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This Week in PLOS: Oct 15, 2013

Adam Eyre-Walker from the University of Sussex and Nina Stoletzki examine post-publication peer review in PLOS Biology. Drawing on two datasets — one from the Wellcome Trust and the other from F1000 — of researchers' ratings of published work, they find that researchers appear to be swayed in their assessment by the impact factor of the journal in which the study appears. Further, Eyre-Walker and Stoletzki note that, after controlling for that bias, there is only a weak correlation between assessors' score of the same paper and between assessor scores and the number of citations. They argue that researchers are "poor at judging scientific merit and the likely impact of a paper."

The University of California, San Diego School of Medicine's Michael Matthias and his colleagues present their study of virulence genes Leptospira interrogans in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Matthias and his team compared the genomes of the culture-attenuated Leptospira interrogans serovar Lai strain 56601 with its virulent, isogenic parent, finding 11 variants possibly linked to virulence. One, in a non-membrane bound putative adenylate/guanylate cyclase, elevates host cell cAMP. "Manipulation of intracellular cAMP levels in immune cells may be an important means of attenuating host responses to infection, an enticing hypothesis given the up-regulation of this gene upon leptospiral entry into the bloodstream observed in this study," Matthias and his colleagues add.

TgsGP, a Trypanosoma brucei gambiense-specific gene, is essential for the parasite to survive the trypanolytic factors found in human serum, researchers from the University of Glasgow and the University of Georgia report in PLOS Pathogens. Deletion of the gene renders T. b. gambiense susceptible to those factors, however, transfecting that gene into T. b. brucei did not make that parasite resistant to human serum.

"Elucidation of a gene essential to human serum resistance in group 1 T. b gambiense unlocks new avenues for future treatment of human African sleeping sickness," the researchers write. "These include peptide screens that neutralise the TgsGP protein, targeted antibodies or the possibility of using TgsGP as a vaccine candidate, as expression is required for parasite survival in humans."