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This week in PLOS Biology

In PLOS Biology this week, you can read about meeting biodiversity targets, sequencing microbial life, a new piece of the Nodal pathway, early problems in Huntington’s disease and how fly larvae choose to eat or crawl.


Image credit: pbio.1001892

In a new research article this week, Oscar Venter, James Watson and colleagues argue that we need to approach protected areas expansion in a way that conserves the maximum number of endangered species. Currently much of the land protected is cheap but relatively species-poor. The authors analysed the number of threatened vertebrate species which would be covered by the implementation of the Aichi biodiversity target to protect 17% of the globe’s land surface by 2020. The results showed that only 249 more species would benefit compared to current reserves. They argue that as protecting more species-rich land brings a proportionately larger benefit in terms of biodiversity conservation, a ‘happy medium’ can be found to achieve these targets. Read more in the accompanying synopsis.


Bruce Anderson (University of Stellenbosch) dinoflagellates
Dinoflagellates glow blue after a chemical reaction is triggered by the wind. Image credit: Bruce Anderson (University of Stellenbosch)

Molecular sequence data are essential for making sense of the spectacular diversity of microbial life on our planet.  We’ve made a start, but there are significant taxonomic biases in the eukaryotic organisms chosen for sequencing so far, usually limited to those of medical or biotechnological significance. Resources are particularly scarce for marine organisms, and a new Community Page by Alexandra Worden, Patrick Keeling and members of the MMETSP Consortium highlights The Marine Microbial Eukaryotic Transcriptome Sequencing Project – a resource of 700 transcriptome sequences from marine microbial eukaryotes to help understand their role in the world’s oceans.


Image credit: pbio.1001890

In mammalian developmental biology, the Nodal signalling protein is well-known for its importance in promotion of differentiation in extra-embryonic tissues (such as the placenta). Now new research by Costis Papanayotou, Jérôme Collignon and colleagues has found a novel enhancer within the Nodal gene which is involved in activating Nodal expression in early stages of development (in response to pluripotency factors and SMAD signalling) and orchestrating the activation of other Nodal enhancers later on.


Neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s cause damage to neurons before symptoms even appear. In new research, Cendrine Tourette, Christian Neri and colleagues showed that the Wnt receptor Ryk is involved in the pathways of neuronal cell homeostasis. Levels of Ryk were increased in mouse models of Huntington’s disease, a finding that has clinical implications for potential early-stage restoration of neurons’ capacity to resist damage in patients with this and related diseases.


In the animal kingdom, two of the most essential behaviours are locomotion and feeding, but how is the choice between these two made? Andreas Schoofs, Michael J. Pankratz, and colleagues show that a single cluster of neurons in the fly central nervous system simultaneously suppresses feeding behaviour and induces food-seeking movements in larvae. These neurons, characterised by their expression of the neuropeptide ‘hugin’, transmit inputs from higher brain centres to motor centres. Read more in the accompanying synopsis.


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