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    ABSTRACT: Odour signals used in competitive and aggressive interactions between males are well studied in the context of sexual selection. By contrast, relatively little is known about comparable signals used by females, despite current interest in the evolution of female ornaments and weaponry. Available evidence suggests that odour signals are important in competitive interactions between female mammals, with reductions or reversals of male-biased sexual dimorphism in signalling where female competition is intense. Scent marking is often associated with conflict between females over access to resources or reproductive opportunities. Female scent marks may therefore provide reliable signals of competitive ability that could be used both by competitors and potential mates. Consistent with this hypothesis, we report that aggressive behaviour of female house mice is correlated with the amount of major urinary protein (MUP) excreted in their urine, a polymorphic set of proteins that are used in scent mark signalling. Under semi-natural conditions, females with high MUP output are more likely to produce offspring sired by males that have high reproductive success, and less likely to produce offspring by multiple different sires, suggesting that females with strong MUP signals are monopolized by males of particularly high quality. We conclude that odour signals are worthy of more detailed investigation as mediators of female competition.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 12/2013; 368(1631):20130082. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2013.0082
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    ABSTRACT: Mascara is a mild irritant that causes a range of medical problems. Animal models to predict ocular irritation have, however, been questioned at a number of levels, and there is a continued need to develop in vitro testing methods. We assess changes in an easily quantifiable attribute, ciliated protozoan growth rate, as a sensitive, sub-lethal measure. We provide evidence that two easily cultured protozoa (Paramecium caudatum, Blepharisma japonicum) should be considered as models to assess ocular irritancy (and possibly cosmetics in general) and establish the groundwork for such studies to be applied at a more commercial level. We do this by developing a bioassay for mascara toxicity and indicate the low-cost (after equipment is purchase, on the order of $100s) and the ease of performing such tests (able to be conducted by undergraduate students), as a consideration for their future commercial application. Specifically, we test six, randomly chosen, commercial mascara products against a control (as treatments) and reveal through ANOVA (n = 6, α=0.05) significant differences in the specific growth rate to treatments (for both protozoa): we first examined dose-dependence of responses, revealing that there was a need to conduct preliminary work to determine appropriate levels for sub-lethal responses. We then show that some products resulted in mortality at high concentrations, others decreased growth rate by >50% (compared to the control), while others had no significant effect, compared to the control. Now that we have provided a novel, quick, and inexpensive means to assess mascara, the next step is to validate these ciliate-bioassays by comparison with animal testing and epidemiological studies, which is beyond the scope of this fundamental "proof-of-concept" study. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    International journal of cosmetic science 11/2013; 36(2). DOI:10.1111/ics.12106
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    ABSTRACT: AMPLE is a program developed for clustering and truncating ab initio protein structure predictions into search models for molecular replacement. Here, it is shown that its core cluster-and-truncate methods also work well for processing NMR ensembles into search models. Rosetta remodelling helps to extend success to NMR structures bearing low sequence identity or high structural divergence from the target protein. Potential future routes to improved performance are considered and practical, general guidelines on using AMPLE are provided.
    Acta Crystallographica Section D Biological Crystallography 11/2013; 69(Pt 11):2194-201. DOI:10.1107/S0907444913018453
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    ABSTRACT: This paper introduces a Theme Issue combining interdisciplinary perspectives in the study of female competition and aggression. Despite a history of being largely overlooked, evidence is now accumulating for the widespread evolutionary significance of female competition. Here, we provide a synthesis of contributions to this Theme Issue on humans and other vertebrates, and highlight directions for future research. Females compete for resources needed to survive and reproduce, and for preferred mates. Although female aggression takes diverse forms, under most circumstances relatively low-risk competitive strategies are favoured, most probably due to constraints of offspring production and care. In social species, dominance relationships and threats of punishment can resolve social conflict without resort to direct aggression, and coalitions or alliances may reduce risk of retaliation. Consistent with these trends, indirect aggression is a low cost but effective form of competition among young women. Costs are also minimized by flexibility in expression of competitive traits, with aggressive behaviour and competitive signalling tailored to social and ecological conditions. Future research on female competition and the proximate mediators of female aggression will be greatly enhanced by opportunities for interdisciplinary exchange, as evidenced by contributions to this Theme Issue.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 10/2013; 368(1631):20130073. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2013.0073
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    ABSTRACT: Phosphate (Pi) deficiency induces a multitude of responses aimed at improving the acquisition of Pi, including an increased density of root hairs. To understand the mechanisms involved in Pi deficiency-induced alterations of the root hair phenotype in Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana), we analyzed the patterning and length of root epidermal cells under control and Pi-deficient conditions in wild-type plants and in four mutants defective in the expression of master regulators of cell fate, CAPRICE (CPC), ENHANCER OF TRY AND CPC 1 (ETC1), WEREWOLF (WER) and SCRAMBLED (SCM). From this analysis we deduced that the longitudinal cell length of root epidermal cells is dependent on the correct perception of a positional signal ('cortical bias') in both control and Pi-deficient plants; mutants defective in the receptor of the signal, SCM, produced short cells characteristic of root hair-forming cells (trichoblasts). Simulating the effect of cortical bias on the time-evolving probability of cell fate supports a scenario in which a compromised positional signal delays the time point at which non-hair cells opt out the default trichoblast pathway, resulting in short, trichoblast-like non-hair cells. Collectively, our data show that Pi-deficient plants increase root hair density by the formation of shorter cells, resulting in a higher frequency of hairs per unit root length, and additional trichoblast cell fate assignment via increased expression of ETC1.
    PLoS ONE 10/2013; 8(10):e75452. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0075452
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    ABSTRACT: Effective population size (Ne) determines the rate of genetic drift and the relative influence of selection over random genetic changes. While free-living protist populations characteristically consist of huge numbers of cells (N), the absence of any estimates of contemporary Ne raises the question whether protist effective population sizes are comparably large. Using microsatellite genotype data of strains derived from revived cysts of the marine dinoflagellate Pentapharsodinium dalei from sections of a sediment record that spanned some 100 years, we present the first estimates of contemporary Ne for a local population in a free-living protist. The estimates of Ne are relatively small, of the order of a few 100 individuals, and thus are similar in magnitude to values of Ne reported for multicellular animals: the implications are that Ne of P. dalei is of many orders of magnitude lower than the number of cells present (Ne/N ∼ 10(-12)) and that stochastic genetic processes may be more prevalent in protist populations than previously anticipated.
    Biology letters 10/2013; 9(6):20130849. DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2013.0849
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    ABSTRACT: In multicellular organisms, tight regulation of gene expression ensures appropriate tissue and organismal growth throughout development. Reversible phosphorylation of the RNA Polymerase II (RNAPII) C-terminal domain (CTD) is critical for the regulation of gene expression states, but how phosphorylation is actively modified in a developmental context remains poorly understood. Protein phosphatase 1 (PP1) is one of several enzymes that has been reported to dephosphorylate the RNAPII CTD. However, PP1's contribution to transcriptional regulation during animal development and the mechanisms by which its activity is targeted to RNAPII have not been fully elucidated. Here we show that the Drosophila orthologue of the PP1 Nuclear Targeting Subunit (dPNUTS) is essential for organismal development and is cell autonomously required for growth of developing tissues. The function of dPNUTS in tissue development depends on its binding to PP1, which we show is targeted by dPNUTS to RNAPII at many active sites of transcription on chromosomes. Loss of dPNUTS function or specific disruption of its ability to bind PP1 results in hyperphosphorylation of the RNAPII CTD in whole animal extracts and on chromosomes. Consistent with dPNUTS being a global transcriptional regulator, we find that loss of dPNUTS function affects the expression of the majority of genes in developing 1(st) instar larvae, including those that promote proliferative growth. Together, these findings shed light on the in vivo role of the PNUTS-PP1 holoenzyme and its contribution to the control of gene expression during early Drosophila development.
    PLoS Genetics 10/2013; 9(10):e1003885. DOI:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003885
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    ABSTRACT: Queuing up: Molecular orientation within macroscopically aligned nanotubes of the peptide AAAAAAK can be studied by solid-state NMR and IR spectroscopy. Line shape analysis of the NMR spectra indicates that the peptide NH bonds are tilted 65-70° relative to the nanotube long axis. Re-evaluation of earlier X-ray fiber diffraction data suggests that the peptide molecules are hydrogen-bonded in a helical arrangement along the nanotube axis.
    Angewandte Chemie International Edition 09/2013; 52(40). DOI:10.1002/anie.201301960
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    ABSTRACT: The availability of thousands of genome sequences of bacterial pathogens poses a particular challenge because each genome contains hundreds of genes of unknown function (FUN). How can we easily discover which FUN genes encode important virulence factors? One solution is to combine two different functional genomic approaches. First, transcriptomics identifies bacterial FUN genes that show differential expression during the process of mammalian infection. Second, global mutagenesis identifies individual FUN genes that the pathogen requires to cause disease. The intersection of these datasets can reveal a small set of candidate genes most likely to encode novel virulence attributes. We demonstrate this approach with the Salmonella infection model, and propose that a similar strategy could be used for other bacterial pathogens.
    Current opinion in microbiology 09/2013; 16(5). DOI:10.1016/j.mib.2013.07.009
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    ABSTRACT: RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful and widely used approach to investigate gene function, but a major limitation of the approach is the high incidence of non-specific phenotypes that arise due to off-target effects. We previously showed that RNAi-mediated knock-down of pico, which encodes the only member of the MRL family of adapter proteins in Drosophila, resulted in reduction in cell number and size leading to reduced tissue growth. In contrast, a recent study reported that pico knockdown leads to tissue dysmorphology, pointing to an indirect role for pico in the control of wing size. To understand the cause of this disparity we have utilised a synthetic RNAi-resistant transgene, which bears minimal sequence homology to the predicted dsRNA but encodes wild type Pico protein, to reanalyse the RNAi lines used in the two studies. We find that the RNAi lines from different sources exhibit different effects, with one set of lines uniquely resulting in a tissue dysmorphology phenotype when expressed in the developing wing. Importantly, the loss of tissue morphology fails to be complemented by co-overexpression of RNAi-resistant pico suggesting that this phenotype is the result of an off-target effect. This highlights the importance of careful validation of RNAi-induced phenotypes, and shows the potential of synthetic transgenes for their experimental validation.
    PLoS ONE 08/2013; 8(8):e70489. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0070489
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