Pristine Fossil Reveals Unlikely Pair

Fernandez_Fig1 mediumThe small but sharp-toothed Thrinaxodon probably spent much of its time dining on its Triassic cohabitants, but a study published today reports a pristine fossil of the meat-eater apparently peacefully sharing its burrow with a small amphibian – until they were both buried in a flood.

The researchers uncovered the odd couple through non-destructive imaging 0f a burrow cast from South Africa, where the animals appeared to have died together. In the image of the cast itself, along with the ghostly outlinescast of the animal skeletons you can see that layer 1 is the original bed of the burrow, and layers 2 and 3 correspond to subsequent “pulses” of the flooding event.

The two skeletons are remarkably complete and well-preserved (in the image above Thrinaxodon is shown in brown, and the amphibian in grey), and the artifact provides an excellent opportunity to study the interactions between two different species. Given Thrinaxodon‘s carnivorous ways, it may at first seem most likely that the amphibian was about to be eaten for lunch, but its undisturbed skeleton and lack of expected bite marks rule out this possibility, the authors write. They also conclude that the flood responsible for burying the animals couldn’t have randomly washed the amphibian into the burrow once the animals were already dead because the burrow’s opening was too small.

To find the most likely answer, the researchers turned to modern creatures for insight. They note that animals today will live in a burrow built by another species if it is abandoned, if they can chase away the host, or if the host tolerates their presence. The Thrinaxodon was still in the den, so neither of the first two possibilities seem to apply in this case, leaving the last option as the most likely. As strange as it may seem, it appears that for whatever reason the Thrinaxodon graciously tolerated its amphibian partner’s presence.

If you want to see more, this video shows how the authors virtually dissected the burrow using synchrotron scanning to create an exquisitely detailed reconstruction of the burrow’s contents without cracking it open.

Citation: Fernandez V, Abdala F, Carlson KJ, Cook DC, Rubidge BS, et al. (2013) Synchrotron Reveals Early Triassic Odd Couple: Injured Amphibian and Aestivating Therapsid Share Burrow. PLoS ONE 8(6): e64978. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064978 

The Multiple Origins of Wine Grapes

grapeAs we return to work this Monday, there’s a good chance that at least some of us celebrated the weekend with a glass of wine or two. Wine has established itself as a drink of choice across the world for thousands of years, and a study published last week investigated its domestication, which may help us learn how this beverage so permeated our history.

The grapes now harvested for winemaking are not those originally found growing wild millennia ago; they reached their current state through domestication. The authors of the current study focused on two previously unresolved questions about this process: did it proceed quickly or slowly, and in one place or across a broad area?

The researchers investigated archaeobotanical samples from ancient Roman settlements in Southern France, a key winemaking region. Previous work has shown that grapevines were domesticated in the far-away Caucuses at least 4,000 years prior to the time the authors were investigating. Nonetheless, the researchers found evidence for active domestication in their French samples as well. Based on this analysis, they conclude that grapevine domestication was a slow, ongoing process occurring in many different locations.

The winemakers of the time were flexible, though; as domestication was ongoing, they used any and all grape varietals available to practice their craft. These days just a few cultivars are the main sources of wine grapes around the world, yet vintners manage to produce a very wide range of products, so we can only imagine the variety these early winemakers might have produced with such an array of pre-domestication options.

Citation: Bouby L, Figueiral I, Bouchette A, Rovira N, Ivorra S, et al. (2013) Bioarchaeological Insights into the Process of Domestication of Grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.) during Roman Times in Southern France. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63195. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063195

Image: Julianna on flickr

A Perfect Match: A Multidisciplinary Conference for the Ultimate Multidisciplinary Journal

Despite the ongoing situation in Boston, at this point the Experimental Biology 2013 conference is scheduled to begin this Sunday, and PLOS ONE is looking forward to being there to meet our authors, editors, reviewers, and anyone interested in joining the PLOS ONE community.

We’ll be at booth #547 in the Exhibitor’s Hall, Sunday through Tuesday, 9 am to 4 pm. We will also be hosting an informal meeting at the booth for editors and those interested in joining our editorial board on Monday, April 22, from 12 to 1:30. We hope to see you there!

The conference is an exciting multidisciplinary event, with a variety of participating societies that cover a wide range of biological topics, including the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), and the American Physiological Society (APS).

The diversity and breadth of the topics covered at the conference is a perfect match for PLOS ONE. As a multidisciplinary journal, we publish work in all the represented fields, and we are also a great venue for the interdisciplinary work this conference aims to promote. While discipline-specific journals can create artificial barriers between “traditional” research areas, PLOS ONE’s coverage of all fields of science and medicine fosters interdisciplinary research and productive collaboration between fields that might have previously been separated.

We hope to see you at booth #547. For the latest updates on the conference, please visit the conference homepage and follow @ExpBio and #EB2013 on Twitter.

Celebrating India’s National Science Day

Today is National Science Day in India, celebrated in honor of Indian physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman’s discovery on February 28, 1928 of the eponymous Raman effect, which relates to the way that light is scattered when it passes through different materials. Raman earned a Nobel Prize for his work in 1930.

In just the past two months, PLOS ONE has published over 100 papers with authors from India, in subjects as varied as molecular biology, ecology, and medicine. For example, various Indian research groups are working with the wildlife in their country, determining non-invasive methods to photographically identify and “tag” Indian gliding lizards based on their blotch patterns and studying the feasibility of human-lion coexistence in the Indian forest.

On the other end of the spectrum, “Systems Biology Approach Reveals Genome to Phenome Correlation in Type 2 Diabetes” illustrates how coordinated analysis of data from various sources, including patient genetic material and databases about known drug interactions and genetic interactions, can be more powerful than considering each individually.  The results provide further evidence that some previously identified genes are involved in the disease, and also help refine the understanding of how these factors are involved.

The theme of this year’s celebration is “Genetically Modified Crops and Food Security,” so the final article I’d like to highlight is a genetic analysis of the apple scab pathogen, a fungus that can wreak havoc on orchards. This study provides primary information about the pathogen that will be crucial for future research investigating how farmers can overcome it.

These four papers are just a tiny sample of the rich and varied research coming out of India. Happy National Science Day, and feel free to add your own favorite Indian research in the comments.

Citations: 

Jain P, Vig S, Datta M, Jindel D, Mathur AK, et al. (2013) Systems Biology Approach Reveals Genome to Phenome Correlation in Type 2 Diabetes. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53522. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053522

Sreekar R, Purushotham CB, Saini K, Rao SN, Pelletier S, et al. (2013) Photographic Capture-Recapture Sampling for Assessing Populations of the Indian Gliding Lizard Draco dussumieri. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55935. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055935

Banerjee K, Jhala YV, Chauhan KS, Dave CV (2013) Living with Lions: The Economics of Coexistence in the Gir Forests, India. PLoS ONE 8(1): e49457. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049457

Thakur K, Chawla V, Bhatti S, Swarnkar MK, Kaur J, et al. (2013) De NovoTranscriptome Sequencing and Analysis for Venturia inaequalis, the Devastating Apple Scab Pathogen. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53937. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053937

Antarctic bacteria float through winter

As the Northern Hemisphere shivers through winter, bacteria in Antarctica are employing an inventive strategy to survive the extreme cold: they use a specialized antifreeze protein to latch onto the ice and stay afloat.

Antifreeze proteins generally protect their hosts from freezing by controlling the growth of destructive ice crystals. They were first found in fish swimming in icy waters (see this paper about the evolution and transfer of these proteins between different fish species), and have also been found in plants and bacteria.

The bacterial case now has an interesting twist, published earlier this winter. The authors of the recent study isolated and characterized the antifreeze protein from Marinomonas primoryensis, found in ice-covered Ace Lake in Antarctica. They determined that the bacteria display the protein on their surface, where it can bind directly to ice crystals and anchor the microorganism to the ice. This behavior is a significant departure from what is known about similar proteins, which act inside cells to protect against internal ice crystallization. The image above shows the results from one of the experiments that confirmed the protein is found on the bacterial surface, rather than the interior.

It may not be immediately obvious how binding to ice benefits the bug, but the researchers suggest that it helps the bacteria stay closer to the water surface, where oxygen and nutrients are more abundant. Instead of requiring protection from freezing, these bacteria take advantage of the ice, essentially turning lemons into lemonade – although that may be a metaphor for a different season.

Citations:

Graham LA, Lougheed SC, Ewart KV, Davies PL (2008) Lateral Transfer of a Lectin-Like Antifreeze Protein Gene in Fishes. PLoS ONE 3(7): e2616. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002616

Guo S, Garnham CP, Whitney JC, Graham LA, Davies PL (2012) Re-Evaluation of a Bacterial Antifreeze Protein as an Adhesin with Ice-Binding Activity. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48805. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048805

It’s late January; do you know where your resolutions are?

New Year’s festivities have come and gone, and now, a few weeks into 2013, a few earnestly made resolutions may have fallen by the wayside. If you’re struggling with yours, two PLOS ONE studies could offer some hints for success.

The first report describes an investigation into three facets of goal attainment: keeping a goal active in your working memory; being aware of your current state, monitoring progress, and adjusting performance; and not behaving contrary to the goal.

The researchers used brain imaging during a simple task to explore interactions between these processes. They found that high demand for “goal maintenance” — keeping a goal active in your working memory — was correlated with lowered brain activity related to avoiding counterproductive behaviors, called “response inhibition.” In other words, if participants had to spend a lot of energy trying to remember their goals, they didn’t seem to have the brain energy to stop negative behaviors. The authors suggest that people might be able to counter this effect by increasing visual reminders of their goal, thereby decreasing the need for goal maintenance and freeing up resources for response inhibition.

Alternatively, you could try adding a financial bonus to the mix; results from a second study show that the promise of a monetary reward can immediately improve performance, even on an intermediate task not directly associated with the reward.

Participants in the study were presented with a simple aural task — identify whether two tones were high-pitched or low — and offered a financial reward for making a quick decision on the second note. The researchers found that this promised reward improved the participants’ performance for the entire task.

It isn’t clear, however, if the observed effect requires similarity between the intermediate task and the rewarded task. In this study, the two were identical, but the authors suggest that this may not need to be the case. They note that very different tasks may require similar preparation, and their results suggest that preparing for the future rewarded task is a key part of the observed effect.

So, if you’ve fallen off your resolution wagon and are looking for a way to get back on track, it’s not be too late — and you may even be able to make a little money out of the deal.

Citations:

Berkman ET, Falk EB, Lieberman MD (2012) Interactive Effects of Three Core Goal Pursuit Processes on Brain Control Systems: Goal Maintenance, Performance Monitoring, and Response Inhibition. PLoS ONE 7(6): e40334. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040334

Zedelius CM, Veling H, Bijleveld E, Aarts H (2012) Promising High Monetary Rewards for Future Task Performance Increases Intermediate Task Performance. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42547. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042547

Image: alykat on Flickr

Geophysics for All: PLOS ONE at AGU

The American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting has arrived in San Francisco, and PLOS ONE is excited to be there at booth 1137 from Tuesday through Friday.

Geophysics is quite a broad field, including earth science, climate science, space science, and more. For this post, instead of trying to cover the whole spectrum, we decided to highlight one particularly explosive topic: volcanoes.

For ten days in August 2006, a submarine volcano in Tonga erupted after 22 years of dormancy, producing a temporary volcanic island. The eruption also created a pumice raft, which is exactly what it sounds like: a floating raft made of pumice, a volcanic rock. In a paper published this July, researchers reported that this pumice raft helped disperse more than 80 species, including barnacles, sponges, and corals, over 3,000 miles in 7-8 months. The authors conclude that such pumice rafting facilitates “massive transport of genetic material” and provides “lines of internal communication” between distant ocean regions, which may have implications for conservation and the spread of invasive pest species.

The end results of volcanic eruptions may be the most obviously noticeable part of the process, but the events preceding an eruption are also an active area of research. For example, the researchers behind a study published in May investigated how long huge pools of molten rock, or giant magma bodies, remain buried under the earth’s crust before they cause volcanic superuptions. Previous work indicated that one particular giant magma body, which was responsible for the Long Valley caldera in California, was long-lived and slow-evolving. The new work describes analysis of quartz samples from this area and suggests that the giant magma body was in fact relatively short-lived. The authors conclude that giant magma bodies are “rather ephemeral features, which quickly and effectively destroy themselves during supereruptions.”

These two studies provide just a small taste of the highly varied research in geophysics, and we’re excited to hear more at the meeting. We’re also excited to have representatives from PLOS Currents Disasters there to meet you. We hope you come visit us at booth 1137, and look forward to seeing you there.

Citations:

Bryan SE, Cook AG, Evans JP, Hebden K, Hurrey L, et al. (2012) Rapid, Long-Distance Dispersal by Pumice Rafting. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40583. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040583

Gualda GAR, Pamukcu AS, Ghiorso MS, Anderson AT Jr, Sutton SR, et al. (2012) Timescales of Quartz Crystallization and the Longevity of the Bishop Giant Magma Body. PLoS ONE 7(5): e37492. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037492

Giving and Giving Thanks

Here in the U.S. we’re getting ready for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving holiday, which means that PLOS ONE is taking a few days off.

To get in the mood for the holiday, here’s an important reminder, courtesy of a recent article: toddlers show a greater emotional reward from giving than from receiving, suggesting that we might all be better off with more giving in our lives.

Lara Aknin and colleagues from University of British Columbia reported this result in Giving Leads to Happiness in Young Children, published last June. The paper describes experiments demonstrating that toddlers show greater happiness when giving than when receiving. Furthermore, the authors found that children were happiest after “costly giving,” in which they had to sacrifice something of their own in order to give a gift. This effect may seem counterintuitive, but the authors write that it provides important insight into observed prosocial behavior among humans which has been difficult to explain.

Citation: Aknin LB, Hamlin JK, Dunn EW (2012) Giving Leads to Happiness in Young Children. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39211. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039211

Image credit: asenat29 on flickr

All About Alzheimer’s

5.4 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s Disease, and today, for National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, we thought it would be appropriate to discuss some important Alzheimer’s research that we’ve published over the last year here at PLOS ONE.

Alzheimer’s is a complex and somewhat mysterious disease. We know that Alzheimer’s patients have unusually high levels of protein tangles and plaques in their brains, but the exact relationship between this protein buildup and disease progression has been the subject of much debate and continuing research. To address one aspect of this question, a research group led by Karen Duff of Columbia University used a mouse model to show how one key protein called tau spreads through the brain.

Previous work had shown that tau accumulation associated with Alzheimer’s starts in a specific region of the brain, called the entorhinal cortex, and spreads from there. The mechanism for this spread, however, was unknown. In the recent work, published in February of this year, the authors developed a mouse strain that made human tau, but only in the entorhinal cortex. As the mice aged, though, the tau appeared in additional brain regions, providing compelling evidence that the problem protein is “contagious” and moves from cell to cell along neural networks. These results suggest possibilities for both new approaches for early diagnostics and treatment, and this mouse strain that in many ways appears to faithfully represent the disease progression in humans will likely be a very powerful research tool moving forward.

This study is just one example of the vast Alzhimeimer’s research currently underway. For example, this past Wednesday we published a brain imaging study investigating potential biomarkers for Alzheimer’s that could facilitate early diagnosis, from Julio Acosta-Cabronero of the University of Cambridge and colleagues, and in September, we published a paper describing genetic signatures in mitochondrial DNA associated with a reduced risk for the disease from a group led by John Kauwe of Brigham Young University.

For more information about Alzheimer’s, you can visit www.alz.org, and find additional PLOS ONE research about many diverse aspects of the disease.

Citations:

Liu L, Drouet V, Wu JW, Witter MP, Small SA, et al. (2012) Trans-Synaptic Spread of Tau Pathology In Vivo. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31302. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031302

Acosta-Cabronero J, Alley S, Williams GB, Pengas G, Nestor PJ (2012) Diffusion Tensor Metrics as Biomarkers in Alzheimer’s Disease. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49072. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049072

Ridge PG, Maxwell TJ, Corcoran CD, Norton MC, Tschanz JT, et al. (2012) Mitochondrial Genomic Analysis of Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Reveals Protective Haplogroups H6A1A/H6A1B: The Cache County Study on Memory in Aging. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45134. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.004513

Image source: Acosta-Cabronero et al.

Halloween Highlights: Spooktacular Science in PLOS ONE

October is here, which means the holiday season is almost upon us – starting, of course, with Halloween. PLOS ONE doesn’t publish much in the way of goblins, ghouls, or ghosts, but we realized that we do have quite a few spook-inducing papers, so to get you in the holiday spirit, we are bringing you some of our creepiest papers over the course of the month. Today we start with a Halloween icon: bats.

Bats may not be vampires in disguise, but even so, their bite can be dangerous. Bats host and transmit a number of diseases that affect humans, and these pathogens seem to be infecting bats in expanding habitats, specifically Europe. In June, a team of researchers identified the first cases of European bats carrying a virus from a large family called paramyxovirus, members of which are responsible for a number of human and animal diseases, including mumps and measles. Bats carrying this family of viruses had previously only been found in Africa, Australia, South America, and Asia.

A second study from some of the same authors, published in August, reported three novel viruses called orthoreoviruses isolated from European bats. These viruses have not been shown to cause disease in humans, but the authors suggest that their zoonotic potential should be investigated further. A final similar example, also published in August, describes the isolation of a previously unknown bat papillomavirus in Hong Kong.

Despite these potential dangers, it’s also important to note that bats do much good for the ecosystem, including eating lots of pesky bugs, pollinating plants, distributing fruit seeds, and providing valuable guano fertilizer. They’re not so creepy either, really. And sadly, they are currently struggling against a mysterious affliction called White-nose syndrome, which appears to disrupt their hibernation and has been  charged with the deaths of millions of bats in the US and Canada.

Regardless of whether you think bats are creepy or cute, dangerous or misunderstood, it’s unlikely that they’ll kick their eerie associations anytime soon, so here’s to kicking off a month of spooktacular science.

Citations:

Kurth A, Kohl C, Brinkmann A, Ebinger A, Harper JA, et al. (2012) Novel Paramyxoviruses in Free-Ranging European Bats. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38688. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038688

Kohl C, Lesnik R, Brinkmann A, Ebinger A, Radoni? A, et al. (2012) Isolation and Characterization of Three Mammalian Orthoreoviruses from European Bats. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43106. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043106

Tse H, Tsang AKL, Tsoi H-W, Leung ASP, Ho C-C, et al. (2012) Identification of a Novel Bat Papillomavirus by Metagenomics. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43986. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043986

Reeder DM, Frank CL, Turner GG, Meteyer CU, Kurta A, et al. (2012) Frequent Arousal from Hibernation Linked to Severity of Infection and Mortality in Bats with White-Nose Syndrome. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38920. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038920

Image credit: Taylor PJ, Stoffberg S, Monadjem A, Schoeman MC, Bayliss J, et al. (2012) Four New Bat Species (Rhinolophus hildebrandtii Complex) Reflect Plio-Pleistocene Divergence of Dwarfs and Giants across an Afromontane Archipelago. PLoS ONE 7(9): e41744. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041744