New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 25 new articles in PLoS ONE today and there were 21 yesterday. 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:

Predicting Visibility of Aircraft:

Visual detection of aircraft by human observers is an important element of aviation safety. To assess and ensure safety, it would be useful to be able to be able to predict the visibility, to a human observer, of an aircraft of specified size, shape, distance, and coloration. Examples include assuring safe separation among aircraft and between aircraft and unmanned vehicles, design of airport control towers, and efforts to enhance or suppress the visibility of military and rescue vehicles. We have recently developed a simple metric of pattern visibility, the Spatial Standard Observer (SSO). In this report we examine whether the SSO can predict visibility of simulated aircraft images. We constructed a set of aircraft images from three-dimensional computer graphic models, and measured the luminance contrast threshold for each image from three human observers. The data were well predicted by the SSO. Finally, we show how to use the SSO to predict visibility range for aircraft of arbitrary size, shape, distance, and coloration.

Ecological Release and Venom Evolution of a Predatory Marine Snail at Easter Island:

Ecological release is coupled with adaptive radiation and ecological diversification yet little is known about the molecular basis of phenotypic changes associated with this phenomenon. The venomous, predatory marine gastropod Conus miliaris has undergone ecological release and exhibits increased dietary breadth at Easter Island. We examined the extent of genetic differentiation of two genes expressed in the venom of C. miliaris among samples from Easter Island, American Samoa and Guam. The population from Easter Island exhibits unique frequencies of alleles that encode distinct peptides at both loci. Levels of divergence at these loci exceed observed levels of divergence observed at a mitochondrial gene region at Easter Island. Patterns of genetic variation at two genes expressed in the venom of this C. miliaris suggest that selection has operated at these genes and contributed to the divergence of venom composition at Easter Island. These results show that ecological release is associated with strong selection pressures that promote the evolution of new phenotypes.

Evolution of Gigantism in Amphiumid Salamanders:

The Amphiumidae contains three species of elongate, permanently aquatic salamanders with four diminutive limbs that append one, two, or three toes. Two of the species, Amphiuma means and A. tridactylum, are among the largest salamanders in the world, reaching lengths of more than one meter, whereas the third species (A. pholeter), extinct amphiumids, and closely related salamander families are relatively small. Amphiuma means and A. tridactylum are widespread species and live in a wide range of lowland aquatic habitats on the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States, whereas A. pholeter is restricted to very specialized organic muck habitats and is syntopic with A. means. Here we present analyses of sequences of mitochondrial and nuclear loci from across the distribution of the three taxa to assess lineage diversity, relationships, and relative timing of divergence in amphiumid salamanders. In addition we analyze the evolution of gigantism in the clade. Our analyses indicate three lineages that have diverged since the late Miocene, that correspond to the three currently recognized species, but the two gigantic species are not each other's closest relatives. Given that the most closely related salamander families and fossil amphiumids from the Upper Cretaceous and Paleocene are relatively small, our results suggest at least two extreme changes in body size within the Amphuimidae. Gigantic body size either evolved once as the ancestral condition of modern amphiumas, with a subsequent strong size reduction in A. pholeter, or gigantism independently evolved twice in the modern species, A. means and A. tridactylum. These patterns are concordant with differences in habitat breadth and range size among lineages, and have implications for reproductive isolation and diversification of amphiumid salamanders.

Spatial Representations Are Specific to Different Domains of Knowledge:

There is evidence that many abstract concepts are represented cognitively in a spatial format. However, it is unknown whether similar spatial processes are employed in different knowledge domains, or whether individuals exhibit similar spatial profiles within and across domains. This research investigated similarities in spatial representation in two knowledge domains - mathematics and music. Sixty-one adults completed analogous number magnitude and pitch discrimination tasks: the Spatial-Numerical Association of Response Codes and Spatial-Musical Association of Response Codes tasks. Subgroups of individuals with different response patterns were identified through cluster analyses. For both the mathematical and musical tasks, approximately half of the participants showed the expected spatial judgment effect when explicitly cued to focus on the spatial properties of the stimuli. Despite this, performances on the two tasks were largely independent. Consistent with previous research, the study provides evidence for the spatial representation of number and pitch in the majority of individuals. However, there was little evidence to support the claim that the same spatial representation processes underpin mathematical and musical judgments.

Musical Aptitude Is Associated with AVPR1A-Haplotypes:

Artistic creativity forms the basis of music culture and music industry. Composing, improvising and arranging music are complex creative functions of the human brain, which biological value remains unknown. We hypothesized that practicing music is social communication that needs musical aptitude and even creativity in music. In order to understand the neurobiological basis of music in human evolution and communication we analyzed polymorphisms of the arginine vasopressin receptor 1A (AVPR1A), serotonin transporter (SLC6A4), catecol-O-methyltranferase (COMT), dopamin receptor D2 (DRD2) and tyrosine hydroxylase 1 (TPH1), genes associated with social bonding and cognitive functions in 19 Finnish families (n = 343 members) with professional musicians and/or active amateurs. All family members were tested for musical aptitude using the auditory structuring ability test (Karma Music test; KMT) and Carl Seashores tests for pitch (SP) and for time (ST). Data on creativity in music (composing, improvising and/or arranging music) was surveyed using a web-based questionnaire. Here we show for the first time that creative functions in music have a strong genetic component (h2 = .84; composing h2 = .40; arranging h2 = .46; improvising h2 = .62) in Finnish multigenerational families. We also show that high music test scores are significantly associated with creative functions in music (p<.0001 we="" discovered="" an="" overall="" haplotype="" association="" with="" avpr1a="" gene="" rs1="" and="" rs3="" kmt="" corrected="" p="0.00002)," sp="" combined="" music="" test="" scores="" avr="" further="" suggested="" a="" positive="" st="" comb="" using="" haplotype-based="" hbat.="" the="" results="" suggest="" that="" neurobiology="" of="" perception="" production="" is="" likely="" to="" be="" related="" pathways="" affecting="" intrinsic="" attachment="" behavior.="">

The Oxytocin Receptor (OXTR) Contributes to Prosocial Fund Allocations in the Dictator Game and the Social Value Orientations Task:

Economic games observe social decision making in the laboratory that involves real money payoffs. Previously we have shown that allocation of funds in the Dictator Game (DG), a paradigm that illustrates costly altruistic behavior, is partially determined by promoter-region repeat region variants in the arginine vasopressin 1a receptor gene (AVPR1a). In the current investigation, the gene encoding the related oxytocin receptor (OXTR) was tested for association with the DG and a related paradigm, the Social Values Orientation (SVO) task. Association (101 male and 102 female students) using a robust-family based test between 15 single tagging SNPs (htSNPs) across the OXTR was demonstrated with both the DG and SVO. Three htSNPs across the gene region showed significant association with both of the two games. The most significant association was observed with rs1042778 (p = 0.001). Haplotype analysis also showed significant associations for both DG and SVO. Following permutation test adjustment, significance was observed for 2-5 locus haplotypes (p

Transmission of Facial Expressions of Emotion Co-Evolved with Their Efficient Decoding in the Brain: Behavioral and Brain Evidence:

Competent social organisms will read the social signals of their peers. In primates, the face has evolved to transmit the organism's internal emotional state. Adaptive action suggests that the brain of the receiver has co-evolved to efficiently decode expression signals. Here, we review and integrate the evidence for this hypothesis. With a computational approach, we co-examined facial expressions as signals for data transmission and the brain as receiver and decoder of these signals. First, we show in a model observer that facial expressions form a lowly correlated signal set. Second, using time-resolved EEG data, we show how the brain uses spatial frequency information impinging on the retina to decorrelate expression categories. Between 140 to 200 ms following stimulus onset, independently in the left and right hemispheres, an information processing mechanism starts locally with encoding the eye, irrespective of expression, followed by a zooming out to processing the entire face, followed by a zooming back in to diagnostic features (e.g. the opened eyes in "fear", the mouth in "happy"). A model categorizer demonstrates that at 200 ms, the left and right brain have represented enough information to predict behavioral categorization performance.

Is Visual Selective Attention in Deaf Individuals Enhanced or Deficient? The Case of the Useful Field of View:

Early deafness leads to enhanced attention in the visual periphery. Yet, whether this enhancement confers advantages in everyday life remains unknown, as deaf individuals have been shown to be more distracted by irrelevant information in the periphery than their hearing peers. Here, we show that, in a complex attentional task, a performance advantage results for deaf individuals. We employed the Useful Field of View (UFOV) which requires central target identification concurrent with peripheral target localization in the presence of distractors - a divided, selective attention task. First, the comparison of deaf and hearing adults with or without sign language skills establishes that deafness and not sign language use drives UFOV enhancement. Second, UFOV performance was enhanced in deaf children, but only after 11 years of age. This work demonstrates that, following early auditory deprivation, visual attention resources toward the periphery slowly get augmented to eventually result in a clear behavioral advantage by pre-adolescence on a selective visual attention task.

Nutrient Enrichment Increases Mortality of Mangroves:

Nutrient enrichment of the coastal zone places intense pressure on marine communities. Previous studies have shown that growth of intertidal mangrove forests is accelerated with enhanced nutrient availability. However, nutrient enrichment favours growth of shoots relative to roots, thus enhancing growth rates but increasing vulnerability to environmental stresses that adversely affect plant water relations. Two such stresses are high salinity and low humidity, both of which require greater investment in roots to meet the demands for water by the shoots. Here we present data from a global network of sites that documents enhanced mortality of mangroves with experimental nutrient enrichment at sites where high sediment salinity was coincident with low rainfall and low humidity. Thus the benefits of increased mangrove growth in response to coastal eutrophication is offset by the costs of decreased resilience due to mortality during drought, with mortality increasing with soil water salinity along climatic gradients.

Body Awareness: Construct and Self-Report Measures:

Heightened body awareness can be adaptive and maladaptive. Improving body awareness has been suggested as an approach for treating patients with conditions such as chronic pain, obesity and post-traumatic stress disorder. We assessed the psychometric quality of selected self-report measures and examined their items for underlying definitions of the construct. Abstracts were screened; potentially relevant instruments were obtained and systematically reviewed. Instruments were excluded if they exclusively measured anxiety, covered emotions without related physical sensations, used observer ratings only, or were unobtainable. We restricted our study to the proprioceptive and interoceptive channels of body awareness. The psychometric properties of each scale were rated using a structured evaluation according to the method of McDowell. Following a working definition of the multi-dimensional construct, an inter-disciplinary team systematically examined the items of existing body awareness instruments, identified the dimensions queried and used an iterative qualitative process to refine the dimensions of the construct. From 1,825 abstracts, 39 instruments were screened. 12 were included for psychometric evaluation. Only two were rated as high standard for reliability, four for validity. Four domains of body awareness with 11 sub-domains emerged. Neither a single nor a compilation of several instruments covered all dimensions. Key domains that might potentially differentiate adaptive and maladaptive aspects of body awareness were missing in the reviewed instruments. Existing self-report instruments do not address important domains of the construct of body awareness, are unable to discern between adaptive and maladaptive aspects of body awareness, or exhibit other psychometric limitations. Restricting the construct to its proprio- and interoceptive channels, we explore the current understanding of the multi-dimensional construct and suggest next steps for further research.

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