New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 18 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:

Innovative Individuals Are Not Always the Best Demonstrators: Feeding Innovation and Social Transmission in Serinus canaria:

Feeding innovation occurs when individuals choose a novel, unknown type of food and/or acquire new feeding skills. Here we studied feeding innovation and social transmission of the new feeding habit in canaries. Adult canaries eat a wide variety of seeds but avoid larger ones such as those of sunflowers. We determined whether adults of both sexes are equally prone to innovate when confronted with sunflower seeds and whether free-interactions facilitate transmission of the new feeding habit in a sex-dependent manner. First we determined which sex was more innovative, i.e., was more successful at husking and eating the novel seeds. Males were clearly more innovative than females. Due to this, experienced males served as model for either male or female observers in three different conditions (free interaction with a demonstrator, visual interaction with a demonstrator placed behind a transparent wall and access to seeds in the presence of a non-demonstrating bird). During free interactions, the new feeding habit was only transmitted to females. In contrast, transmission of seed handling to male observers only occurred if demonstrator and observer were separated by the transparent wall. Indeed, aggressive behaviors between males prevented social transmission during free interactions. Finally, we studied the influence of the less innovative females in feeding-habit transmission. First, we obtained female demonstrators by making them freely interact with male demonstrators. Once they acquired innovative responses to sunflower seeds we studied feeding-habit transmission towards male and female observers. Observers of both sexes learned during free interactions with female demonstrators. No aggressive behavior occurred. Males were also able to learn after visual interactions with the female demonstrator. Our results show that the most innovative individuals (males) are not always the best demonstrators, and that social relationship and sex are crucial factors for the spread of a new feeding habit among canaries. These factors determine the kind of interaction between individuals and the time spent together, thus affecting the transmission of novel habits within the population.

An Iterative Approach for Generating Statistically Realistic Populations of Households:

Many different simulation frameworks, in different topics, need to treat realistic datasets to initialize and calibrate the system. A precise reproduction of initial states is extremely important to obtain reliable forecast from the model. This paper proposes an algorithm to create an artificial population where individuals are described by their age, and are gathered in households respecting a variety of statistical constraints (distribution of household types, sizes, age of household head, difference of age between partners and among parents and children). Such a population is often the initial state of microsimulation or (agent) individual-based models. To get a realistic distribution of households is often very important, because this distribution has an impact on the demographic evolution. Usual techniques from microsimulation approach cross different sources of aggregated data for generating individuals. In our case the number of combinations of different households (types, sizes, age of participants) makes it computationally difficult to use directly such methods. Hence we developed a specific algorithm to make the problem more easily tractable. We generate the populations of two pilot municipalities in Auvergne region (France) to illustrate the approach. The generated populations show a good agreement with the available statistical datasets (not used for the generation) and are obtained in a reasonable computational time.

Modeling the Emergence of Whisker Direction Maps in Rat Barrel Cortex:

Based on measuring responses to rat whiskers as they are mechanically stimulated, one recent study suggests that barrel-related areas in layer 2/3 rat primary somatosensory cortex (S1) contain a pinwheel map of whisker motion directions. Because this map is reminiscent of topographic organization for visual direction in primary visual cortex (V1) of higher mammals, we asked whether the S1 pinwheels could be explained by an input-driven developmental process as is often suggested for V1. We developed a computational model to capture how whisker stimuli are conveyed to supragranular S1, and simulate lateral cortical interactions using an established self-organizing algorithm. Inputs to the model each represent the deflection of a subset of 25 whiskers as they are contacted by a moving stimulus object. The subset of deflected whiskers corresponds with the shape of the stimulus, and the deflection direction corresponds with the movement direction of the stimulus. If these two features of the inputs are correlated during the training of the model, a somatotopically aligned map of direction emerges for each whisker in S1. Predictions of the model that are immediately testable include (1) that somatotopic pinwheel maps of whisker direction exist in adult layer 2/3 barrel cortex for every large whisker on the rat's face, even peripheral whiskers; and (2) in the adult, neurons with similar directional tuning are interconnected by a network of horizontal connections, spanning distances of many whisker representations. We also propose specific experiments for testing the predictions of the model by manipulating patterns of whisker inputs experienced during early development. The results suggest that similar intracortical mechanisms guide the development of primate V1 and rat S1.

RNAa Is Conserved in Mammalian Cells:

RNA activation (RNAa) is a newly discovered mechanism of gene activation triggered by small double-stranded RNAs termed 'small activating RNAs' (saRNAs). Thus far, RNAa has only been demonstrated in human cells and is unclear whether it is conserved in other mammals. In the present study, we evaluated RNAa in cells derived from four mammalian species including nonhuman primates (African green monkey and chimpanzee), mouse, and rat. Previously, we identified saRNAs leading to the activation of E-cadherin, p21, and VEGF in human cells. As the targeted sequences are highly conserved in primates, transfection of each human saRNA into African green monkey (COS1) and chimpanzee (WES) cells also resulted in induction of the intended gene. Additional saRNAs targeting clinically relevant genes including p53, PAR4, WT1, RB1, p27, NKX3-1, VDR, IL2, and pS2 were also designed and transfected into COS1 and WES cells. Of the nine genes, p53, PAR4, WT1, and NKX3-1 were induced by their corresponding saRNAs. We further extended our analysis of RNAa into rodent cell types. We identified two saRNAs that induced the expression of mouse Cyclin B1 in NIH/3T3 and TRAMP C1 cells, which led to increased phosphorylation of histone H3, a downstream marker for chromosome condensation and entry into mitosis. We also identified two saRNAs that activated the expression of CXCR4 in primary rat adipose-derived stem cells. This study demonstrates that RNAa exists in mammalian species other than human. Our findings also suggest that nonhuman primate disease models may have clinical applicability for validating RNAa-based drugs.

Empirical Evidence for Synchrony in the Evolution of TB Cases and HIV+ Contacts among the San Francisco Homeless:

The re-emergence of tuberculosis (TB) in the mid-1980s in many parts of the world, including the United States, is often attributed to the emergence and rapid spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Although it is well established that TB transmission is particularly amplified in populations with high HIV prevalence, the epidemiology of interaction between TB and HIV is not well understood. This is partly due to the scarcity of HIV-related data, a consequence of the voluntary nature of HIV status reporting and testing, and partly due to current practices of screening high risk populations through separate surveillance programs for HIV and TB. The San Francisco Department of Public Health, TB Control Program, has been conducting active surveillance among the San Francisco high-risk populations since the early 1990s. We present extensive TB surveillance data on HIV and TB infection among the San Francisco homeless to investigate the association between the TB cases and their HIV+ contacts. We applied wavelet coherence and phase analyses to the TB surveillance data from January 1993 through December 2005, to establish and quantify statistical association and synchrony in the highly non-stationary and ostensibly non-periodic waves of TB cases and their HIV+ contacts in San Francisco. When stratified by homelessness, we found that the evolution of TB cases and their HIV+ contacts is highly coherent over time and locked in phase at a specific periodic scale among the San Francisco homeless, but no significant association was observed for the non-homeless. This study confirms the hypothesis that the dynamics of HIV and TB are significantly intertwined and that HIV is likely a key factor in the sustenance of TB transmission among the San Francisco homeless. The findings of this study underscore the importance of contact tracing in detection of HIV+ individuals that may otherwise remain undetected, and thus highlights the ever-increasing need for HIV-related data and an integrative approach to monitoring high-risk populations with respect to HIV and TB transmission.

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Busy with ScienceOnline2010 I did not have time to check out the new articles in PLoS ONE and other PLoS titles. Finally I found some time today, and here are my picks from the past few days. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about…