Open Reading Frame: intelligent plants, alien worms and survival statistics

Posted by Biome on 7th March 2014 - 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.

 

Aliens worms invade Europe
The first record of the highly invasive New Guinea flatworm  in Europe has been confirmed by morphological and molecular analysis. The species, which has been listed among the ‘100 World’s Worst Invader Alien Species’, has previously been introduced to a number of Pacific islands in an effort to control land snail populations on which it feeds. However, its voracious appetite now threatens non-target snail species in Europe, including edible escargot, after it was found in soil samples from a hothouse in northwest France. In light of this discovery, the study authors issue a call for action to prevent further spread of the predator, through a combination of tighter import restrictions on soils and improved plant nursery inspections, cautioning that chemical or biological control measures may not be an effective solution.
Justine et al. PeerJ

 

Fungal genomes are a varied bunch
Analysis of the complete mitochondrial genomes from 38 species of fungi reveals a surprising level of genomic diversity across this kingdom. Although much less studied than their plant and animal counterparts, the organellar genomes of fungi display characteristics found separately among these other kingdoms – for example, although more closely related to animals, their mitochondrial genomes show signals of recombination typically found only in plants. This large-scale comparative analysis now sheds new light on the evolutionary history of eukaryotic organisms by finding huge variation in gene order, genome size and genome composition that are likely to be a reflection of these recombination events, and the remarkable diversity of life histories seen with the kingdom.
Aguileta et al. Genome Biology and Evolution

 

Dinosaur feather pigments might actually be fossilised microbes
Melanosomes are tiny pigment-containing organelles found in specialized cells of eukaryotes. In 1995, an analysis of the fossilised remains of dinosaur feathers found in Europe identified a number of melanosome-like structures, giving the tantalising suggestion that we might be able to infer something of the colouration and ecology of these extinct creatures. However, the similarity of these structures to that of some microbial species raised the question of whether these might not be organelles at all, but the fossilised remains of ancient bacteria. To test this hypothesis, researchers have now investigated what the feathers of extant birds look like when colonised by different types of micro-organisms, and compared what patterns of microstructures best match those seen in the fossilised remains. By using a combination of powerful microscopy techniques, they find better support for the hypothesis that the observed patterns are the result of microbial fossilisation, especially as this process is likely to favour the  more robust cell walls of bacteria than the lipid bilayers of organelles.
Moyer et al. Scientific Reports

 

Survival, statistics and significance
Biological, rather than statistical, significance should be the principle concern when interpreting the results of survivorship studies, according to a new Editorial in the journal mBio. Using a simulated dataset of vaccine efficacy in mice, the authors demonstrate that statistically significant differences between treatment and control groups can be achieved even when there may be no true biological differences between the two. Such statistical quirks may arise in survival analysis if an inappropriate interval of time is used to monitor survivorship, confounding results by increasing the magnitude of small differences between groups that may be due to factors external to the treatment. The authors argue that there should be greater awareness of this issue among readers and reviewers, to increase the quality of new studies entering the literature.
Furuyu et al. mBio

 

Even plants can make complex decisions
Apart from responding to environmental stimuli, plants are often thought of as passive organisms, without much capacity for decision-making. However, a new study investigating behavioural responses in a shrub known as barberry (Berberis vulgaris) could alter that perception, by demonstrating a capacity for complex decision making that includes the use of memory, reasoning and anticipation of future risks. By collecting data on the number of fruits produced by these plants in their native habitat, researchers were able to statistically model how the plant coordinates its seed resources in the presence of predation risk and risk of drought. They find that, in the presence of threats such as attack by parasitic flies, plants are able to abort their fruit in a manner consistent with maximising their overall fitness, depending on the number of seeds contained within each fruit.
Meyer et al. American Naturalist

 

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