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This Week in PLoS: Dec 21, 2009

In PLoS One, researchers led by Université Rennes's Nelly Ménard looked into the effect of the Ebola virus on the genetics of Western lowland gorillas. The researchers used 17 microsatellite loci to compare genetic diversity of three gorilla populations before and after Ebola outbreaks — Ebola has a nearly 90 percent mortality rate in gorillas. The researchers report that there was no loss of genetic diversity in the populations, though one population saw a shift in allele frequencies.

University of Minnesota researchers sequenced the genome of Rickettsia peacocki, a non-pathogenic endosymbiotic bacterium found in Dermacentor andersoni ticks. They then compared the R. peacocki genome to that of R. rickettsii, which causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to look for what make one bacterium virulent and the other not. R. peacockii has 42 copies of the ISRpe1 transposon and deletions due to the transposon, including an ankyrin repeat-containing protein, DsbA, RickA, protease II, OmpA, ScaI, and a putative phosphoethanolamine transferase.

French researchers analyzed what controls the level of intracellular proteins by studying the model organism Lactococcus lactis. They performed transcriptomic and proteomic analyses on cells grown in the same culture and modeled processes such as translation, dilution rate, and protein degradation. "We have demonstrated that bacteria exert a sharp control on intracellular protein levels, through a multi-level regulation involving three growth rate dependant actors: translation, dilution and degradation," they write in PLoS Computational Biology.

Christopher Lee and his colleagues report on a bioinformatics-based approach to identify alternative splicing events. Their approach looks for exons across an evolutionary family with a high RNA selection pressure ratio, meaning that there is "selection against mutations that change only the mRNA sequence," the authors say. They add that this ration predicts known alternative splicing patterns and has been validated experimentally. "Not only can the high-RSPR dataset furnish biologists with new insights into well-studied genes, but also identifies many new targets worthy of experimental study, in the form of strongly selected alternative splicing events," they authors write.