PLoS Computational Biology

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Dynamic Integration of Value Information into a Common Probability Currency as a Theory for Flexible Decision Making

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 16:00

by Vassilios Christopoulos, Paul R. Schrater

Decisions involve two fundamental problems, selecting goals and generating actions to pursue those goals. While simple decisions involve choosing a goal and pursuing it, humans evolved to survive in hostile dynamic environments where goal availability and value can change with time and previous actions, entangling goal decisions with action selection. Recent studies suggest the brain generates concurrent action-plans for competing goals, using online information to bias the competition until a single goal is pursued. This creates a challenging problem of integrating information across diverse types, including both the dynamic value of the goal and the costs of action. We model the computations underlying dynamic decision-making with disparate value types, using the probability of getting the highest pay-off with the least effort as a common currency that supports goal competition. This framework predicts many aspects of decision behavior that have eluded a common explanation.
Categories: Journal Articles

Systematic Prediction of Scaffold Proteins Reveals New Design Principles in Scaffold-Mediated Signal Transduction

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 16:00

by Jianfei Hu, Johnathan Neiswinger, Jin Zhang, Heng Zhu, Jiang Qian

Scaffold proteins play a crucial role in facilitating signal transduction in eukaryotes by bringing together multiple signaling components. In this study, we performed a systematic analysis of scaffold proteins in signal transduction by integrating protein-protein interaction and kinase-substrate relationship networks. We predicted 212 scaffold proteins that are involved in 605 distinct signaling pathways. The computational prediction was validated using a protein microarray-based approach. The predicted scaffold proteins showed several interesting characteristics, as we expected from the functionality of scaffold proteins. We found that the scaffold proteins are likely to interact with each other, which is consistent with previous finding that scaffold proteins tend to form homodimers and heterodimers. Interestingly, a single scaffold protein can be involved in multiple signaling pathways by interacting with other scaffold protein partners. Furthermore, we propose two possible regulatory mechanisms by which the activity of scaffold proteins is coordinated with their associated pathways through phosphorylation process.
Categories: Journal Articles

Decoding Structural Properties of a Partially Unfolded Protein Substrate: En Route to Chaperone Binding

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 16:00

by Suhani Nagpal, Satyam Tiwari, Koyeli Mapa, Lipi Thukral

Many proteins comprising of complex topologies require molecular chaperones to achieve their unique three-dimensional folded structure. The E.coli chaperone, GroEL binds with a large number of unfolded and partially folded proteins, to facilitate proper folding and prevent misfolding and aggregation. Although the major structural components of GroEL are well defined, scaffolds of the non-native substrates that determine chaperone-mediated folding have been difficult to recognize. Here we performed all-atomistic and replica-exchange molecular dynamics simulations to dissect non-native ensemble of an obligate GroEL folder, DapA. Thermodynamics analyses of unfolding simulations revealed populated intermediates with distinct structural characteristics. We found that surface exposed hydrophobic patches are significantly increased, primarily contributed from native and non-native β-sheet elements. We validate the structural properties of these conformers using experimental data, including circular dichroism (CD), 1-anilinonaphthalene-8-sulfonic acid (ANS) binding measurements and previously reported hydrogen-deutrium exchange coupled to mass spectrometry (HDX-MS). Further, we constructed network graphs to elucidate long-range intra-protein connectivity of native and intermediate topologies, demonstrating regions that serve as central “hubs”. Overall, our results implicate that genomic variations (or mutations) in the distinct regions of protein structures might disrupt these topological signatures disabling chaperone-mediated folding, leading to formation of aggregates.
Categories: Journal Articles

Automated Identification of Core Regulatory Genes in Human Gene Regulatory Networks

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 16:00

by Vipin Narang, Muhamad Azfar Ramli, Amit Singhal, Pavanish Kumar, Gennaro de Libero, Michael Poidinger, Christopher Monterola

Human gene regulatory networks (GRN) can be difficult to interpret due to a tangle of edges interconnecting thousands of genes. We constructed a general human GRN from extensive transcription factor and microRNA target data obtained from public databases. In a subnetwork of this GRN that is active during estrogen stimulation of MCF-7 breast cancer cells, we benchmarked automated algorithms for identifying core regulatory genes (transcription factors and microRNAs). Among these algorithms, we identified K-core decomposition, pagerank and betweenness centrality algorithms as the most effective for discovering core regulatory genes in the network evaluated based on previously known roles of these genes in MCF-7 biology as well as in their ability to explain the up or down expression status of up to 70% of the remaining genes. Finally, we validated the use of K-core algorithm for organizing the GRN in an easier to interpret layered hierarchy where more influential regulatory genes percolate towards the inner layers. The integrated human gene and miRNA network and software used in this study are provided as supplementary materials (S1 Data) accompanying this manuscript.
Categories: Journal Articles

The LUX Score: A Metric for Lipidome Homology

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 16:00

by Chakravarthy Marella, Andrew E. Torda, Dominik Schwudke

A lipidome is the set of lipids in a given organism, cell or cell compartment and this set reflects the organism’s synthetic pathways and interactions with its environment. Recently, lipidomes of biological model organisms and cell lines were published and the number of functional studies of lipids is increasing. In this study we propose a homology metric that can quantify systematic differences in the composition of a lipidome. Algorithms were developed to 1. consistently convert lipids structure into SMILES, 2. determine structural similarity between molecular species and 3. describe a lipidome in a chemical space model. We tested lipid structure conversion and structure similarity metrics, in detail, using sets of isomeric ceramide molecules and chemically related phosphatidylinositols. Template-based SMILES showed the best properties for representing lipid-specific structural diversity. We also show that sequence analysis algorithms are best suited to calculate distances between such template-based SMILES and we adjudged the Levenshtein distance as best choice for quantifying structural changes. When all lipid molecules of the LIPIDMAPS structure database were mapped in chemical space, they automatically formed clusters corresponding to conventional chemical families. Accordingly, we mapped a pair of lipidomes into the same chemical space and determined the degree of overlap by calculating the Hausdorff distance. We named this metric the ‘Lipidome jUXtaposition (LUX) score’. First, we tested this approach for estimating the lipidome similarity on four yeast strains with known genetic alteration in fatty acid synthesis. We show that the LUX score reflects the genetic relationship and growth temperature better than conventional methods although the score is based solely on lipid structures. Next, we applied this metric to high-throughput data of larval tissue lipidomes of Drosophila. This showed that the LUX score is sufficient to cluster tissues and determine the impact of nutritional changes in an unbiased manner, despite the limited information on the underlying structural diversity of each lipidome. This study is the first effort to define a lipidome homology metric based on structures that will enrich functional association of lipids in a similar manner to measures used in genetics. Finally, we discuss the significance of the LUX score to perform comparative lipidome studies across species borders.
Categories: Journal Articles

Multiscale Mechanical Model of the Pacinian Corpuscle Shows Depth and Anisotropy Contribute to the Receptor’s Characteristic Response to Indentation

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 16:00

by Julia C. Quindlen, Victor K. Lai, Victor H. Barocas

Cutaneous mechanoreceptors transduce different tactile stimuli into neural signals that produce distinct sensations of touch. The Pacinian corpuscle (PC), a cutaneous mechanoreceptor located deep within the dermis of the skin, detects high frequency vibrations that occur within its large receptive field. The PC is comprised of lamellae that surround the nerve fiber at its core. We hypothesized that a layered, anisotropic structure, embedded deep within the skin, would produce the nonlinear strain transmission and low spatial sensitivity characteristic of the PC. A multiscale finite-element model was used to model the equilibrium response of the PC to indentation. The first simulation considered an isolated PC with fiber networks aligned with the PC’s surface. The PC was subjected to a 10 μm indentation by a 250 μm diameter indenter. The multiscale model captured the nonlinear strain transmission through the PC, predicting decreased compressive strain with proximity to the receptor’s core, as seen experimentally by others. The second set of simulations considered a single PC embedded epidermally (shallow) or dermally (deep) to model the PC’s location within the skin. The embedded models were subjected to 10 μm indentations at a series of locations on the surface of the skin. Strain along the long axis of the PC was calculated after indentation to simulate stretch along the nerve fiber at the center of the PC. Receptive fields for the epidermis and dermis models were constructed by mapping the long-axis strain after indentation at each point on the surface of the skin mesh. The dermis model resulted in a larger receptive field, as the calculated strain showed less indenter location dependence than in the epidermis model.
Categories: Journal Articles

The Problem with Phi: A Critique of Integrated Information Theory

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 16:00

by Michael A. Cerullo

Categories: Journal Articles

Efficient Optimization of Stimuli for Model-Based Design of Experiments to Resolve Dynamical Uncertainty

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 16:00

by Thembi Mdluli, Gregery T. Buzzard, Ann E. Rundell

This model-based design of experiments (MBDOE) method determines the input magnitudes of an experimental stimuli to apply and the associated measurements that should be taken to optimally constrain the uncertain dynamics of a biological system under study. The ideal global solution for this experiment design problem is generally computationally intractable because of parametric uncertainties in the mathematical model of the biological system. Others have addressed this issue by limiting the solution to a local estimate of the model parameters. Here we present an approach that is independent of the local parameter constraint. This approach is made computationally efficient and tractable by the use of: (1) sparse grid interpolation that approximates the biological system dynamics, (2) representative parameters that uniformly represent the data-consistent dynamical space, and (3) probability weights of the represented experimentally distinguishable dynamics. Our approach identifies data-consistent representative parameters using sparse grid interpolants, constructs the optimal input sequence from a greedy search, and defines the associated optimal measurements using a scenario tree. We explore the optimality of this MBDOE algorithm using a 3-dimensional Hes1 model and a 19-dimensional T-cell receptor model. The 19-dimensional T-cell model also demonstrates the MBDOE algorithm’s scalability to higher dimensions. In both cases, the dynamical uncertainty region that bounds the trajectories of the target system states were reduced by as much as 86% and 99% respectively after completing the designed experiments in silico. Our results suggest that for resolving dynamical uncertainty, the ability to design an input sequence paired with its associated measurements is particularly important when limited by the number of measurements.
Categories: Journal Articles

Model-Based Reasoning in Humans Becomes Automatic with Training

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 16:00

by Marcos Economides, Zeb Kurth-Nelson, Annika Lübbert, Marc Guitart-Masip, Raymond J. Dolan

Model-based and model-free reinforcement learning (RL) have been suggested as algorithmic realizations of goal-directed and habitual action strategies. Model-based RL is more flexible than model-free but requires sophisticated calculations using a learnt model of the world. This has led model-based RL to be identified with slow, deliberative processing, and model-free RL with fast, automatic processing. In support of this distinction, it has recently been shown that model-based reasoning is impaired by placing subjects under cognitive load—a hallmark of non-automaticity. Here, using the same task, we show that cognitive load does not impair model-based reasoning if subjects receive prior training on the task. This finding is replicated across two studies and a variety of analysis methods. Thus, task familiarity permits use of model-based reasoning in parallel with other cognitive demands. The ability to deploy model-based reasoning in an automatic, parallelizable fashion has widespread theoretical implications, particularly for the learning and execution of complex behaviors. It also suggests a range of important failure modes in psychiatric disorders.
Categories: Journal Articles

Bioinformatics in Africa: The Rise of Ghana?

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 16:00

by Thomas K. Karikari

Until recently, bioinformatics, an important discipline in the biological sciences, was largely limited to countries with advanced scientific resources. Nonetheless, several developing countries have lately been making progress in bioinformatics training and applications. In Africa, leading countries in the discipline include South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. However, one country that is less known when it comes to bioinformatics is Ghana. Here, I provide a first description of the development of bioinformatics activities in Ghana and how these activities contribute to the overall development of the discipline in Africa. Over the past decade, scientists in Ghana have been involved in publications incorporating bioinformatics analyses, aimed at addressing research questions in biomedical science and agriculture. Scarce research funding and inadequate training opportunities are some of the challenges that need to be addressed for Ghanaian scientists to continue developing their expertise in bioinformatics.
Categories: Journal Articles

A Method to Constrain Genome-Scale Models with 13C Labeling Data

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 16:00

by Héctor García Martín, Vinay Satish Kumar, Daniel Weaver, Amit Ghosh, Victor Chubukov, Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, Adam Arkin, Jay D. Keasling

Current limitations in quantitatively predicting biological behavior hinder our efforts to engineer biological systems to produce biofuels and other desired chemicals. Here, we present a new method for calculating metabolic fluxes, key targets in metabolic engineering, that incorporates data from 13C labeling experiments and genome-scale models. The data from 13C labeling experiments provide strong flux constraints that eliminate the need to assume an evolutionary optimization principle such as the growth rate optimization assumption used in Flux Balance Analysis (FBA). This effective constraining is achieved by making the simple but biologically relevant assumption that flux flows from core to peripheral metabolism and does not flow back. The new method is significantly more robust than FBA with respect to errors in genome-scale model reconstruction. Furthermore, it can provide a comprehensive picture of metabolite balancing and predictions for unmeasured extracellular fluxes as constrained by 13C labeling data. A comparison shows that the results of this new method are similar to those found through 13C Metabolic Flux Analysis (13C MFA) for central carbon metabolism but, additionally, it provides flux estimates for peripheral metabolism. The extra validation gained by matching 48 relative labeling measurements is used to identify where and why several existing COnstraint Based Reconstruction and Analysis (COBRA) flux prediction algorithms fail. We demonstrate how to use this knowledge to refine these methods and improve their predictive capabilities. This method provides a reliable base upon which to improve the design of biological systems.
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An Evolutionary Approach for Identifying Driver Mutations in Colorectal Cancer

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 16:00

by Jasmine Foo, Lin L Liu, Kevin Leder, Markus Riester, Yoh Iwasa, Christoph Lengauer, Franziska Michor

The traditional view of cancer as a genetic disease that can successfully be treated with drugs targeting mutant onco-proteins has motivated whole-genome sequencing efforts in many human cancer types. However, only a subset of mutations found within the genomic landscape of cancer is likely to provide a fitness advantage to the cell. Distinguishing such “driver” mutations from innocuous “passenger” events is critical for prioritizing the validation of candidate mutations in disease-relevant models. We design a novel statistical index, called the Hitchhiking Index, which reflects the probability that any observed candidate gene is a passenger alteration, given the frequency of alterations in a cross-sectional cancer sample set, and apply it to a mutational data set in colorectal cancer. Our methodology is based upon a population dynamics model of mutation accumulation and selection in colorectal tissue prior to cancer initiation as well as during tumorigenesis. This methodology can be used to aid in the prioritization of candidate mutations for functional validation and contributes to the process of drug discovery.
Categories: Journal Articles

Shaping Neuronal Network Activity by Presynaptic Mechanisms

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 16:00

by Ayal Lavi, Omri Perez, Uri Ashery

Neuronal microcircuits generate oscillatory activity, which has been linked to basic functions such as sleep, learning and sensorimotor gating. Although synaptic release processes are well known for their ability to shape the interaction between neurons in microcircuits, most computational models do not simulate the synaptic transmission process directly and hence cannot explain how changes in synaptic parameters alter neuronal network activity. In this paper, we present a novel neuronal network model that incorporates presynaptic release mechanisms, such as vesicle pool dynamics and calcium-dependent release probability, to model the spontaneous activity of neuronal networks. The model, which is based on modified leaky integrate-and-fire neurons, generates spontaneous network activity patterns, which are similar to experimental data and robust under changes in the model's primary gain parameters such as excitatory postsynaptic potential and connectivity ratio. Furthermore, it reliably recreates experimental findings and provides mechanistic explanations for data obtained from microelectrode array recordings, such as network burst termination and the effects of pharmacological and genetic manipulations. The model demonstrates how elevated asynchronous release, but not spontaneous release, synchronizes neuronal network activity and reveals that asynchronous release enhances utilization of the recycling vesicle pool to induce the network effect. The model further predicts a positive correlation between vesicle priming at the single-neuron level and burst frequency at the network level; this prediction is supported by experimental findings. Thus, the model is utilized to reveal how synaptic release processes at the neuronal level govern activity patterns and synchronization at the network level.
Categories: Journal Articles

Structural Bridges through Fold Space

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 16:00

by Hannah Edwards, Charlotte M. Deane

Several protein structure classification schemes exist that partition the protein universe into structural units called folds. Yet these schemes do not discuss how these units sit relative to each other in a global structure space. In this paper we construct networks that describe such global relationships between folds in the form of structural bridges. We generate these networks using four different structural alignment methods across multiple score thresholds. The networks constructed using the different methods remain a similar distance apart regardless of the probability threshold defining a structural bridge. This suggests that at least some structural bridges are method specific and that any attempt to build a picture of structural space should not be reliant on a single structural superposition method. Despite these differences all representations agree on an organisation of fold space into five principal community structures: all-α, all-β sandwiches, all-β barrels, α/β and α + β. We project estimated fold ages onto the networks and find that not only are the pairings of unconnected folds associated with higher age differences than bridged folds, but this difference increases with the number of networks displaying an edge. We also examine different centrality measures for folds within the networks and how these relate to fold age. While these measures interpret the central core of fold space in varied ways they all identify the disposition of ancestral folds to fall within this core and that of the more recently evolved structures to provide the peripheral landscape. These findings suggest that evolutionary information is encoded along these structural bridges. Finally, we identify four highly central pivotal folds representing dominant topological features which act as key attractors within our landscapes.
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The Internal Dynamics of Fibrinogen and Its Implications for Coagulation and Adsorption

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 16:00

by Stephan Köhler, Friederike Schmid, Giovanni Settanni

Fibrinogen is a serum multi-chain protein which, when activated, aggregates to form fibrin, one of the main components of a blood clot. Fibrinolysis controls blood clot dissolution through the action of the enzyme plasmin, which cleaves fibrin at specific locations. Although the main biochemical factors involved in fibrin formation and lysis have been identified, a clear mechanistic picture of how these processes take place is not available yet. This picture would be instrumental, for example, for the design of improved thrombolytic or anti-haemorrhagic strategies, as well as, materials with improved biocompatibility. Here, we present extensive molecular dynamics simulations of fibrinogen which reveal large bending motions centered at a hinge point in the coiled-coil regions of the molecule. This feature, likely conserved across vertebrates according to our analysis, suggests an explanation for the mechanism of exposure to lysis of the plasmin cleavage sites on fibrinogen coiled-coil region. It also explains the conformational variability of fibrinogen observed during its adsorption on inorganic surfaces and it is supposed to play a major role in the determination of the hydrodynamic properties of fibrinogen. In addition the simulations suggest how the dynamics of the D region of fibrinogen may contribute to the allosteric regulation of the blood coagulation cascade through a dynamic coupling between the a- and b-holes, important for fibrin polymerization, and the integrin binding site P1.
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Prospective Optimization with Limited Resources

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 16:00

by Joseph Snider, Dongpyo Lee, Howard Poizner, Sergei Gepshtein

The future is uncertain because some forthcoming events are unpredictable and also because our ability to foresee the myriad consequences of our own actions is limited. Here we studied how humans select actions under such extrinsic and intrinsic uncertainty, in view of an exponentially expanding number of prospects on a branching multivalued visual stimulus. A triangular grid of disks of different sizes scrolled down a touchscreen at a variable speed. The larger disks represented larger rewards. The task was to maximize the cumulative reward by touching one disk at a time in a rapid sequence, forming an upward path across the grid, while every step along the path constrained the part of the grid accessible in the future. This task captured some of the complexity of natural behavior in the risky and dynamic world, where ongoing decisions alter the landscape of future rewards. By comparing human behavior with behavior of ideal actors, we identified the strategies used by humans in terms of how far into the future they looked (their “depth of computation”) and how often they attempted to incorporate new information about the future rewards (their “recalculation period”). We found that, for a given task difficulty, humans traded off their depth of computation for the recalculation period. The form of this tradeoff was consistent with a complete, brute-force exploration of all possible paths up to a resource-limited finite depth. A step-by-step analysis of the human behavior revealed that participants took into account very fine distinctions between the future rewards and that they abstained from some simple heuristics in assessment of the alternative paths, such as seeking only the largest disks or avoiding the smaller disks. The participants preferred to reduce their depth of computation or increase the recalculation period rather than sacrifice the precision of computation.
Categories: Journal Articles

Dynamical Organization of Syntaxin-1A at the Presynaptic Active Zone

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 16:00

by Alexander Ullrich, Mathias A. Böhme, Johannes Schöneberg, Harald Depner, Stephan J. Sigrist, Frank Noé

Synaptic vesicle fusion is mediated by SNARE proteins forming in between synaptic vesicle (v-SNARE) and plasma membrane (t-SNARE), one of which is Syntaxin-1A. Although exocytosis mainly occurs at active zones, Syntaxin-1A appears to cover the entire neuronal membrane. By using STED super-resolution light microscopy and image analysis of Drosophila neuro-muscular junctions, we show that Syntaxin-1A clusters are more abundant and have an increased size at active zones. A computational particle-based model of syntaxin cluster formation and dynamics is developed. The model is parametrized to reproduce Syntaxin cluster-size distributions found by STED analysis, and successfully reproduces existing FRAP results. The model shows that the neuronal membrane is adjusted in a way to strike a balance between having most syntaxins stored in large clusters, while still keeping a mobile fraction of syntaxins free or in small clusters that can efficiently search the membrane or be traded between clusters. This balance is subtle and can be shifted toward almost no clustering and almost complete clustering by modifying the syntaxin interaction energy on the order of only 1 kBT. This capability appears to be exploited at active zones. The larger active-zone syntaxin clusters are more stable and provide regions of high docking and fusion capability, whereas the smaller clusters outside may serve as flexible reserve pool or sites of spontaneous ectopic release.
Categories: Journal Articles

Diversity Waves in Collapse-Driven Population Dynamics

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 16:00

by Sergei Maslov, Kim Sneppen

Populations of species in ecosystems are often constrained by availability of resources within their environment. In effect this means that a growth of one population, needs to be balanced by comparable reduction in populations of others. In neutral models of biodiversity all populations are assumed to change incrementally due to stochastic births and deaths of individuals. Here we propose and model another redistribution mechanism driven by abrupt and severe reduction in size of the population of a single species freeing up resources for the remaining ones. This mechanism may be relevant e.g. for communities of bacteria, with strain-specific collapses caused e.g. by invading bacteriophages, or for other ecosystems where infectious diseases play an important role. The emergent dynamics of our system is characterized by cyclic ‘‘diversity waves’’ triggered by collapses of globally dominating populations. The population diversity peaks at the beginning of each wave and exponentially decreases afterwards. Species abundances have bimodal time-aggregated distribution with the lower peak formed by populations of recently collapsed or newly introduced species while the upper peak - species that has not yet collapsed in the current wave. In most waves both upper and lower peaks are composed of several smaller peaks. This self-organized hierarchical peak structure has a long-term memory transmitted across several waves. It gives rise to a scale-free tail of the time-aggregated population distribution with a universal exponent of 1.7. We show that diversity wave dynamics is robust with respect to variations in the rules of our model such as diffusion between multiple environments, species-specific growth and extinction rates, and bet-hedging strategies.
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Steering Evolution with Sequential Therapy to Prevent the Emergence of Bacterial Antibiotic Resistance

Fri, 09/11/2015 - 16:00

by Daniel Nichol, Peter Jeavons, Alexander G. Fletcher, Robert A. Bonomo, Philip K. Maini, Jerome L. Paul, Robert A. Gatenby, Alexander R.A. Anderson, Jacob G. Scott

The increasing rate of antibiotic resistance and slowing discovery of novel antibiotic treatments presents a growing threat to public health. Here, we consider a simple model of evolution in asexually reproducing populations which considers adaptation as a biased random walk on a fitness landscape. This model associates the global properties of the fitness landscape with the algebraic properties of a Markov chain transition matrix and allows us to derive general results on the non-commutativity and irreversibility of natural selection as well as antibiotic cycling strategies. Using this formalism, we analyze 15 empirical fitness landscapes of E. coli under selection by different β-lactam antibiotics and demonstrate that the emergence of resistance to a given antibiotic can be either hindered or promoted by different sequences of drug application. Specifically, we demonstrate that the majority, approximately 70%, of sequential drug treatments with 2–4 drugs promote resistance to the final antibiotic. Further, we derive optimal drug application sequences with which we can probabilistically ‘steer’ the population through genotype space to avoid the emergence of resistance. This suggests a new strategy in the war against antibiotic–resistant organisms: drug sequencing to shepherd evolution through genotype space to states from which resistance cannot emerge and by which to maximize the chance of successful therapy.
Categories: Journal Articles

Social Feedback and the Emergence of Rank in Animal Society

Thu, 09/10/2015 - 16:00

by Elizabeth A. Hobson, Simon DeDeo

Dominance hierarchies are group-level properties that emerge from the aggression of individuals. Although individuals can gain critical benefits from their position in a hierarchy, we do not understand how real-world hierarchies form. Nor do we understand what signals and decision-rules individuals use to construct and maintain hierarchies in the absence of simple cues such as size or spatial location. A study of conflict in two groups of captive monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) found that a transition to large-scale order in aggression occurred in newly-formed groups after one week, with individuals thereafter preferring to direct aggression more frequently against those nearby in rank. We consider two cognitive mechanisms underlying the emergence of this order: inference based on overall levels of aggression, or on subsets of the aggression network. Both mechanisms were predictive of individual decisions to aggress, but observed patterns were better explained by rank inference through subsets of the aggression network. Based on these results, we present a new theory, of a feedback loop between knowledge of rank and consequent behavior. This loop explains the transition to strategic aggression and the formation and persistence of dominance hierarchies in groups capable of both social memory and inference.
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