PLOS ONE News and Blog Round-Up: 2012 in Review

In this round-up, we would like to share with you some of the PLOS ONE articles covered by the media in 2012. Over one thousand papers published in PLOS ONE were covered in the news! Exciting as it is to see the wide coverage all these papers received, this made it difficult to narrow down the list below to just a few. Some of the papers the media found newsworthy are listed below (in no particular order).

The study “The Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Arabica Coffee (Coffea arabica): Predicting Future Trends and Identifying Priorities” suggests that climate change threatens the growing conditions for wild coffee varieties, and could potentially damage the global production of coffee within the next century. Read coverage of this research in the French Tribune, Scientific American or BBC News as you sip your next precious cup.

In November, three papers reported on different aspects of children’s health. The study, “Fetal Alcohol Exposure and IQ at Age 8: Evidence from a Population-Based Birth-Cohort Study” , covered by New Scientist and Wired, reports that consuming even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can reduce a child’s IQ. Yawning in the womb at 24-36 weeks of age may be a sign of healthy fetal development, according to the study “Development of Fetal Yawn Compared with Non-Yawn Mouth Openings from 24–36 Weeks Gestation”, which received coverage from the Guardian, Fox News and io9. Researchers describe a test to estimate a newborn’s risk for childhood obesity in the paper “Estimation of Newborn Risk for Child or Adolescent Obesity: Lessons from Longitudinal Birth Cohorts”. The Boston Globe, TIME and Mother Nature Network reported on this study.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the study “High Phobic Anxiety Is Related to Lower Leukocyte Telomere Length in Women” reported on the effects of anxiety on the ageing process. The researchers report that women who suffer from a chronic psychological distress called phobic anxiety have shorter telomeres in their blood cells, a change in DNA structure that is linked to faster ageing. This study received coverage from the Scientific American blogs, Huffington Post and CBS News.

Several other papers that reveal how we (and our bodies) respond to stress grabbed media attention also. In the study, “Overtime Work as a Predictor of Major Depressive Episode: A 5-Year Follow-Up of the Whitehall II Study” , researchers found that people who work over 11 hours a day had double the risk of depression compared to employees who worked 7-8 hours per day. Read the coverage of this study from the Herald Sun and the New York Times blogs. Spending too much time online can lead to internet addiction disorder (IAD) in teenagers, and this was linked to changes in the structure of the brain in the paper “Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study”. The Wall Street Journal, Mashable and other media outlets covered this research.

Results of the study “When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math” suggest that the anticipation of math problems can be physically painful to those who suffer from math anxiety. The study was covered by several news outlets including National Geographic, ArsTechnica and The Atlantic. And all this stress may affect how we perceive the other sex. Stressed-out men are likely to find larger women more attractive physically, reports the paper “The Impact of Psychological Stress on Men’s Judgements of Female Body Size”. This research was covered by The Daily Show, Le Monde and Jezebel.

Is this blog post getting too stressful? Relax with these cute puppies! As it turns out, viewing cute images like this one can improve concentration as reported in the paper “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus” . This research had media outlets including Forbes, the LA Times and Cosmopolitan reaching to publish the cutest animal photos with their reports.

And if you’re still looking for cute animals, look no further. Three new animal species described in PLOS ONE papers this year have your adorable animal needs covered. The lesula, a new monkey species was described in the study “Lesula: A New Species of Cercopithecus Monkey Endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Implications for Conservation of Congo’s Central Basin”, four new species of chameleons small enough to fit on a fingernail were discovered in Madagascar, according to “Rivaling the World’s Smallest Reptiles: Discovery of Miniaturized and Microendemic New Species of Leaf Chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar” and a study published in January leads this menagerie of adorable animals, as it reports on the world’s tiniest frog. _ is small enough to fit on a nickel CK, and is described in the paper “Ecological Guild Evolution and the Discovery of the World’s Smallest Vertebrate”.  Hundreds of media outlets across the world featured stories about these new species, including the New York Times, Reuters, Science Now and even The Onion.

To round things off, researchers watching animals from space identified new colonies of emperor penguins in the Antarctic. Their results were published in the study “An Emperor Penguin Population Estimate: The First Global, Synoptic Survey of a Species from Space”, which was covered by The Scientist, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today.

These papers are only a small fraction of more than a thousand that were covered by the media. Visit our Media Tracking Project to see the full list of over 7000 news stories that reported on PLOS ONE research published in 2012.  Or follow us on YouTube, SoundCloud and Twitter to keep track of some of the great science multimedia we’ve published this year!

Images: Coffee by kaakati on Flickr, puppies by pellaea on Flickr, all others from PLOS ONE papers

 

 

 

Prowling Catfish Catch Pigeons on Land

Cats hunt birds, and sea-birds hunt fish.  And in some odd ecological pockets, catfish hunt pigeons.

In a study published today by researchers at the University of Toulouse, France, scientists have investigated this unusual predator-prey relationship between European catfish and pigeons in the Southwest region of France.

European catfish have been reported to capture the pigeons on land and drag them back into the water.  This surprising behavior has not been known to occur in the native range of the species; however this article discovers that in France, where the fish are an invasive species, they have adapted their natural behavior in order to feed on novel prey in their new environment.

The researchers completed this study along the Tarn River in Southwestern France.  European catfish originate from Europe, east of the Rhine River, but were introduced to the Tarn River in 1983.

From a bridge above a gravel island on the river, the researchers watched the fish from June through October 2011. Over that time they saw 54 pigeon hunting incidents, and in 28% of these cases, the catfish successfully captured their prey on land and dragged them back into the water to eat them. These attacks were nearly always triggered by active pigeons, as catfish never attacked motionless pigeons. This evidence suggests that the catfish used water vibrations to hunt their prey rather than visual cues.

The cause of this unusual predation behavior is still unknown. However, these new findings may bring us closer to understanding the implications of such novel behavior in a new ecosystem.

To view the fascinating catfish behavior described in this article, please see the video below:

Citation: Cucherousset J, Boulêtreau S, Azémar F, Compin A, Guillaume M, et al. (2012) “Freshwater Killer Whales”: Beaching Behavior of an Alien Fish to Hunt Land Birds. PLoS ONE 7(12): e50840. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050840

Plunging into the Unknown: Belly Button Bacteria and You

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered what kinds of life might exist out there? Well, you can look down – at your belly button that is – and wonder the exact same thing.

According to research published today in PLOS ONE, the belly button is home to an array of bacterial life ranging from the common (like Staphylococci) to the rare (like Archaea which have never been found before on human skin). Some bacteria, like those belonging to the Bacillus genus (pictured above), are feisty – they battle against fungi and viruses. Other bacteria, like those in the Micrococcus genus, are responsible for body odor!

All of this and more were found in the belly buttons of various participants in the study. The authors, led by Dr. Robert Dunn, identified over 2000 phylotypes (i.e., different types or species) of bacteria, most of which were rare and found in less than a tenth of the study’s sixty participants. No one particular phylotype was found in every person, but those that were common were shared by over seventy percent of belly buttons swabbed. What a bacterial ball!

We invited Dr. Dunn, the corresponding author of the study, to help give us some insight on the aptly named “A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons are Highly Diverse, but Predictable”.

 

What was the impetus behind your research?

We originally started this project as pure outreach, to help people understand the wonderful ecological system that covers them from head to toe, inside and out. We found that people were very interested in seeing cultures of what lived on them but as we looked at the cultures it became clear there were more species (and simply more interesting things) growing on people than we expected. At some point the project went from outreach to science. […] Darwin got to […] go to the Galapagos, we decided to travel to the navel of the hair[y] guy who we see in the elevator sometimes.

Why choose belly buttons?

In our experience, the belly button is among the most ridiculous parts of the body. It is ridiculous enough that people who don’t necessarily like nature, say for example birds, can still be convinced to sample their belly button. […] The other reasons were more technical. The belly button is relatively less disturbed than, say, your hands. It is less exposed to all the chemicals and other people we bump up against during an ordinary day. In that way it is the closest thing we might find to an “old growth” sample of skin. Finally, it is worth noting that there are other body parts that are ecologically interesting but that we have found, and maybe this is just us being too old-fashioned, are awkward to sample at public science events.

What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

That we know very little about the species on our bodies and around us in our daily lives. The species in your belly button or armpits, they are an important part of your first line of immune defense, and yet right now no one can explain to you why you have the species you have on your body. I know of no single study that is able to explain the differences in skin bacteria from one person to the next. That is a big mystery, not quite the pyramids of Egypt big, but big, and it is living and dividing on you right now. I’d like people to be more aware of that mystery and that the unknown, biologically speaking, is not just something far away, it is also the funny place that lint accumulates.

It is worth saying, in this context, that while we can now predict which bacteria tend to be frequent and common in belly buttons, we are  totally unable to predict which of the common species will be found on any particular person. Gender doesn’t seem to matter, nor does age, nor does innie/outie, nor does where you live now or where you were born. So that is what we are moving toward, trying to understand what governs the species that are found on any particular person […] and how we might alter our behavior in ways to favor species that keep us healthy and disfavor those that do us harm.

If others are interested in taking part or learning more about it, how would you recommend that they proceed?

Sign up at our mailing list and you can get emails about our next projects. Right now people can participate in projects on ants in their backyards, camel crickets in their basements and microbes in their kitchen, but as new mysteries turn up there will be more. Armpits, for example, are on the horizon. Oh, the armpits….


Participants in this study came from many walks of life: People curious about their spouse’s belly buttons, teachers wanting to find ways to engage their students in the microbial world around them, researchers, museum visitors, science writers and others. Read more of their stories at the links below:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2011/06/27/discovering-my-microbiome-you-my-friend-are-a-wonderland/

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/06/peter-aldhous-san-francisco-bu.html

http://www.yourwildlife.org/2012/08/its-the-pits/

If you would like to learn more about future projects you can visit the project’s home page: Belly Button Biodiversity.

 

Citation:

Hulcr J, Latimer AM, Henley JB, Rountree NR, Fierer N, et al. (2012) A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons are Highly Diverse, but Predictable. PLoS ONE 7(11): e47712. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047712

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micrococcus

http://www.wildlifeofyourbody.org/

The image above can be found on the project’s home page.

Halloween Highlights: Crushing Jaws!

Happy Halloween to those goblins and ghouls amongst you! Before you go trick-or-treating tonight, let’s wrap up our month-long series on creepy critters and things that go bump in the night with one final critter and its modern-day cousin.

The unassuming reptile pictured above is the tuatara. The tuatara are found only in New Zealand, and are often called “living fossils” because of their physiological similarities to their ancient ancestors.

In research published today in PLOS ONE, researchers led by Dr. Oliver Rauhut discovered the fossil remains of an ancient relative of the tuatara, Oenosaurus muelheimensis. The species is named in honor of the Franconian Alb, the wine-growing region in Germany where the fossil was discovered, and the German village of Mühlheim.

Pictured to above is the Oenosaurus’ lower jaw, which in life featured a set of ever-growing tooth plates and multitudinous “pencil-like” teeth. Researchers posit that the arrangement and morphology of the lower jaw suggests that it moved in a crushing motion.

We recently invited Dr. Oliver Rauhut, the corresponding author of the paper, to share the group’s thoughts on their new findings. He writes:

The incentive for our research was the find of a new specimen of a rhynchocephalian from the Late Jurassic of Germany, which we name Oenosaurus muelheimensis. Rhynchocephalians are an ancient group of reptiles, today only represented by the Tuatara that lives on small islands off the coast of New Zealand and is regarded as a classic example of a living fossil. The new fossil has an extremely unusual dentition, and at first we were all at a loss as to what kind of animal this was, with ideas ranging from a chimeran fish to a rhynchosaur -[a] pig-like reptile that lived in the Triassic (which, incidently, is also reflected in the name…). After identifying the animal as a rhynchocephalian, we had a closer look at the dentition, which is unique amongst tetrapods in presenting large, continuously growing tooth plates. Such an extreme adaptation in a Jurassic rhynchocephalien contradicts the traditional idea that these animals were conservative and evolutionary inferior to lizards. Thus, we challenge the current opinion that the decline of rhynchocephalians during the later Mesozoic was mainly caused by selection pressure by radiating lizards and early mammals; instead climate change in the wake of continental break-up at that time might have been responsible.

This concludes our month-long celebration of some the spooktacular science you can find on PLOS ONE. If you are interested in learning about other creepy critters that we have covered in past years, please visit these links.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

 

Citations:

Rauhut OWM, Heyng AM, López-Arbarello A, Hecker A (2012) A New Rhynchocephalian from the Late Jurassic of Germany with a Dentition That Is Unique amongst Tetrapods. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46839. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046839

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuatara

The first image is provided courtesy of Helmut Tischlinger and can be found accompanying the institution’s press release.

The second image is Figure 2F in the manusript.

Halloween Highlights: Carnivorous Plants

Plants may not generally be associated with the spooky sentiments of Halloween, but put the right Hitchcock soundtrack with the video below and it could have come straight out of a Hollywood horror film.

Carnivorous plants have inspired many creative minds over time, perhaps most memorably in the cult classic, Little Shop of Horrors which featured a fictitious new hybrid that thrived only on human blood. The real plants may not be so scary to us but for insects, they’re certainly something to be wary of.

The video above  shows the particularly dramatic “active” trapping mechanism employed by one carnivorous species the Drosera glanduligera, a sundew that feeds on insects. Even the abstract of the study Catapulting Tentacles in a Sticky Carnivorous Plant conjures cryptic images:

Prey animals walking near the edge of the sundew trigger a touch-sensitive snap-tentacle, which swiftly catapults them onto adjacent sticky glue-tentacles; the insects are then slowly drawn within the concave trap leaf by sticky tentacles.

“Passive” trapping mechanisms used by other carnivorous plants can be equally creepy when documented close up (and paired with the right soundtrack). Take a look at Video S1 and S3, below, of a paper published in 2007 investigating the digestive fluid of the Nepenthes rafflesian, a pitcher plant that relies on its unique shape and a pool of  highly viscoelastic fluid to trap insects for digestion. The first video shows how easily a fly can escape a pool of water, while the second video shows the distinct advantage the digestive fluid gives the plant. Both demonstrate the classic horror film qualities science can evoke!

 

 

Citation: Poppinga S, Hartmeyer SRH, Seidel R, Masselter T, Hartmeyer I, et al. (2012) Catapulting Tentacles in a Sticky Carnivorous Plant. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45735. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045735

Citation: Gaume L, Forterre Y (2007) A Viscoelastic Deadly Fluid in Carnivorous Pitcher Plants. PLoS ONE 2(11): e1185. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001185

Worth a Thousand Words

How many arrows are depicted in the photo above? How many can you find? One? Five?

The answer is 118.

In research published last week, researchers digitally compiled 118 different lithic points from the Patagonia region of South America. All samples date back to the Late Holocene period and — the researchers posit — were made using other arrows, spears, and points. The study examined the design of these points and aimed to determine whether they can be seen as working in a modular system comprised of the blade (e.g., the arrow) and the stem (e.g., the arrow shaft).

The image above is Figure 1 in the manuscript. And as you can see, the researchers labeled twenty-four parts, or “landmarks”, of the composite image. These points or landmarks helped in measuring the image’s shape, angles, and proportions.

To learn more about this image and read the full text of the study, click here.

Citation: González-José R, Charlin J (2012) Relative Importance of Modularity and Other Morphological Attributes on Different Types of Lithic Point Weapons: Assessing Functional Variations. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48009. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modular_design

Spiders, Birds, and Snakes, Oh my!

To continue our spooktacular posts this October, we bring you a study which may have some arachnophobes rethinking their next vacation destination.

The island of Guam is home to one of the densest spider communities in the Pacific.  In a recent study published with PLOS ONE, researchers investigated this region to discover how the demise of insectivorous birds inhabiting the island has affected one of the most widely feared creepy crawlers.

The downfall of Guam’s native insect-eating birds began in the 1940’s when the infamous brown tree snake was introduced.  To investigate the effects this loss had on the landscape, the authors of the recent paper analyzed the spider population on several Pacific islands.

The team compared the neighboring islands of Rota, Tinian and Saipan, to Guam. These islands do not have any known snake populations, and also have similar native bird species to that of Guam.  The researchers were then able to assess whether the bird presence correlated with spider web numbers, in addition to what impact bird presence had per season.

What the authors found might send chills right down your spine: The spider web densities in Guam were 40 times higher than those of the other islands during the wet season. Guam had an average of 18.37 spider webs per 10 meters, as compared to the other islands, which only had 0.45 webs per 10 meters. In addition, the bird loss had even increased the web size for a certain spider species.

Whether you suffer from arachnophobia, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) or ornithophobia (fear of birds), I think we can all agree this is a terrifying case showing the effects the removal of an essential predator can have to a landscape.

Citation: Rogers H, Hille Ris Lambers J, Miller R, Tewksbury JJ (2012) ‘Natural experiment’ Demonstrates Top-Down Control of Spiders by Birds on a Landscape Level. PLoS ONE 7(9): e43446. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043446

Image Credit: Anders B on Flickr CC-by license

PLOS ONE News and Media Roundup

In August, PLOS ONE papers made the news for research on morality in infants, the first domesticated turkeys, the dangers of sea slug mating, and more!

Are we born with a moral compass? Researchers from the University of Otago began with this question in their study, “Social Evaluation or Simple Association? Simple Associations May Explain Moral Reasoning in Infants”. In it, they recreated the conditions of Hamlin et al.’s 2007 study and found evidence to suggest that infants may not be born with an innate moral knowledge. The study was covered by The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, CBS and The Smithsonian Magazine.

A group of researchers has uncovered evidence of the earliest known instance of domesticated turkeys. The skeletal remnants of the Mexican turkey, or Meleagris gallopavo, in Mayan territory has led to additional hypotheses on the turkey trade in the Late Preclassic era (300 BC–AD 100).  The study was reported on by Science NOW and Examiner.com.

Gentlemen, are you feeling stressed? If you are, there is new research to indicate that you are more likely than your stress-free male counterparts to find heavier woman attractive. This research also found that stressed men find a wider range of women’s body types attractive. Read more about this article on the BBC, The Huffington Post, CNN and TIME.

In a recent study, researchers examined the relationship between pupil dilation and self-reported sexual orientation. Over three hundred participants of different genders and sexual orientations were shown visual sexual stimuli while researchers recorded their physical responses. Their findings indicate that pupil dilation is a strong indicator of sexual orientation. The study was covered by the LA Times, ABC, and The Huffington Post.

New research on the mating habits of the hermaphroditic sea slug, specifically the Siphopteron quadrispinosum, has yielded rather explicit findings. When S. quadrispinosum mate, the slug performing the male role will first inject the female with its fluids before copulation can occur. To discover what effects this violence may have on mating behavior or egg count, researchers studied the sea slug at different mating rates. The image above is Figure 1 of the manuscript. Read more about this article on Wired, io9, and Scientific American.

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLOS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

PLOS ONE Launches Reproducibility Initiative

PLOS ONE is pleased to announce a collaboration with Science Exchange and figshare in a groundbreaking new project: The Reproducibility Initiative. The initiative aims to help scientists validate their research findings by providing a mechanism for blind, independent replication by experts from Science Exchange’s network of more than 1,000 providers at core facilities and contract research organizations.

Reproducibility, or the lack thereof, is a known issue in the scientific community, but few have the time or resources to fully address it. The Reproducibility Initiative is intended to encourage authors to validate their work by facilitating collaboration with an unbiased expert, and offering a Certificate of Reproducibility upon completion. This project will benefit stakeholders from across the research spectrum, including research scientists, drug companies, publishers, funders, and patient groups, all of whom agree that independent confirmation of results improves science and speeds discovery.

When PLOS ONE launched in 2006, a key objective was to publish those findings that historically did not make it into print: the negative results, the replication studies, the reanalyses of existing datasets. Although everyone knew these studies had value, journals would rarely publish them because they were not seen to be sufficiently important. PLOS ONE sought to become a venue for exactly these types of studies. As it happened, however, the submissions were not hugely forthcoming, although we have published a few. (One paper, for example, replicated a previous MRI study but used a higher resolution to confirm the findings, while another failed to replicate a famous psychology study from the nineties.) The Reproducibility Initiative harks back to this original objective, and may even open the doors to more papers whose sole purpose is to correct the literature.

The initiative brings together a number of scientific innovations to create a completely new research space. Science Exchange enables experiments to be performed objectively, free of the pressure to produce positive results that affects most scientists; PLOS ONE provides a formal publication venue that will publish the results of replication studies, even though they are not ‘novel’; and figshare provides a means of sharing raw data quickly and efficiently.

The Reproducibility Initiative is initially accepting 40-50 studies for validation. Scientists can submit their studies here. They will be selected on the basis of potential clinical impact and the scope of the experiments required. The organizers of the project hope that it will be the start of a more overarching system of validation by funders and patient groups, and that’s a sentiment we at PLOS ONE would certainly be happy to see replicated.

PLOS ONE News and Media Roundup

Lesions found on coral trout.

Last month, the media covered PLOS ONE papers on germs in airports, skin cancer in fish, a potentially life extending pill, and more!

Research by a team at MIT identified New York City’s JFK, Los Angeles’s LAX and Honolulu’s HNL as the nation’s airports most likely to influence the spread of a major pandemic in the first few days of an emerging disease. The team used geographical information, traffic structure and individual mobility patterns to model contagious disease dynamics through the air transportation network. The study was covered by NPR, CNN, and Wired.

A recent study comparing a hunter-gatherer population with a modern Western population found that daily energy expenditure between the two populations is not all that different; challenging the view that obesity in Western society is largely due to a lack of exercise.  This research may encourage shifting the focus of this debate to the importance of calorie consumption and was covered by The Atlantic, Mother Nature Network and the BBC.

Dark patches found on fish in the Great Barrier Reef have been identified as a deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma. “Evidence of Melanoma in Wild Marine Fish Populations” is the first published study of melanoma in a wild fish population but it is unlikely the problem is new. The Great Barrier Reef sits under the largest hole in the ozone, exposing fish populations there to high levels of UV radiation. The image above is Figure 1 of the manuscript. The study was covered by Science, LA Times and Scientific American.

Autistic children may benefit from getting a pet. According to this study by a French research team, children who received a pet around the age of five showed improved social skills, including increased ability to share with and comfort others, compared to autistic children who either grew up with a pet or never had one. US News, Fox and Time all covered this study.

Findings from the study “Randomized Polypill Crossover Trial in People Aged 50 and Over” suggest that people over fifty may benefit from taking a once daily “polypill” comprised of three blood pressure-lowering drugs and a cholesterol-lowering statin. Read more at CBS, Reuters and ABC.

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLOS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

PLoS ONE News and Media Roundup

Sequence of rapid inversion behavior in a cockroach, gecko, and a robot prototype.

Last month, some PLoS ONE papers in the news included research on: Body odor, robot mimicry and more!

New research shows that our body odor changes as we age, and it might not be so bad. Read more at Scientific American, NPR and TIME .

Scientists have developed a robot capable of mimicking the cockroach and geckos ability to run off a ledge at full speed and swing under to safety. Read more about this article in The Los Angeles Times, NPR, Wired.

500 different types of bacteria have been identified in office workspaces around the country. The study shows that many of the same bacteria species exist in the workspaces of men and women, however the offices that women inhabit, contained on average, 10 to 20 % fewer of them. Read more at Scientific American, The New York Times  and The Washington Post .

Extreme exercise may be unhealthy for certain people according to a new study. Scientists suggest that genetics could dictate the kind of physical activity we do, and how much of it we’re doing. You can read more at TIME, and The New York Times Blog

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLoS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

PLoS ONE News and Media Roundup

Emperor penguin – Credit: British Antarctic Survey

This month in PLoS ONE news: Penguin populations recorded from outer space, super strength bacteria discovered in caves, and much more!

Satellite mapping provides the first comprehensive record of the Emperor Penguin population in Antarctica. Scientists found that the overall population is higher than previously estimated; however, other colonies may have disappeared altogether, most likely due to climate change. Wired Scientific American and BBC covered this article.

Strains of previously undiscovered bacteria found deep in the Lechuguilla Cave of New Mexico, show remarkably strong resistance to modern antibiotics. Scientific American, The Los Angeles Times and National Geographic covered this article.

The commonly used Body Mass Index (BMI) measure may vastly underestimate the ongoing obesity epidemic, according to new research. Read this study and more at The Huffington Post, TIME and The Los Angeles Times.

What makes a good athlete? Traits like problem solving, creativity and quick decision making are commonly referred to as “game intelligence” in sports. According to new research, professional soccer players show increased cognitive abilities, which may be linked to such athletic success. New York Times, Wired and CNN discussed this article.

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLoS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

The commonly used Body Mass Index (BMI) measure may vastly underestimate the ongoing obesity epidemic, according to new research.

Using Virtual Reality to Understand Human Perception: An Author Spotlight on Andrew Glennerster

How do we visualize the world around us? To answer this question, researchers are using virtual reality to gain insight into how we perceive our surroundings. At the University of Reading, Dr. Andrew Glennerster and his international team are utilizing this technology to study how people generate a three-dimensional representation of the world around them. His recently published PLoS ONE article, A Demonstration of ‘Broken’ Visual Space, tests the theory on whether there is a one-to-one match between reference points in our internal representation of the world and those in our actual surroundings. In this author spotlight, Dr. Glennerster answers questions about his background, his research and his PLoS ONE manuscript.

Let’s start off with your background.  How did you become interested in studying human vision and what role does virtual reality play in assisting your research?

I originally studied medicine at Cambridge. It was an exciting time for vision research there, and in my 3rd year I was taught by lots of the big names in vision like Horace Barlow and John Robson. I found it fascinating and went back to studying vision after I had finished my clinical training.

I have set up a virtual reality lab because it allows us to study people’s 3D vision as they move around.  It is a much more difficult technical challenge than studying 3D vision from binocular stereopsis, like in a 3D movie, but moving around is the main way that animals see in 3D.  To study this process systematically, you need virtual reality.

In your paper, you mention that most theories on three-dimensional vision suggest that the way we represent space in our visual systems assumes that we generate a one-to-one model of space in our brains. Why did your team test this theory and what did you find?

We tested this theory because, for a long time, it has been the dominant one in the literature. It is very easy to believe people have something like a ‘model of the world’ in their heads, but by itself that is not a good argument. We need to move away from accounts that are easy to imagine yet hard to explain at a neural level and toward ones that are based on operations we know the brain can carry out even if they are more conceptually challenging. We do not yet have a well worked out alternative to the one-to-one, ‘reconstruction’  model, but there are some promising beginnings.

When a three-dimensional illusion is depicted in a two-dimensional picture, certain paradoxes occur that wouldn’t be possible to replicate in real life. Given this, how does the Penrose staircase illusion, included in Figure 1 of your paper, compare to your experiment? Where there any similarities?

The similarity between the Penrose staircase and people’s representation of space is that if you tried to build a real 3D model of either you would fail. You cannot make sense of people’s responses in this experiment using a real 3D model. People believe they are in a stable room during the whole experiment. Anyone who suggests that a stable perception comes from the observer having an unchanging 3D ‘model’ of the environment in their head has a difficult time explaining these data. If you try to pick coordinates in some perceptual space for each of the objects in the experiment then you get tangled up in just the same way that you do with the Penrose staircase: you cannot say whether one object is in front of or behind another one. The solution is to give up trying to assign coordinates to each of the objects.

How does your research help further our understanding of human perception? Does it have real world applications?

There is an increasing focus within visual neuroscience on the issue of stability: what is it in the brain that remains constant as we move our eyes around and, even more problematically, as we walk around?

What’s next? Where do you hope to go from here?

This paper attacks the current dominant model, but the next, more positive, stage is to build coherent alternative models. I believe that working with colleagues in computer vision is a good way to do this as robots have to deal with images arriving in real time and react accordingly. Currently in computer vision, new types of representation are being developed that are not at all like a reconstruction. These can act as an inspiration for testable models of human vision. Equally, if neuroscientists produce good evidence about how the brain represents a scene, it could influence the way that mobile robots are programmed.

To learn more about University of Reading’s Virtual Reality Research Group and Dr. Andrew Glennerster’s work, click here. To find more PLoS ONE research on human vision and virtual reality click here.

PLoS ONE News and Media Round-Up

Increasing your vegetable and fruit intake could improve your appearance, according to a new study. Scientists from the University of St Andrews in Scotland observed 35 participants who increased their fruit and vegetable intake over a 6 week period. They noticed significant changes in the skin’s yellow and red coloring, due to the absorption of carotenoids. To measure the impact of this change, undergraduate students then viewed images of those individuals with increased pigmentation and reported the subject’s appearance as more attractive and healthy. You can read more about this article at NPR, The Huffington Post and ABC News.

Fossil remains found in China’s Yunnan Province provide evidence of a prehistoric human species researchers are calling the “Red Deer Cave people”, as they were thought to feed on an extinct species of native deer. According to radiocarbon dating, this population lived just 14,500 to 11,500 years ago, and that these remains possess both modern (H. sapiens) and archaic (putative plesiomorphic) traits making the findings rather unusual. National Geographic, The Guardian and The History Channel covered this study.

In January of 2011, Daryl Bem of Cornell University published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggesting the existence of precognition, or the ability to predict future events. Dr. Bem invited other scientists in the field to replicate the study, to encourage scientific credibility. A team of researchers, led by Dr. Stuart Ritchie independently replicated the study three times, and were unable to replicate the results. The Chicago Tribune The Guardian and MSNBC covered this story.

No other animal can bite as powerfully as the crocodile, according to a new study covered by National Geographic, The New York Times and The Huffington Post. For the first time, scientists from the University of Florida used a transducer, a device that converts pressure into an electrical signal, to record bite forces and tooth pressures in all 23 existing crocodilian species. They found that the Crocodylus porosus, or the saltwater crocodile, bites with 3,689 pounds of force, the highest recorded of any living creature.

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