Solving the Romanov Mystery, Anthrax’s American History, Usage Maps of Science and a Self-Healing Caterpillar

PLoS ONE’s biggest news buzz last week was created by a study from an international team of researchers led by Michael Coble of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. The researchers report the results of forensic DNA tests, which confirm that skeletal remains of two individuals discovered in Russia in 2007 belong to the two missing children of the last Tsar of Russia—the Crown Prince, Alexei Romanov and one of his sisters. The Tsar, Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, their five children and four family employees were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 to prevent them from being rescued by the White Russian Army, who were loyal to the Tsar. After a failed attempt to hide the remains in a nearby mine shaft, the Bolsheviks first tried to cremate two of the children (discovered in 2007) and then buried the remaining nine bodies in a mass grave (officially discovered in 1991). 

There was extensive coverage of the story in the news and in the blogosphere, and the study was highlighted on the CNN front page and on the ScienceBlogs homepage on March 12. Other coverage includes: the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, the Independent, the Telegraph, Greg Laden’s blog, the Intersection and 80beats.

A second historical “mystery” was solved by a paper published on Friday by Leo Kenefic and colleagues, which suggests that Columbus wasn’t to blame for introducing anthrax to the Americas. Although Europeans introduced many diseases which had serious impacts on the indigenous populations when invading the Americas, the new study shows, however, that anthrax was actually introduced thousands of years earlier, during the Stone Age. New Scientist and USA Today both posted nice write-ups on the study.

Johan Bollen’s new article, Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science, also picked up some media attention on its publication last week, with its intricate maps created from citation data, giving a detailed, contemporary view of scientific activity and correct the under-representation of the social sciences and humanities that is commonly found in citation data. Figure 5 from the paper is a fantastic image and was reused in several of the stories and posts highlighting the paper. As well as a New York Times article, Nature News, the USA Today science blog, Wired News, the Scholarly Kitchen and the Edge of Vision also covered the study.

Finally, I was intrigued by the title of Carl Zimmer’s recent post on the Loom, Woolly Bear, Heal Thyself, which of course refers to a type of caterpillar, which can, according to a study by Michael Singer, self-medicate, in response to disease or to parasites. Another blog post on the study appears on Evolving Ideas and National Geographic and ScienceNOW have both run stories on the article.

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

Exploring the Mists of Time

After the success of PLoS ONE’s first collection (Stress-Induced Depression and Comorbidities: From Bench to Bedside), published in January, we decided it was high time for a second. This time, we were lucky enough to have already published 26 great articles from a range of fields within the discipline of paleontology (the study of fossils and of life forms that existed in past geological periods). These papers have now been compiled together to form the PLoS ONE Paleontology Collection and each peer-reviewed article can be read online now—in full and for free.

Over the past 18 months, PLoS ONE has published a number of papers that have added to our understanding of various species of dinosaur and terrible lizard (including Nigersaurus, Triceratops, and Pterosaur); however, paleontology is a broad discipline, overlapping with other fields, such as biology and geography and as a result, the PLoS ONE Paleontology Collection encompasses research as varied as the paleogeography of the Panama Canal, the evolution of the cat skull and the finding of jellyfish fossils from the Cambrian. As the Open Source Paleontologist put it, “So far, 2009 has been a banner year for vertebrate paleontology in the open access journal PLoS ONE.”

The collection’s featured image is by Mark Witton and also forms part of Witton’s published PLoS ONE article (and so can be reused under the terms of our Creative Commons Attribution License). More of Witton’s Pterosaur illustrations can be found on Flickr and this figure (from which the featured image has been cropped) is entitled, “Life restoration of a group of giant azhdarchids, Quetzalcoatlus northropi, foraging on a Cretaceous fern prairie.”

One of the key features shared by many of the papers included in the collection has been the impact they have made in the international media and blogosphere. The following studies resulted in some of the most impressive news and blog coverage, although this list is far from comprehensive: the Nigersaurus, the discovery of a pregnant procetid whale fossil, Triceratops combat, dinosaur trackways in Yemen and flight and aerial gigantism in Pterosaurs.

The blogosphere has also responded with enthusiasm to many of the paleontology papers published in PLoS ONE, which can, of course, be read freely online, on their publication, and often include illustrations and photographs that can be reused (with an appropriate attribution) in blog posts. Greg Laden, writing on the Maiacetus paper, described it as, “a major article, published by an internationally recognized dream team of palaeoanthropologists. Since this is published in the Open Access journal PLoS ONE, this publication is a significant marker in the history of Open Access publishing. This is roughly like having a very famous food critic pick your restaurant to eat in because she likes it.”

As we compiled the papers to include in the Paleontology Collection, we noticed that many of our readers had been using the rating and discussion features, which can be employed to comment on any paper published in PLoS ONE. Why not join the discussion on these papers? Karl Bates’s article which used a laser to estimate dinosaur mass, Daniel Meulemans’ study on the evolution of vertebrate cartilage and Thomas Kaye’s paper, which suggests that previously reported findings of dinosaurian soft tissue may actually be bacterial biofilm are all good examples of lively discussion threads.

Finally, if you are a paleontological researcher, we encourage you to submit your work to PLoS ONE. The Paleontology Collection is dynamic and relevant papers will be added as they are published, so if your paleontology paper is accepted for publication by one of our academic editors, it will be included within the collection. The news coverage and post-publication discussion on these papers show that the paleontology community—and the world—are following these PLoS ONE articles very closely, so if you like what you see and would like your paleontology research to appear in PLoS ONE, submit your manuscript today!

Category: PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

The Land-Whale that Time Forgot

The media coverage of palaeontology papers published in PLoS ONE this year has already got off to a tremendous start thanks to two articles published in the journal this week and last week.

This week’s biggest news story came from a study by Philip Gingerich at the University of Michigan and an international team of researchers who reported the discovery of two whale fossils, a pregnant female and a male of the same species. The 47.5 million year-old fossils described in the paper were discovered in Pakistan in 2000 and 2004 and reveal how primitive whales gave birth and provide new insights into how whales made the transition from land to sea.

Professor Paul Sereno, a palaeontologist at the University of Chicago, and the academic editor who handled the peer review of the article at PLoS ONE, said of the discovery, “Of all of the amazing fossils from Indo-Pakistan that have so remarkably bridged the gap in the early evolution of whales from land to sea, this is the most spectacular. To see with one's own eyes direct evidence of birthing orientation like a hoofed mammal in an early whale is mind-boggling—and would put a smile on Darwin's face were he still alive, as we celebrate the 150th birthday of his Origin of Species this year.”

The media and blog coverage of the article is too extensive to list in full but includes the following:



In an article published in PLoS ONE last week, meanwhile, Andrew Farke and colleagues took the Triceratops by its horns with their study on the use by Triceratops of their cranial horns and frill in combat. Dr Farke’s blog post (Triceratops Combat?), to which there is also a link on the published paper, details some of the background behind the study, which involved the authors looking at the number of lesions in the nasal, jugal, squamosal, and parietal bones of the skull of Triceratops compared to the related Centrosaurus

Again, there was a huge amount of international news and blog coverage of the article (although only The Times Online invoked Raquel Welch), including:



In all, it’s certainly been a whale of a fortnight here at PLoS ONE!

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

Round-up of PLoS ONE Articles in the Year’s Science Superlatives

A number of papers published in PLoS ONE in 2008 have been featured in some recent round-ups of the year's best—and quirkiest—research. From worm grunting to an explanation for the superior sound of Stradivarius violins compared with modern violins, as ever, the highlighted articles cover a wide range of different scientific disciplines and topics.


An article by Haoran Wang and colleagues reporting on the high-frequency calls made by male mice during mating (which the researchers found to be associated with genes that control positive emotions) was highlighted in New Scientist's round-up of the top 10 genetics stories of 2008.


Charles Limb and Allen Braun's article on the neural activity involved in jazz improvisation featured in Nature's Research Highlights of 2008 (as was PLoS Biology article on the control of gene expression in yeast).


A study by University of Florida researchers, in which the authors proposed a three-stage model for the colonization of the Americas, made #10 in Discover Magazine's top 100 stories of the year.


Ken Catania's paper on the workings of worm grunting, a technique practiced in parts of the southeastern United States to bring worms to the surface of the ground to collect them to use as bait, appeared in the top 10 ScienceNOWs of 2008 selected by Science magazine. The PLoS ONE article contains a number of movies for those whose curiosity for this topic has not yet been sated.


An article by Janet Mann and colleagues, which posed the age-old question, “Why Do Dolphins Carry Sponges?” and in which the researchers describe the first clear-cut example of tool use in dolphins, appeared in Science News’s review of the year in life sciences.


Also included in a Science News round-up of the year was a study by Andrew Pask and colleagues, which made the list of 2008’s best stories on genes and cells. The researchers inserted genes extracted from Tasmanian tiger specimens into a mouse embryo. This was the first time that DNA from an extinct animal has functioned inside a living host.


Cosmos magazine ranked Joydeep Bhattacharya's research on the "Eureka moment" sometimes experienced in problem-solving among its top 10 news stories of the year.


Pieter Niewiarowski's study, published in PLoS ONE in May shed light on the mechanics of geckos' sticky feet and was highlighted in The Science Channel's list of the top 10 science stories of 2008.


In an article published in July, Dutch researcher Berend Stoel, in collaboration with luthier Terry Borman, reported that it is the wood density of certain classical violins (such as those made by Stradivari) that gives them a superior sound quality. Wired ranked its story on the study as one of the 13 most popular science stories of the year.


Finally, from the melodic to the mysterious, an article by Amir Grosman and colleagues in the Netherlands, who reported the finding that parasitoid wasp larvae, having partially developed inside caterpillars, manipulate their hosts into protecting them by acting as bodyguards. The study made New Scientist's list of the year's weirdest animals.


It's great to see these articles, which were all covered by the press and in the blogosphere at the time of original publication, being highlighted again, along with those studies which were blogged as part of the recent PLoS ONE second birthday synchroblogging competition. We hope that articles published in PLoS ONE will continue to make appearances in the media throughout 2009 and beyond!

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

The Neuroscience of Things That Make You Go “Ew!”

Paul Sereno’s paper wasn’t – by any means – the only PLoS ONE paper published last week to have been covered by the press and by bloggers.

Reporting in PLoS ONE on August 13, Matt Finer, of Save America's Forests, and colleagues at Duke University and Land Is Life tracked hydrocarbon exploration projects across the western Amazon and generated a detailed map of oil and gas activities across the region, which, the researchers found, overlaps considerably with the latest biodiversity maps for amphibians, birds and mammals. Unlike the eastern Brazilian Amazon, the western region is still largely intact but large reserves of oil and gas lie below the landscape of the latter and growing global demand is leading to increased exploration and development in the region. There were news stories on the study in The Guardian, New Scientist and The Associated Press and it was blogged by Daily Kos, The Intersection and

Another study raising environmental issues – this one by Alex Pyron and colleagues at The City University of New York – outlined the potential effects of climate change on Burmese python populations in the United States. The PLoS ONE study found that, contrary to previous research, the pythons were unlikely to spread beyond the Floridian everglades in which they make their homes. The researchers used records on the distribution of pythons in their native range along with high resolution global climate databases to predict the potential extent of the python’s distribution in the U.S. and model the possible effects of global warming on the snakes. The results suggest that the pythons are restricted to the vicinity of the Everglades in extreme south Florida. The study was featured on Live Science and was also picked up on some of the wires.

As an ophidiophobic, reading Pyron’s article and some of the news stories (especially those with accompanying images) made me feel a little uneasy. In their article published in PLoS ONE last week, Mbemba Jabbi at the National Institutes of Mental Health, along with colleagues at the University Medical Center Groningen, shed some light on how reading a book or watching a film can invoke in us the same emotions as if we were experiencing the events ourselves. Focusing on the emotion of disgust, the researchers used an fMRI scanner to measure the participants’ brain activity while they: had drops of an unpleasant, bitter liquid placed on their tongue; watched a video of “disgusting” behaviour; and read a passage of disgusting text. They found that the same areas of the brain – the anterior insula and adjacent frontal operculum – were activated both when the participants tasted the liquid and when they watched the video and read the passage. The article was covered by New Scientist (although, note the disclaimer – “Warning: this story contains a paragraph of disgusting text” at the top of the story), Wired, PsychCentral and Discount Thoughts.

Finally, researchers led by Daniel Perez at the University of Maryland studied the H9N2 strain of the influenza virus, publishing their findings in a paper entitled, Replication and Transmission of H9N2 Influenza Viruses in Ferrets: Evaluation of Pandemic Potential. The scientists used ferrets (whose biology is very close to humans when it comes to flu) to characterise the mechanism of replication and transmission of recent avian H9N2 viruses and, according to the paper, the results suggest that, “the establishment and prevalence of H9N2 viruses in poultry pose a significant threat for humans.” There were news stories about the study in Reuters, AFP, Science News and Discover Magazine.

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

Digging into the “Green Desert” of Niger’s Holocene Past

After the massive media buzz surrounding the last paper published in PLoS ONE by Paul Sereno, in which he and colleagues described the anatomy and behaviour of Nigersaurus taqueti (dubbed “the Mesozoic cow” by the press), you can imagine that we were quite excited to receive another paper from the University of Chicago Palaeontologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

Sereno and his team had originally been on a dinosaur-hunting expedition in the Ténéré Desert in Niger (which is where the Nigersaurus fossil was discovered) when they happened on a large, Stone Age graveyard. In the new PLoS ONE article, Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change, the researchers outline the findings from a series of new archaeological sites at Gobero, dating from the Holocene and preserving the earliest Saharan cemetery from around 9500 years ago, as well as burials from two separate periods of occupation spanning more than 5000 years. Arid conditions forced the initial occupants to abandon the area a little over 8000 years ago but with the return of more humid conditions, around 6600 years ago, the region was repopulated by a more gracile people who left behind elaborate grave goods, including animal bone and ivory ornaments, many of which are pictured in the paper.

One of the graves contained the skeleton of a small Tenerian woman facing the skeletons of two small children (a photograph of this by Mike Hettwer, captioned Stone Age Embrace, has been widely used alongside many of the news stories on the article). Samples from the grave contained pollen clusters, suggesting the individuals had been laid to rest on a bed of flowers.

Some of the accompanying images are part of the published paper (and so can be reused in line with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License); other images, along with more information about the expedition can be found on the Project Exploration website (Project Exploration being a nonprofit science education organization that makes science accessible to the public—especially minority youth and girls—through personalized experiences with scientists and science). Any users registered on the PLoS ONE site can, of course, post notes and comments and rate the paper online.

Understandably, the article received huge amounts of coverage in the media and in the blogosphere (despite “Bigfoot”’s efforts to steal the spotlight). As well as making the front page of Slashdot, the story was the top Associated Press science story on Thursday (it was also one of the overall top stories), it was in Yahoo science news’s most viewed list on Friday, and in the New York Times most-emailed list. There were several hundred news stories on Google News, so here are a few highlights of the coverage (see also Knight Science Journalism Tracker and A Blog Around the Clock):


New York Times – Graves Found From Sahara’s Green Period
Washington Post – Excavations Show a Lush Life in the Sahara
Los Angeles Times – Archaeologists get a glimpse of life in a Sahara Eden
Reuters – Stone Age graveyard shows Sahara was once green
National Geographic – Ancient Cemetery Found; Brings "Green Sahara" to Life
Scientific American – Paleontology's Indiana Jones
New Scientist – Stone Age mass graves reveal green Sahara
Nature News – Back when the desert was green


Wired – Saharan Snapshot of Stone Age Life
Pharyngula – I Wish I Was a Paleontologist
Greg Laden’s Blog – Stone Age Graveyard Reveals Lifestyles of a Green Sahara
Stones, Bones ‘n’ Things – Paleontology Meets Archaeology – The Kiffian & Tenerean Occupation Of Gobero, Niger: Perhaps The Largest Collection Of Early-Mid Holocene People In Africa
Metafilter – Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

Tyrannosaurus Re-examined

This week saw the publication of another dinosaur study in PLoS ONE. In the article, entitled, Dinosaurian Soft Tissues Interpreted as Bacterial Biofilms, Thomas Kaye, at the Burke Museum of Natural History, and colleagues reported that material recovered from dissolved dinosaur bones by palaeontologists in 2005 (and believed to be dinosaurian soft tissue) may actually have been slimy biofilm created by bacteria that coated the voids once occupied by blood vessels and cells.

This study has already generated a large number of news articles and blog posts, including the following: New Scientist (T. rex 'tissue' may just be bacterial scum), Scientific American (Presumed dinosaur flesh may just be bacterial sludge), National Geographic (Dinosaur Slime Sparks Debate Over Soft-Tissue Finds), USA Today (New study has a bone to pick about dinosaur soft tissue), Aetiology (Dinosaur soft tissue–just bacterial biofilm?) and Pharyngula (Tyrannosaur morsels).

Several comments have already been posted on the published article and you can join in the discussion once you have created an account on the PLoS ONE publication website.

On the topic of biofilm, Carsten Matz’s paper, Marine Biofilm Bacteria Evade Eukaryotic Predation by Targeted Chemical Defense, published last week also picked up some coverage in the Washington Post (Social Lives of Bacteria May Yield Benefits for Humans) and Chemistry World (Biofilms deploy chemical weapons).

Also on a watery theme was Natalia Ospina-Álvarez and Francesc Piferrer’s paper on the potential effects of climate change on sex determination in fish. In vertebrates with separate sexes, sex determination can be genotypic (GSD) or temperature-dependent (TSD). The Spanish researchers used field and laboratory data to critically analyze the presence of TSD in the 59 species of fish where this type of sex determining mechanism had been postulated and found that increasing temperatures invariably resulted in highly male-biased sex ratios and that even small changes of just 1-2°C can significantly alter the sex ratio from 1:1 (males:females) up to 3:1 in both freshwater and marine species. Time Magazine covered the article (Global Warming's Fish-Sex Effect) and the story has also been Dugg several times.

Danish palaeontologist Per Christiansen compared the evolution of skull and mandible shape both in modern cats and in (the now extinct) sabercats; Greg Laden has posted a nice write-up of the study on his blog and there also posts on The Dragon’s Tales and on Counter Minds.

Finally, here is a quick round-up of some of coverage of several papers published in PLoS ONE on July 23rd: Does Pathogen Spillover from Commercially Reared Bumble Bees Threaten Wild Pollinators? (New Scientist, Reuters, Greg Laden’s blog); Sample Size and Precision in NIH Peer Review (The Scientist, Mike the Mad Biologist); and Changes in Gray Matter Induced by Learning—Revisited (Mind Hacks).

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

The Birds and the ‘Bots

Some of the topics presented in the news coverage of several papers published in PLoS ONE last week included birds, music and artificial intelligence.

Coen Elemans and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Utah studied the European starling and the zebra finch and found that these songbirds control their songs with the fastest-contracting muscle type yet described. These superfast muscles are previously known only from the sound-producing organs of rattlesnakes, several fish and the ringdove but the new study suggests they may be more common than once thought. The study was covered in the New York Times (Learning From a Muddy Muscle Master), National Geographic (Fastest Known Muscles Found in Songbirds' Throats), The Telegraph (Songbirds have superfast muscles) and The Independent (Songbirds develop super muscles for dawn chorus), among other places.

Birds were also the subject of a study entitled, Birds Reveal their Personality when Singing, by Garamszegi and colleagues. The researchers used bird song as a model to investigate whether behavioural traits involved in sexual advertisement can serve as good indicators of personality in wild animals. They found that the females preferred males who sang close to the ground, which may involve a higher predation risk, because it offers less concealment and puts males in a conspicuous position from the predators’ eye. Only prime quality individuals can cope with such costs of exposed singing, while cheaters will be eliminated by predators. The study was picked up by CBS News (Bold male bird gets the girl: study) and blogged by GrrlScientist (Singing the Praises of Mr Personality).

“Most musical, most melancholy bird,” said Samuel Taylor Coleridge of the nightingale but whether birdsong can affect us in the same way as a beautiful sonata played by a human musician is another matter. Stefan Koelsch at the University of Sussex, meanwhile, investigated whether people respond in the same ways to computerised music – particularly to unexpected chord changes – as they do to music played by humans. The researchers recorded the electrical brain responses and skin conductance responses of the participants and found that while the original, human music elicited brain activity in the listeners and caused them to sweat, the modified music generated little response. The authors suggest that the brain is therefore more likely to look for musical meaning when the music was played by a pianist. Perhaps the computerised music in the study wasn’t quite as poignant as HAL’s rendition of Daisy in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The best headline of the week must surely be The Chronicle of Higher Education for its article on the study: Don't Cry For Me, R2D2. Other coverage included stories in The Telegraph (Sweaty music find could help develop new treatments), The Guardian (Music that brings a tear to the eye), Wired (Study: Computer Musicians Ain't Got No Soul) and PsychCentral (Computer Music Not As Calming).

Finally, a study by Sören Krach and colleagues investigated how the increase of human-likeness of interaction partners modulates the participants’ brain activity. In this study, participants were playing an easy computer game (the prisoners’ dilemma game) against four different game partners: a regular computer notebook, a functionally designed Lego-robot, the anthropomorphic robot BARTHOC Jr. and a human. The fMRI study found that the more human-like the opponent, the more engaged the cortical regions associated with mental state attribution of the participants and the more the participants enjoyed the interaction. The study was blogged by io9 (Proof that the Brain Cannot Distinguish Between Human and Humanoid) and in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Our Brains Attribute Human Qualities to Humanoid Machines).

53 other papers were published in PLoS ONE last week (including an article by Laurie Graham and colleagues, which was covered by The Economist) and can all be read, rated and discussed on the journal website.

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

Rhapsody in Green

If you have visited the PLoS ONE homepage this week, you may have noticed the rather quirky juxtaposition in the Recently Published block of a paper on the effect of a broccoli-rich diet on prostate gene expression with an article on the acoustic properties of classical and modern violins. Indeed, these two articles generated the most news coverage of the 63 papers published in PLoS ONE on July 2.

In the first of these, entitled, Broccoli Consumption Interacts with GSTM1 to Perturb Oncogenic Signalling Pathways in the Prostate, Richard Mithen and colleagues report the results of a study on changes in gene expression in the prostate gland of volunteers as they participated in a dietary intervention study, involving broccoli-rich or pea-rich diets. The authors are based in Norwich (just up the road from the UK office in Cambridge), and so there were quite a few articles in the UK press (as well as from further afield), ranging from the Norwich Evening News to the BBC News, as well as The Telegraph (Broccoli reduces risk of prostate cancer), The Guardian (Broccoli 'could help fight cancer'), Reuters (Study shows how broccoli fights cancer) and The Age (Broccoli 'reduces risk of prostate cancer'). Mithen was also interviewed about the study by BBC News 24.

The coverage of Berend Stoel’s article, A Comparison of Wood Density between Classical Cremonese and Modern Violins, was no less extensive. Stoel, a researcher at the Leiden University Medical Center, teamed up with an American luthier, Terry Borman, to try to determine why it is that certain classical violins, such as those made by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri Del Gesu, have set the standards in terms of sound and acoustics, which modern luthiers often try to emulate. The researchers used computed tomography scans to compare five classical violins with eight modern violins. Although the median densities of the modern and the antique violins were similar, the density difference between wood grains of early and late growth was significantly smaller in the classical Cremonese violins compared with modern violins, and the authors suggest this may contribute to the superior sound production of classical Cremonese violins.

Some of the stories on the study have included: BBC News (Wood density key to violin sound), The Telegraph (Secret of Stradivarius violins' superiority uncovered), The Independent (Solved: the mystery of why Stradivarius violins are best), Nature (Acoustics: Fiddling the numbers) and Reuters (Wood density holds key to Stradivarius sweet sound). I am also hopeful that the question “what does a luthier make?” will come up now in the pub quiz some of the Cambridge-based PLoS staff often attend.

Sunny Jun and colleagues at Stanford may have found a way of predicting a woman's chances of becoming pregnant after IVF treatment by assessing an embryo’s quality, as well as recording the woman’s hormone levels; this is reported in an article entitled, Defining Human Embryo Phenotypes by Cohort-Specific Prognostic Factors. “We envision that dissection of human embryo phenotypes and their corresponding molecular correlates is not only a necessary step towards improving the treatment of clinical infertility,” said the corresponding author, Mylene Yao, “but will also contribute significantly to research efforts in the hESC field.” The article was featured in The Guardian (Fertility: Doctors find test to predict chances of IVF success), Time (Predicting In Vitro Success) and Reuters (New method may help predict IVF success: study), and on BBC Radio 4.

Several other papers also enjoyed some media coverage – a paper on the potential benefits of relaxation by Dusek and colleagues was picked up by Newsweek (Train Your Mind, Change Your DNA) and El Mundo (Los genes también 'se relajan'), while French researchers made the front page of Le Monde (En France, les hépatites B et C font entre 4 000 et 5 000 morts par an) and Gratwicke and colleagues were featured in Journal Watch (Extinction in pieces).

Jake Snaddon’s article on children’s perceptions of rainforest biodiversity was featured in Wired, even if the writer, Brandom Keim, described “the study as a well-meaning but hopelessly academic analysis” (not that this is a bad thing)! The Cambridge-based researchers had young children draw pictures of a rainforest, as part of a museum competition, and found that while the children were shown to have a sophisticated understanding of the biodiversity of the rainforest ecosystem, they tended to overemphasise the numbers of charismatic megafauna at the expense of (arguably) “less cute” annelids and social insects, which the authors felt may be a reflection of the number of articles in the news about the plight of mammals, reptiles and birds, as well as the possibility that the children thought they might stand a better chance of winning the competition if they drew more prettier animals.

The other 56 papers published this week are, of course, ready and waiting to be read, rated and discussed online on the PLoS ONE website.

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment

Going to San Francisco? Finding Flowers for Your Hair May Get Tougher

Those who follow the advice of Scott McKenzie by wearing flowers in their hair when visiting the Bay Area may find it increasingly difficult to find native Californian flora over the coming years.

Scott Loarie and colleagues discovered that two-thirds of the state's endemic plants could suffer more than an 80 percent reduction in geographic range by the end of the century, thanks to the effects of global climate change. In their study, Climate Change and the Future of California's Endemic Flora, published in PLoS ONE on June 25th, the researchers warn that because native species not found outside the state make up nearly half of all California's native plants, a changing climate will have a major impact on the state's unparalleled plant diversity. The article prompted an Associated Press story, which has been widely syndicated, along with the following news and blog coverage:

A second article on climate change was published in PLoS ONE this week (Climate Extremes Promote Fatal Co-Infections during Canine Distemper Epidemics in African Lions by first author Linda Munson and senior author Craig Packer). The researchers studied the effects of extreme weather conditions, worsened by global climate change, on the spread of infectious diseases. They found that the increased frequency of droughts and floods expected with global warming, can create conditions in which diseases that are tolerated one at a time may converge and cause mass die-offs of livestock or wildlife as the normal host-pathogen relationships are altered, causing a “perfect storm” of multiple infectious outbreaks that could trigger epidemics with catastrophic mortality. Some of the news coverage of the article includes:

Finally, in an article entitled, Increased Avian Diversity Is Associated with Lower Incidence of Human West Nile Infection: Observation of the Dilution Effect, John Swaddle and colleagues found an interesting example of how biodiversity can reduce the disease incidence in humans, namely that areas that have a more diverse bird population show much lower incidences of West Nile virus infection in the human population. West Nile develops rapidly in bird populations, and then can be passed to humans or other animals through a vector mechanism, often a mosquito. The article was featured on the Discovery Channel (More Bird Species Means Fewer West Nile Cases) and the blog 10,000 Birds (Bird Biodiversity Good for Humans Too).

You can, of course, read, rate and discuss the other 51 papers published in PLoS ONE on June 25th by visiting the journal publication site.

Category: In the News, PLoS ONE | Leave a comment