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Obligate herbivory in an ancestrally carnivorous lineage: the giant panda and bamboo from the perspective of nutritional geometry

Description

Herbivores face various nutritional challenges in their life cycles, challenges that may become increasingly acute under ongoing environmental changes.
Here, focusing on calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen, we used nutritional geometry to analyse individual-based data on foraging and extraction efficiencies, and

Herbivores face various nutritional challenges in their life cycles, challenges that may become increasingly acute under ongoing environmental changes.
Here, focusing on calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen, we used nutritional geometry to analyse individual-based data on foraging and extraction efficiencies, and combined these with data on reproduction and migratory behaviour to understand how a large herbivorous carnivore can complete its life cycle on a narrow and seemingly low quality bamboo diet.
Behavioural results showed that pandas during the year switched between four main food categories involving the leaves and shoots of two bamboo species available. Nutritional analysis suggests that these diet shifts are related to the concentrations and balances of calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen. Notably, successive shifts in range use and food type corresponded with a transition to higher concentrations and/or a more balanced intake of these multiple key constituents.
Our study suggests that pandas obligatorily synchronize their seasonal migration and reproduction with the disjunct nutritional phenologies of two bamboo species. This finding has potentially important implications for habitat conservation for this species and, more generally, draws attention to the need for understanding the nutritional basis of food selection in devising management plans for endangered species.

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Date Created
2015-01-01

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Genotype effect on lifespan following vitellogenin knockdown

Description

Honey bee workers display remarkable flexibility in the aging process. This plasticity is closely tied to behavioral maturation. Workers who initiate foraging behavior at earlier ages have shorter lifespans, and much of the variation in total lifespan can be explained

Honey bee workers display remarkable flexibility in the aging process. This plasticity is closely tied to behavioral maturation. Workers who initiate foraging behavior at earlier ages have shorter lifespans, and much of the variation in total lifespan can be explained by differences in pre-foraging lifespan. Vitellogenin (Vg), a yolk precursor protein, influences worker lifespan both as a regulator of behavioral maturation and through anti-oxidant and immune functions. Experimental reduction of Vg mRNA, and thus Vg protein levels, in wild-type bees results in precocious foraging behavior, decreased lifespan, and increased susceptibility to oxidative damage. We sought to separate the effects of Vg on lifespan due to behavioral maturation from those due to immune and antioxidant function using two selected strains of honey bees that differ in their phenotypic responsiveness to Vg gene knockdown. Surprisingly, we found that lifespans lengthen in the strain described as behaviorally and hormonally insensitive to Vg reduction. We then performed targeted gene expression analyses on genes hypothesized to mediate aging and lifespan: the insulin-like peptides (Ilp1 and 2) and manganese superoxide dismutase (mnSOD). The two honey bee Ilps are the most upstream components in the insulin-signaling pathway, which influences lifespan in Drosophila melanogaster and other organisms, while manganese superoxide dismutase encodes an enzyme with antioxidant functions in animals. We found expression differences in the llps in fat body related to behavior (llp1 and 2) and genetic background (Ilp2), but did not find strain by treatment effects. Expression of mnSOD was also affected by behavior and genetic background. Additionally, we observed a differential response to Vg knockdown in fat body expression of mnSOD, suggesting that antioxidant pathways may partially explain the strain-specific lifespan responses to Vg knockdown.

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Date Created
2015-01-01

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A context-dependent alarm signal in the ant Temnothorax rugatulus

Description

Because collective cognition emerges from local signaling among group members, deciphering communication systems is crucial to understanding the underlying mechanisms. Alarm signals are widespread in the social insects and can elicit a variety of behavioral responses to danger, but the

Because collective cognition emerges from local signaling among group members, deciphering communication systems is crucial to understanding the underlying mechanisms. Alarm signals are widespread in the social insects and can elicit a variety of behavioral responses to danger, but the functional plasticity of these signals has not been well studied. Here we report an alarm pheromone in the ant Temnothorax rugatulus that elicits two different behaviors depending on context. When an ant was tethered inside an unfamiliar nest site and unable to move freely, she released a pheromone from her mandibular gland that signaled other ants to reject this nest as a potential new home, presumably to avoid potential danger. When the same pheromone was presented near the ants' home nest, they were instead attracted to it, presumably to respond to a threat to the colony. We used coupled gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to identify candidate compounds from the mandibular gland and tested each one in a nest choice bioassay. We found that 2,5-dimethylpyrazine was sufficient to induce rejection of a marked new nest and also to attract ants when released at the home nest. This is the first detailed investigation of chemical communication in the leptothoracine ants. We discuss the possibility that this pheromone's deterrent function can improve an emigrating colony's nest site selection performance.

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Created

Date Created
2014-09-01

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Effect of woody-plant encroachment on livestock production in North and South America

Description

A large fraction of the world grasslands and savannas are undergoing a rapid shift from herbaceous to woody-plant dominance. This land-cover change is expected to lead to a loss in livestock production (LP), but the impacts of woody-plant encroachment on

A large fraction of the world grasslands and savannas are undergoing a rapid shift from herbaceous to woody-plant dominance. This land-cover change is expected to lead to a loss in livestock production (LP), but the impacts of woody-plant encroachment on this crucial ecosystem service have not been assessed. We evaluate how tree cover (TC) has affected LP at large spatial scales in rangelands of contrasting social–economic characteristics in the United States and Argentina. Our models indicate that in areas of high productivity, a 1% increase in TC results in a reduction in LP ranging from 0.6 to 1.6 reproductive cows (Rc) per km[superscript 2]. Mean LP in the United States is 27 Rc per km[superscript 2], so a 1% increase in TC results in a 2.5% decrease in mean LP. This effect is large considering that woody-plant cover has been described as increasing at 0.5% to 2% per y. On the contrary, in areas of low productivity, increased TC had a positive effect on LP. Our results also show that ecological factors account for a larger fraction of LP variability in Argentinean than in US rangelands. Differences in the relative importance of ecological versus nonecological drivers of LP in Argentina and the United States suggest that the valuation of ecosystem services between these two rangelands might be different. Current management strategies in Argentina are likely designed to maximize LP for various reasons we are unable to explore in this effort, whereas land managers in the United States may be optimizing multiple ecosystem services, including conservation or recreation, alongside LP.

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Created

Date Created
2014-09-02

Prokaryotic Cells Separated From Sediments are Suitable for Elemental Composition Analysis

Description

Cell-sediment separation methods can potentially enable determination of the elemental composition of microbial communities by removing the sediment elemental contribution from bulk samples. We demonstrate that a separation method can be applied to determine the composition of prokaryotic cells. The

Cell-sediment separation methods can potentially enable determination of the elemental composition of microbial communities by removing the sediment elemental contribution from bulk samples. We demonstrate that a separation method can be applied to determine the composition of prokaryotic cells. The method uses chemical and physical means to extract cells from benthic sediments and mats. Recovery yields were between 5% and 40%, as determined from cell counts. The method conserves cellular element contents to within 30% or better, as assessed by comparing C, N, P, Mg, Al, Ca, Ti, Mn, Fe, Ni, Cu, Zn, and Mo contents in Escherichia coli. Contamination by C, N, and P from chemicals used during the procedure was negligible. Na and K were not conserved, being likely exchanged through the cell membrane as cations during separation. V, Cr, and Co abundances could not be determined due to large (>100%) measurement uncertainties. We applied this method to measure elemental contents in extremophilic communities of Yellowstone National Park hot springs. The method was generally successful at separating cells from sediment, but does not discriminate between cells and detrital biological or noncellular material of similar density. This resulted in Al, Ti, Mn, and Fe contamination, which can be tracked using proxies such as metal:Al ratios. With these caveats, we present the first measurements, to our knowledge, of the elemental abundances of a chemosynthetic community. The communities have C:N ratios typical of aquatic microorganisms, are low in P, and their metal abundances vary between hot springs by orders of magnitude.

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Created

Date Created
2014-07-01

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Biophysical Characterization of a Vaccine Candidate Against HIV-1: The Transmembrane and Membrane Proximal Domains of HIV-1 gp41 as a Maltose Binding Protein Fusion

Description

The membrane proximal region (MPR, residues 649–683) and transmembrane domain (TMD, residues 684–705) of the gp41 subunit of HIV-1’s envelope protein are highly conserved and are important in viral mucosal transmission, virus attachment and membrane fusion with target cells. Several

The membrane proximal region (MPR, residues 649–683) and transmembrane domain (TMD, residues 684–705) of the gp41 subunit of HIV-1’s envelope protein are highly conserved and are important in viral mucosal transmission, virus attachment and membrane fusion with target cells. Several structures of the trimeric membrane proximal external region (residues 662–683) of MPR have been reported at the atomic level; however, the atomic structure of the TMD still remains unknown. To elucidate the structure of both MPR and TMD, we expressed the region spanning both domains, MPR-TM (residues 649–705), in Escherichia coli as a fusion protein with maltose binding protein (MBP). MPR-TM was initially fused to the C-terminus of MBP via a 42 aa-long linker containing a TEV protease recognition site (MBP-linker-MPR-TM).

Biophysical characterization indicated that the purified MBP-linker-MPR-TM protein was a monodisperse and stable candidate for crystallization. However, crystals of the MBP-linker-MPR-TM protein could not be obtained in extensive crystallization screens. It is possible that the 42 residue-long linker between MBP and MPR-TM was interfering with crystal formation. To test this hypothesis, the 42 residue-long linker was replaced with three alanine residues. The fusion protein, MBP-AAA-MPR-TM, was similarly purified and characterized. Significantly, both the MBP-linker-MPR-TM and MBP-AAA-MPR-TM proteins strongly interacted with broadly neutralizing monoclonal antibodies 2F5 and 4E10. With epitopes accessible to the broadly neutralizing antibodies, these MBP/MPR-TM recombinant proteins may be in immunologically relevant conformations that mimic a pre-hairpin intermediate of gp41.

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Created

Date Created
2015-08-21

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Bacterial Expression, Correct Membrane Targeting, and Functional Folding of the HIV-1 Membrane Protein Vpu Using a Periplasmic Signal Peptide

Description

Viral protein U (Vpu) is a type-III integral membrane protein encoded by Human Immunodeficiency Virus-1 (HIV- 1). It is expressed in infected host cells and plays several roles in viral progeny escape from infected cells, including down-regulation of CD4 receptors.

Viral protein U (Vpu) is a type-III integral membrane protein encoded by Human Immunodeficiency Virus-1 (HIV- 1). It is expressed in infected host cells and plays several roles in viral progeny escape from infected cells, including down-regulation of CD4 receptors. But key structure/function questions remain regarding the mechanisms by which the Vpu protein contributes to HIV-1 pathogenesis. Here we describe expression of Vpu in bacteria, its purification and characterization. We report the successful expression of PelB-Vpu in Escherichia coli using the leader peptide pectate lyase B (PelB) from Erwinia carotovora. The protein was detergent extractable and could be isolated in a very pure form. We demonstrate that the PelB signal peptide successfully targets Vpu to the cell membranes and inserts it as a type I membrane protein. PelB-Vpu was biophysically characterized by circular dichroism and dynamic light scattering experiments and was shown to be an excellent candidate for elucidating structural models.

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Created

Date Created
2017-02-22

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Support for the reproductive ground plan hypothesis of social evolution and major QTL for ovary traits of Africanized worker honey bees (Apis mellifera L.)

Description

Background
The reproductive ground plan hypothesis of social evolution suggests that reproductive controls of a solitary ancestor have been co-opted during social evolution, facilitating the division of labor among social insect workers. Despite substantial empirical support, the generality of this

Background
The reproductive ground plan hypothesis of social evolution suggests that reproductive controls of a solitary ancestor have been co-opted during social evolution, facilitating the division of labor among social insect workers. Despite substantial empirical support, the generality of this hypothesis is not universally accepted. Thus, we investigated the prediction of particular genes with pleiotropic effects on ovarian traits and social behavior in worker honey bees as a stringent test of the reproductive ground plan hypothesis. We complemented these tests with a comprehensive genome scan for additional quantitative trait loci (QTL) to gain a better understanding of the genetic architecture of the ovary size of honey bee workers, a morphological trait that is significant for understanding social insect caste evolution and general insect biology.
Results
Back-crossing hybrid European x Africanized honey bee queens to the Africanized parent colony generated two study populations with extraordinarily large worker ovaries. Despite the transgressive ovary phenotypes, several previously mapped QTL for social foraging behavior demonstrated ovary size effects, confirming the prediction of pleiotropic genetic effects on reproductive traits and social behavior. One major QTL for ovary size was detected in each backcross, along with several smaller effects and two QTL for ovary asymmetry. One of the main ovary size QTL coincided with a major QTL for ovary activation, explaining 3/4 of the phenotypic variance, although no simple positive correlation between ovary size and activation was observed.
Conclusions
Our results provide strong support for the reproductive ground plan hypothesis of evolution in study populations that are independent of the genetic stocks that originally led to the formulation of this hypothesis. As predicted, worker ovary size is genetically linked to multiple correlated traits of the complex division of labor in worker honey bees, known as the pollen hoarding syndrome. The genetic architecture of worker ovary size presumably consists of a combination of trait-specific loci and general regulators that affect the whole behavioral syndrome and may even play a role in caste determination. Several promising candidate genes in the QTL intervals await further study to clarify their potential role in social insect evolution and the regulation of insect fertility in general.

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Created

Date Created
2011-04-13

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Rapid evolution of BRCA1 and BRCA2in humans and other primates

Description

Background
The maintenance of chromosomal integrity is an essential task of every living organism and cellular repair mechanisms exist to guard against insults to DNA. Given the importance of this process, it is expected that DNA repair proteins would be

Background
The maintenance of chromosomal integrity is an essential task of every living organism and cellular repair mechanisms exist to guard against insults to DNA. Given the importance of this process, it is expected that DNA repair proteins would be evolutionarily conserved, exhibiting very minimal sequence change over time. However, BRCA1, an essential gene involved in DNA repair, has been reported to be evolving rapidly despite the fact that many protein-altering mutations within this gene convey a significantly elevated risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
Results
To obtain a deeper understanding of the evolutionary trajectory of BRCA1, we analyzed complete BRCA1 gene sequences from 23 primate species. We show that specific amino acid sites have experienced repeated selection for amino acid replacement over primate evolution. This selection has been focused specifically on humans and our closest living relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus). After examining BRCA1 polymorphisms in 7 bonobo, 44 chimpanzee, and 44 rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) individuals, we find considerable variation within each of these species and evidence for recent selection in chimpanzee populations. Finally, we also sequenced and analyzed BRCA2 from 24 primate species and find that this gene has also evolved under positive selection.
Conclusions
While mutations leading to truncated forms of BRCA1 are clearly linked to cancer phenotypes in humans, there is also an underlying selective pressure in favor of amino acid-altering substitutions in this gene. A hypothesis where viruses are the drivers of this natural selection is discussed.

Contributors

Created

Date Created
2014-07-11

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A mesh generation and machine learning framework for Drosophilagene expression pattern image analysis

Description

Background
Multicellular organisms consist of cells of many different types that are established during development. Each type of cell is characterized by the unique combination of expressed gene products as a result of spatiotemporal gene regulation. Currently, a fundamental challenge

Background
Multicellular organisms consist of cells of many different types that are established during development. Each type of cell is characterized by the unique combination of expressed gene products as a result of spatiotemporal gene regulation. Currently, a fundamental challenge in regulatory biology is to elucidate the gene expression controls that generate the complex body plans during development. Recent advances in high-throughput biotechnologies have generated spatiotemporal expression patterns for thousands of genes in the model organism fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Existing qualitative methods enhanced by a quantitative analysis based on computational tools we present in this paper would provide promising ways for addressing key scientific questions.
Results
We develop a set of computational methods and open source tools for identifying co-expressed embryonic domains and the associated genes simultaneously. To map the expression patterns of many genes into the same coordinate space and account for the embryonic shape variations, we develop a mesh generation method to deform a meshed generic ellipse to each individual embryo. We then develop a co-clustering formulation to cluster the genes and the mesh elements, thereby identifying co-expressed embryonic domains and the associated genes simultaneously. Experimental results indicate that the gene and mesh co-clusters can be correlated to key developmental events during the stages of embryogenesis we study. The open source software tool has been made available at http://compbio.cs.odu.edu/fly/.
Conclusions
Our mesh generation and machine learning methods and tools improve upon the flexibility, ease-of-use and accuracy of existing methods.

Contributors

Created

Date Created
2013-12-28