We consistently detected both viral RNA and infectious AIVs on swabs of preened feathers of 345 wild mallards by using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and virus-isolation (VI) assays. Additionally, in two laboratory experiments using a quantitative real-time (qR) RT-PCR assay, we demonstrated that feather samples (n = 5) and cotton swabs (n = 24) experimentally impregnated with preen oil, when soaked in AIV-contaminated waters, attracted and concentrated AIVs on their surfaces. The data presented herein provide information that expands our understanding of AIV ecology in the wild bird reservoir system.

Asynchronous Response of Tropical Forest Leaf Phenology to Seasonal and El Niño-Driven Drought:

The Hawaiian Islands are an ideal location to study the response of tropical forests to climate variability because of their extreme isolation in the middle of the Pacific, which makes them especially sensitive to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Most research examining the response of tropical forests to drought or El Niño have focused on rainforests, however, tropical dry forests cover a large area of the tropics and may respond very differently than rainforests. We use satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from February 2000-February 2009 to show that rainforests and dry forests in the Hawaiian Islands exhibit asynchronous responses in leaf phenology to seasonal and El Niño-driven drought. Dry forest NDVI was more tightly coupled with precipitation compared to rainforest NDVI. Rainforest cloud frequency was negatively correlated with the degree of asynchronicity (ΔNDVI) between forest types, most strongly at a 1-month lag. Rainforest green-up and dry forest brown-down was particularly apparent during the 2002-003 El Niño. The spatial pattern of NDVI response to the NINO 3.4 Sea Surface Temperature (SST) index during 2002-2003 showed that the leeward side exhibited significant negative correlations to increased SSTs, whereas the windward side exhibited significant positive correlations to increased SSTs, most evident at an 8 to 9-month lag. This study demonstrates that different tropical forest types exhibit asynchronous responses to seasonal and El Niño-driven drought, and suggests that mechanisms controlling dry forest leaf phenology are related to water-limitation, whereas rainforests are more light-limited.

More….

A Novel Anti-Influenza Copper Oxide Containing Respiratory Face Mask:

Protective respiratory face masks protect the nose and mouth of the wearer from vapor drops carrying viruses or other infectious pathogens. However, incorrect use and disposal may actually increase the risk of pathogen transmission, rather than reduce it, especially when masks are used by non-professionals such as the lay public. Copper oxide displays potent antiviral properties. A platform technology has been developed that permanently introduces copper oxide into polymeric materials, conferring them with potent biocidal properties. We demonstrate that impregnation of copper oxide into respiratory protective face masks endows them with potent biocidal properties in addition to their inherent filtration properties. Both control and copper oxide impregnated masks filtered above 99.85% of aerosolized viruses when challenged with 5.66±0.51 and 6.17±0.37 log10TCID50 of human influenza A virus (H1N1) and avian influenza virus (H9N2), respectively, under simulated breathing conditions (28.3 L/min). Importantly, no infectious human influenza A viral titers were recovered from the copper oxide containing masks within 30 minutes (≤0.88 log10TCID50), while 4.67±1.35 log10TCID50 were recovered from the control masks. Similarly, the infectious avian influenza titers recovered from the copper oxide containing masks were ≤0.97±0.01 log10TCID50 and from the control masks 5.03±0.54 log10TCID50. The copper oxide containing masks successfully passed Bacterial Filtration Efficacy, Differential Pressure, Latex Particle Challenge, and Resistance to Penetration by Synthetic Blood tests designed to test the filtration properties of face masks in accordance with the European EN 14683:2005 and NIOSH N95 standards. Impregnation of copper oxide into respiratory protective face masks endows them with potent anti-influenza biocidal properties without altering their physical barrier properties. The use of biocidal masks may significantly reduce the risk of hand or environmental contamination, and thereby subsequent infection, due to improper handling and disposal of the masks.

Functional and Behavioral Restoration of Vision by Gene Therapy in the Guanylate Cyclase-1 (GC1) Knockout Mouse:

Recessive mutations in guanylate cyclase-1 (Gucy2d) are associated with severe, early onset Leber congenital amaurosis-1(LCA1). Gucy2d encodes guanylate cyclase (GC1) is expressed in photoreceptor outer segment membranes and produces cGMP in these cells. LCA1 patients present in infancy with severely impaired vision and extinguished electroretinogram (ERG) but retain some photoreceptors in both their macular and peripheral retina for years. Like LCA1 patients, loss of cone function in the GC1 knockout (GC1KO) mouse precedes cone degeneration. The purpose of this study was to test whether delivery of functional GC1 to cone cells of the postnatal GC1KO mouse could restore function to these cells. Serotype 5 AAV vectors containing either a photoreceptor-specific, rhodopsin kinase (hGRK1) or ubiquitous (smCBA) promoter driving expression of wild type murine GC1 were subretinally delivered to one eye of P14 GC1KO mice. Visual function (ERG) was analyzed in treated and untreated eyes until 3 months post injection. AAV-treated, isogenic wild type and uninjected control mice were evaluated for restoration of visual behavior using optomotor testing. At 3 months post injection, all animals were sacrificed, and their treated and untreated retinas assayed for expression of GC1 and localization of cone arrestin. Cone-mediated function was restored to treated eyes of GC1KO mice (ERG amplitudes were ~45% of normal). Treatment effect was stable for at least 3 months. Robust improvements in cone-mediated visual behavior were also observed, with responses of treated mice being similar or identical to that of wild type mice. AAV-vectored GC1 expression was found in photoreceptors and cone cells were preserved in treated retinas. This is the first demonstration of gene-based restoration of both visual function/vision-elicited behavior and cone preservation in a mammalian model of GC1 deficiency. Importantly, results were obtained using a well characterized, clinically relevant AAV vector. These results lay the ground work for the development of an AAV-based gene therapy vector for the treatment of LCA1.

Which Circulating Antioxidant Vitamins Are Confounded by Socioeconomic Deprivation? The MIDSPAN Family Study:

Antioxidant vitamins are often described as having “independent” associations with risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and mortality. We aimed to compare to what extent a range of antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids are associated with adulthood and childhood markers of socioeconomic deprivation and to adverse lifestyle factors. Socioeconomic and lifestyle measures were available in 1040 men and 1298 women from the MIDSPAN Family Study (30-59 years at baseline) together with circulating levels of vitamins A, C, E, and carotenoids (α-carotene, β-carotene, lutein and lycopene). Markers of socioeconomic deprivation in adulthood were consistently as strongly associated with lower vitamin C and carotenoid levels as markers of adverse lifestyle; the inverse association with overcrowding was particularly consistent (vitamin C and carotenoids range from 19.1% [95% CI 30.3-6.0] to 38.8% [49.9-25.3] lower among those in overcrowded residencies). These associations were consistent after adjusting for month, classical CVD risk factors, body mass index, physical activity, vitamin supplements, dietary fat and fibre intake. Similar, but weaker, associations were seen for childhood markers of deprivation. The association of vitamin A or E were strikingly different; several adult adverse lifestyle factors associated with higher levels of vitamin A and E, including high alcohol intake for vitamin A (9.5% [5.7-13.5]) and waist hip ratio for vitamin E (9.5% [4.8-14.4]), with the latter associations partially explained by classical risk factors, particularly cholesterol levels. Plasma vitamin C and carotenoids have strong inverse associations with adulthood markers of social deprivation, whereas vitamin A and E appear positively related to specific adverse lifestyle factors. These findings should help researchers better contextualize blood antioxidant vitamin levels by illustrating the potential limitations associated with making causal inferences without consideration of social deprivation.

Frequent Detection of Human Adenovirus from the Lower Gastrointestinal Tract in Men Who Have Sex with Men:

The association between baseline seropositivity to human adenovirus (HAdV) type 5 and increased HIV acquisition in the Step HIV Vaccine Study has raised questions concerning frequency of acquired and/or persistent Adenovirus infections among adults at high risk of HIV-1 infection.
Methodology

To evaluate the frequency and pattern of HAdV shedding from the lower GI tract, we retrospectively tested rectal swabs for HAdVs in a cohort of 20 HSV-2 positive HIV-positive Peruvian men who have sex with men (MSM) undergoing rectal swabbing three times/week for 18 consecutive weeks, in a prospective study of HSV-2 suppression in HIV infection. Viral DNA was extracted and amplified using a sensitive multiplex PCR assay that detects all currently recognized HAdV types. Molecular typing of viruses was performed on selected samples by hexon gene sequencing. Baseline neutralizing antibody titers to HAdVs −5, −26, −35 and −48 were also assessed. 15/20 individuals had HAdV detected during follow up. The median frequency of HAdV detection was 30% of samples (range 2.0% to 64.7%). HAdV shedding typically occurred on consecutive days in clustered episodes lasting a median of 4 days (range 1 to 9 days) separated by periods without shedding, suggesting frequent new infections or reactivation of latent infections over time. 8 of the 15 shedders had more than one type detected in follow-up. 20 HAdV types from species B, C, and D were identified, including HAdV-5, −26 and −48, HAdV types under development as potential vaccine candidates. 14/20 subjects were seropositive for HAdV-5; 15/20 for HAdV-26; 3/20 for HAdV-35; and 2/20 for HAdV-48. HAdV shedding did not correlate with CD4 count, plasma HIV-1 viral load, or titers to HAdV-5 or HAdV-35. The sole individual with HAdV-5 shedding was HAdV-5 seropositive. HAdV shedding was highly prevalent and diverse, including types presently under consideration as HIV vaccine vectors. Subclinical HAdV infection of the GI tract is common among MSM in Peru; the prevalence of HAdV in the enteric tract should be evaluated in other populations. The association between ongoing recent enteric HAdV and the immune response to recombinant HAdV vaccines should be evaluated.

Methamphetamine Use among Newly Diagnosed HIV-Positive Young Men in North Carolina, United States, from 2000 to 2005:

Methamphetamine (MA) is a new arrival to the Southeastern United States (US). Incidence of HIV is also increasing regionally, but data are limited regarding any association between this trend and MA use. We examined behavioral data from North Carolina (NC) residents newly diagnosed with HIV, collected by the Department of Health between 2000-2005. Among 1,460 newly diagnosed HIV-positive young men, an increasing trend was seen from 2000-2005 in MA use (p = 0.01, total n = 20). In bivariate analyses, users of MA had significantly greater odds of reporting other substance use, including alcohol, powder or crack cocaine, marijuana, and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”). They were also more likely to have reported sexual activity while traveling outside NC; sex with anonymous partners; and previous HIV testing. In a predictive model, MA use had a negative association with nonwhite race, and strong positive associations with powder cocaine, “ecstasy,” or intravenous drug use and being a university student. Similar to trends seen in more urban parts of the US, MA use among newly diagnosed, HIV-positive young men is increasing in NC. These data are among the first to demonstrate this relationship in a region with a burgeoning epidemic of MA use. Opportunities exist for MA-related HIV risk-reduction interventions whenever young men intersect the healthcare system.