Open Reading Frame: from socialising mice to plant tannin factories

Posted by Biome on 13th September 2013 - 0 Comments

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.


Mice get glammed up to unveil complex social relationships
The use of cosmetics on animals can be controversial, but for one group of mice under investigation by researchers from Germany and Israel, getting a colourful makeover has helped to uncover some of the secrets of social interaction. Individual mice had their hair dyed with different ultraviolet colours, and their movement and behaviour tracked by an automated detection system as they went about their daily lives in the lab. From this, the researchers were able to infer that previous models that account only for the characteristics of individual mice were not enough to explain the observed interactions, and that the early environment in which individuals had been raised can have far larger effects on how they behave when in a group.
Shemesh et al. eLife


“The systematics community is doing a poor job of making datasets available”
A survey of some 7,500 publications from journals in evolutionary biology and systematics reveals that only around 17 percent of articles provided accessible phylogenetic trees and alignments, despite many journals now requiring that this data be made available in freely-accessible databases. As such, this lack of accessibility puts into serious question the reproducibility of the science, in what the authors of this perspective article deem to be a failure by this field on a massive scale. They argue that only by incentivising openness in data sharing, by giving credit to authors who demonstrate best practice in this area, can the community make substantial progress in the future.
Drew et al. PLoS Biology


New mechanism for the regulation of chromatin structure
Histones are proteins that act as spools around which DNA can form structures called nucleosomes which, when packaged into repeating units, form chromatin and thereby the structure of the cell nucleus. These histones may be replication-independent or replication-dependent; the latter are used to assemble chromatin structure during DNA replication. Although these histones were known to exist in a number of different isoforms, until now they were all thought to be largely identical in their function. However, a new analysis using bladder cancer cell lines has shown dramatic differences between these isoforms and those in healthy bladder cells, and suggests that these distinct cellular functions could play a crucial role in carcinogenesis.
Singh et al. Nucleic Acids Research


Scientists harnessing the power of social media
Still sceptical about how microblogging can help your research? If you’ve not yet signed up to Twitter, conservation scientist Emily Darling (otherwise known as @emilysdarling) and friends guide you through the brave new world of scientific communication via Twitter, and highlight how the various stages of the lifecycle of a scientific publication can be influenced by this social media platform. Using examples from their own experience of conducting ‘open science in real time’, they show how peer-review, collaboration and research impact can all benefit from embracing this new, simple, digital communication tool.
Darling et al. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution


Resurrecting woolly mammoth history
Although woolly mammoths died out some 12,000 years ago, their extraordinarily well-preserved remains in Siberian permafrost has meant that much can be inferred about their demographic history. However, little is known outside of Siberia, and questions remain about the relationship between these populations and those on the more western end of their range. Now, a major analysis of ancient DNA from bone, tooth and tusk samples found in Europe identifies a previously uncharacterised lineage from this region, and suggests these populations expanding here from America following exposure of the newly-formed Bering Land Bridge.
Palkopoulou et al. Proceedings of the Royal Society B


New organelle identified in plants
Tannins are compounds found in most vascular plants that play a key role in defence against UV damage and natural enemies. To you and I, they’re probably best known for the bitter taste they give to tea, and some of the complexities of a good wine. Now, an interdisciplinary research team from France and Hungary have pinpointed the precise place that these chemicals are synthesised and found a whole new organelle in the process: what they term the tannosome. These tiny cellular compartments had previously been difficult to distinguish from the more easily-identifiable green structures of the chloroplast.
Brillouet et al. Annals of Botany