New and Exciting in PLoS this week

Just trying to catch up with the publicartions in various PLoS Journals this past week. Here are some interesting titles.

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, Mendeley, 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:

What a Plant Sounds Like: The Statistics of Vegetation Echoes as Received by Echolocating Bats:

More than 800 species of bats perceive their surroundings through echolocation. They emit ultrasonic pulses and analyze the information conveyed in the echoes returning from objects in their surroundings. This enables bats to orient in space, to acquire food and to perfectly function in complete darkness. In the absence of light, echoes constitute a major part of the sensory world of bats. Understanding their characteristics can thus help to shed light on the echolocation sensory system. The goal of this work is to study the characteristics of natural plant echoes. Plant echoes are very abundant in the world of the bats and are used by them to find food sources and to navigate. We show that some of the features of the echoes can be explained from the physical properties of the plant they were sampled from (e.g., its leaf size and density). We then analyze the effects of the sensory system on the echoes and suggest that they improve the representation of the echoes in a way that enhances the information that is most reliable for the bats.

The Genomics of Speciation in Drosophila: Diversity, Divergence, and Introgression Estimated Using Low-Coverage Genome Sequencing:

The transformation of populations into distinct species depends on whether hybridization, recombination, and subsequent gene introgression can be suppressed between diverging species. We use partial genome sequences to reconstruct this evolutionary process in the Drosophila pseudoobscura species subgroup, which includes the hybridizing species pair D. pseudoobscura pseudoobscura and D. persimilis. Recent models suggest that chromosomal inversions can facilitate the persistence of hybridizing species because of their effects on recombination, whereby inverted regions would exhibit higher nucleotide divergence than non-inverted regions. Indeed, D. pseudoobscura-D. persimilis nucleotide divergence outside these inverted regions is lower than within or near inversions, resembling D. ps. pseudoobscura levels of within-species nucleotide diversity. We also observe that recombination suppression in F1 hybrids extends greater than 2 Mbp outside the inversion breakpoints. Furthermore, when genomic sequence of D. persimilis is compared to two sister subspecies--the hybridizing subspecies, D. ps. pseudoobscura, and a non-hybridizing control subspecies, D. ps. bogotana--autosomal divergence is lower in the former, demonstrating recent gene exchange. These lines of evidence support a speciation model in which the two hybridizing species persist despite the presence of recent genic introgression in collinear regions of the genome because of the reduced recombinational effects of the inversions that distinguish them.

A Compact Representation of Drawing Movements with Sequences of Parabolic Primitives:

Although our movements are flexible and versatile, they are nonetheless highly stereotypical. This versatility is similar to that of natural language sentences, which are composed of words which, in turn, are constructed from a small alphabet of elementary phonemes. Parabolic drawings are simple, smooth and remain parabolic even when undergoing a specific kind of geometric transformations. Smoothness, invariance and compactness of representation are important in motion planning and in visual feedback processing. Hence stereotypical parabolic sub-movements may serve as appropriate building blocks of complex movements. Given the similarities between motor organization in monkeys and humans and the greater opportunity to record brain activities in monkeys here we study the spontaneous emergence of stereotypical arm movements in monkeys following practice. We show that practice has indeed led to the emergence of a small alphabet of parabolic elements during spontaneous drawing movements. We further use this alphabet to study sequences of parabolic sub-movements with respect to possible decisions concerning the animal's choice of what elements to concatenate into words and sentences. We also propose that the relative simplicity of movement data compared, for example, to acoustic or semantic data makes their analysis a useful tool in studies of binding and cognitive processing.

Rhythms of Consciousness: Binocular Rivalry Reveals Large-Scale Oscillatory Network Dynamics Mediating Visual Perception:

Consciousness has been proposed to emerge from functionally integrated large-scale ensembles of gamma-synchronous neural populations that form and dissolve at a frequency in the theta band. We propose that discrete moments of perceptual experience are implemented by transient gamma-band synchronization of relevant cortical regions, and that disintegration and reintegration of these assemblies is time-locked to ongoing theta oscillations. In support of this hypothesis we provide evidence that (1) perceptual switching during binocular rivalry is time-locked to gamma-band synchronizations which recur at a theta rate, indicating that the onset of new conscious percepts coincides with the emergence of a new gamma-synchronous assembly that is locked to an ongoing theta rhythm; (2) localization of the generators of these gamma rhythms reveals recurrent prefrontal and parietal sources; (3) theta modulation of gamma-band synchronization is observed between and within the activated brain regions. These results suggest that ongoing theta-modulated-gamma mechanisms periodically reintegrate a large-scale prefrontal-parietal network critical for perceptual experience. Moreover, activation and network inclusion of inferior temporal cortex and motor cortex uniquely occurs on the cycle immediately preceding responses signaling perceptual switching. This suggests that the essential prefrontal-parietal oscillatory network is expanded to include additional cortical regions relevant to tasks and perceptions furnishing consciousness at that moment, in this case image processing and response initiation, and that these activations occur within a time frame consistent with the notion that conscious processes directly affect behaviour.

Hair Sheep Blood, Citrated or Defibrinated, Fulfills All Requirements of Blood Agar for Diagnostic Microbiology Laboratory Tests:

Blood agar is used for the identification and antibiotic susceptibility testing of many bacterial pathogens. In the developing world, microbiologists use human blood agar because of the high cost and inhospitable conditions for raising wool sheep or horses to supply blood. Many pathogens either fail to grow entirely or exhibit morphologies and hemolytic patterns on human blood agar that confound colony recognition. Furthermore, human blood can be hazardous to handle due to HIV and hepatitis [1], [2]. This study investigated whether blood from hair sheep, a hardy, low-maintenance variety of sheep adapted for hot climates, was suitable for routine clinical microbiology studies. Hair sheep blood obtained by jugular venipuncture was anticoagulated by either manual defibrination or collection in human blood bank bags containing citrate-phosphate-dextrose. Trypticase soy 5% blood agar was made from both forms of hair sheep blood and commercial defibrinated wool sheep blood. Growth characteristics, colony morphologies, and hemolytic patterns of selected human pathogens, including several streptococcal species, were evaluated. Specialized identification tests, including CAMP test, reverse CAMP test, and satellite colony formation with Haemophilus influenzae and Abiotrophia defectiva were also performed. Mueller-Hinton blood agar plates prepared from the three blood types were compared in antibiotic susceptibility tests by disk diffusion and E-test. The results of all studies showed that blood agar prepared from citrated hair sheep blood is suitable for microbiological tests used in routine identification and susceptibility profiling of human pathogens. The validation of citrated hair sheep blood eliminates the labor-intensive and equipment-requiring process of manual defibrination. Use of hair sheep blood, in lieu of human blood currently used by many developing world laboratories and as an alternative to cost-prohibitive commercial sheep blood, offers the opportunity to dramatically improve the safety and accuracy of laboratory diagnosis of pathogenic bacteria in resource-poor countries.

Precocious Locomotor Behavior Begins in the Egg: Development of Leg Muscle Patterns for Stepping in the Chick:

The chicken is capable of adaptive locomotor behavior within hours after hatching, yet little is known of the processes leading to this precocious skill. During the final week of incubation, chick embryos produce distinct repetitive limb movements that until recently had not been investigated. In this study we examined the leg muscle patterns at 3 time points as development of these spontaneous movements unfolds to determine if they exhibit attributes of locomotion reported in hatchlings. We also sought to determine whether the deeply flexed posture and movement constraint imposed by the shell wall modulate the muscle patterns. Synchronized electromyograms for leg muscles, force and video were recorded continuously from embryos while in their naturally flexed posture at embryonic day (E) 15, E18 and E20. We tested for effects of leg posture and constraint by removing shell wall anterior to the foot. Results indicated that by E18, burst onset time distinguished leg muscle synergists from antagonists across a 10-fold range in burst frequencies (1-10 Hz), and knee extensors from ankle extensors in patterns comparable to locomotion at hatching. However, burst durations did not scale with step cycle duration in any of the muscles recorded. Despite substantially larger leg movements after shell removal, the knee extensor was the only muscle to vary its activity, and extensor muscles often failed to participate. To further clarify if the repetitive movements are likely locomotor-related, we examined bilateral coordination of ankle muscles during repetitive movements at E20. In all cases ankle muscles exhibited a bias for left/right alternation. Collectively, the findings lead us to conclude that the repetitive leg movements in late stage embryos are locomotor-related and a fundamental link in the establishment of precocious locomotor skill. The potential importance of differences between embryonic and posthatching locomotion is discussed.

The Sedating Antidepressant Trazodone Impairs Sleep-Dependent Cortical Plasticity:

Recent findings indicate that certain classes of hypnotics that target GABAA receptors impair sleep-dependent brain plasticity. However, the effects of hypnotics acting at monoamine receptors (e.g., the antidepressant trazodone) on this process are unknown. We therefore assessed the effects of commonly-prescribed medications for the treatment of insomnia (trazodone and the non-benzodiazepine GABAA receptor agonists zaleplon and eszopiclone) in a canonical model of sleep-dependent, in vivo synaptic plasticity in the primary visual cortex (V1) known as ocular dominance plasticity. After a 6-h baseline period of sleep/wake polysomnographic recording, cats underwent 6 h of continuous waking combined with monocular deprivation (MD) to trigger synaptic remodeling. Cats subsequently received an i.p. injection of either vehicle, trazodone (10 mg/kg), zaleplon (10 mg/kg), or eszopiclone (1-10 mg/kg), and were allowed an 8-h period of post-MD sleep before ocular dominance plasticity was assessed. We found that while zaleplon and eszopiclone had profound effects on sleeping cortical electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, only trazodone (which did not alter EEG activity) significantly impaired sleep-dependent consolidation of ocular dominance plasticity. This was associated with deficits in both the normal depression of V1 neuronal responses to deprived-eye stimulation, and potentiation of responses to non-deprived eye stimulation, which accompany ocular dominance plasticity. Taken together, our data suggest that the monoamine receptors targeted by trazodone play an important role in sleep-dependent consolidation of synaptic plasticity. They also demonstrate that changes in sleep architecture are not necessarily reliable predictors of how hypnotics affect sleep-dependent neural functions.

Models of Emergency Departments for Reducing Patient Waiting Times:

In this paper, we apply both agent-based models and queuing models to investigate patient access and patient flow through emergency departments. The objective of this work is to gain insights into the comparative contributions and limitations of these complementary techniques, in their ability to contribute empirical input into healthcare policy and practice guidelines. The models were developed independently, with a view to compare their suitability to emergency department simulation. The current models implement relatively simple general scenarios, and rely on a combination of simulated and real data to simulate patient flow in a single emergency department or in multiple interacting emergency departments. In addition, several concepts from telecommunications engineering are translated into this modeling context. The framework of multiple-priority queue systems and the genetic programming paradigm of evolutionary machine learning are applied as a means of forecasting patient wait times and as a means of evolving healthcare policy, respectively. The models' utility lies in their ability to provide qualitative insights into the relative sensitivities and impacts of model input parameters, to illuminate scenarios worthy of more complex investigation, and to iteratively validate the models as they continue to be refined and extended. The paper discusses future efforts to refine, extend, and validate the models with more data and real data relative to physical (spatial-topographical) and social inputs (staffing, patient care models, etc.). Real data obtained through proximity location and tracking system technologies is one example discussed.

Mental Rotation of Faces in Healthy Aging and Alzheimer's Disease:

Previous research has shown that individuals with Alzheimer's disease (AD) develop visuospatial difficulties that affect their ability to mentally rotate objects. Surprisingly, the existing literature has generally ignored the impact of this mental rotation deficit on the ability of AD patients to recognize faces from different angles. Instead, the devastating loss of the ability to recognize friends and family members in AD has primarily been attributed to memory loss and agnosia in later stages of the disorder. The impact of AD on areas of the brain important for mental rotation should not be overlooked by face processing investigations - even in early stages of the disorder. This study investigated the sensitivity of face processing in AD, young controls and older non-neurological controls to two changes of the stimuli - a rotation in depth and an inversion. The control groups showed a systematic effect of depth rotation, with errors increasing with the angle of rotation, and with inversion. The majority of the AD group was not impaired when faces were presented upright and no transformation in depth was required, and were most accurate when all faces were presented in frontal views, but accuracy was severely impaired with any rotation or inversion. These results suggest that with the onset of AD, mental rotation difficulties arise that affect the ability to recognize faces presented at different angles. The finding that a frontal view is "preferred" by these patients provides a valuable communication strategy for health care workers.


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On "parabolic primitives", I surely hope so since parabolas are good local approximations of any curve motions.


LOL! Why not go full monty with "publicartoons"? Come on, you know your subconscious wants to!

By Torbjörn Lars… (not verified) on 05 Jul 2009 #permalink