New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 24 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:

When One Hemisphere Takes Control: Metacontrol in Pigeons (Columba livia):

Vertebrate brains are composed of two hemispheres that receive input, compute, and interact to form a unified response. How the partially different processes of both hemispheres are integrated to create a single output is largely unknown. In some cases one hemisphere takes charge of the response selection - a process known as metacontrol. Thus far, this phenomenon has only been shown in a handful of studies with primates, mostly conducted in humans. Metacontrol, however, is even more relevant for animals like birds with laterally placed eyes and complete chiasmatic decussation since visual input to the hemispheres is largely different. Homing pigeons (Columba livia) were trained with a color discrimination task. Each hemisphere was trained with a different color pair and therefore had a different experience. Subsequently, the pigeons were binocularly examined with two additional stimuli that combined the positive color of one hemisphere with a negative color that had been shown to the other, omitting the availability of a coherent solution and confronting the pigeons with a conflicting situation. Some of the pigeons responded to both stimuli, indicating that none of the hemispheres dominated the overall preference. Some birds, however, responded primarily to one of the conflicting stimuli, showing that they based their choice on the left- or right-monocularly learned color pair, indicating hemispheric metacontrol. We could demonstrate for the first time that metacontrol is a widespread phenomenon that also exists in birds, and thus in principle requires no corpus callosum. Our results are closely similar to those in humans: monocular performance was higher than binocular one and animals displayed different modes of hemispheric dominance. Thus, metacontrol is a dynamic and widely distributed process that possibly constitutes a requirement for all animals with a bipartite brain to confront the problem of choosing between two hemisphere-bound behavioral options.

DNA-Based Diet Analysis for Any Predator:

Prey DNA from diet samples can be used as a dietary marker; yet current methods for prey detection require a priori diet knowledge and/or are designed ad hoc, limiting their scope. I present a general approach to detect diverse prey in the feces or gut contents of predators. In the example outlined, I take advantage of the restriction site for the endonuclease Pac I which is present in 16S mtDNA of most Odontoceti mammals, but absent from most other relevant non-mammalian chordates and invertebrates. Thus in DNA extracted from feces of these mammalian predators Pac I will cleave and exclude predator DNA from a small region targeted by novel universal primers, while most prey DNA remain intact allowing prey selective PCR. The method was optimized using scat samples from captive bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) fed a diet of 6-10 prey species from three phlya. Up to five prey from two phyla were detected in a single scat and all but one minor prey item (2% of the overall diet) were detected across all samples. The same method was applied to scat samples from free-ranging bottlenose dolphins; up to seven prey taxa were detected in a single scat and 13 prey taxa from eight teleost families were identified in total. Data and further examples are provided to facilitate rapid transfer of this approach to any predator. This methodology should prove useful to zoologists using DNA-based diet techniques in a wide variety of study systems.

Screening for Coping Style Increases the Power of Gene Expression Studies:

Individuals of many vertebrate species show different stress coping styles and these have a striking influence on how gene expression shifts in response to a variety of challenges. This is clearly illustrated by a study in which common carp displaying behavioural predictors of different coping styles (characterised by a proactive, adrenaline-based or a reactive, cortisol-based response) were subjected to inflammatory challenge and specific gene transcripts measured in individual brains. Proactive and reactive fish differed in baseline gene expression and also showed diametrically opposite responses to the challenge for 80% of the genes investigated. Incorporating coping style as an explanatory variable can account for some the unexplained variation that is common in gene expression studies, can uncover important effects that would otherwise have passed unnoticed and greatly enhances the interpretive value of gene expression data.

Assembling the Marine Metagenome, One Cell at a Time:

The difficulty associated with the cultivation of most microorganisms and the complexity of natural microbial assemblages, such as marine plankton or human microbiome, hinder genome reconstruction of representative taxa using cultivation or metagenomic approaches. Here we used an alternative, single cell sequencing approach to obtain high-quality genome assemblies of two uncultured, numerically significant marine microorganisms. We employed fluorescence-activated cell sorting and multiple displacement amplification to obtain hundreds of micrograms of genomic DNA from individual, uncultured cells of two marine flavobacteria from the Gulf of Maine that were phylogenetically distant from existing cultured strains. Shotgun sequencing and genome finishing yielded 1.9 Mbp in 17 contigs and 1.5 Mbp in 21 contigs for the two flavobacteria, with estimated genome recoveries of about 91% and 78%, respectively. Only 0.24% of the assembling sequences were contaminants and were removed from further analysis using rigorous quality control. In contrast to all cultured strains of marine flavobacteria, the two single cell genomes were excellent Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) metagenome fragment recruiters, demonstrating their numerical significance in the ocean. The geographic distribution of GOS recruits along the Northwest Atlantic coast coincided with ocean surface currents. Metabolic reconstruction indicated diverse potential energy sources, including biopolymer degradation, proteorhodopsin photometabolism, and hydrogen oxidation. Compared to cultured relatives, the two uncultured flavobacteria have small genome sizes, few non-coding nucleotides, and few paralogous genes, suggesting adaptations to narrow ecological niches. These features may have contributed to the abundance of the two taxa in specific regions of the ocean, and may have hindered their cultivation. We demonstrate the power of single cell DNA sequencing to generate reference genomes of uncultured taxa from a complex microbial community of marine bacterioplankton. A combination of single cell genomics and metagenomics enabled us to analyze the genome content, metabolic adaptations, and biogeography of these taxa.

Biological Process Linkage Networks:

The traditional approach to studying complex biological networks is based on the identification of interactions between internal components of signaling or metabolic pathways. By comparison, little is known about interactions between higher order biological systems, such as biological pathways and processes.We propose a methodology for gleaning patterns of interactions between biological processes by analyzing protein-protein interactions, transcriptional co-expression and genetic interactions. At the heart of the methodology are the concept of Linked Processes and the resultant network of biological processes, the Process Linkage Network (PLN). We construct, catalogue, and analyze different types of PLNs derived from different data sources and different species. When applied to the Gene Ontology, many of the resulting links connect processes that are distant from each other in the hierarchy, even though the connection makes eminent sense biologically. Some others, however, carry an element of surprise and may reflect mechanisms that are unique to the organism under investigation. In this aspect our method complements the link structure between processes inherent in the Gene Ontology, which by its very nature is species-independent. As a practical application of the linkage of processes we demonstrate that it can be effectively used in protein function prediction, having the power to increase both the coverage and the accuracy of predictions, when carefully integrated into prediction methods. Our approach constitutes a promising new direction towards understanding the higher levels of organization of the cell as a system which should help current efforts to re-engineer ontologies and improve our ability to predict which proteins are involved in specific biological processes.


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ahh --- no i see it --- sorry to imply that your post from tomorrow (relative to this one) was incomplete now that I see your link to my PLoS One paper here --- I guess I just live in the future

Oh, no, it is that I am just too fast for anyone to keep up with me ;-)