New and Exciting in PLoS this week

Lots of cool stuff at PLoS lately....

First, there is a great review in PLoS Medicine, that should be of interest to readers: Plague: Past, Present, and Future:

The causative bacterium (Yersinia pestis) was discovered by Yersin in 1894 [11] (see also [63]). Case-fatality ratio varies from 30% to 100%, if left untreated. Plague is endemic in many countries in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. More than 90% of cases are currently being reported from Africa.

Clinical presentation: After an incubation period of 3-7 days, patients typically experience a sudden onset of fever, chills, headaches, body aches, weakness, vomiting, and nausea. Clinical plague infection manifests itself in three forms, depending on the route of infection: bubonic, septicaemic, and pneumonic. The bubonic form is the most common, resulting from the bite of an infected flea. The pneumonic form initially is directly transmitted from human to human via inhalation of infected respiratory droplets.

Treatment: Rapid diagnosis and treatment are essential to reduce the risk of complications and death. Streptomycin, tetracyclines, and sulfonamides are the standard treatment. Gentamicin and fluoroquinolones may represent alternatives when the above antibiotics are not available. Patients with pneumonic plague must be isolated to avoid respiratory transmission.

Challenges ahead: Biological diagnosis of plague remains a challenge because most human cases appear in remote areas with scarce laboratory resources. So far, the main confirmation techniques were based on the isolation of Y. pestis (requiring a minimum of 4 days). The recent development of rapid diagnostic tests, now considered a confirmation method in endemic areas, opens new possibilities in terms of surveillance and case management.

A number of sciencebloggers are writing about the Plague these days, most notably Shelley Batts and Tara Smith so check out their posts as well.

Second, there is an exciting new article in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, arguing that Columbus brought syphilis from the New World back to the Old World:

On the Origin of the Treponematoses: A Phylogenetic Approach:

Since the first recorded epidemic of syphilis in 1495, controversy has surrounded the origins of the bacterium Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum and its relationship to the pathogens responsible for the other treponemal diseases: yaws, endemic syphilis, and pinta. Some researchers have argued that the syphilis-causing bacterium, or its progenitor, was brought from the New World to Europe by Christopher Columbus and his men, while others maintain that the treponematoses, including syphilis, have a much longer history on the European continent. We applied phylogenetics to this problem, using data from 21 genetic regions examined in 26 geographically disparate strains of pathogenic Treponema. Of all the strains examined, the venereal syphilis-causing strains originated most recently and were more closely related to yaws-causing strains from South America than to other non-venereal strains. Old World yaws-causing strains occupied a basal position on the tree, indicating that they arose first in human history, and a simian strain of T. pallidum was found to be indistinguishable from them. Our results lend support to the Columbian theory of syphilis's origin while suggesting that the non-sexually transmitted subspecies arose earlier in the Old World. This study represents the first attempt to address the problem of the origin of syphilis using molecular genetics, as well as the first source of information regarding the genetic make-up of non-venereal strains from the Western hemisphere.

Tara Smith and Greg Laden have posted thoughtful reviews of this paper yesterday - check them out.

Third, there are 26 new articles on PLoS ONE this week, including:

Potential Impacts of Climatic Change on European Breeding Birds:

Climatic change is expected to lead to changes in species' geographical ranges. Adaptation strategies for biodiversity conservation require quantitative estimates of the magnitude, direction and rates of these potential changes. Such estimates are of greatest value when they are made for large ensembles of species and for extensive (sub-continental or continental) regions. For six climate scenarios for 2070-99 changes have been estimated for 431 European breeding bird species using models relating species' distributions in Europe to climate. Mean range centroid potentially shifted 258-882 km in a direction between 341° (NNW) and 45° (NE), depending upon the climate scenario considered. Potential future range extent averaged 72-89% of the present range, and overlapped the present range by an average of 31-53% of the extent of the present range. Even if potential range changes were realised, the average number of species breeding per 50Ã50 km grid square would decrease by 6·8-23·2%. Many species endemic or near-endemic to Europe have little or no overlap between their present and potential future ranges; such species face an enhanced extinction risk as a consequence of climatic change. Although many human activities exert pressures upon wildlife, the magnitude of the potential impacts estimated for European breeding birds emphasises the importance of climatic change. The development of adaptation strategies for biodiversity conservation in the face of climatic change is an urgent need; such strategies must take into account quantitative evidence of potential climatic change impacts such as is presented here.

Climate Influence on Deep Sea Populations:

Dynamics of biological processes on the deep-sea floor are traditionally thought to be controlled by vertical sinking of particles from the euphotic zone at a seasonal scale. However, little is known about the influence of lateral particle transport from continental margins to deep-sea ecosystems. To address this question, we report here how the formation of dense shelf waters and their subsequent downslope cascade, a climate induced phenomenon, affects the population of the deep-sea shrimp Aristeus antennatus. We found evidence that strong currents associated with intense cascading events correlates with the disappearance of this species from its fishing grounds, producing a temporary fishery collapse. Despite this initial negative effect, landings increase between 3 and 5 years after these major events, preceded by an increase of juveniles. The transport of particulate organic matter associated with cascading appears to enhance the recruitment of this deep-sea living resource, apparently mitigating the general trend of overexploitation. Because cascade of dense water from continental shelves is a global phenomenon, we anticipate that its influence on deep-sea ecosystems and fisheries worldwide should be larger than previously thought.

Antibiotics Threaten Wildlife: Circulating Quinolone Residues and Disease in Avian Scavengers:

Antibiotic residues that may be present in carcasses of medicated livestock could pass to and greatly reduce scavenger wildlife populations. We surveyed residues of the quinolones enrofloxacin and its metabolite ciprofloxacin and other antibiotics (amoxicillin and oxytetracycline) in nestling griffon Gyps fulvus, cinereous Aegypius monachus and Egyptian Neophron percnopterus vultures in central Spain. We found high concentrations of antibiotics in the plasma of many nestling cinereous (57%) and Egyptian (40%) vultures. Enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin were also found in liver samples of all dead cinereous vultures. This is the first report of antibiotic residues in wildlife. We also provide evidence of a direct association between antibiotic residues, primarily quinolones, and severe disease due to bacterial and fungal pathogens. Our results indicate that, by damaging the liver and kidney and through the acquisition and proliferation of pathogens associated with the depletion of lymphoid organs, continuous exposure to antibiotics could increase mortality rates, at least in cinereous vultures. If antibiotics ingested with livestock carrion are clearly implicated in the decline of the vultures in central Spain then it should be considered a primary concern for conservation of their populations.

Auditory ERPs to Stimulus Deviance in an Awake Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes): Towards Hominid Cognitive Neurosciences:

For decades, the chimpanzee, phylogenetically closest to humans, has been analyzed intensively in comparative cognitive studies. Other than the accumulation of behavioral data, the neural basis for cognitive processing in the chimpanzee remains to be clarified. To increase our knowledge on the evolutionary and neural basis of human cognition, comparative neurophysiological studies exploring endogenous neural activities in the awake state are needed. However, to date, such studies have rarely been reported in non-human hominid species, due to the practical difficulties in conducting non-invasive measurements on awake individuals. We measured auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) of a fully awake chimpanzee, with reference to a well-documented component of human studies, namely mismatch negativity (MMN). In response to infrequent, deviant tones that were delivered in a uniform sound stream, a comparable ERP component could be detected as negative deflections in early latencies. The present study reports the MMN-like component in a chimpanzee for the first time. In human studies, various ERP components, including MMN, are well-documented indicators of cognitive and neural processing. The results of the present study validate the use of non-invasive ERP measurements for studies on cognitive and neural processing in chimpanzees, and open the way for future studies comparing endogenous neural activities between humans and chimpanzees. This signifies an essential step in hominid cognitive neurosciences.

Distortions of Subjective Time Perception Within and Across Senses:

The ability to estimate the passage of time is of fundamental importance for perceptual and cognitive processes. One experience of time is the perception of duration, which is not isomorphic to physical duration and can be distorted by a number of factors. Yet, the critical features generating these perceptual shifts in subjective duration are not understood. We used prospective duration judgments within and across sensory modalities to examine the effect of stimulus predictability and feature change on the perception of duration. First, we found robust distortions of perceived duration in auditory, visual and auditory-visual presentations despite the predictability of the feature changes in the stimuli. For example, a looming disc embedded in a series of steady discs led to time dilation, whereas a steady disc embedded in a series of looming discs led to time compression. Second, we addressed whether visual (auditory) inputs could alter the perception of duration of auditory (visual) inputs. When participants were presented with incongruent audio-visual stimuli, the perceived duration of auditory events could be shortened or lengthened by the presence of conflicting visual information; however, the perceived duration of visual events was seldom distorted by the presence of auditory information and was never perceived shorter than their actual durations. These results support the existence of multisensory interactions in the perception of duration and, importantly, suggest that vision can modify auditory temporal perception in a pure timing task. Insofar as distortions in subjective duration can neither be accounted for by the unpredictability of an auditory, visual or auditory-visual event, we propose that it is the intrinsic features of the stimulus that critically affect subjective time distortions.

And don't forget that the Journal Club is ongoing on this article so join in the discussion....

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