World Food Day 2023 – Recent research at PLOS ONE

World Food Day is celebrated each year on October 16. This year’s theme is “Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind”. This year, PLOS ONE looks back at some of our recent publications on various aspects of food in society, including food security, food science, agriculture, nutrition and shopping habits.

More regular eating patterns may improve sleep in infants

Mühlematter C, Nielsen DS, Castro-Mejía JL, Brown SA, Rasch B, Wright KP Jr, et al. (2023) Not simply a matter of parents—Infants’ sleep-wake patterns are associated with their regularity of eating. PLoS ONE 18(10): e0291441.

A recent study by an international team of researchers from Switzerland, Denmark, The Netherlands and the USA provides support for the idea that regular eating patterns may improve sleep regularity in infants. They followed 162 infants in Switzerland in a longitudinal study, and developed an Eating Regularity Index (ERI) to measure eating habits, and utilised five sleep composites from 32 sleep variables. They found that eating more regularly is correlated with lower variability in day-to-day sleep patterns, earlier bedtimes, and less fragmented nighttime sleep.

The diet of pre-Columbian Caribbean cultures may have included cotton

Reynoso-García J, Santiago-Rodriguez TM, Narganes-Storde Y, Cano RJ, Toranzos GA (2023) Edible flora in pre-Columbian Caribbean coprolites: Expected and unexpected data. PLoS ONE 18(10): e0292077.

Researchers at the University of Puerto Rico, California Polytechnic State University and Diversigen, Inc. analysed human coprolites (mummified feces) for two cultures, the Huecoid and Saladoid, in pre-Columbian Vieques, Puerto Rico, and found that their diet consisted of maize, sweet potatoes, chili peppers, peanuts and papaya. Surprisingly, they also found traces of cotton, which leads to further questions about why cotton would be a part of their diet, and in which form it was consumed. The authors hypothesize that cotton seeds may have been used as either additives or as a source of oil, or that cotton fibers may have been ingested during the weaving process when weavers may have used saliva to prepare the yarn.

Nine out of ten female college students reported overeating during university COVID-19 closures

Constant A, Fortier A, Serrand Y, Bannier E, Moirand R, Thibault R, et al. (2023) Emotional overeating affected nine in ten female students during the COVID-19 university closure: A cross-sectional study in France. PLoS ONE 18(8): e0286439.

A team of researchers at the University of Rennes conducted an online survey of female students at their university aged 18-24 on their eating habits in early 2021. 302 respondents completed the Emotional Overeating Questionnaire (EOQ), which measures eating in response to six emotions: anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger, fatigue and happiness. Nine out of ten respondents reported emotional overeating, and the multi-variate analysis conducted for this study suggests that overeating could be related to inability to partake in interesting activities or social stimulation.

Small farms contribute up to one fifth of food produced in Mexico

Ibarrola-Rivas M-J, Orozco-Ramírez Q, Guibrunet L (2023) How much of the Mexican agricultural supply is produced by small farms, and how? PLoS ONE 18(10): e0292528.

In this study, researchers from the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) looked at the contribution of small farms to the total amount of agricultural production within Mexico. They used existing data from the 2019 Mexican National Survey of Agriculture, and characterise small farms as those that have less than 5 hectares of cropland, 16 pigs or less, 26 cows or less, or 500 chickens or less. They found that small farms produce 19% of Mexico’s agricultural production and constitute 15% of Mexico’s agricultural supply when including imports and exports. The authors point out that small farms may be important to achieving food sovereignty and could have important social and environmental benefits.

Labels on food that indicate the Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent may be useful to consumers in avoiding high-calorie food

Daley AJ, Kettle VE, Roalfe AK (2023) Implementing physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) food labelling: Views of a nationally representative sample of adults in the United Kingdom. PLoS ONE 18(9): e0290509.

A study of 4,000 adults in the United Kingdom, led by researchers at the University of Loughborough, attempted to clarify the views of the public around PACE labelling for foods. PACE stands for Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent, and includes information on the label about the energy expenditure conversion of the calorie content of the food item. For instance, this could mean a label on a drinks can which illustrates that the calorie equivalent of this drink is 26mins of walking or 13mins of running. Although most participants reported favoring the more common traffic-light system for labels, the majority of participants also indicated that PACE labels were more likely to catch their attention and to stop them buying food or drinks that were high in calories. The study provided support for using PACE labels on discretionary foods such as cakes and chocolates rather than everyday food items such as pasta, bread, fruit and vegetables.

Further reading:

Check out these additional recent studies on food-related sciences at PLOS ONE:

Knowles J, Codling K, Houston R, Gorstein J (2023) Introduction to the programme guidance for the use of iodised salt in processed foods and its pilot implementation, strengthening strategies to improve iodine status. PLoS ONE 18(10): e0274301.

Hoving-Bolink RAH, Antonis AFG, te Pas MFW, Schokker D (2023) An observational study of the presence and variability of the microbiota composition of goat herd milk related to mainstream and artisanal farm management. PLoS ONE 18(10): e0292650.

Skinner D, Blake J (2023) Modelling consumers’ choice of novel food. PLoS ONE 18(8): e0290169.

Lee K, Capps O Jr (2023) Habitual behavior of household food expenditure by store type in the United States. PLoS ONE 18(9): e0291340.

Hill CM, Chi DL, Mancl LA, Jones-Smith JC, Chan N, Saelens BE, et al. (2023) Sugar-sweetened beverage intake and convenience store shopping as mediators of the food insecurity–Tooth decay relationship among low-income children in Washington state. PLoS ONE 18(9): e0290287.

del Prado A, Lindsay B, Tricarico J (2023) Retrospective and projected warming-equivalent emissions from global livestock and cattle calculated with an alternative climate metric denoted GWP*. PLoS ONE 18(10): e0288341.

Brown TW, Park GW, Wittry B, Barclay L, Person M, Relja B, et al. (2023) SARS-CoV-2 surface contamination in metro-Atlanta grocery stores. PLoS ONE 18(9): e0291747.

Joseph S, Friedrich H (2023) Analyzing drivers of organic food sales–A pooled spatial data analysis for Hamburg (Germany). PLoS ONE 18(10): e0285377.

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Unleashing the Power of Collaboration: Open Science on Earth Day

Today, April 22nd, we celebrate Earth Day, a critical reminder of the need to protect and preserve our planet. It serves as a rallying call for individuals and organizations to take action towards addressing environmental challenges, such as the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Open science, which promotes transparency, collaboration, and accessibility in scientific research, can play a crucial role in supporting the goals of Earth Day. By making scientific knowledge and data freely available to the public, open science can facilitate informed decision-making, foster interdisciplinary collaborations, and promote evidence-based policies for environmental conservation and sustainability. It can also enable citizen science initiatives, empowering individuals and communities to actively engage in environmental monitoring, research, and advocacy.

Two recent publications in PLOS ONE elegantly illustrate how open science practices can unlock new research opportunities and deliver outputs that are as useful as possible for practitioners and policymakers. 

In the first article, published in March by researchers from the USA, Chile, Australia, and Sweden, the study team examined a huge dataset on plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Collected from more than 11,000 stations over 40 years, the data allowed the authors to explore trends in global abundance of ocean plastics, with the staggering conclusion that there are now likely over 170 trillion plastic particles now floating in the world’s oceans. Even more striking is the pattern over time, with little observable trend in abundance before 2005 but a rapid increase thereafter. To assemble the full dataset, the authors had to collate data from 17 published sources (including academic articles and public repositories) – an endeavor that would not have been possible without those previous publications making their data available to future researchers. And, to their credit, the authors have followed in their predecessors’ footsteps, publishing the complete dataset and accompanying code on Github

In the second article, published earlier this month by researchers based in Mauritius, the authors report the design and validation of a deep learning model to identify crown-of-thorns starfish, a major coral predator, in images of coral reefs. Existing techniques for detecting these starfish used so-called ‘black-box’ models, which output a prediction with no information on the factors which the system used to make its decision. This lack of transparency can make it more challenging to assess and mitigate potential biases, errors, or unintended consequences in the context of complex environmental systems. In the PLOS ONE study, however, the researchers designed a system which outputs both a prediction of whether an image contains a crown-of-thorns starfish and a list of the most important features of the image which the model used to make its decision. Combined with a high classification accuracy of 93%, this increased transparency means the model would be more likely to be used in real environmental management settings.

With each passing year, the need for collective action and global cooperation to safeguard our environment has become increasingly imperative, making Earth Day’s messages all the more relevant and vital in the present times. Open science makes new research possible, maximizes the value of research to tackle environmental challenges, and makes science truly accessible to all: contributing to the collective effort of safeguarding our planet for current and future generations.

Featured image: photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

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I Know What You Think: Collective Intelligence in Online Communication

Have you ever wondered what factors may shape the interactions we have in online chatrooms? With the advent of the Internet 20+ years ago, the ways in which we communicate have drastically changed, allowing us to easily interact nonverbally or … Continue reading »

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Small Talk: When Bacterial Chatter Gets Invasive

Sticks and stones may break our bones but microbes’ “words” may hurt us. Breast cancer is a threat to men and women worldwide. Like all cancers, the known causes are attributed to genetics and carcinogens, but recently, scientists have begun … Continue reading »

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Warming in Our Winter Wonderland: The Role of Ice in Penguin, Polar Bear, and Ivory Gull Survival

As winter grips the Northern Hemisphere tightly, many of us are happy to retreat to the comfort of our warm homes. But for some animals, this season plays a vital role in the formation of something necessary for their survival, … Continue reading »

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Fossilized Footprints Lead Scientists Down a Prehistoric Path


Whether tromping alone or running in a pack, all prehistoric creatures got around somehow. Paleontologists can use fossilized bones to learn more about what dinosaurs ate, what they looked like, and even how they might have moved, but bones are … Continue reading »

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You Live in What Kind of Home? A-nem-mo-ne-men… me-ne-mo-nee!

pone.0098449 First Image

Clownfish Find Refuge among the Toxic Tentacles of Sea Anemones As we’ve seen in the movies, the world is a dangerous place for a clownfish far away from home. This is all the more reason to ensure that their homes … 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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PLOS ONE Publishes its 100,000th Article

PLOS ONE publishes its 100,000th article – a pretty major milestone for a journal that has seen its fair share of momentous events, and a perfect opportunity to reflect on this journey.

 PLOS ONE began seven and a half years ago. On the day of its launch – as has become the legend in the PLOS offices – there was an earthquake in the Bay Area, heralding the tremors that would be felt through the science world as a result of the disruptive innovation underway. PLOS ONE was an aspirational idea for PLOS from the very beginning: our founders always intended to launch a multi-disciplinary, broad-acceptance journal that would shake off the vestiges of the print tradition – no limits to the scope of research, number of pages, or potential growth.

And grow it did. After two years PLOS ONE had published over 4,000 articles, by four years it was the largest journal in the world, and now seven years after launch has published 100,000 articles. The revolutionary model of PLOS ONE has been emulated the world over: virtually every publisher now has its own equivalent “megajournal.”

PLOS ONE is now a major force in the scientific literature. The top 2% PLOS ONE papers (by number of views) have been collectively viewed nearly 39 million times, cited on Scopus over 80,000 times, bookmarked by Mendeley readers over 150,000 times, tweeted over 59,000 times, cited 2,800 times on Wikipedia, and recommended over 300 times on F1000 Prime.

The enduring value of PLOS ONE to the scientific process lies in the solid union between the three following factors: speed to publication, high standards of science, and unrestricted scope of research.

Speed to publication:

Faster time to publication was the founding principle of PLOS ONE. It doesn’t just entail going from submission to publication more quickly (although that is also important). It means dramatically reducing the time from an author’s decision to publish their findings to the time those results appear in public. That time is often years in the old system of review, where subjective opinions of significance and scope lead to unnecessary rejections and resubmission to different journals. With PLOS ONE, where scientific rigor alone is assessed, this time window shortens to a few months.

High standards:

PLOS ONE instituted rigorous standards from the start. As the volume exponentially increased and the quality of the submissions became more variable, these checks became more important and more rigorous. For every paper the journal staff (over 100 strong, including 14 editors) now check each of the following before a manuscript is sent for review:

  • Competing interests
  • Financial disclosures
  • Quality of English language
  • Ethical approval for animal experiments
  • IRB approval for human experiments
  • Protocols and CONSORT for clinical trials
  • PRISMA for systematic reviews and meta-analyses
  • Cell line provenance
  • Field sample provenance
  • Humane endpoints in animal studies
  • Data availability
  • Plagiarism

The care that we take in reporting and oversight is rooted in PLOS’ commitment to this editorial responsibility.

Because of these checks, every PLOS ONE citation on a researcher’s CV shows that their work has reached high standards of reporting and oversight – something that matters a great deal to funders and institutions as the need for reproducibility becomes increasingly a part of their overall mission. This is an area where we feel journals can take a lead: high standards of reporting are the best way for the scientific community to regain the trust of the public and politicians in the wake of the recent spate of failures in replicating high-profile discoveries.

Unrestricted scope:

So many of the delays in sharing results are a result of journals putting unnecessary restrictions on the scope of the research they are willing to publish. Journals often withhold the release of negative findings because they are likely to be cited less, and will therefore lower their impact factor. Or they exclude papers purely due to the application of disciplinary boundaries. In this digital age, with no space restrictions on what can be published, such artificial limits only impede the flow of information. At PLOS ONE, we have thrown out these notions and will consider vital research across all subject areas (even seemingly strange and multi-disciplinary).

A heartfelt 100k thank you

The impact of PLOS ONE on scientific publishing has been tremendous and revolutionary. The world of scientific communication is a different place because of it, and that is something PLOS and its entire community of collaborators should be proud of.

The extraordinary PLOS ONE Editorial Board, reviewers and authors – who believed in the PLOS mission to accelerate research communication and gave their own time to review, edit and revise manuscripts – were critical to this transformation and share in this milestone. To each and every one of them PLOS ONE is eternally grateful.

So here’s to the 100,000th PLOS ONE article. Though thrilled to have reached this milestone, we are even more excited to see where the next 100,000 will lead.

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