Exceptional Evolutionary Divergence of Human Muscle and Brain Metabolomes Parallels Human Cognitive and Physical Uniqueness
Metabolite concentrations reflect the physiological states of tissues and cells. However, the role of metabolic changes in species evolution is currently unknown. Here, we present a study of metabolome evolution conducted in three brain regions and two non-neural tissues from humans, chimpanzees, macaque monkeys, and mice based on over 10,000 hydrophilic compounds. While chimpanzee, macaque, and mouse metabolomes diverge following the genetic distances among species, we detect remarkable acceleration of metabolome evolution in human prefrontal cortex and skeletal muscle affecting neural and energy metabolism pathways. These metabolic changes could not be attributed to environmental conditions and were confirmed against the expression of their corresponding enzymes. We further conducted muscle strength tests in humans, chimpanzees, and macaques. The results suggest that, while humans are characterized by superior cognition, their muscular performance might be markedly inferior to that of chimpanzees and macaque monkeys.
See: Stronger Brains, Weaker Bodies (New York Times)
Genital Evolution: Why Are Females Still Understudied?
Source: PLoS Biology
The diversity, variability, and apparent rapid evolution of animal genitalia are a vivid focus of research in evolutionary biology, and studies exploring genitalia have dramatically increased over the past decade. These studies, however, exhibit a strong male bias, which has worsened since 2000, despite the fact that this bias has been explicitly pointed out in the past. Early critics argued that previous investigators too often considered only males and their genitalia, while overlooking female genitalia or physiology. Our analysis of the literature shows that overall this male bias has worsened with time. The degree of bias is not consistent between subdisciplines: studies of the lock-and-key hypothesis have been the most male focused, while studies of cryptic female choice usually consider both sexes. The degree of bias also differed across taxonomic groups, but did not associate with the ease of study of male and female genital characteristics. We argue that the persisting male bias in this field cannot solely be explained by anatomical sex differences influencing accessibility. Rather the bias reflects enduring assumptions about the dominant role of males in sex, and invariant female genitalia. New research highlights how rapidly female genital traits can evolve, and how complex coevolutionary dynamics between males and females can shape genital structures. We argue that understanding genital evolution is hampered by an outdated single-sex bias.
Evaluation of Excess Significance Bias in Animal Studies of Neurological Diseases
Source: PLoS Biology
Animal studies generate valuable hypotheses that lead to the conduct of preventive or therapeutic clinical trials. We assessed whether there is evidence for excess statistical significance in results of animal studies on neurological disorders, suggesting biases. We used data from meta-analyses of interventions deposited in Collaborative Approach to Meta-Analysis and Review of Animal Data in Experimental Studies (CAMARADES). The number of observed studies with statistically significant results (O) was compared with the expected number (E), based on the statistical power of each study under different assumptions for the plausible effect size. We assessed 4,445 datasets synthesized in 160 meta-analyses on Alzheimer disease (n = 2), experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (n = 34), focal ischemia (n = 16), intracerebral hemorrhage (n = 61), Parkinson disease (n = 45), and spinal cord injury (n = 2). 112 meta-analyses (70%) found nominally (p≤0.05) statistically significant summary fixed effects. Assuming the effect size in the most precise study to be a plausible effect, 919 out of 4,445 nominally significant results were expected versus 1,719 observed (p<10−9). Excess significance was present across all neurological disorders, in all subgroups defined by methodological characteristics, and also according to alternative plausible effects. Asymmetry tests also showed evidence of small-study effects in 74 (46%) meta-analyses. Significantly effective interventions with more than 500 animals, and no hints of bias were seen in eight (5%) meta-analyses. Overall, there are too many animal studies with statistically significant results in the literature of neurological disorders. This observation suggests strong biases, with selective analysis and outcome reporting biases being plausible explanations, and provides novel evidence on how these biases might influence the whole research domain of neurological animal literature.
The Discovery of New Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vent Communities in the Southern Ocean and Implications for Biogeography
Since the first discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents along the Galápagos Rift in 1977, numerous vent sites and endemic faunal assemblages have been found along mid-ocean ridges and back-arc basins at low to mid latitudes. These discoveries have suggested the existence of separate biogeographic provinces in the Atlantic and the North West Pacific, the existence of a province including the South West Pacific and Indian Ocean, and a separation of the North East Pacific, North East Pacific Rise, and South East Pacific Rise. The Southern Ocean is known to be a region of high deep-sea species diversity and centre of origin for the global deep-sea fauna. It has also been proposed as a gateway connecting hydrothermal vents in different oceans but is little explored because of extreme conditions. Since 2009 we have explored two segments of the East Scotia Ridge (ESR) in the Southern Ocean using a remotely operated vehicle. In each segment we located deep-sea hydrothermal vents hosting high-temperature black smokers up to 382.8°C and diffuse venting. The chemosynthetic ecosystems hosted by these vents are dominated by a new yeti crab (Kiwa n. sp.), stalked barnacles, limpets, peltospiroid gastropods, anemones, and a predatory sea star. Taxa abundant in vent ecosystems in other oceans, including polychaete worms (Siboglinidae), bathymodiolid mussels, and alvinocaridid shrimps, are absent from the ESR vents. These groups, except the Siboglinidae, possess planktotrophic larvae, rare in Antarctic marine invertebrates, suggesting that the environmental conditions of the Southern Ocean may act as a dispersal filter for vent taxa. Evidence from the distinctive fauna, the unique community structure, and multivariate analyses suggest that the Antarctic vent ecosystems represent a new vent biogeographic province. However, multivariate analyses of species present at the ESR and at other deep-sea hydrothermal vents globally indicate that vent biogeography is more complex than previously recognised.
How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?
Source: PLoS Biology
The diversity of life is one of the most striking aspects of our planet; hence knowing how many species inhabit Earth is among the most fundamental questions in science. Yet the answer to this question remains enigmatic, as efforts to sample the world’s biodiversity to date have been limited and thus have precluded direct quantification of global species richness, and because indirect estimates rely on assumptions that have proven highly controversial. Here we show that the higher taxonomic classification of species (i.e., the assignment of species to phylum, class, order, family, and genus) follows a consistent and predictable pattern from which the total number of species in a taxonomic group can be estimated. This approach was validated against well-known taxa, and when applied to all domains of life, it predicts ~8.7 million (±1.3 million SE) eukaryotic species globally, of which ~2.2 million (±0.18 million SE) are marine. In spite of 250 years of taxonomic classification and over 1.2 million species already catalogued in a central database, our results suggest that some 86% of existing species on Earth and 91% of species in the ocean still await description. Renewed interest in further exploration and taxonomy is required if this significant gap in our knowledge of life on Earth is to be closed.
Darwin in Mind: New Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychology
Source: PLoS Biology
Evolutionary Psychology (EP) views the human mind as organized into many modules, each underpinned by psychological adaptations designed to solve problems faced by our Pleistocene ancestors. We argue that the key tenets of the established EP paradigm require modification in the light of recent findings from a number of disciplines, including human genetics, evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and paleoecology. For instance, many human genes have been subject to recent selective sweeps; humans play an active, constructive role in co-directing their own development and evolution; and experimental evidence often favours a general process, rather than a modular account, of cognition. A redefined EP could use the theoretical insights of modern evolutionary biology as a rich source of hypotheses concerning the human mind, and could exploit novel methods from a variety of adjacent research fields.
Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Late Life
Source: PLoS ONE
Despite a growing interest in the ways spiritual beliefs and practices are reflected in brain activity, there have been relatively few studies using neuroimaging data to assess potential relationships between religious factors and structural neuroanatomy. This study examined prospective relationships between religious factors and hippocampal volume change using high-resolution MRI data of a sample of 268 older adults. Religious factors assessed included life-changing religious experiences, spiritual practices, and religious group membership. Hippocampal volumes were analyzed using the GRID program, which is based on a manual point-counting method and allows for semi-automated determination of region of interest volumes. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was observed for participants reporting a life-changing religious experience. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was also observed from baseline to final assessment among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again. These associations were not explained by psychosocial or demographic factors, or baseline cerebral volume. Hippocampal volume has been linked to clinical outcomes, such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. The findings of this study indicate that hippocampal atrophy in late life may be uniquely influenced by certain types of religious factors.
Which Primates Recognize Themselves in Mirrors?
Source: PLoS Biology
Interest in the comparative study of mirror self-recognition persists because of the implications for self-awareness and the possibility of a cognitive divide among primates. Evidence from many studies carried out over 40 years shows that humans and great apes are distinguished from other nonhuman primates by their capacity for self-recognition. We review some recent developments in the field, with critical reference to claims that monkeys show self-recognition. Focusing on methodological issues, we conclude that there is no compelling evidence for mirror self-recognition in any non-ape primate species.