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, 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:

Circadian Modulation of Gene Expression, but not Glutamate Uptake, in Mouse and Rat Cortical Astrocytes:

Circadian clocks control daily rhythms including sleep-wake, hormone secretion, and metabolism. These clocks are based on intracellular transcription-translation feedback loops that sustain daily oscillations of gene expression in many cell types. Mammalian astrocytes display circadian rhythms in the expression of the clock genes Period1 (Per1) and Period2 (Per2). However, a functional role for circadian oscillations in astrocytes is unknown. Because uptake of extrasynaptic glutamate depends on the presence of Per2 in astrocytes, we asked whether glutamate uptake by glia is circadian. We measured glutamate uptake, transcript and protein levels of the astrocyte-specific glutamate transporter, Glast, and the expression of Per1 and Per2 from cultured cortical astrocytes and from explants of somatosensory cortex. We found that glutamate uptake and Glast mRNA and protein expression were significantly reduced in Clock/Clock, Per2- or NPAS2-deficient glia. Uptake was augmented when the medium was supplemented with dibutyryl-cAMP or B27. Critically, glutamate uptake was not circadian in cortical astrocytes cultured from rats or mice or in cortical slices from mice. We conclude that glutamate uptake levels are modulated by CLOCK, PER2, NPAS2, and the composition of the culture medium, and that uptake does not show circadian variations.

Social Structure Predicts Genital Morphology in African Mole-Rats:

African mole-rats (Bathyergidae, Rodentia) exhibit a wide range of social structures, from solitary to eusocial. We previously found a lack of sex differences in the external genitalia and morphology of the perineal muscles associated with the phallus in the eusocial naked mole-rat. This was quite surprising, as the external genitalia and perineal muscles are sexually dimorphic in all other mammals examined. We hypothesized that the lack of sex differences in naked mole-rats might be related to their unusual social structure. We compared the genitalia and perineal muscles in three African mole-rat species: the naked mole-rat, the solitary silvery mole-rat, and the Damaraland mole-rat, a species considered to be eusocial, but with less reproductive skew than naked mole-rats. Our findings support a relationship between social structure, mating system, and sexual differentiation. Naked mole-rats lack sex differences in genitalia and perineal morphology, silvery mole-rats exhibit sex differences, and Damaraland mole-rats are intermediate. The lack of sex differences in naked mole-rats is not an attribute of all African mole-rats, but appears to have evolved in relation to their unusual social structure and reproductive biology.

Nutrient Enrichment and Food Web Composition Affect Ecosystem Metabolism in an Experimental Seagrass Habitat:

Food web composition and resource levels can influence ecosystem properties such as productivity and elemental cycles. In particular, herbivores occupy a central place in food webs as the species richness and composition of this trophic level may simultaneously influence the transmission of resource and predator effects to higher and lower trophic levels, respectively. Yet, these interactions are poorly understood. Using an experimental seagrass mesocosm system, we factorially manipulated water column nutrient concentrations, food chain length, and diversity of crustacean grazers to address two questions: (1) Does food web composition modulate the effects of nutrient enrichment on plant and grazer biomasses and stoichiometry? (2) Do ecosystem fluxes of dissolved oxygen and nutrients more closely reflect above-ground biomass and community structure or sediment processes? Nutrient enrichment and grazer presence generally had strong effects on biomass accumulation, stoichiometry, and ecosystem fluxes, whereas predator effects were weaker or absent. Nutrient enrichment had little effect on producer biomass or net ecosystem production but strongly increased seagrass nutrient content, ecosystem flux rates, and grazer secondary production, suggesting that enhanced production was efficiently transferred from producers to herbivores. Gross ecosystem production (oxygen evolution) correlated positively with above-ground plant biomass, whereas inorganic nutrient fluxes were unrelated to plant or grazer biomasses, suggesting dominance by sediment microbial processes. Finally, grazer richness significantly stabilized ecosystem processes, as predators decreased ecosystem production and respiration only in the zero- and one- species grazer treatments. Overall, our results indicate that consumer presence and species composition strongly influence ecosystem responses to nutrient enrichment, and that increasing herbivore diversity can stabilize ecosystem flux rates in the face of perturbations.

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