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Journal: BMC biology


Development and evaluation of new insect pest management tools is critical for overcoming over-reliance upon, and growing resistance to, synthetic, biological and plant-expressed insecticides. For transgenic crops expressing insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (‘Bt crops’) emergence of resistance is slowed by maintaining a proportion of the crop as non-Bt varieties, which produce pest insects unselected for resistance. While this strategy has been largely successful, multiple cases of Bt resistance have now been reported. One new approach to pest management is the use of genetically engineered insects to suppress populations of their own species. Models suggest that released insects carrying male-selecting (MS) transgenes would be effective agents of direct, species-specific pest management by preventing survival of female progeny, and simultaneously provide an alternative insecticide resistance management strategy by introgression of susceptibility alleles into target populations. We developed a MS strain of the diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella, a serious global pest of crucifers. MS-strain larvae are reared as normal with dietary tetracycline, but, when reared without tetracycline or on host plants, only males will survive to adulthood. We used this strain in glasshouse-cages to study the effect of MS male P. xylostella releases on target pest population size and spread of Bt resistance in these populations.

Concepts: Male, Agriculture, Insect, Pesticide, Bacillus thuringiensis, Insecticide, Diamondback moth, Transgene


Clonal microbial populations often harbor rare phenotypic variants that are typically hidden within the majority of the remaining cells, but are crucial for the population’s resilience to external perturbations. Persister and viable but non-culturable (VBNC) cells are two important clonal bacterial subpopulations that can survive antibiotic treatment. Both persister and VBNC cells pose a serious threat to human health. However, unlike persister cells, which quickly resume growth following drug removal, VBNC cells can remain non-growing for prolonged periods of time, thus eluding detection via traditional microbiological assays. Therefore, understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the formation of VBNC cells requires the characterization of the clonal population with single-cell resolution. A combination of microfluidics, time-lapse microscopy, and fluorescent reporter strains offers the perfect platform for investigating individual cells while manipulating their environment.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Biology, Microbiology, Antibiotic, Microorganism, Bacteriology, Viable but nonculturable


In zoology, species descriptions conventionally rely on invasive morphological techniques, frequently leading to damage of the specimens and thus only a partial understanding of their structural complexity. More recently, non-destructive imaging techniques have successfully been used to describe smaller fauna, but this approach has so far not been applied to identify or describe larger animal species. Here, we present a combination of entirely non-invasive as well as minimally invasive methods that permit taxonomic descriptions of large zoological specimens in a more comprehensive manner.


BACKGROUND: Like human infants, songbirds learn their species-specific vocalizations through imitation learning. The birdsong system has emerged as a widely used experimental animal model for understanding the underlying neural mechanisms responsible for vocal production learning. However, how neural impulses are translated into precise motor behavior of the complex vocal organ (syrinx) to create song is poorly understood. First and foremost, we lack a detailed understanding of syringeal morphology. RESULTS: To fill this gap we combined non-invasive (high-field magnetic resonance imaging and micro-computed tomography) and invasive techniques (histology and micro-dissection) to construct the annotated high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) dataset, or morphome, of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) syrinx. We identified and annotated syringeal cartilage, bone, and musculature in situ in unprecedented detail. e provide interactive 3D models that greatly improve the communication of complex morphological data and of our understanding of syringeal function in general. CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that the syringeal skeleton is optimized for low weight driven by physiological constraints on song production. The present refinement of muscle organization and identity elucidates how apposed muscles actuate different syringeal elements. Our dataset allows for more precise predictions about muscle co-activation and synergies and has important implications for muscle activity and stimulation experiments. We also demonstrate how the syrinx can be stabilized during song to reduce mechanical noise and, as such, enhance repetitive execution of stereotypic motor patterns. In addition, we identify a cartilaginous structure suited to play a crucial role in the uncoupling of sound frequency and amplitude control, which permits a novel explanation to the evolutionary success of songbirds.

Concepts: Heart, Muscle, Magnetic resonance imaging, Taeniopygia, Zebra Finch, Sound, Connective tissue, Songbird


BACKGROUND: Vertebrate predators use a broad arsenal of behaviors and weaponry for overcoming fractious and potentially dangerous prey. A unique array of predatory strategies occur among snakes, ranging from mechanical modes of constriction and jaw-holding in non-venomous snakes, to a chemical means, venom, for quickly dispatching prey. However, even among venomous snakes, different prey handling strategies are utilized, varying from the strike-and-hold behaviors exhibited by highly toxic elapid snakes to the rapid strike-and-release envenomation seen in viperid snakes. For vipers, this mode of envenomation represents a minimal risk predatory strategy by permitting little contact with or retaliation from prey, but it adds the additional task of relocating envenomated prey which has wandered from the attack site. This task is further confounded by trails of other unstruck conspecific or heterospecific prey. Despite decades of behavioral study, researchers still do not know the molecular mechanism which allows for prey relocation. RESULTS: During behavioral discrimination trials (vomeronasal responsiveness) to euthanized mice injected with size-fractionated venom, Crotalus atrox responded significantly to only one protein peak. Assays for enzymes common in rattlesnake venoms, such as exonuclease, L-amino acid oxidase, metalloproteinase, thrombin-like and kallikrein-like serine proteases and phospholipase A2, showed that vomeronasal responsiveness was not dependent on enzymatic activity. Using mass spectrometry and N-terminal sequencing, we identified the proteins responsible for envenomated prey discrimination as the non-enzymatic disintegrins crotatroxin 1 and 2. Our results demonstrate a novel and critical biological role for venom disintegrins far beyond their well-established role in disruption of cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix interactions. CONCLUSIONS: These findings reveal the evolutionary significance of free disintegrins in venoms as the molecular mechanism in vipers allowing for effective relocation of envenomated prey. The presence of free disintegrins in turn has led to evolution of a major behavioral adaptation (strike-and-release), characteristic of only rattlesnakes and other vipers, which exploits and refines the efficiency of a pre-existing chemical means of predation and a highly sensitive olfaction system. This system of a predator chemically tagging prey represents a novel trend in the coevolution of predator-prey relationships.

Concepts: Predation, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, Crotalus


BACKGROUND: Calcium-activated photoproteins are luciferase variants found in photocyte cells of bioluminescent jellyfish (Phylum Cnidaria) and comb jellies (Phylum Ctenophora). The complete genomic sequence from the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, a representative of the earliest branch of animals that emit light, provided an opportunity to examine the genome of an organism that uses this class of luciferase for bioluminescence and to look for genes involved in light reception. To determine when photoprotein genes first arose, we examined the genomic sequence from other early-branching taxa. We combined our genomic survey with gene trees, developmental expression patterns, and functional protein assays of photoproteins and opsins to provide a comprehensive view of light production and light reception in Mnemiopsis. RESULTS: The Mnemiopsis genome has 10 full-length photoprotein genes situated within two genomic clusters with high sequence conservation that are maintained due to strong purifying selection and concerted evolution. Photoprotein-like genes were also identified in the genomes of the non-luminescent sponge Amphimedon queenslandica and the non-luminescent cnidarian Nematostella vectensis, and phylogenomic analysis demonstrated that photoprotein genes arose at the base of all animals. Photoprotein gene expression in Mnemiopsis embryos begins during gastrulation in migrating precursors to photocytes and persists throughout development in the canals where photocytes reside. We identified three putative opsin genes in the Mnemiopsis genome and show that they do not group with well-known bilaterian opsin subfamilies. Interestingly, photoprotein transcripts are co-expressed with two of the putative opsins in developing photocytes. Opsin expression is also seen in the apical sensory organ. We present evidence that one opsin functions as a photopigment in vitro, absorbing light at wavelengths that overlap with peak photoprotein light emission, raising the hypothesis that light production and light reception may be functionally connected in ctenophore photocytes. We also present genomic evidence of a complete ciliary phototransduction cascade in Mnemiopsis. CONCLUSIONS: This study elucidates the genomic organization, evolutionary history, and developmental expression of photoprotein and opsin genes in the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, introduces a novel dual role for ctenophore photocytes in both bioluminescence and phototransduction, and raises the possibility that light production and light reception are linked in this early-branching non-bilaterian animal.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Organism, Animal, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Sponge


Although RNA interference (RNAi) is known to play an important part in defense against viruses of invertebrates, its contribution to mammalian anti-viral defense has been a matter of dispute. This is surprising because all components of the RNAi machinery necessary for robust RNAi-mediated restriction of viruses are conserved in mammals, and the introduction of synthetic small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) into cells efficiently silences the replication of viruses that contain siRNA complementary sequences in those cells. Here, I discuss the reasons for the dispute, and review the evidence that RNAi is a part of the physiological defense of mammalian cells against viral infections.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Bacteria, Virus, RNA, Small interfering RNA, RNA interference, RNA polymerase


In complex animal vocalizations, such as bird or whale song, a great variety of songs can be produced via rearrangements of a smaller set of ‘syllables’, known as ‘phonological syntax’ or ‘phonocoding’ However, food or alarm calls, which function as referential signals, were previously thought to lack such combinatorial structure. A new study of calls in the banded mongoose Mungos mungo provides the first evidence of phonocoding at the level of single calls. The first portion of the call provides cues to the identity of the caller, and the second part encodes its current activity. This provides the first example known in animals of something akin to the consonants and vowels of human speech.See research article

Concepts: Syllable, Consonant, Vowel, Mongoose, Banded Mongoose, Mungos, Mongooses, Song


The propensity of cancer cells to convert high levels of glucose to lactate through aerobic glycolysis has been intensively studied in vitro, and is now understood to be a metabolic adaptation that shunts glucose carbons toward building blocks for the growing cell, as well as producing ATP. Much less is known, however, about the role of aerobic glycolysis and glycolytic enzymes in vivo. A paper in Cancer and Metabolism now documents aerobic glycolysis in the proliferating neural progenitors that form the cerebellum in normal newborn mice, as well as in medulloblastoma tumors derived from these cells in transgenic mice. Hexokinase II is demonstrated to be an essential driver of the observed aerobic glycolysis and the malignancy of the tumors.See research article:½.

Concepts: Oncology, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Enzyme, Glucose, Cellular respiration, Glycolysis, Hexokinase


BACKGROUND: DNA methylation serves as an important epigenetic mark in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms. In eukaryotes, the most common epigenetic mark is 5-methylcytosine, whereas prokaryotes can have 6-methyladenine, 4-methylcytosine, or 5-methylcytosine. Single-molecule, real-time sequencing is capable of directly detecting all three types of modified bases. However, the kinetic signature of 5-methylcytosine is subtle, which presents a challenge for detection. We investigated whether conversion of 5-methylcytosine to 5-carboxylcytosine using the enzyme Tet1 would enhance the kinetic signature, thereby improving detection. RESULTS: We characterized the kinetic signatures of various cytosine modifications, demonstrating that 5-carboxylcytosine has a larger impact on the local polymerase rate than 5-methylcytosine. Using Tet1-mediated conversion, we show improved detection of 5-methylcytosine using in vitro methylated templates and apply the method to the characterization of 5-methylcytosine sites in the genomes of Escherichia coli MG1655 and Bacillus halodurans C-125. CONCLUSIONS: We have developed a method for the enhancement of directly detecting 5-methylcytosine during single-molecule, real-time sequencing. Using Tet1 to convert 5-methylcytosine to 5-carboxylcytosine improves the detection rate of this important epigenetic marker, thereby complementing the set of readily detectable microbial base modifications, and enhancing the ability to interrogate eukaryotic epigenetic markers.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Eukaryote, Prokaryote, DNA methylation, Bisulfite sequencing