New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There have been 19 new articles Monday night and 11 new articles Tuesday night in PLoS ONE. 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:

Sex Is Always Well Worth Its Two-Fold Cost:

Sex is considered as an evolutionary paradox, since its positive contribution to Darwinian fitness remains unverified for some species. Defenses against unpredictable threats (parasites, fluctuating environment and deleterious mutations) are indeed significantly improved by wider genetic variability and by positive epistasis gained by sexual reproduction. The corresponding evolutionary advantages, however, do not overcome universally the barrier of the two-fold cost for sharing half of one's offspring genome with another member of the population. Here we show that sexual reproduction emerges and is maintained even when its Darwinian fitness is twice as low as the fitness of asexuals. We also show that more than two sexes (inheritance of genetic material from three or even more parents) are always evolutionary unstable. Our approach generalizes the evolutionary game theory to analyze species whose members are able to sense the sexual state of their conspecifics and to adapt their own sex consequently, either by switching or by taxis towards the highest concentration of the complementary sex. The widespread emergence and maintenance of sex follows therefore from its co-evolution with the even more widespread environmental sensing abilities.

Age, but Not Experience, Affects Courtship Gene Expression in Male Drosophila melanogaster:

Mutation screens in model organisms have helped identify the foundation of many fundamental organismal phenotypes. An emerging question in evolutionary and behavioral biology is the extent to which these "developmental" genes contribute to the subtle individual variation that characterizes natural populations. A related question is whether individual differences arise from static differences in gene expression that arose during previous life stages, or whether they are due to dynamic regulation of expression during the life stage under investigation. Here, we address these questions using genes that have been discovered to control the development of normal courtship behavior in male Drosophila melanogaster. We examined whether these genes have static or dynamic expression in the heads of adult male flies of different ages and with different levels of social experience. We found that 16 genes of the 25 genes examined were statically expressed, and 9 genes were dynamically expressed with changes related to adult age. No genes exhibited rapid dynamic expression changes due to social experience or age*experience interaction. We therefore conclude that a majority of fly "courtship" genes are statically expressed, while a minority are regulated in adults with respect to age, but not with respect to relevant social experience. These results are consistent with those from a recent microarray analysis that found none of the canonical courtship genes changed expression in male flies after brief exposure to females.

Discovery of a Novel Prolactin in Non-Mammalian Vertebrates: Evolutionary Perspectives and Its Involvement in Teleost Retina Development:

The three pituitary hormones, viz. prolactin (PRL), growth hormone (GH) and somatolactin (SL), together with the mammalian placental lactogen (PL), constitute a gene family of hormones with similar gene structure and encoded protein sequences. These hormones are believed to have evolved from a common ancestral gene through several rounds of gene duplication and subsequent divergence. In this study, we have identified a new PRL-like gene in non-mammalian vertebrates through bioinformatics and molecular cloning means. Phylogenetic analyses showed that this novel protein is homologous to the previously identified PRL. A receptor transactivation assay further showed that this novel protein could bind to PRL receptor to trigger the downstream post-receptor event, indicating that it is biologically active. In view of its close phylogenetic relationship with PRL and also its ability to activate PRL receptor, we name it as PRL2 and the previously identified PRL as PRL1. All the newly discovered PRL2 sequences possess three conserved disulfide linkages with the exception of the shark PRL2 which has only two. In sharp contrast to the classical PRL1 which is predominantly expressed in the pituitary, PRL2 was found to be mainly expressed in the eye and brain of the zebrafish but not in the pituitary. A largely reduced inner nuclear layer of the retina was observed after morpholino knockdown of zebrafish PRL2, indicating its role on retina development in teleost. The discovery of this novel PRL has revitalized our understanding on the evolution of the GH/PRL/SL/PL gene family. Its unique expression and functions in the zebrafish eye also provide a new avenue of research on the neuroendocrine control of retina development in vertebrates.

LPS-Induced Genes in Intestinal Tissue of the Sea Cucumber Holothuria glaberrima:

Metazoan immunity is mainly associated with specialized cells that are directly involved with the immune response. Nevertheless, both in vertebrates and invertebrates other organs might respond to immune activation and participate either directly or indirectly in the ongoing immune process. However, most of what is known about invertebrate immunity has been restricted to immune effector cells and little information is available on the immune responses of other tissues or organs. We now focus on the immune reactions of the intestinal tissue of an echinoderm. Our study employs a non-conventional model, the echinoderm Holothuria glaberrima, to identify intestinal molecules expressed after an immune challenge presented by an intra-coelomic injection of lipopolysaccharides (LPS). The expression profiles of intestinal genes expressed differentially between LPS-injected animals and control sea water-injected animals were determined using a custom-made Agilent microarray with 7209 sea cucumber intestinal ESTs. Fifty (50) unique sequences were found to be differentially expressed in the intestine of LPS-treated sea cucumbers. Seven (7) of these sequences represented homologues of known proteins, while the remaining (43) had no significant similarity with any protein, EST or RNA database. The known sequences corresponded to cytoskeletal proteins (Actin and alpha-actinin), metabolic enzymes (GAPDH, Ahcy and Gnmt), metal ion transport/metabolism (major yolk protein) and defense/recognition (fibrinogen-like protein). The expression pattern of 11 genes was validated using semi-quantitative RT-PCR. Nine of these corroborated the microarray results and the remaining two showed a similar trend but without statistical significance. Our results show some of the molecular events by which the holothurian intestine responds to an immune challenge and provide important information to the study of the evolution of the immune response.

The Pitcher Plant Sarracenia purpurea Can Directly Acquire Organic Nitrogen and Short-Circuit the Inorganic Nitrogen Cycle:

Despite the large stocks of organic nitrogen in soil, nitrogen availability limits plant growth in many terrestrial ecosystems because most plants take up only inorganic nitrogen, not organic nitrogen. Although some vascular plants can assimilate organic nitrogen directly, only recently has organic nitrogen been found to contribute significantly to the nutrient budget of any plant. Carnivorous plants grow in extremely nutrient-poor environments and carnivory has evolved in these plants as an alternative pathway for obtaining nutrients. We tested if the carnivorous pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea could directly take up intact amino acids in the field and compared uptake of organic and inorganic forms of nitrogen across a gradient of nitrogen deposition. We hypothesized that the contribution of organic nitrogen to the nitrogen budget of the pitcher plant would decline with increasing nitrogen deposition. At sites in Canada (low nitrogen deposition) and the United States (high nitrogen deposition), individual pitchers were fed two amino acids, glycine and phenylalanine, and inorganic nitrogen (as ammonium nitrate), individually and in mixture. Plants took up intact amino acids. Acquisition of each form of nitrogen provided in isolation exceeded uptake of the same form in mixture. At the high deposition site, uptake of organic nitrogen was higher than uptake of inorganic nitrogen. At the low deposition site, uptake of all three forms of nitrogen was similar. Completeness of the associated detritus-based food web that inhabits pitcher-plant leaves and breaks down captured prey had no effect on nitrogen uptake. By taking up intact amino acids, Sarracenia purpurea can short-circuit the inorganic nitrogen cycle, thus minimizing potential bottlenecks in nitrogen availability that result from the plant's reliance for nitrogen mineralization on a seasonally reconstructed food web operating on infrequent and irregular prey capture.

Predator-Induced Changes in Metabolism Cannot Explain the Growth/Predation Risk Tradeoff:

Defence against predators is usually accompanied by declining rates of growth or development. The classical growth/predation risk tradeoff assumes reduced activity as the cause of these declines. However, in many cases these costs cannot be explained by reduced foraging effort or enhanced allocation to defensive structures under predation risk. Here, we tested for a physiological origin of defence costs by measuring oxygen consumption in tadpoles (Rana temporaria) exposed to predation risk over short and long periods of time. The short term reaction was an increase in oxygen consumption, consistent with the "fight-or-flight" response observed in many organisms. The long term reaction showed the opposite pattern: tadpoles reduced oxygen consumption after three weeks exposure to predators, which would act to reduce the growth cost of predator defence. The results point to an instantaneous and reversible stress response to predation risk. This suggests that the tradeoff between avoiding predators and growing rapidly is not caused by changes in metabolic rate, and must be sought in other behavioural or physiological processes.

Seasonal Movements, Aggregations and Diving Behavior of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) Revealed with Archival Tags:

Electronic tags were used to examine the seasonal movements, aggregations and diving behaviors of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) to better understand their migration ecology and oceanic habitat utilization. Implantable archival tags (n = 561) were deployed in bluefin tuna from 1996 to 2005 and 106 tags were recovered. Movement paths of the fish were reconstructed using light level and sea-surface-temperature-based geolocation estimates. To quantify habitat utilization we employed a weighted kernel estimation technique that removed the biases of deployment location and track length. Throughout the North Atlantic, high residence times (167±33 days) were identified in four spatially confined regions on a seasonal scale. Within each region, bluefin tuna experienced distinct temperature regimes and displayed different diving behaviors. The mean diving depths within the high-use areas were significantly shallower and the dive frequency and the variance in internal temperature significantly higher than during transit movements between the high-use areas. Residence time in the more northern latitude high-use areas was significantly correlated with levels of primary productivity. The regions of aggregation are associated with areas of abundant prey and potentially represent critical foraging habitats that have seasonally abundant prey. Throughout the North Atlantic mean diving depth was significantly correlated with the depth of the thermocline, and dive behavior changed in relation to the stratification of the water column. In this study, with numerous multi-year tracks, there appear to be repeatable patterns of clear aggregation areas that potentially are changing with environmental conditions. The high concentrations of bluefin tuna in predictable locations indicate that Atlantic bluefin tuna are vulnerable to concentrated fishing efforts in the regions of foraging aggregations.

Evolutionary Insights from a Genetically Divergent Hantavirus Harbored by the European Common Mole (Talpa europaea):

The discovery of genetically distinct hantaviruses in shrews (Order Soricomorpha, Family Soricidae) from widely separated geographic regions challenges the hypothesis that rodents (Order Rodentia, Family Muridae and Cricetidae) are the primordial reservoir hosts of hantaviruses and also predicts that other soricomorphs harbor hantaviruses. Recently, novel hantavirus genomes have been detected in moles of the Family Talpidae, including the Japanese shrew mole (Urotrichus talpoides) and American shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii). We present new insights into the evolutionary history of hantaviruses gained from a highly divergent hantavirus, designated Nova virus (NVAV), identified in the European common mole (Talpa europaea) captured in Hungary. Pair-wise alignment and comparison of the full-length S- and L-genomic segments indicated moderately low sequence similarity of 54-65% and 46-63% at the nucleotide and amino acid levels, respectively, between NVAV and representative rodent- and soricid-borne hantaviruses. Despite the high degree of sequence divergence, the predicted secondary structure of the NVAV nucleocapsid protein exhibited the characteristic coiled-coil domains at the amino-terminal end, and the L-segment motifs, typically found in hantaviruses, were well conserved. Phylogenetic analyses, using maximum-likelihood and Bayesian methods, showed that NVAV formed a distinct clade that was evolutionarily distant from all other hantaviruses. Newly identified hantaviruses harbored by shrews and moles support long-standing virus-host relationships and suggest that ancestral soricomorphs, rather than rodents, may have been the early or original mammalian hosts.

The Status of Wildlife in Protected Areas Compared to Non-Protected Areas of Kenya:

We compile over 270 wildlife counts of Kenya's wildlife populations conducted over the last 30 years to compare trends in national parks and reserves with adjacent ecosystems and country-wide trends. The study shows the importance of discriminating human-induced changes from natural population oscillations related to rainfall and ecological factors. National park and reserve populations have declined sharply over the last 30 years, at a rate similar to non-protected areas and country-wide trends. The protected area losses reflect in part their poor coverage of seasonal ungulate migrations. The losses vary among parks. The largest parks, Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Meru, account for a disproportionate share of the losses due to habitat change and the difficulty of protecting large remote parks. The losses in Kenya's parks add to growing evidence for wildlife declines inside as well as outside African parks. The losses point to the need to quantify the performance of conservation policies and promote integrated landscape practices that combine parks with private and community-based measures.

Quality of DNA Extracted from Mouthwashes:

A cost effective, safe and efficient method of obtaining DNA samples is essential in large scale genetic analyses. Buccal cells are an attractive source of DNA, as their collection is non-invasive and can be carried out by mail. However, little attention has been given to the quality of DNA extracted from mouthwashes. Mouthwash-derived DNA was extracted from 500 subjects participating in a genetic study of high myopia. DNA quality was investigated using two standard techniques: agarose gel electrophoresis and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Whereas the majority of mouthwash-derived DNA samples showed a single band of high molecular weight DNA by gel electrophoresis, 8.9% (95% CI: 7.1-10.7%) of samples contained only a smear of low-to-medium molecular weight, degraded DNA. The odds of DNA degradation in a subject's second mouthwash sample, given degradation of the first, was significantly greater than one (OR = 3.13; 95% CI: 1.22-7.39; Fisher's test P = 0.009), suggesting that DNA degradation was at least partially a subject-specific phenomenon. Approximately 12.4% (95% CI: 10.4-14.4%) of mouthwash-derived DNA failed to PCR amplify efficiently (using an ~200 bp microsatellite marker). However, we found there was no significant difference in amplification success rate between DNA samples judged to be degraded or non-degraded by gel electrophoresis (Fisher's test P = 0.5). This study demonstrated that DNA degradation affects a significant minority of saline mouthwashes, and that the phenomenon is partially subject-specific. Whilst the level of degradation did not significantly prevent successful amplification of short PCR fragments, previous studies suggest that such DNA degradation would compromise more demanding applications.


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