Weekly PLoS ONE News and Blog Round-Up

Bats, cats and rubber hands—these are just a few of the topics studied in some of the PLoS ONE articles which have been discussed by bloggers and the press this week. As always, you can find many more recent papers by browsing on the journal website.

In 2007, Barry Nicholls and Paul Racey of the University of Aberdeen published an article in PLoS ONE in which they reported the findings of a piece of observational research which showed a decrease in the levels of activity of bats near radar installations. Following on from this study, in an article published today, Nicholls and Racey provide experimental evidence to show that echolocating bats are deterred by radar. This finding could have implications for reducing the considerable number of bat mortalities, by barotrauma, at wind turbines throughout the world, as the researchers found that the emission of an electromagnetic signal from a small radar unit greatly reduced the foraging activity of bats within 30m, although the same effect was not found when the radar antenna was rotating. Some of the news coverage of the study has included articles in the Telegraph, the Guardian and Journal Watch.

In the diagnosis of infectious diseases, microbiologists grow microbes taken from a patient’s urine in culture dishes filled with agar and a small quantity of blood. In the developed world, sheep or horse blood is generally used but in developing countries, horses are too costly and sheep can be difficult to keep alive because of the ease with which they pick up infections. However, by using the blood of different breed of sheep—hair sheep—Ellen Yeh and colleagues at Stanford University report in their recent PLoS ONE paper that a safe, cheap and diagnostically accurate alternative for clinical microbiological testing has been found. Hair sheep are related to wool sheep but are better suited to the warm climates of many developing countries and are also cheaper to maintain. The study was picked up by several of the wires and has also been discussed by Mike the Mad Biologist.

In the rubber hand illusion, a rubber hand is positioned as though it extends from the participant’s arm while her actual hand is hidden from view. If the real and the rubber hands are touched or stroked simultaneously, the subject may feel the stroking in the location of the rubber hand rather than the real one (you can watch a demo of this via New Scientist’s YouTube channel). However, in a new PLoS ONE study, Sotaro Shimada and colleagues found that if there is a time lag of more than 300 milliseconds between the subjects being stroked and seeing the stroking take place on the video screen which had been reflected into to the facing mirror, the effect of the illusion was reduced with fewer subjects reporting they had experienced it. Science News has a nice write-up of the study.

Finally, here’s a quick round-up of some of the other coverage this week. Greg Laden wrote about Per Christiansen’s 2008 article on the evolution of cats; the Boston Globe discussed Igor Elman’s study on the different responses of male and female adults to normal babies and those with abnormal facial features; and the Wall Street Journal briefly looked at Nichole Lighthall’s study on stress and risk-taking.

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