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Life after the Anthropocene

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Human activities are shaping the biosphere pervasively, which has led to the concept of the Anthropocene. Although we are already causing a mass extinction, life on Earth is likely to survive for more than a billion years after our species has disappeared.

John Pannell

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Interview with John Pannell, who studies the evolution of plant sexual systems at the University of Lausanne.

A tangled tale of innovation and personalities in the search for a tree of life

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Science is a collection of disciplines, each built from their own lineages of understanding. Fields move forward by building on previous clusters of knowledge, branching and bifurcating much like a tree. Many of these branches touch and interact, allowing for new interdisciplinary understanding. The Tangled Tree tells the story of one of these lineages, specifically a subsection of evolutionary biology that has focused on the tree of life or how all organisms are ultimately related. The book covers how this field of science arose from conceptual comparisons of the Victorian age (the early musings of Darwin) through to the birth of molecular biology and phylogenomics, additions that have made this field increasingly quantitative.

Cannabis sativa

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Schilling et al. introduce and discuss Cannabis.

Efference Copies: Hair Cells Are the Link

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Animals must distinguish external stimuli from self-generated sensory input to guide appropriate behaviors. A recent study elucidates a cellular mechanism by which zebrafish perform this distinction while maintaining sensitivity to external environmental signals.

Chemosensation: Hate Mosquitoes? Peel Beetroots!

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Finding the right lure for trapping pest insects is difficult. The typical smell of rain and humid soil, geosmin, now turns out to be a strong attractant for the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti.

Evolution: The Two Faces of Plant-Eating Dinosaurs

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Plant-eating dinosaurs evolved varied feeding strategies. A new study demonstrates convergent evolution of their skulls and teeth towards two distinct functional optima, one resembling advanced mammalian herbivory and the other echoing herbivory in birds and other reptiles.

Genetic Variation: Harmful Recessive Mutations Have Unexpected Effects on Variation

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
New data are causing the standard model for the effect of selection on linked neutral variation in low recombination regions, combining the effects of background selection and selective sweeps, to be refined to include harmful recessive mutations creating associative overdominance.

Sensory Processing: Visual Sensitivity Gets High at Night

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Every day and night, the retina undergoes dramatic changes in its physiology and function. The prevailing view is that these daily changes affect the retinal output and thereby visual perception. Recent evidence suggests that modifications in higher-order processing centers, and not in retinal computations, account for variations in visual sensitivity.

Plant Seasonal Growth: How Perennial Plants Sense That Winter Is Coming

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
How do perennial plants adapt their growth to seasonal changes? A new study in the hybrid aspen reveals that, in short days, repression of a growth-promoting genetic pathway leads to upregulation of the BRANCHED1 genes, which in turn induce growth cessation.

Phagocytosis: Mechanosensing, Traction Forces, and a Molecular Clutch

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
The forces driving membrane protrusion during phagocytosis are poorly understood. A recent study describes how integrins in the phagocyte membrane provide a molecular clutch to enable the exertion of force by actin polymerizing at the leading edge of the pseudopods. These results explain the mechanosensitivity of phagocytic cells.

Naturalistic Behavior: The Zebrafish Larva Strikes Back

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Two recent studies show that zebrafish larvae alternate between two behavioral modes: exploration and hunting. Both behaviors are structured on multiple time scales, and require the integration of internal and external cues to generate sequences of stereotyped swimming movements.

Infectious Diseases: Antiviral Wolbachia Limits Dengue in Malaysia

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Vector-borne viral diseases pose an urgent public health challenge, particularly in the tropics. Field releases of mosquitoes carrying bacterial symbionts that reduce vector competence are ongoing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Early results show that wAlbB Wolbachia can persist in mosquitoes in urban settings and decrease dengue incidence in humans.

Paleoecology: The Functional Uniqueness of Ancient Megafauna

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Reconstructing prehistoric animal communities is important for understanding the emergence of modern ecosystems and the environmental context of human evolution. A new study of African fossils spanning seven million years shows that ancient large-herbivore assemblages were functionally distinct from those that exist today.

Decision Making: How Is Information Represented in Orbitofrontal Cortex?

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Classically, specific orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) neurons are thought to represent attributes of specific decision options. A new model proposes instead that OFC neurons represent whichever option is currently attended. A recent study, however, tests these two models and rules out the ‘current-focus-of-attention’ model.

What Is REM Sleep?

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
Blumberg et al. describe REM sleep during different times of development and across various species, arguing for a more biologically grounded developmental-comparative approach to understanding REM sleep and its components. They make the case that the diversity observed should be embraced and leveraged to better understand this sleep state.

Horizontally Transmitted Symbionts and Host Colonization of Ecological Niches

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
(Current Biology 23, 1713–1717; September 9, 2013)

DNA Replication Initiation Is Blocked by a Distant Chromosome–Membrane Attachment

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
(Current Biology 25, 2143–2149; August 17, 2015)

Gap Junction Coupling Shapes the Encoding of Light in the Developing Retina

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 00:00
(Current Biology 29, 4024–4035.e1–e5; December 2, 2019)

Patterns of Hybrid Seed Inviability in the Mimulus guttatus sp. Complex Reveal a Potential Role of Parental Conflict in Reproductive Isolation

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 00:00
Genomic conflict may play a central role in speciation. Coughlan et al. find that parental conflict may play a role in the evolution of hybrid seed inviability between Mimulus guttatus and a newly discovered species complex M. decorus. Differences in conflict between these lineages may stem from demographic or life history differences.