New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 17 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, 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:

Individual Recognition in Domestic Cattle (Bos taurus): Evidence from 2D-Images of Heads from Different Breeds:

In order to maintain cohesion of groups, social animals need to process social information efficiently. Visual individual recognition, which is distinguished from mere visual discrimination, has been studied in only few mammalian species. In addition, most previous studies used either a small number of subjects or a few various views as test stimuli. Dairy cattle, as a domestic species allow the testing of a good sample size and provide a large variety of test stimuli due to the morphological diversity of breeds. Hence cattle are a suitable model for studying individual visual recognition. This study demonstrates that cattle display visual individual recognition and shows the effect of both familiarity and coat diversity in discrimination. We tested whether 8 Prim'Holstein heifers could recognize 2D-images of heads of one cow (face, profiles, ¾ views) from those of other cows. Experiments were based on a simultaneous discrimination paradigm through instrumental conditioning using food rewards. In Experiment 1, all images represented familiar cows (belonging to the same social group) from the Prim'Holstein breed. In Experiments 2, 3 and 4, images were from unfamiliar (unknown) individuals either from the same breed or other breeds. All heifers displayed individual recognition of familiar and unfamiliar individuals from their own breed. Subjects reached criterion sooner when recognizing a familiar individual than when recognizing an unfamiliar one (Exp 1: 3.1±0.7 vs. Exp 2: 5.2±1.2 sessions; Z = 1.99, N = 8, P = 0.046). In addition almost all subjects recognized unknown individuals from different breeds, however with greater difficulty. Our results demonstrated that cattle have efficient individual recognition based on categorization capacities. Social familiarity improved their performance. The recognition of individuals with very different coat characteristics from the subjects was the most difficult task. These results call for studies exploring the mechanisms involved in face recognition allowing interspecies comparisons, including humans.

Compactness Determines the Success of Cube and Octahedron Self-Assembly:

Nature utilizes self-assembly to fabricate structures on length scales ranging from the atomic to the macro scale. Self-assembly has emerged as a paradigm in engineering that enables the highly parallel fabrication of complex, and often three-dimensional, structures from basic building blocks. Although there have been several demonstrations of this self-assembly fabrication process, rules that govern a priori design, yield and defect tolerance remain unknown. In this paper, we have designed the first model experimental system for systematically analyzing the influence of geometry on the self-assembly of 200 and 500 µm cubes and octahedra from tethered, multi-component, two-dimensional (2D) nets. We examined the self-assembly of all eleven 2D nets that can fold into cubes and octahedra, and we observed striking correlations between the compactness of the nets and the success of the assembly. Two measures of compactness were used for the nets: the number of vertex or topological connections and the radius of gyration. The success of the self-assembly process was determined by measuring the yield and classifying the defects. Our observation of increased self-assembly success with decreased radius of gyration and increased topological connectivity resembles theoretical models that describe the role of compactness in protein folding. Because of the differences in size and scale between our system and the protein folding system, we postulate that this hypothesis may be more universal to self-assembling systems in general. Apart from being intellectually intriguing, the findings could enable the assembly of more complicated polyhedral structures (e.g. dodecahedra) by allowing a priori selection of a net that might self-assemble with high yields.

Phytoliths Analysis for the Discrimination of Foxtail Millet (Setaria italica) and Common Millet (Panicum miliaceum):

Foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and Common millet (Panicum miliaceum) are the oldest domesticated dry farming crops in Eurasia. Identifying these two millets in the archaeobotanical remains are still problematic, especially because the millet grains preserve only when charred. Phytoliths analysis provides a viable method for identifying this important crop. However, to date, the identification of millet phytoliths has been questionable, because very little study has been done on their morphometry and taxonomy. Particularly, no clear diagnostic feature has been used to distinguish between Foxtail millet and Common millet. Here we examined the anatomy and silicon structure patterns in the glumes, lemmas, and paleas from the inflorescence bracts in 27 modern plants of Foxtail millet, Common millet, and closely related grasses, using light microscopy with phase-contrast and microscopic interferometer. Our research shows that five key diagnostic characteristics in phytolith morphology can be used to distinguish Foxtail millet from Common millet based on the presence of cross-shaped type, regularly arranged papillae, Ω-undulated type, endings structures of epidermal long cell, and surface ridgy line sculpture in the former species. We have established identification criteria that, when used together, give the only reliable way of distinguishing between Foxtail millet and Common millet species based on their phytoliths characteristics, thus making a methodological contribution to phytolith research. Our findings also have important implications in the fields of plant taxonomy, agricultural archaeology, and the culture history of ancient civilizations.

Ancient Horizontal Gene Transfer from Bacteria Enhances Biosynthetic Capabilities of Fungi:

Polyketides are natural products with a wide range of biological functions and pharmaceutical applications. Discovery and utilization of polyketides can be facilitated by understanding the evolutionary processes that gave rise to the biosynthetic machinery and the natural product potential of extant organisms. Gene duplication and subfunctionalization, as well as horizontal gene transfer are proposed mechanisms in the evolution of biosynthetic gene clusters. To explain the amount of homology in some polyketide synthases in unrelated organisms such as bacteria and fungi, interkingdom horizontal gene transfer has been evoked as the most likely evolutionary scenario. However, the origin of the genes and the direction of the transfer remained elusive. We used comparative phylogenetics to infer the ancestor of a group of polyketide synthase genes involved in antibiotic and mycotoxin production. We aligned keto synthase domain sequences of all available fungal 6-methylsalicylic acid (6-MSA)-type PKSs and their closest bacterial relatives. To assess the role of symbiotic fungi in the evolution of this gene we generated 24 6-MSA synthase sequence tags from lichen-forming fungi. Our results support an ancient horizontal gene transfer event from an actinobacterial source into ascomycete fungi, followed by gene duplication. Given that actinobacteria are unrivaled producers of biologically active compounds, such as antibiotics, it appears particularly promising to study biosynthetic genes of actinobacterial origin in fungi. The large number of 6-MSA-type PKS sequences found in lichen-forming fungi leads us hypothesize that the evolution of typical lichen compounds, such as orsellinic acid derivatives, was facilitated by the gain of this bacterial polyketide synthase.

More like this

This past week I managed to read Peter Dodson's very helpful book The Horned Dinosaurs from cover-to-cover (in addition to finishing some books on Megalania, dinosaur reproduction, philosophy, etc. A massive book review is forthcoming), one of my most favorite sections being where Dodson walks the…
Why does infection with bacteria or viruses make you feel sick? Prof. Guy Shakhar and Dr. Keren Shakhar have proposed that your symptoms are not just a byproduct of your body’s attempt to get rid of the infection. It is your genes’ way of ensuring they are passed down. The long and short of their…
Dear inventors, My personal experience (and what I have heard from the many other academics with whom I communicate) suggests a number of inventions that would sell a bazillion units at colleges and universities world-wide. For your convenience, I list the items that would have the biggest demand…
Thanks Johns Hopkins University for posting about your involvement in the USA Science and Engineering Expo and all the cool things you plan to show at the Expo. It's going to be great! October 18, 2010 By Phil Sneiderman Homewood Filed under Whiting School of Engineering Six teams of Johns Hopkins…