New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 20 new articles in PLoS ONE last night. 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, 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:

The Effects of Aging on Researchers' Publication and Citation Patterns:

The average age at which U.S. researchers receive their first grant from NIH has increased from 34.3 in 1970, to 41.7 in 2004. These data raise the crucial question of the effects of aging on the scientific productivity and impact of researchers. Drawing on a sizeable sample of 6,388 university professors in Quebec who have published at least one paper between 2000 and 2007, our results identify two turning points in the professors' careers. A first turning point is visible at age 40 years, where researchers start to rely on older literature and where their productivity increases at a slower pace--after having increased sharply since the beginning of their career. A second turning point can be seen around age 50, when researchers are the most productive whereas their average scientific impact is at its lowest. Our results also show that older professors publish fewer first-authored papers and move closer to the end of the list of co-authors. Although average scientific impact per paper decreases linearly until about age 50, the average number of papers in highly cited journals and among highly cited papers rises continuously until retirement. Our results show clearly that productivity and impact are not a simple and declining function of age and that we must take into account the collaborative aspects of scientific research. Science is a collective endeavor and, as our data shows, researchers of all ages play a significant role in its dynamic.

Chromosomal Inversions between Human and Chimpanzee Lineages Caused by Retrotransposons:

The long interspersed element-1 (LINE-1 or L1) and Alu elements are the most abundant mobile elements comprising 21% and 11% of the human genome, respectively. Since the divergence of human and chimpanzee lineages, these elements have vigorously created chromosomal rearrangements causing genomic difference between humans and chimpanzees by either increasing or decreasing the size of genome. Here, we report an exotic mechanism, retrotransposon recombination-mediated inversion (RRMI), that usually does not alter the amount of genomic material present. Through the comparison of the human and chimpanzee draft genome sequences, we identified 252 inversions whose respective inversion junctions can clearly be characterized. Our results suggest that L1 and Alu elements cause chromosomal inversions by either forming a secondary structure or providing a fragile site for double-strand breaks. The detailed analysis of the inversion breakpoints showed that L1 and Alu elements are responsible for at least 44% of the 252 inversion loci between human and chimpanzee lineages, including 49 RRMI loci. Among them, three RRMI loci inverted exonic regions in known genes, which implicates this mechanism in generating the genomic and phenotypic differences between human and chimpanzee lineages. This study is the first comprehensive analysis of mobile element bases inversion breakpoints between human and chimpanzee lineages, and highlights their role in primate genome evolution.

Is Replication the Gold Standard for Validating Genome-Wide Association Findings?:

With the advent of genome-wide association (GWA) studies, researchers are hoping that reliable genetic association of common human complex diseases/traits can be detected. Currently, there is an increasing enthusiasm about GWA and a number of GWA studies have been published. In the field a common practice is that replication should be used as the gold standard to validate an association finding. In this article, based on empirical and theoretical data, we emphasize that replication of GWA findings can be quite difficult, and should not always be expected, even when true variants are identified. The probability of replication becomes smaller with the increasing number of independent GWA studies if the power of individual replication studies is less than 100% (which is usually the case), and even a finding that is replicated may not necessarily be true. We argue that the field may have unreasonably high expectations on success of replication. We also wish to raise the question whether it is sufficient or necessary to treat replication as the ultimate and gold standard for defining true variants. We finally discuss the usefulness of integrating evidence from multiple levels/sources such as genetic epidemiological studies (at the DNA level), gene expression studies (at the RNA level), proteomics (at the protein level), and follow-up molecular and cellular studies for eventual validation and illumination of the functional relevance of the genes uncovered.

Compositional Genome Contexts Affect Gene Expression Control in Sea Urchin Embryo:

Gene expression is widely perceived as exclusively controlled by the information contained in cis-regulatory regions. These are built in a modular way, each module being a cluster of binding sites for the transcription factors that control the level, the location and the time at which gene transcription takes place. On the other hand, results from our laboratory have shown that gene expression is affected by the compositional properties (GC levels) of the isochores in which genes are embedded, i.e. the genome context. To clarify how compositional genomic properties affect the way cis-regulatory information is utilized, we have changed the genome context of a GFP-reporter gene containing the complete cis-regulatory region of the gene spdeadringer (spdri), expressed during sea urchin embryogenesis. We have observed that GC levels higher or lower than those found in the natural genome context can alter the reporter expression pattern. We explain this as the result of an interference with the functionality of specific modules in the gene's cis-regulatory region. From these observations we derive the notion that the compositional properties of the genome context can affect cis-regulatory control of gene expression. Therefore although the way a gene works depends on the information contained in its cis-regulatory region, availability of such information depends on the compositional properties of the genomic context.

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