New and Exciting in PLoS Community Journals

New articles in PLoS Pathogens, PLoS Computational Biology and PLoS Genetics were published on Friday. My picks for this week are:

Influenza Virus Transmission Is Dependent on Relative Humidity and Temperature:

In temperate regions influenza epidemics recur with marked seasonality: in the northern hemisphere the influenza season spans November to March, while in the southern hemisphere epidemics last from May until September. Although seasonality is one of the most familiar features of influenza, it is also one of the least understood. Indoor crowding during cold weather, seasonal fluctuations in host immune responses, and environmental factors, including relative humidity, temperature, and UV radiation have all been suggested to account for this phenomenon, but none of these hypotheses has been tested directly. Using the guinea pig model, we have evaluated the effects of temperature and relative humidity on influenza virus spread. By housing infected and naïve guinea pigs together in an environmental chamber, we carried out transmission experiments under conditions of controlled temperature and humidity. We found that low relative humidities of 20%-35% were most favorable, while transmission was completely blocked at a high relative humidity of 80%. Furthermore, when guinea pigs were kept at 5 °C, transmission occurred with greater frequency than at 20 °C, while at 30 °C, no transmission was detected. Our data implicate low relative humidities produced by indoor heating and cold temperatures as features of winter that favor influenza virus spread.

Brightness and Darkness as Perceptual Dimensions:

Vision scientists have long adhered to the classic opponent-coding theory of vision, which states that bright-dark, red-green, and blue-yellow form mutually exclusive color pairs. According to this theory, it is not possible to see both brightness and darkness at a single spatial location, or an extended set of locations, such as a uniform surface. One corollary of this statement is that all perceivable grey shades vary along a continuum from bright to dark. At first glance, the notion that brightness and darkness cannot coexist on a single surface accords with our common-sense notion that a given grey shade cannot be simultaneously both brighter and darker than any other grey shade. The results presented here suggest that this common-sense notion is not supported by experimental data. Our results imply that a given grey shade can indeed be simultaneously brighter and darker than another grey shade. This seemingly paradoxical conclusion arises naturally if one assumes that brightness and darkness constitute the dimensions of a two-dimensional perceptual space in which points represent grey shades. Our results may encourage scientists working in related fields to question the assumption that perceptual variables, rather than sensory variables, are encoded in opponent pairs.

Copy Number Variants and Common Disorders: Filling the Gaps and Exploring Complexity in Genome-Wide Association Studies:

Genome-wide association scans (GWASs) using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been completed successfully for several common disorders and have detected over 30 new associations. Considering the large sample sizes and genome-wide SNP coverage of the scans, one might have expected many of the common variants underpinning the genetic component of various disorders to have been identified by now. However, these studies have not evaluated the contribution of other forms of genetic variation, such as structural variation, mainly in the form of copy number variants (CNVs). Known CNVs account for over 15% of the assembled human genome sequence. Since CNVs are not easily tagged by SNPs, might have a wide range of copy number variability, and often fall in genomic regions not well covered by whole-genome arrays or not genotyped by the HapMap project, current GWASs have largely missed the contribution of CNVs to complex disorders. In fact, some CNVs have already been reported to show association with several complex disorders using candidate gene/region approaches, underpinning the importance of regions not investigated in current GWASs. This reveals the need for new generation arrays (some already in the market) and the use of tailored approaches to explore the full dimension of genome variability beyond the single nucleotide scale.

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