Canada’s Species at Risk Rarely Recover: The Story Behind the PLOS ONE Article

Orca_Andy Wright

Post By Caroline Fox & Brett Favaro Most scientists are passionate about their work, but enthusiasm can sometimes be hard to maintain over a long project. What if we could inject the fun back into science—take away the emotional baggage … Continue reading »

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Going PRO – clinical trials must plan to capture patient-reported outcomes


Post authored by David Moher All participants in research are important. What patients in clinical trials tell us about treatments – patient-reported outcomes (PROs) such as quality of life and symptoms – is being used more and more to improve … Continue reading »

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Vegetables Help Wild Andean Condors Dominate at Dinnertime

Wild Male Andean condor showing orange tongue and iris color Eat too many carrots and your skin might turn orange, thanks to a group of pigments called carotenoids.  Orange skin may not look intimidating to you, but to wild Andean condors, that flash of color in their competitors’ eyes and skin may help them dominate at dinnertime.

Andean condors rely largely on a diet of decaying flesh, but a recent PLOS ONE study suggests that these birds also eat the fresh and partially digested vegetable material in the intestines of carcasses. Condors eat in groups with a strict pecking order, where adult males rank the highest and juvenile females the lowest. Feeding frenzies often lead to Female adult wild Andean condor showing orange tongue and red iris colourconflicts over meals, and this is when the reds, oranges, and yellows of carotenoid pigments may help a young bird signal its dominance in the group. The bare skin of a young condor can turn from pale pink, yellow or dull grey to a vibrant red, orange, or yellow in seconds during these displays.

The researchers investigated how Andean condors and American black vultures acquire these pigments through diet, and what potential biological and environmental factors contribute to the pigments’ biological absorption. They compared pigment concentrations in blood samples from wild condors, black vultures, and captive condors, the latter fed a diet strictly of mammal flesh. The researchers found that captive condors generally had low levels of carotenoids compared to the wild birds, and that the wild condors in particular had a carotenoid concentration about three times higher than that of the wild American black vultures, despite their similar diets. In addition, the wild condors had a high percentage of vegetal matter in their droppings.

Social EatersThese results indicate that wild condors feeding on entire carcasses, including semi-digested vegetal matter, are better able to access the pigments needed for their fast-changing, colorful displays of dominance during a feeding frenzy than the captive condors.

While this research may not inspire us to eat carrots so we turn a dominating shade of orange, it may provide a pivotal foundation for understanding the role carotenoids play in the endangered Andean condors’ diet.

Citation: Blanco G, Hornero-Méndez D, Lambertucci SA, Bautista LM, Wiemeyer G, et al. (2013) Need and Seek for Dietary Micronutrients: Endogenous Regulation, External Signalling and Food Sources of Carotenoids in New World Vultures. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65562. Do  i:10.1371/journal.pone.0065562

Images: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065562

Blog Pick of the Month – September 2011

Macaque Portrait By Michael Ransburg,

The winner of the PLoS ONE Blog Pick of the Month for September 2011 is Paul Norris from AnimalWise for his post on a recent study about how macaque monkeys use both sights and sounds to identify, and remember, their peers.

As Paul said:

The researchers found that the macaques, who had never been trained to use vocalizations to guide their test responses, continued to be good at choosing the “correct” photo, but that when they made errors, they were statistically more likely than chance to pick the image of the vocalizing monkey, rather than the one in the video.

Congratulations, Paul!

Photo via Flickr / Michael Ransburg

Blog Pick of the Month – August 2011

vaccinia_poxvirus By Agriculturasp,

(Yes, we are a little bit late announcing this, but…) The winner of the PLoS ONE Blog Pick of the Month for August is Connor Bamford from the Rule of 6ix for his post on recent advancements made in sequencing pox genomes.

By comparing the entire genetic sequence of pathogens like cowpox, smallpox, and monkeypox, researchers were not only to see how similar these able to virus were to each other, but they also started to uncover how these strains evolved in space and time:

Cowpox viruses were found to cluster in two major groups – cowpox like and vaccinia virus like suggesting that our smallpox ‘vaccinia’ vaccine potentially originated as a cowpox virus (as we thought) yet it was endemic to mainland Europe, something that goes against the tale of Jenner’s isolation of cowpox from the UK.

Connor, along with all of the authors of the paper, will receive a complimentary t-shirt from us.

Photo via Flickr / Agriculturasp

Blog Pick of the Month – July 2011

Lichen sur tronc 1 By Humpapa,

The PLoS ONE Blog Pick of the Month for July is Jennifer Frazer of The Artful Amoeba for her post on prions, the proteins that are notoriously difficult to kill:

If you had to choose the world’s most indestructible biological entity, it would be hard to do better than the prion. It’s the Rasputin of biology: cook them, freeze them, disinfect them, pressurize them, irradiate them, douse them with formalin or subject them to protein-cleaving proteases, and yet they live.

But a recent paper had data that suggested that certain types of fungi (lichens) may battle these deadly proteins, and win.

[A] few [lichens] seem to produce a molecule — likely a serine protease — or molecules that can take out prions. And they may do it, surprisingly, because fungi seem to get prions too.

Jennifer, as well as all of the authors of the article, will receive a complimentary PLoS ONE t-shirt for their work.

Photo via Flickr / Humpapa