PLOS ONE 15 Year Anniversary: Staff Editors’ Favorites

This year, PLOS ONE celebrates its 15 year anniversary. Over this period the journal has published over a quarter of a million articles. Here, staff editors from different subject area teams choose their favorites, including reports of 13,000 year-old footprints, declining insect populations, the impact of plastic pollution on the release of greenhouse gases, and the pathophysiology of celiac disease.

Behavioral and Social Sciences, Neuroscience, & Mental Health

Atlantios, Pixabay

Larivière and colleagues show that interdisciplinary research has greater impact in the long run, suggesting that it is greater than the sum of its disciplinary parts.

Pexels, Pixabay

Ritter and Ferguson show that listening to happy music elicits higher levels of creativity, linking positive affect and arousal to traits of persistence and flexibility that facilitate creative thinking.


McLaren and colleagues uncover 13,000 year-old footprints on the west coast of Canada. The discovery of these footprints adds to the growing body of evidence that humans inhabited the Pacific coast of Canada during late Pleistocene times.

Life Sciences


This study from Hallmann and colleagues demonstrated a 75% decline in insect biomass over 27 years in German nature areas. This paper became one of the most influential and highly-cited studies in Entomology in the last decade, attracting attention from hundreds of media outlets, and raising public awareness of insect declines. Since this publication many funding bodies have made allocations for projects related to insect declines and conservation.


Palm oil is the world’s most widely traded vegetable oil. As global demand grows, large areas of tropical forest are being converted into oil palm plantations. In this important work, Vijay and colleagues showed how palm oil expansion from Southeast Asia into new regions of the Americas and Africa increased greatly the risk of deforestation and threatened vulnerable biodiversity at risk of extinction. Since publication this work has gained over 100,000 views, has been cited in more than two hundred publications, and has been featured in multiple news outlets.

Sawayamr, Wikimedia commons

This study attempts to answer a fundamental biochemistry question — why all living organisms only need 20 amino acid residue types to carry out a repertoire of diverse functions. A combination of quantum chemical and chemoinformatic investigations suggest that this set of 20 suffices the need of incorporating molecular complexity while retaining important chemical functionalities and structural stability. Efforts to extend the repertoire of “amino acid structural space” led to no novel or useful functionalities, indicating that these 20 building blocks are selected on the principle of parsimony.

Physical Sciences and Engineering


This study from Daniel Vogt and co-workers shows how, by using 3D printing and soft robotic manipulators, we can manipulate fragile and often old deep-sea organisms such as sea stars without damaging them.

brownpau, Flickr

James Hansen and colleagues assess the climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data in this groundbreaking study from 2013. Their work served as an early warning on the continuing impact of fossil fuel emissions on Earth’s climate, and has been followed by countless related studies.

Twentyfirstidentity, Wikimedia Commons

Royer and colleagues show that plastic pollution in the environment releases two common greenhouse gases under normal solar irradiation, studying both virgin and weathered plastics, and that this release may persist during an item’s lifetime. This research extends the focus of the detrimental effects of plastic pollution in the environment to possible climate impacts, in addition to direct effects on living organisms through entanglement, ingestion and the sorption of toxic chemicals. This study called for further research assessing the contribution of hydrocarbon release from plastic pollution to the global carbon budget.

Public Health & Medicine


This study from Daniele Fanelli was the first meta-analysis to investigate the frequency in which scientists falsify or fabricate data. The study concluded that self-reported or observed rates of misconduct are high, and suggested that the actual rate is likely to be higher than this. It was widely publicized in the popular media, and has attracted over 300,000 views since publication. In light of the so-called “replication crisis” within many scientific disciplines, this study and others like it really serve to highlight the importance of encouraging robust publication ethics and scientific practices.


This study from Lerner and co-workers demonstrated using cell culture and mouse models that flavoured electronic cigarettes used in vaping generate reactive oxygen species which cause inflammatory response, morphological changes and toxicity in lung tissue. This was one of the first studies to demonstrate the dangers of flavoured e-cigarettes.


In this study Chellappa and colleagues demonstrated that blue enriched light induces greater melatonin suppression, enhanced subjective alertness, faster cognitive reaction times (in attention focused tasks), in addition to improving well-being and visual comfort. This has important ramifications both for the workplace and in consideration of circadian rhythms


Using national data in the United States, Stanger-Hall and Hall demonstrate a correlation between abstinence-only sex education and increasing teenage pregnancy and birth rates


This study from Leonard and colleagues investigated the early steps in the pathophysiology of celiac disease (CD) by sc-RNA seq. The authors identified the upregulation of novel genes that are involved in the immune response machinery (IL-12RB1and IL-12RB2) and cell adhesion process in the mucosa (IGSF4 and ITGAM) and in the spliceosome pathway in subjects with active CD compared to those in remission, suggesting a potentil link between the microbiome, innate immune response, and the development of CD. The study also highlights novel possible targets for personalized therapies for disease intercetion (primary prevention) in genetically at-risk subjects.


Waqar, Asghar and Manzoor describe the use of liquid biopsy-based platelets mRNA signature for early diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma, and the use of mRNA as biomarkers for comparison of hepatic cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The study could also help to elucidate some of the signalling pathways involved in progression of cirrhosis towards hepatocellular carcinoma.

Dr. Frederick Murphy, CDC

Becquart and colleagues surveyed >10% of Gabon villagers for Zaire ebolavirus (ZEBOV)-specific IgG antibodies. They report overall seroprevalence of 15.3%, one of the highest reported at the time, and up to 33.8% in some villages. This is an interesting piece of epidemiology, published four years before the Western African Ebola virus epidemic shone a global spotlight on the virus. The study provides fascinating insights into human exposure to zoonotic diseases with epidemic potential.

jplenio, pixabay

In an attempt to bring the outdoors in, An and colleagues explore the impact of biophilic office designs on employee wellness. The authors found that sunlight exposure was positively associated with overall job satisfaction and organisational commitment.

ArthurHidden, Freepik

In this experimental study, Gillen and colleagues showed that sprint interval training among sedentary men achieved the same beneficial effects of traditional endurance training, despite a five-fold lower exercise volume and time commitment. These effects included insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content. This study could inform the design of time-efficient exercise interventions for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.


  1. Larivière V, Haustein S, Börner K (2015) Long-Distance Interdisciplinarity Leads to Higher Scientific Impact. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0122565.
  2. Ritter SM, Ferguson S (2017) Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0182210.
  3. McLaren D, Fedje D, Dyck A, Mackie Q, Gauvreau A, Cohen J (2018) Terminal Pleistocene epoch human footprints from the Pacific coast of Canada. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0193522.
  4. Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185809.
  5. Vijay V, Pimm SL, Jenkins CN, Smith SJ (2016) The Impacts of Oil Palm on Recent Deforestation and Biodiversity Loss. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0159668.
  6. Bywater RP (2018) Why twenty amino acid residue types suffice(d) to support all living systems. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0204883.
  7. Vogt DM, Becker KP, Phillips BT, Graule MA, Rotjan RD, Shank TM, et al. (2018) Shipboard design and fabrication of custom 3D-printed soft robotic manipulators for the investigation of delicate deep-sea organisms. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0200386.
  8. Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F, Beerling DJ, et al. (2013) Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648.
  9. Royer S-J, Ferrón S, Wilson ST, Karl DM (2018) Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0200574.
  10. Fanelli D (2009) How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5738.
  11. Lerner CA, Sundar IK, Yao H, Gerloff J, Ossip DJ, McIntosh S, et al. (2015) Vapors Produced by Electronic Cigarettes and E-Juices with Flavorings Induce Toxicity, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammatory Response in Lung Epithelial Cells and in Mouse Lung. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0116732.
  12. Chellappa SL, Steiner R, Blattner P, Oelhafen P, Götz T, Cajochen C (2011) Non-Visual Effects of Light on Melatonin, Alertness and Cognitive Performance: Can Blue-Enriched Light Keep Us Alert? PLoS ONE 6(1): e16429.
  13. Stanger-Hall KF, Hall DW (2011) Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S. PLoS ONE 6(10): e24658.
  14. Leonard MM, Bai Y, Serena G, Nickerson KP, Camhi S, Sturgeon C, et al. (2019) RNA sequencing of intestinal mucosa reveals novel pathways functionally linked to celiac disease pathogenesis. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0215132.
  15. Waqar W, Asghar S, Manzoor S (2021) Platelets’ RNA as biomarker trove for differentiation of early-stage hepatocellular carcinoma from underlying cirrhotic nodules. PLoS ONE 16(9): e0256739.
  16. Becquart P, Wauquier N, Mahlakõiv T, Nkoghe D, Padilla C, Souris M, et al. (2010) High Prevalence of Both Humoral and Cellular Immunity to Zaire ebolavirus among Rural Populations in Gabon. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9126.
  17. An M, Colarelli SM, O’Brien K, Boyajian ME (2016) Why We Need More Nature at Work: Effects of Natural Elements and Sunlight on Employee Mental Health and Work Attitudes. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0155614.
  18. Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2016) Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0154075.

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Editors’ Picks 2020

This year has seen the scientific community at large come together to better understand and tackle the ongoing pandemic. Along with other PLOS journals, PLOS ONE has been committed to disseminating the resulting research outputs as quickly possible and have collected all published studies in our COVID-19 pandemic (2019-2020) Collection. Alongside this important work on COVID-19, PLOS ONE has continued to publish research from all areas of science. Here, PLOS ONE Staff Editors from the different subject teams reflect on the past year choosing some of their favorite research. From research on plastic pollution to improving prognosis predictions for patients with cancer, we hope that these selections will have something of interest for everyone.  

Behavioral and Social Sciences, Neuroscience, Mental Health


Meta-analyses are often conducted to increase the generalizability of results from individual studies and can shed light of the reproducibility of a given effect. However, in an article published in January this year, Maassen and collaborators [1] note concerns about the reproducibility of these meta-analytic methods. They find that almost half of 500 primary study effect sizes drawn from 33 published psychological meta-analyses could not be reproduced. One of the tools often used to assess reproducibility may not be as reproducible as hoped.


Craig-Atkins and colleagues [2] use data from human remains, pottery shards, and animal bones to track dietary changes after the Norman conquest of England. They find that short-term food insecurity was followed by changes in preferences and intensification of the economy.


Gabriel Schwartz and Jaquelyn Jahn [3] analyzed data from Fatal Encounters—the most comprehensive database tracking police-involved deaths in the United States—and uncovered vast differences across metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the overall rates of persons killed by police officers, regional differences (West and South v. Midwest and Northeast), as well as racial inequities in those rates, between 2013 and 2017, for 5,494 police-related fatalities. A formal comment by Nix [4] on this article emphasized the difficulties inherent in such research, such as limitations in the database, and the challenges in interpreting these results.


In this Registered Report Protocol, one of the first ones published at PLOS ONE, Jaffé and Douneva [5] describe three proposed studies to determine how sharing secrets affects the way individuals think about each other. We already know that closeness can make secret-sharing more likely, but these authors plan to investigate whether secret-sharing might in turn increase perceptions of closeness. These studies are expected to be conducted on online platforms and in person with students over this academic year.

Cancer and Medicine


Deep learning is emerging as a potential tool for a range of applications in cancer. Predicting patient prognosis can help to inform monitoring and treatment strategies. In their study, Wulczyn and colleagues [6] demonstrate the feasibility of deep learning systems for predicting survival in multiple cancer types, using histopatholgy images.


When it comes to fighting the global spread of COVID-19, the implementation of preventative measures such as social distancing are paramount. However, it can be challenging to estimate how much of a difference these measures make and how this varies depending on when these measures are put in place or lifted. In their study, Ohsawa and Tsubokura [7] simulate the spread of virus infection using artificial human networks and test how contact between people in different clusters effects the timing and intensity of viral spread. The authors find that releasing a previously imposed constraint too early can lead to a “second wave” of infection that is more intense than the previous wave, and caution against lifting restrictions on social contact too soon.


Ageism’s effects on health may be compounded by individual and structural biases against the elderly. In a systematic review, Chang and colleagues’ [8] synthesis of data from 422 studies showed ageism has a global reach.


Using historical data, this paper looks at gender equity in academic surgical specialties over the past forty years. Linscheid and colleagues [9] present an analysis suggesting that more work needs to be done to ensure female surgical students and trainees are supported to ensure representation across specialties.

Cardiovascular and Public Health, Epidemiology, Sports Science


The epidemiological study by Gosiker and colleagues [10], which is part of Primary and Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Collection  launched in December this year, exemplifies the importance of carefully assessing CVD risk in vulnerable populations. Using data from a large collaboration of clinical sites in the United States, the investigators examined the prevalence of elevated 10-year CVD risk among transgender women with HIV. The approach and main findings from this study contribute to the growing need of calibrated risk prediction tools that support CVD preventive strategies in underrepresented and vulnerable populations.

Dedric Cherry

The impact of socioeconomic factors (for example, education level) on health outcomes is widely studied—but do inequality rates vary across different healthcare systems types? Rydland and colleagues [11] contribute to the debate by analysing how educational inequalities found in mortality amenable to healthcare (defined as deaths which are preventable through medical intervention) vary among European countries with different typologies of health systems.


Doshi and colleagues [12] interview providers to analyze the experiences of undocumented Latino(a)/Latinx immigrants seeking healthcare and social services in the United States. By framing the results according to the “Three Delays Model”, the authors provide rich insights on the lived experiences of a marginalized group, and suggest several approaches to improve access to care.

Kevin Simmons

Mental health is a leading cause of disability globally. In their article, Smith and colleagues [13] showcase the use of Implementation Science (IS) tools/principles to deliver and evaluate scale up of much-needed mental health services in the Global South. This is one of a few IS hybrid studies that looked at both: a) implementation outcomes (reach/uptake of the intervention, fidelity) and b) effectiveness outcomes (clinical outcomes, functionality). The authors used elements of the RE-AIM framework/theory and applied simple quasi-experimental design methods for quantitative evaluation. 

Life Sciences


Whale sharks, the largest living fish, don’t have much to fear from predators and are known to be docile and and approchable. However, their eyes are exposed to damage from mechanical, chemical and biological hazards. This year, Tomita and colleagues [14] from Japan’s Okinawa Churashima Research Center made the surprising discovery that their retractible eyes are uniquely protected by rows of oakleaf-like denticles. This finding highlights the importance of vision in this species.


Resistin molecules are pleiotropic cytokines associated with inflammatory diseases but their distribution features in human organs remains unexplored. A new anti-human resistin antibody developed by Lin and colleagues [15] is used to explicitly detect the expression pattern of human resistin across normal human tissues. Results show that resistin is broadly distributed, but principally localized in the cytoplasmic granules of macrophages, hematopoietic precursor cells and neuronal cells. This characterization of resistin expression provides a framework for recognition and interpretation of changes in these patterns that may be associated with disease states.


The endemic Giant Senecios of the East African sky islands are an iconic example of the gigantism that has evolved convergently in a number of tropical montane plant lineages. In their new study, Tusiime and colleagues [16] genotyped 460 plants from across the region’s mountains to assess genetic structuring, biogeographic patterns, and taxonomic concepts. They found evidence for rapid recent radiation underpinned by long-distance dispersal and parallel adaptation. They also reported low levels of overall genetic diversity, emphasising the need for enhanced conservation efforts.


PARP proteins play a critical role in the early detection of DNA double-strand breaks, but as yet no structural information on double-strand break detection in the context of chromatin exists. In their study, Gaullier and colleagues [17] use cryo-EM to solve the structure of PARP2 bridging the mimicked double-stranded break of two nucleosomes (Nuc165) reconstituted in vitro with two short linker DNA overhangs. Their model illustrates that by bridging the break, PARP2 acts as a platform for recruitment of other factors involved in DNA repair such as HPF1.

Physical Sciences and Engineering


Understanding long term changes in the ocean can be invaluable not only for elucidating the historical record, but for predicting future scenarios amidst a changing climate. In this study, Simon and colleagues [18] use an unprecedentedly high-resolution record of stable isotopes from a marine core retrieved off western North Iceland to characterize long-term ocean variability. Using foraminifera, they reconstruct the record for the period before instrumentation, as well as overlapping with the period of instrumental observation, and demonstrate a high degree of agreement in predicted and observed data.


Plastic pollution of the natural environment is an ongoing global crisis and plastics which end up in waterways or the ocean can travel vast distances. In this new study, Duncan and colleagues [19] designed their own “bottle tags” which mimicked the characteristics of a half-full 500ml plastic bottle. By installing open-source technology within the bottle and releasing them at various points in the Ganges river system and the Bay of Bengal, the team was able to track the journeys that their bottles made; The longest journey was 2845km over 94 days, illustrating the dispersal processes of plastic pollution.


How do you open a historical treasure chest without a key, when the lock may contain any manner of failsafes or protective mechanisms? Zikmundová and colleagues [20] tackle this problem using X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning. Their technique enabled a detailed exploration of the lock based on a system of levers and bolts handled by a single key, located in a case on the inside of the chest lid, including the dimensions essential for manufacturing of a new key copy. Moreover, two secret protective mechanisms were revealed, as well as all the damages of the object.


  1. Maassen E, van Assen MALM, Nuijten MB, Olsson-Collentine A, Wicherts JM (2020) Reproducibility of individual effect sizes in meta-analyses in psychology. PLoS ONE 15(5): e0233107.
  2. Craig-Atkins E, Jervis B, Cramp L, Hammann S, Nederbragt AJ, Nicholson E, et al. (2020) The dietary impact of the Norman Conquest: A multiproxy archaeological investigation of Oxford, UK. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0235005.
  3. Schwartz GL, Jahn JL (2020) Mapping fatal police violence across U.S. metropolitan areas: Overall rates and racial/ethnic inequities, 2013-2017. PLoS ONE 15(6): e0229686.
  4. Nix J (2020) On the challenges associated with the study of police use of deadly force in the United States: A response to Schwartz & Jahn. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0236158.
  5. Jaffé ME, Douneva M (2020) Secretive and close? How sharing secrets may impact perceptions of distance. PLoS ONE 15(6): e0233953.
  6. Wulczyn E, Steiner DF, Xu Z, Sadhwani A, Wang H, Flament-Auvigne I, et al. (2020) Deep learning-based survival prediction for multiple cancer types using histopathology images. PLoS ONE 15(6): e0233678.
  7. Ohsawa Y, Tsubokura M (2020) Stay with your community: Bridges between clusters trigger expansion of COVID-19. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0242766.
  8. Chang E-S, Kannoth S, Levy S, Wang S-Y, Lee JE, Levy BR (2020) Global reach of ageism on older persons’ health: A systematic review. PLoS ONE 15(1): e0220857.
  9. Linscheid LJ, Holliday EB, Ahmed A, Somerson JS, Hanson S, Jagsi R, et al. (2020) Women in academic surgery over the last four decades. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0243308.
  10. Gosiker BJ, Lesko CR, Rich AJ, Crane HM, Kitahata MM, Reisner SL, et al. (2020) Cardiovascular disease risk among transgender women living with HIV in the United States. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0236177.
  11. Rydland HT, Fjær EL, Eikemo TA, Huijts T, Bambra C, Wendt C, et al. (2020) Educational inequalities in mortality amenable to healthcare. A comparison of European healthcare systems. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0234135.
  12. Doshi M, Lopez WD, Mesa H, Bryce R, Rabinowitz E, Rion R, et al. (2020) Barriers & facilitators to healthcare and social services among undocumented Latino(a)/Latinx immigrant clients: Perspectives from frontline service providers in Southeast Michigan. PLoS ONE 15(6): e0233839.
  13. Smith SL, Franke MF, Rusangwa C, Mukasakindi H, Nyirandagijimana B, Bienvenu R, et al. (2020) Outcomes of a primary care mental health implementation program in rural Rwanda: A quasi-experimental implementation-effectiveness study. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0228854.
  14. Tomita T, Murakumo K, Komoto S, Dove A, Kino M, Miyamoto K, et al. (2020) Armored eyes of the whale shark. PLoS ONE 15(6): e0235342.
  15. Lin Q, Price SA, Skinner JT, Hu B, Fan C, Yamaji-Kegan K, et al. (2020) Systemic evaluation and localization of resistin expression in normal human tissues by a newly developed monoclonal antibody. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0235546.
  16. Tusiime FM, Gizaw A, Gussarova G, Nemomissa S, Popp M, Masao CA, et al. (2020) Afro-alpine flagships revisited: Parallel adaptation, intermountain admixture and shallow genetic structuring in the giant senecios (Dendrosenecio). PLoS ONE 15(3): e0228979.
  17. Gaullier G, Roberts G, Muthurajan UM, Bowerman S, Rudolph J, Mahadevan J, et al. (2020) Bridging of nucleosome-proximal DNA double-strand breaks by PARP2 enhances its interaction with HPF1. PLoS ONE 15(11): e0240932.
  18. Simon MH, Muschitiello F, Tisserand AA, Olsen A, Moros M, Perner K, et al. (2020) A multi-decadal record of oceanographic changes of the past ~165 years (1850-2015 AD) from Northwest of Iceland. PLoS ONE 15(9): e0239373.
  19. Duncan EM, Davies A, Brooks A, Chowdhury GW, Godley BJ, Jambeck J, et al. (2020) Message in a bottle: Open source technology to track the movement of plastic pollution. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0242459.
  20. Zikmundová E, Zikmund T, Sládek V, Kaiser J (2020) Non-destructive lock-picking of a historical treasure chest by means of X-ray computed tomography. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0235316

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Editors’ Picks 2019

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