New and Exciting on PLoS ONE

There are 32 new papers that just went live on PLoS ONE and here are a couple of titles that got my immediate attention:

Changing Hydrozoan Bauplans by Silencing Hox-Like Genes by Wolfgang Jakob and Bernd Schierwater:

Regulatory genes of the Antp class have been a major factor for the invention and radiation of animal bauplans. One of the most diverse animal phyla are the Cnidaria, which are close to the root of metazoan life and which often appear in two distinct generations and a remarkable variety of body forms. Hox-like genes have been known to be involved in axial patterning in the Cnidaria and have been suspected to play roles in the genetic control of many of the observed bauplan changes. Unfortunately RNAi mediated gene silencing studies have not been satisfactory for marine invertebrate organisms thus far. No direct evidence supporting Hox-like gene induced bauplan changes in cnidarians have been documented as of yet. Herein, we report a protocol for RNAi transfection of marine invertebrates and demonstrate that knock downs of Hox-like genes in Cnidaria create substantial bauplan alterations, including the formation of multiple oral poles ("heads") by Cnox-2 and Cnox-3 inhibition, deformation of the main body axis by Cnox-5 inhibition and duplication of tentacles by Cnox-1 inhibition. All phenotypes observed in the course of the RNAi studies were identical to those obtained by morpholino antisense oligo experiments and are reminiscent of macroevolutionary bauplan changes. The reported protocol will allow routine RNAi studies in marine invertebrates to be established.

Parts, Wholes, and Context in Reading: A Triple Dissociation by Denis G. Pelli and Katharine A. Tillman:

Research in object recognition has tried to distinguish holistic recognition from recognition by parts. One can also guess an object from its context. Words are objects, and how we recognize them is the core question of reading research. Do fast readers rely most on letter-by-letter decoding (i.e., recognition by parts), whole word shape, or sentence context? We manipulated the text to selectively knock out each source of information while sparing the others. Surprisingly, the effects of the knockouts on reading rate reveal a triple dissociation. Each reading process always contributes the same number of words per minute, regardless of whether the other processes are operating.

The Tricarboxylic Acid Cycle, an Ancient Metabolic Network with a Novel Twist by Ranji Singh, Vasu D. Appanna, Robert D. Hamel, Ryan J. Mailloux, Joseph Lemire, Daniel R. Chénier and Robin Bériault:

The tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle is an essential metabolic network in all oxidative organisms and provides precursors for anabolic processes and reducing factors (NADH and FADH2) that drive the generation of energy. Here, we show that this metabolic network is also an integral part of the oxidative defence machinery in living organisms and α-ketoglutarate (KG) is a key participant in the detoxification of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Its utilization as an anti-oxidant can effectively diminish ROS and curtail the formation of NADH, a situation that further impedes the release of ROS via oxidative phosphorylation. Thus, the increased production of KG mediated by NADP-dependent isocitrate dehydrogenase (NADP-ICDH) and its decreased utilization via the TCA cycle confer a unique strategy to modulate the cellular redox environment. Activities of α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase (KGDH), NAD-dependent isocitrate dehydrogenase (NAD-ICDH), and succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) were sharply diminished in the cellular systems exposed to conditions conducive to oxidative stress. These findings uncover an intricate link between TCA cycle and ROS homeostasis and may help explain the ineffective TCA cycle that characterizes various pathological conditions and ageing.

Rate of Decline of the Oriental White-Backed Vulture Population in India Estimated from a Survey of Diclofenac Residues in Carcasses of Ungulates by Yadvendradev Jhala, Rhys E. Green, Deborah J. Pain, Richard Cuthbert, Bindu Raghavan, Kalu Ram Senacha and Mark A. Taggart:

The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac is a major cause of the rapid declines in the Indian subcontinent of three species of vultures endemic to South Asia. The drug causes kidney failure and death in vultures. Exposure probably arises through vultures feeding on carcasses of domesticated ungulates treated with the drug. However, before the study reported here, it had not been established from field surveys of ungulate carcasses that a sufficient proportion was contaminated to cause the observed declines. We surveyed diclofenac concentrations in samples of liver from carcasses of domesticated ungulates in India in 2004-2005. We estimated the concentration of diclofenac in tissues available to vultures, relative to that in liver, and the proportion of vultures killed after feeding on a carcass with a known level of contamination. We assessed the impact of this mortality on vulture population trend with a population model. We expected levels of diclofenac found in ungulate carcasses in 2004-2005 to cause oriental white-backed vulture population declines of 80-99% per year, depending upon the assumptions used in the model. This compares with an observed rate of decline, from road transect counts, of 48% per year in 2000-2003. The precision of the estimate based upon carcass surveys is low and the two types of estimate were not significantly different. Our analyses indicate that the level of diclofenac contamination found in carcasses of domesticated ungulates in 2004-2005 was sufficient to account for the observed rapid decline of the oriental white-backed vulture in India. The methods we describe could be used again to assess changes in the effect on vulture population trend of diclofenac and similar drugs. In this way, the effectiveness of the recent ban in India on the manufacture and importation of diclofenac for veterinary use could be monitored.

Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward by Serge H. Ahmed, Fuschia Serre, Lauriane Cantin and Magalie Lenoir:

Refined sugars (e.g., sucrose, fructose) were absent in the diet of most people until very recently in human history. Today overconsumption of diets rich in sugars contributes together with other factors to drive the current obesity epidemic. Overconsumption of sugar-dense foods or beverages is initially motivated by the pleasure of sweet taste and is often compared to drug addiction. Though there are many biological commonalities between sweetened diets and drugs of abuse, the addictive potential of the former relative to the latter is currently unknown.

Here we report that when rats were allowed to choose mutually-exclusively between water sweetened with saccharin-an intense calorie-free sweetener-and intravenous cocaine-a highly addictive and harmful substance-the large majority of animals (94%) preferred the sweet taste of saccharin. The preference for saccharin was not attributable to its unnatural ability to induce sweetness without calories because the same preference was also observed with sucrose, a natural sugar. Finally, the preference for saccharin was not surmountable by increasing doses of cocaine and was observed despite either cocaine intoxication, sensitization or intake escalation-the latter being a hallmark of drug addiction.

Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants. In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants. The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.

Analysis of Expressed Sequence Tags of the Cyclically Parthenogenetic Rotifer Brachionus plicatilis by Atsushi Hagiwara, David Mark Welch, Yukari Tanaka, Koushirou Suga and Yoshitaka Sakakura:

Rotifers are among the most common non-arthropod animals and are the most experimentally tractable members of the basal assemblage of metazoan phyla known as Gnathifera. The monogonont rotifer Brachionus plicatilis is a developing model system for ecotoxicology, aquatic ecology, cryptic speciation, and the evolution of sex, and is an important food source for finfish aquaculture. However, basic knowledge of the genome and transcriptome of any rotifer species has been lacking.

We generated and partially sequenced a cDNA library from B. plicatilis and constructed a database of over 2300 expressed sequence tags corresponding to more than 450 transcripts. About 20% of the transcripts had no significant similarity to database sequences by BLAST; most of these contained open reading frames of significant length but few had recognized Pfam motifs. Sixteen transcripts accounted for 25% of the ESTs; four of these had no significant similarity to BLAST or Pfam databases. Putative up- and downstream untranslated regions are relatively short and AT rich. In contrast to bdelloid rotifers, there was no evidence of a conserved trans-spliced leader sequence among the transcripts and most genes were single-copy.

Despite the small size of this EST project it revealed several important features of the rotifer transcriptome and of individual monogonont genes. Because there is little genomic data for Gnathifera, the transcripts we found with no known function may represent genes that are species-, class-, phylum- or even superphylum-specific; the fact that some are among the most highly expressed indicates their importance. The absence of trans-spliced leader exons in this monogonont species contrasts with their abundance in bdelloid rotifers and indicates that the presence of this phenomenon can vary at the subphylum level. Our EST database provides a relatively large quantity of transcript-level data for B. plicatilis, and more generally of rotifers and other gnathiferan phyla, and can be browsed and searched at gmod.mbl.edu.

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