There are 35 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:
The growing competition and "publish or perish" culture in academia might conflict with the objectivity and integrity of research, because it forces scientists to produce "publishable" results at all costs. Papers are less likely to be published and to be cited if they report "negative" results (results that fail to support the tested hypothesis). Therefore, if publication pressures increase scientific bias, the frequency of "positive" results in the literature should be higher in the more competitive and "productive" academic environments. This study verified this hypothesis by measuring the frequency of positive results in a large random sample of papers with a corresponding author based in the US. Across all disciplines, papers were more likely to support a tested hypothesis if their corresponding authors were working in states that, according to NSF data, produced more academic papers per capita. The size of this effect increased when controlling for state's per capita R&D expenditure and for study characteristics that previous research showed to correlate with the frequency of positive results, including discipline and methodology. Although the confounding effect of institutions' prestige could not be excluded (researchers in the more productive universities could be the most clever and successful in their experiments), these results support the hypothesis that competitive academic environments increase not only scientists' productivity but also their bias. The same phenomenon might be observed in other countries where academic competition and pressures to publish are high.
Twin studies offer a 'natural experiment' that can estimate the magnitude of environmental and genetic effects on a target phenotype. We hypothesised that fidgetiness and enjoyment of activity would be heritable but that objectively-measured daily activity would show a strong shared environmental effect. In a sample of 9-12 year-old same-sex twin pairs (234 individuals; 57 MZ, 60 DZ pairs) we assessed three dimensions of physical activity: i) objectively-measured physical activity using accelerometry, ii) 'fidgetiness' using a standard psychometric scale, and iii) enjoyment of physical activity from both parent ratings and children's self-reports. Shared environment effects explained the majority (73%) of the variance in objectively-measured total physical activity (95% confidence intervals (CI): 0.63-0.81) with a smaller unshared environmental effect (27%; CI: 0.19-0.37) and no significant genetic effect. In contrast, fidgetiness was primarily under genetic control, with additive genetic effects explaining 75% (CI: 62-84%) of the variance, as was parent's report of children's enjoyment of low 74% (CI: 61-82%), medium 80% (CI: 71-86%), and high impact activity (85%; CI: 78-90%), and children's expressed activity preferences (60%, CI: 42-72%). Consistent with our hypothesis, the shared environment was the dominant influence on children's day-to-day activity levels. This finding gives a strong impetus to research into the specific environmental characteristics influencing children's activity, and supports the value of interventions focused on home or school environments.
Cane toads Bufo marinus were introduced to Australia as a control agent but now have a rapidly progressing invasion front and damage new habitats they enter. Predictive models that can give expansion rates as functions of energy supply and feeding ground distribution could help to maximise control efficiency but to date no study has measured rates of field energy expenditure in an amphibian. In the present study we used the accelerometry technique to generate behavioural time budgets and, through the derivation of ODBA (overall dynamic body acceleration), to obtain estimates of energetics in free ranging cane toads. This represents the first time that accelerometers have been used to not only quantify the behaviour of animals but also assign to those behaviours rates of energy expenditure. Firstly, laboratory calibrations between ODBA and metabolic rate were obtained and used to generate a common prediction equation for the subject toads (R2 = 0.74). Furthermore, acceleration data recorded during different behaviours was studied to ascertain threshold values for objectively defining behaviour categories. Importantly, while subsequent accelerometer field deployments were relatively short they agreed with previous studies on the proportion of time that cane toads locomote yet suggest that the metabolic rate of cane toads in the wild may sometimes be considerably higher than might be assumed based on data for other species.
Congenital amusia is a neurogenetic disorder of music processing that is currently ascribed to a deficit in pitch processing. A recent study challenges this view and claims the disorder might arise as a consequence of a general spatial-processing deficit. Here, we assessed spatial processing abilities in two independent samples of individuals with congenital amusia by using line bisection tasks (Experiment 1) and a mental rotation task (Experiment 2). Both amusics and controls showed the classical spatial effects on bisection performance and on mental rotation performance, and amusics and controls did not differ from each other. These results indicate that the neurocognitive impairment of congenital amusia does not affect the processing of space.
Plant invasions are causing habitat degradation in Galapagos. Problems are concentrated on the four inhabited islands. Plants introduced to rural areas in the humid highlands and urban areas on the arid coast act as foci for invasion of the surrounding Galapagos National Park. Here we present results of the most comprehensive inventory to date of alien vascular plants in the inhabited areas of Galapagos. The survey was conducted between 2002 and 2007, in 6031 properties (97% of the total) on Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz Islands. In total 754 alien vascular plant taxa were recorded, representing 468 genera in 123 families. Dicotyledons represented 554 taxa, monocotyledons 183, there were 7 gymnosperms and 10 pteridophytes. Almost half (363) of the taxa were herbaceous. The most represented families were Fabaceae (sensu lato), Asteraceae and Poaceae. The three most recorded species in the humid rural areas were Psidium guajava, Passiflora edulis and Bryophyllum pinnatum, and in the dry urban areas, Aloe vera, Portulaca oleracea and Carica papaya. In total, 264 (35%) taxa were recorded as naturalized. The most common use for taxa was ornamental (52%). This extensive survey has increased the known alien vascular flora of Galapagos by 257 species, giving a ratio of alien to native taxa of 1.57:1. It provides a crucial baseline for plant invasion management in the archipelago and contributes data for meta analyses of invasion processes worldwide. A repeat of the survey in the future would act as an effective early detection tool to help avoid further invasion of the Galapagos National Park.
It is generally accepted that the most ancient European mitochondrial haplogroup, U5, has evolved essentially in Europe. To resolve the phylogeny of this haplogroup, we completely sequenced 113 mitochondrial genomes (79 U5a and 34 U5b) of central and eastern Europeans (Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Russians and Belorussians), and reconstructed a detailed phylogenetic tree, that incorporates previously published data. Molecular dating suggests that the coalescence time estimate for the U5 is ~25-30 thousand years (ky), and ~16-20 and ~20-24 ky for its subhaplogroups U5a and U5b, respectively. Phylogeographic analysis reveals that expansions of U5 subclusters started earlier in central and southern Europe, than in eastern Europe. In addition, during the Last Glacial Maximum central Europe (probably, the Carpathian Basin) apparently represented the area of intermingling between human flows from refugial zones in the Balkans, the Mediterranean coastline and the Pyrenees. Age estimations amounting for many U5 subclusters in eastern Europeans to ~15 ky ago and less are consistent with the view that during the Ice Age eastern Europe was an inhospitable place for modern humans.
Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL), defined as 3 or more consecutive miscarriages, is widely attributed either to repeated chromosomal instability in the conceptus or to uterine factors that are poorly defined. We tested the hypothesis that abnormal cyclic differentiation of endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) into specialized decidual cells predisposes to RPL, based on the observation that this process may not only be indispensable for placenta formation in pregnancy but also for embryo recognition and selection at time of implantation. Analysis of mid-secretory endometrial biopsies demonstrated that RPL is associated with decreased expression of the decidual marker prolactin (PRL) but increased levels of prokineticin-1 (PROK1), a cytokine that promotes implantation. These in vivo findings were entirely recapitulated when ESCs were purified from patients with and without a history of RPL and decidualized in culture. In addition to attenuated PRL production and prolonged and enhanced PROK1 expression, RPL was further associated with a complete dysregulation of both markers upon treatment of ESC cultures with human chorionic gonadotropin, a glycoprotein hormone abundantly expressed by the implanting embryo. We postulated that impaired embryo recognition and selection would clinically be associated with increased fecundity, defined by short time-to-pregnancy (TTP) intervals. Woman-based analysis of the mean and mode TTP in a cohort of 560 RPL patients showed that 40% can be considered "superfertile", defined by a mean TTP of 3 months or less. Impaired cyclic decidualization of the endometrium facilitates implantation yet predisposes to subsequent pregnancy failure by disabling natural embryo selection and by disrupting the maternal responses to embryonic signals. These findings suggest a novel pathological pathway that unifies maternal and embryonic causes of RPL.
Pregnancy is widely viewed as dependent upon an intimate dialogue, mediated by locally secreted factors between a developmentally competent embryo and a receptive endometrium. Reproductive success in humans is however limited, largely because of the high prevalence of chromosomally abnormal preimplantation embryos. Moreover, the transient period of endometrial receptivity in humans uniquely coincides with differentiation of endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) into highly specialized decidual cells, which in the absence of pregnancy invariably triggers menstruation. The role of cyclic decidualization of the endometrium in the implantation process and the nature of the decidual cytokines and growth factors that mediate the crosstalk with the embryo are unknown. We employed a human co-culture model, consisting of decidualizing ESCs and single hatched blastocysts, to identify the soluble factors involved in implantation. Over the 3-day co-culture period, approximately 75% of embryos arrested whereas the remainder showed normal development. The levels of 14 implantation factors secreted by the stromal cells were determined by multiplex immunoassay. Surprisingly, the presence of a developing embryo had no significant effect on decidual secretions, apart from a modest reduction in IL-5 levels. In contrast, arresting embryos triggered a strong response, characterized by selective inhibition of IL-1Î², -6, -10, -17, -18, eotaxin, and HB-EGF secretion. Co-cultures were repeated with undifferentiated ESCs but none of the secreted cytokines were affected by the presence of a developing or arresting embryo. Human ESCs become biosensors of embryo quality upon differentiation into decidual cells. In view of the high incidence of gross chromosomal errors in human preimplantation embryos, cyclic decidualization followed by menstrual shedding may represent a mechanism of natural embryo selection that limits maternal investment in developmentally impaired pregnancies.