Open Reading Frame brings together a selection of recent publication highlights from elsewhere in  the open access ecosystem. This week we take a look at the past few weeks in biology.


Do new species arise in bursts? The answer could be written in sand

It’s difficult to tell just what happens in the evolution of species through time, since examining genetic legacies can highlight very variable rates of evolution that cannot be wholly explained by  a standard ‘molecular clock’. Now, a new study puts forward an alternative approach to investigate this problem by digging into the remains of tiny fossilised creatures called planktonic foraminifera, whose scattered remains resemble tiny grains of sand. By integrating genetic and ecological data on this fossil lineage, they find that speciation looks most likely to have come about in rapid bursts of genetic change.
Ezard et al. Methods in Ecology and Evolution


Bigger immune trigger for mice lacking SIGIRR

Most of us know about the benefits of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, but surprisingly little is known about the interaction of beneficial bacteria with our immune systems. In mice at least, a protein called SIGIRR  dampens the innate immune response to ensure that these beneficial bacteria are not attacked too forcefully by the body, as their presence can help to out-compete other more harmful bugs. Mice lacking this protein take a scattergun approach to attacking all gut microbes, which leaves them more susceptible to infection by food-borne pathogens.
Sham et al. PLOS Pathogens


Bovine tuberculosis in Britain: the evidence

That bovine TB in Great Britain is spreading is not disputed. How best to halt the spread of this costly livestock disease  however is, and it is hugely controversial. A neutral review of the evidence base that we currently have on the infection summarises its geographical distribution, rate of spread, and provides the full perspective on what effect a badger cull and vaccination program might have on controlling the disease. All evidence documented is categorised according to the strength of the evidence base, and should prove to be a valuable resource for both policy-makers and the public alike.
Godfray et al. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences


Agreement reached over the release of HeLa data

Although published openly a few months back, an important update to an article on the genomic landscape of the widely used HeLa cell line has been announced. This cell line is derived from cervical cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks, a working-class African-American woman, in the 1950’s. Because of the importance of this cell line in biomedical research, understanding how her genome differs from other human genome sequences will be crucial understanding how variation affects disease. However, ethical questions about how public release of this data could impact Henrietta’s descendants were not fully addressed upon its initial publication. Now, following consultation with the Lacks family, access to this data  has been restricted, with researchers having to request access permission and formally name Henrietta Lacks in all publications in which it is used.
Landry et al. G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics


A new way to check whether the drugs do work

A method to quantify the sensitivity of the brain to a dose of dopamine provides a proof-of principle that rapid quantitative pharmacodynamic imaging can be used in research and clinical applications to analyse how sensitive a biological system is to a specific drug. Although previous methods have been able to map response to drugs using fMRI data, these have been limited to imaging the presence or absence of active regions of the brain. By giving subjects a repeated small dose of a drug over short time intervals, the methods is able to calculate a quantitative measure over  a single imaging session, even with a non-quantitative imaging method.
Black et al. PeerJ


Breaking the habit: how the brain separates goals from automatic actions

We’re all familiar with this difference. Automatic actions like typing in your PIN on a keypad seem hardwired after a few weeks continual use. Suddenly change your number, and it’s a different matter as your brain and fingers don’t seem quite as attuned to each other as they once were. Understanding the neuroscience behind these two responses – habitual versus goal-directed actions – could provide crucial insights into the basis of disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, in which the boundaries between the two appear to be blurred. A new study using a technique called optogenetics to control the firing of neurons in mice now reveals a previously unidentified role for the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex in modulating these goal-directed actions.
Gremel & Costa. Nature Communications


Written by Simon Harold, Senior Executive Editor for the BMC Series.



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