Latest Articles Include:
- Gene Network in Fruit Flies Guides Nervous System Repair
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001136 (2011)
- Sticking Together Helps Cells Capture More Food and Keep It from the Cheaters
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001123 (2011)
- Plexin Activation Relies on an Array of Receptors
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001140 (2011)
- A Tale of Two Biofilms
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001119 (2011)
- Fertilizing Nature: A Tragedy of Excess in the Commons
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001124 (2011)
Globally, we are applying excessive nitrogen (N) fertilizers to our agricultural crops, which ultimately causes nitrogen pollution to our ecosphere. The atmosphere is polluted by N2O and NOx gases that directly and indirectly increase atmospheric warming and climate change. Nitrogen is also leached from agricultural lands as the water-soluble form NO3−, which increases nutrient overload in rivers, lakes, and oceans, causing "dead zones", reducing property values and the diversity of aquatic life, and damaging our drinking water and aquatic-associated industries such as fishing and tourism. Why do some countries show reductions in fertilizer use while others show increasing use? What N fertilizer application reductions could occur, without compromising crop yields? And what are the economic and environmental benefits of using directed nutrient management strategies?
- A Case Of Convergence: Why Did a Simple Alternative to Canonical Antibodies Arise in Sharks and Camels?
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001120 (2011)
- What Do Human Parasites Do with a Chloroplast Anyway?
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001137 (2011)
- Why Worry about How Many Species and Their Loss?
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001130 (2011)
We are astonishingly ignorant about how many species are alive on earth today, and even more ignorant about how many we can lose yet still maintain ecosystem services that humanity ultimately depends upon. Mora et al.'s paper is important in offering an imaginative new approach to assessing total species numbers, both on land and in the sea.
- Tracing the Trail of Protons through Complex I of the Mitochondrial Respiratory Chain
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001129 (2011)
Mitochondria are the structures that produce the bulk part of the cellular energy currency ATP, which drives numerous energy requiring processes in the cell. This process involves a series of large enzyme complexes—the respiratory chain—that couples the transfer of electrons to the creation of a concentration gradient of protons across the inner mitochondrial membrane, which drives ATP synthesis. Complex I (or NADH-quinone oxidoreductase) is the largest and by far the most complicated of the respiratory chain enzyme complexes. The molecular mechanism whereby it couples electron transfer to proton extrusion has remained mysterious until very recently. Low-resolution X-ray structures of complex I have, surprisingly, suggested that electron transfer in the hydrophilic arm, protruding into the mitochondrial matrix, causes movement of a coupling rod that influences three putative proton pumps within the hydrophobic arm embedded in the inner mitochondrial membrane. In th! is Primer, we will briefly introduce the recent progress made in this area and highlight the road ahead that likely will unravel the detailed molecular mechanisms of complex I function.
- Workshops without Walls: Broadening Access to Science around the World
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001118 (2011)
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astrobiology Institute (NAI) conducted two "Workshops Without Walls" during 2010 that enabled global scientific exchange—with no travel required. The second of these was on the topic "Molecular Paleontology and Resurrection: Rewinding the Tape of Life." Scientists from diverse disciplines and locations around the world were joined through an integrated suite of collaborative technologies to exchange information on the latest developments in this area of origin of life research. Through social media outlets and popular science blogs, participation in the workshop was broadened to include educators, science writers, and members of the general public. In total, over 560 people from 31 US states and 30 other nations were registered. Among the scientific disciplines represented were geochemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and evolution, and microbial ecology. We present this workshop as a case study in! how interdisciplinary collaborative research may be fostered, with substantial public engagement, without sustaining the deleterious environmental and economic impacts of travel.
- Chemical Rescue of Malaria Parasites Lacking an Apicoplast Defines Organelle Function in Blood-Stage Plasmodium falciparum
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001138 (2011)
Plasmodium spp parasites harbor an unusual plastid organelle called the apicoplast. Due to its prokaryotic origin and essential function, the apicoplast is a key target for development of new anti-malarials. Over 500 proteins are predicted to localize to this organelle and several prokaryotic biochemical pathways have been annotated, yet the essential role of the apicoplast during human infection remains a mystery. Previous work showed that treatment with fosmidomycin, an inhibitor of non-mevalonate isoprenoid precursor biosynthesis in the apicoplast, inhibits the growth of blood-stage P. falciparum. Herein, we demonstrate that fosmidomycin inhibition can be chemically rescued by supplementation with isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP), the pathway product. Surprisingly, IPP supplementation also completely reverses death following treatment with antibiotics that cause loss of the apicoplast. We show that antibiotic-treated parasites rescued with IPP over multiple cycles sp! ecifically lose their apicoplast genome and fail to process or localize organelle proteins, rendering them functionally apicoplast-minus. Despite the loss of this essential organelle, these apicoplast-minus auxotrophs can be grown indefinitely in asexual blood stage culture but are entirely dependent on exogenous IPP for survival. These findings indicate that isoprenoid precursor biosynthesis is the only essential function of the apicoplast during blood-stage growth. Moreover, apicoplast-minus P. falciparum strains will be a powerful tool for further investigation of apicoplast biology as well as drug and vaccine development.
- The Glial Regenerative Response to Central Nervous System Injury Is Enabled by Pros-Notch and Pros-NFκB Feedback
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001133 (2011)
Organisms are structurally robust, as cells accommodate changes preserving structural integrity and function. The molecular mechanisms underlying structural robustness and plasticity are poorly understood, but can be investigated by probing how cells respond to injury. Injury to the CNS induces proliferation of enwrapping glia, leading to axonal re-enwrapment and partial functional recovery. This glial regenerative response is found across species, and may reflect a common underlying genetic mechanism. Here, we show that injury to the Drosophila larval CNS induces glial proliferation, and we uncover a gene network controlling this response. It consists of the mutual maintenance between the cell cycle inhibitor Prospero (Pros) and the cell cycle activators Notch and NFκB. Together they maintain glia in the brink of dividing, they enable glial proliferation following injury, and subsequently they exert negative feedback on cell division restoring cell cycle arrest. Pros! also promotes glial differentiation, resolving vacuolization, enabling debris clearance and axonal enwrapment. Disruption of this gene network prevents repair and induces tumourigenesis. Using wound area measurements across genotypes and time-lapse recordings we show that when glial proliferation and glial differentiation are abolished, both the size of the glial wound and neuropile vacuolization increase. When glial proliferation and differentiation are enabled, glial wound size decreases and injury-induced apoptosis and vacuolization are prevented. The uncovered gene network promotes regeneration of the glial lesion and neuropile repair. In the unharmed animal, it is most likely a homeostatic mechanism for structural robustness. This gene network may be of relevance to mammalian glia to promote repair upon CNS injury or disease.
- How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001127 (2011)
The diversity of life is one of the most striking aspects of our planet; hence knowing how many species inhabit Earth is among the most fundamental questions in science. Yet the answer to this question remains enigmatic, as efforts to sample the world's biodiversity to date have been limited and thus have precluded direct quantification of global species richness, and because indirect estimates rely on assumptions that have proven highly controversial. Here we show that the higher taxonomic classification of species (i.e., the assignment of species to phylum, class, order, family, and genus) follows a consistent and predictable pattern from which the total number of species in a taxonomic group can be estimated. This approach was validated against well-known taxa, and when applied to all domains of life, it predicts ∼8.7 million (±1.3 million SE) eukaryotic species globally, of which ∼2.2 million (±0.18 million SE) are marine. In spite of 250 years of taxonomic c! lassification and over 1.2 million species already catalogued in a central database, our results suggest that some 86% of existing species on Earth and 91% of species in the ocean still await description. Renewed interest in further exploration and taxonomy is required if this significant gap in our knowledge of life on Earth is to be closed.
- Sucrose Utilization in Budding Yeast as a Model for the Origin of Undifferentiated Multicellularity
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001122 (2011)
We use the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to investigate one model for the initial emergence of multicellularity: the formation of multicellular aggregates as a result of incomplete cell separation. We combine simulations with experiments to show how the use of secreted public goods favors the formation of multicellular aggregates. Yeast cells can cooperate by secreting invertase, an enzyme that digests sucrose into monosaccharides, and many wild isolates are multicellular because cell walls remain attached to each other after the cells divide. We manipulate invertase secretion and cell attachment, and show that multicellular clumps have two advantages over single cells: they grow under conditions where single cells cannot and they compete better against cheaters, cells that do not make invertase. We propose that the prior use of public goods led to selection for the incomplete cell separation that first produced multicellularity.
- Combining Genome-Wide Association Mapping and Transcriptional Networks to Identify Novel Genes Controlling Glucosinolates in Arabidopsis thaliana
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001125 (2011)
Background Genome-wide association (GWA) is gaining popularity as a means to study the architecture of complex quantitative traits, partially due to the improvement of high-throughput low-cost genotyping and phenotyping technologies. Glucosinolate (GSL) secondary metabolites within Arabidopsis spp. can serve as a model system to understand the genomic architecture of adaptive quantitative traits. GSL are key anti-herbivory defenses that impart adaptive advantages within field trials. While little is known about how variation in the external or internal environment of an organism may influence the efficiency of GWA, GSL variation is known to be highly dependent upon the external stresses and developmental processes of the plant lending it to be an excellent model for studying conditional GWA.Methodology/Principal Findings To understand how development and environment can influence GWA, we conducted a study using 96 Arabidopsis thaliana accessions, >40 GSL phenotypes across three conditions (one developmental comparison and one environmental comparison) and ∼230,000 SNPs. Developmental stage had dramatic effects on the outcome of GWA, with each stage identifying different loci associated with GSL traits. Further, while the molecular bases of numerous quantitative trait loci (QTL) controlling GSL traits have been identified, there is currently no estimate of how many additional genes may control natural variation in these traits. We developed a novel co-expression network approach to prioritize the thousands of GWA candidates and successfully validated a large number of these genes as influencing GSL accumulation within A. thaliana using single gene isogenic lines.Conclusions/Significance Together, these results suggest that complex traits imparting environmentally contingent adaptive advantages are likely influenced by up to thousands of loci that are sensitive to fluctuations in the environment or developmental state of the organism. Additionally, while GWA is highly conditional upon genetics, the use of additional genomic information can rapidly identify causal loci en masse.
- Functional Dissection of the Proton Pumping Modules of Mitochondrial Complex I
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001128 (2011)
Mitochondrial complex I, the largest and most complicated proton pump of the respiratory chain, links the electron transfer from NADH to ubiquinone to the pumping of four protons from the matrix into the intermembrane space. In humans, defects in complex I are involved in a wide range of degenerative disorders. Recent progress in the X-ray structural analysis of prokaryotic and eukaryotic complex I confirmed that the redox reactions are confined entirely to the hydrophilic peripheral arm of the L-shaped molecule and take place at a remarkable distance from the membrane domain. While this clearly implies that the proton pumping within the membrane arm of complex I is driven indirectly via long-range conformational coupling, the molecular mechanism and the number, identity, and localization of the pump-sites remains unclear. Here, we report that upon deletion of the gene for a small accessory subunit of the Yarrowia complex I, a stable subcomplex (nb8mΔ) is formed that ! lacks the distal part of the membrane domain as revealed by single particle analysis. The analysis of the subunit composition of holo and subcomplex by three complementary proteomic approaches revealed that two (ND4 and ND5) of the three subunits with homology to bacterial Mrp-type Na+/H+ antiporters that have been discussed as prime candidates for harbouring the proton pumps were missing in nb8mΔ. Nevertheless, nb8mΔ still pumps protons at half the stoichiometry of the complete enzyme. Our results provide evidence that the membrane arm of complex I harbours two functionally distinct pump modules that are connected in series by the long helical transmission element recently identified by X-ray structural analysis.
- Sex Chromosome-Specific Regulation in the Drosophila Male Germline But Little Evidence for Chromosomal Dosage Compensation or Meiotic Inactivation
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001126 (2011)
The evolution of heteromorphic sex chromosomes (e.g., XY in males or ZW in females) has repeatedly elicited the evolution of two kinds of chromosome-specific regulation: dosage compensation—the equalization of X chromosome gene expression in males and females— and meiotic sex chromosome inactivation (MSCI)—the transcriptional silencing and heterochromatinization of the X during meiosis in the male (or Z in the female) germline. How the X chromosome is regulated in the Drosophila melanogaster male germline is unclear. Here we report three new findings concerning gene expression from the X in Drosophila testes. First, X chromosome-wide dosage compensation appears to be absent from most of the Drosophila male germline. Second, microarray analysis provides no evidence for X chromosome-specific inactivation during meiosis. Third, we confirm the previous discovery that the expression of transgene reporters driven by autosomal spermatogenesis-specific promoters is stron! gly reduced when inserted on the X chromosome versus the autosomes; but we show that this chromosomal difference in expression is established in premeiotic cells and persists in meiotic cells. The magnitude of the X-autosome difference in transgene expression cannot be explained by the absence of dosage compensation, suggesting that a previously unrecognized mechanism limits expression from the X during spermatogenesis in Drosophila. These findings help to resolve several previously conflicting reports and have implications for patterns of genome evolution and speciation in Drosophila.
- Evolution of Sex-Specific Traits through Changes in HOX-Dependent doublesex Expression
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001131 (2011)
Almost every animal lineage is characterized by unique sex-specific traits, implying that such traits are gained and lost frequently in evolution. However, the genetic mechanisms responsible for these changes are not understood. In Drosophila, the activity of the sex determination pathway is restricted to sexually dimorphic tissues, suggesting that spatial regulation of this pathway may contribute to the evolution of sex-specific traits. We examine the regulation and function of doublesex (dsx), the main transcriptional effector of the sex determination pathway, in the development and evolution of Drosophila sex combs. Sex combs are a recent evolutionary innovation and show dramatic diversity in the relatively few Drosophila species that have them. We show that dsx expression in the presumptive sex comb region is activated by the HOX gene Sex combs reduced (Scr), and that the male isoform of dsx up-regulates Scr so that both genes become expressed at high levels in thi! s region in males but not in females. Precise spatial regulation of dsx is essential for defining sex comb position and morphology. Comparative analysis of Scr and dsx expression reveals a tight correlation between sex comb morphology and the expression patterns of both genes. In species that primitively lack sex combs, no dsx expression is observed in the homologous region, suggesting that the origin and diversification of this structure were linked to the gain of a new dsx expression domain. Two other, distantly related fly lineages that independently evolved novel male-specific structures show evolutionary gains of dsx expression in the corresponding tissues, where dsx may also be controlled by Scr. These findings suggest that changes in the spatial regulation of sex-determining genes are a key mechanism that enables the evolution of new sex-specific traits, contributing to some of the most dramatic examples of phenotypic diversification in nature.
- Three Distinct Roles for Notch in Drosophila R7 Photoreceptor Specification
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001132 (2011)
Receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and Notch (N) proteins are different types of transmembrane receptors that transduce extracellular signals and control cell fate. Here we examine cell fate specification in the Drosophila retina and ask how N acts together with the RTKs Sevenless (Sev) and the EGF receptor (DER) to specify the R7 photoreceptor. The retina is composed of many hundred ommatidia, each of which grows by recruiting surrounding, undifferentiated cells and directing them to particular fates. The R7 photoreceptor derives from a cohort of three cells that are incorporated together following specification of the R2-R5 and R8 photoreceptors. Two cells of the cohort are specified as the R1/6 photoreceptor type by DER activation. These cells then activate N in the third cell (the R7 precursor). By manipulation of N and RTK signaling in diverse combinations we establish three roles for N in specifying the R7 fate. The first role is to impose a block to photoreceptor ! differentiation; a block that DER activation cannot overcome. The second role, paradoxically, is to negate the first; Notch activation up-regulates Sev expression, enabling the presumptive R7 cell to receive an RTK signal from R8 that can override the block. The third role is to specify the cell as an R7 rather than an R1/6 once RTK signaling has specified the cells as a photoreceptor. We speculate why N acts both to block and to facilitate photoreceptor differentiation, and provide a model for how N and RTK signaling act combinatorially to specify the R1/6 and R7 photoreceptors as well as the surrounding non-neuronal cone cells.
- A Dual Binding Mode for RhoGTPases in Plexin Signalling
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001134 (2011)
Plexins are cell surface receptors for the semaphorin family of cell guidance cues. The cytoplasmic region comprises a Ras GTPase-activating protein (GAP) domain and a RhoGTPase binding domain. Concomitant binding of extracellular semaphorin and intracellular RhoGTPase triggers GAP activity and signal transduction. The mechanism of this intricate regulation remains elusive. We present two crystal structures of the human Plexin-B1 cytoplasmic region in complex with a constitutively active RhoGTPase, Rac1. The structure of truncated Plexin-B1-Rac1 complex provides no mechanism for coupling RhoGTPase and Ras binding sites. On inclusion of the juxtamembrane helix, a trimeric structure of Plexin-B1-Rac1 complexes is stabilised by a second, novel, RhoGTPase binding site adjacent to the Ras site. Site-directed mutagenesis combined with cellular and biophysical assays demonstrate that this new binding site is essential for signalling. Our findings are consistent with a model i! n which extracellular and intracellular plexin clustering events combine into a single signalling output.
- Video-Game Play Induces Plasticity in the Visual System of Adults with Amblyopia
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001135 (2011)
Abnormal visual experience during a sensitive period of development disrupts neuronal circuitry in the visual cortex and results in abnormal spatial vision or amblyopia. Here we examined whether playing video games can induce plasticity in the visual system of adults with amblyopia. Specifically 20 adults with amblyopia (age 15–61 y; visual acuity: 20/25–20/480, with no manifest ocular disease or nystagmus) were recruited and allocated into three intervention groups: action videogame group (n = 10), non-action videogame group (n = 3), and crossover control group (n = 7). Our experiments show that playing video games (both action and non-action games) for a short period of time (40–80 h, 2 h/d) using the amblyopic eye results in a substantial improvement in a wide range of fundamental visual functions, from low-level to high-level, including visual acuity (33%), positional acuity (16%), spatial attention (37%), and stereopsis (54%). Using a cross-over ! experimental design (first 20 h: occlusion therapy, and the next 40 h: videogame therapy), we can conclude that the improvement cannot be explained simply by eye patching alone. We quantified the limits and the time course of visual plasticity induced by video-game experience. The recovery in visual acuity that we observed is at least 5-fold faster than would be expected from occlusion therapy in childhood amblyopia. We used positional noise and modelling to reveal the neural mechanisms underlying the visual improvements in terms of decreased spatial distortion (7%) and increased processing efficiency (33%). Our study had several limitations: small sample size, lack of randomization, and differences in numbers between groups. A large-scale randomized clinical study is needed to confirm the therapeutic value of video-game treatment in clinical situations. Nonetheless, taken as a pilot study, this work suggests that video-game play may provide important principles for treatin! g amblyopia, and perhaps other cortical dysfunctions.Trial Reg! istration ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01223716
- Alternative Mating Type Configurations (a/α versus a/a or α/α) of Candida albicans Result in Alternative Biofilms Regulated by Different Pathways
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001117 (2011)
Similar multicellular structures can evolve within the same organism that may have different evolutionary histories, be controlled by different regulatory pathways, and play similar but nonidentical roles. In the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans, a quite extraordinary example of this has occurred. Depending upon the configuration of the mating type locus (a/α versus a/a or α/α), C. albicans forms alternative biofilms that appear similar morphologically, but exhibit dramatically different characteristics and are regulated by distinctly different signal transduction pathways. Biofilms formed by a/α cells are impermeable to molecules in the size range of 300 Da to 140 kDa, are poorly penetrated by human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs), and are resistant to antifungals. In contrast, a/a or α/α biofilms are permeable to molecules in this size range, are readily penetrated by PMNs, and are susceptible to antifungals. By mutational analyses, a/α biofilms are ! demonstrated to be regulated by the Ras1/cAMP pathway that includes Ras1→Cdc35→cAMP(Pde2—|)→Tpk2(Tpk1)→Efg1→Tec1→Bcr1, and a/a biofilms by the MAP kinase pathway that includes Mfα→Ste2→ (Ste4, Ste18, Cag1)→Ste11→Hst7→Cek2(Cek1)→Tec1. These observations suggest the hypothesis that while the upstream portion of the newly evolved pathway regulating a/a and α/α cell biofilms was derived intact from the upstream portion of the conserved pheromone-regulated pathway for mating, the downstream portion was derived through modification of the downstream portion of the conserved pathway for a/α biofilm formation. C. albicans therefore forms two alternative biofilms depending upon mating configuration.
- Opposing Activities of LIT-1/NLK and DAF-6/Patched-Related Direct Sensory Compartment Morphogenesis in C. elegans
- PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001121 (2011)
Glial cells surround neuronal endings to create enclosed compartments required for neuronal function. This architecture is seen at excitatory synapses and at sensory neuron receptive endings. Despite the prevalence and importance of these compartments, how they form is not known. We used the main sensory organ of C. elegans, the amphid, to investigate this issue. daf-6/Patched-related is a glia-expressed gene previously implicated in amphid sensory compartment morphogenesis. By comparing time series of electron-microscopy (EM) reconstructions of wild-type and daf-6 mutant embryos, we show that daf-6 acts to restrict compartment size. From a genetic screen, we found that mutations in the gene lit-1/Nemo-like kinase (NLK) suppress daf-6. EM and genetic studies demonstrate that lit-1 acts within glia, in counterbalance to daf-6, to promote sensory compartment expansion. Although LIT-1 has been shown to regulate Wnt signaling, our genetic studies demonstrate a novel, Wnt-i! ndependent role for LIT-1 in sensory compartment size control. The LIT-1 activator MOM-4/TAK1 is also important for compartment morphogenesis and both proteins line the glial sensory compartment. LIT-1 compartment localization is important for its function and requires neuronal signals. Furthermore, the conserved LIT-1 C-terminus is necessary and sufficient for this localization. Two-hybrid and co-immunoprecipitation studies demonstrate that the LIT-1 C-terminus binds both actin and the Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein (WASP), an actin regulator. We use fluorescence light microscopy and fluorescence EM methodology to show that actin is highly enriched around the amphid sensory compartment. Finally, our genetic studies demonstrate that WASP is important for compartment expansion and functions in the same pathway as LIT-1. The studies presented here uncover a novel, Wnt-independent role for the conserved Nemo-like kinase LIT-1 in controlling cell morphogenesis in conjunction ! with the actin cytoskeleton. Our results suggest that the oppo! sing daf-6 and lit-1 glial pathways act together to control sensory compartment size.