Introducing the Modeling Cell Proliferation and the Cell Microenvironment Collection


In 2020, PLOS ONE announced a Call for Papers on Modeling Cell Proliferation and the Cell Microenvironment. This week, we celebrate the launch of this collection, which includes a number of papers offering new insights into this vital topic. Understanding the cellular microenvironment and how cells proliferate has a number of useful applications, and this collection showcases the breadth of this research area. We are immensely grateful to Guest Editors Aurélie Carlier (Maastricht University), Ravi Iyengar (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), Padmini Rangamani (University of California, San Diego) and Vivek Shenoy (University of Pennsylvania), who were instrumental in curating this collection at PLOS ONE.

Bacterial biofilms are present in many different environments, and are important to understand both in order to utilize their properties as well as combating them in problematic settings. Jin and Marshall extend an existing model of biofilm formation to study for the first time how the fimbrial force and extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) flow affect the growth of biofilms. The model incorporates both continuous elements, for modeling the water and EPS, and discrete elements, for modeling the interaction between individual cells. They find that the total cell number is a main driver for colony morphology, and the findings are in good agreement with existing experimental work. The study concludes that the ultimate structure of a bacterial colony is dependent on the interaction of the opposing effects of cell drag from EPS production and the fimbrial force.

The forces that are exerted by cells play a major role in the mechanisms by which cancer metastasis, angiogenesis and other processes operate. Hervas-Rayul and colleagues explore cell surface traction through an experimental study followed by solving the inverse problem iteratively using a finite element model. The model utilizes the displacement field for 3D traction force microscopy as an input for the inverse problem solver. In this way, this study provides a concrete link between experimental and modeling work in the field, and can be applied to any material and geometry.

The shape of a cell is influenced both by its cytoskeleton and the surrounding environment. In a new study, Eroumé and colleagues model the effect of cell shape on cell polarization, specifically by studying how cell shape influences Cdc42 patterns. They find that cell shape and aspect ratio both influence Cdc42 patterns, and that some of these influences are non-intuitive. They find evidence for ‘reverse polarization’ in which the maximal Cdc42 concentration can shift in the direction opposite the initial polarization gradient. Their results call for future experimental validation of the predictions that come out of this work.

Metastasis can arise when circulating tumor cells are transported through the bloodstream to a new secondary location. Understanding how this process works can aid the development of various therapies that block the transport of these circulating tumor cells both as single cells and as clusters. In an effort to study these processes in more detail, Marrella and colleagues have developed a microfluidic device which mimics the wall shear stress experienced in the human vascular system. The device is 3D-printed using a biocompatible photopolymer resin, and their investigations show how increasing wall shear stress can influence morphology and disaggregation of cell clusters.

Uncontrolled cell proliferation is a major factor in tumor growth and progression of colorectal cancer. Vundavilli and colleagues present new results on the underlying mutations that may be influencing colorectal cancer cell proliferation through mathematical and experimental work. They use publicly available gene expression data to identify pathways and mutations that are deregulated in colon cancer, and then apply Boolean modeling to search for drug combinations that may induce cancer cell death.

Taken together, these papers provide new insights into cell signaling, biofilms and cancer metastasis, and provide suggestions for future lines of research within these broader research areas. We will add papers to this collection over time as they are published, so please do keep checking back.

References:

Eroumé K, Vasilevich A, Vermeulen S, de Boer J, Carlier A (2021) On the influence of cell shape on dynamic reaction-diffusion polarization patterns. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0248293. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0248293

Hervas-Raluy S, Gomez-Benito MJ, Borau-Zamora C, Cóndor M, Garcia-Aznar JM (2021) A new 3D finite element-based approach for computing cell surface tractions assuming nonlinear conditions. PLoS ONE 16(4): e0249018. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0249018

Jin X, Marshall JS (2020) Mechanics of biofilms formed of bacteria with fimbriae appendages. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0243280. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0243280

Marrella A, Fedi A, Varani G, Vaccari I, Fato M, Firpo G, et al. (2021) High blood flow shear stress values are associated with circulating tumor cells cluster disaggregation in a multi-channel microfluidic device. PLoS ONE 16(1): e0245536. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245536

Vundavilli H, Datta A, Sima C, Hua J, Lopes R, Bittner M (2021) Targeting oncogenic mutations in colorectal cancer using cryptotanshinone. PLoS ONE 16(2): e0247190. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0247190

Image attribution: Ricardo Murga and Rodney Donlan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The post Introducing the Modeling Cell Proliferation and the Cell Microenvironment Collection appeared first on EveryONE.

Plastics in the Environment – Author Perspectives – Part 2 of 2


In 2020, PLOS ONE published a Collection of research articles entitled Plastics in the Environment, submitted to a Call for Papers on this important topic. A year later, we are checking in with some of the authors who are a part of this collection, to hear their thoughts on where this research field is headed, and what all of us can do to support their work.

In this second installment of two, we hear from Lars Hildebrandt (Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon), Bishal Bharadwaj (University of Queensland) and Anton Astner (University of Tennessee, Knoxville). They discuss the importance of open sciences practices to tackle global challenges, sustainable alternatives to plastics in various settings, and the challenges posed by the lack of methodological standards.

What inspired you to want to work in this field? What path did you take to where you are today?

LH: I am inspired by the fact that sound research into environmental particulate plastics, i.e. nano- and microplastics, is extremely demanding analytically on the one hand and highly relevant to society on the other. The social consequences are less abstract than with respect to other chemical-analytical topics. From my point of view, the biggest problems for nano- and microplastics research is the lack of methodological standardization. Consequently, the available studies are hardly comparable. To draw an accurate picture of the real environmental situation, scientists focusing on particulate plastics need to agree on high chemical-analytical and metrological standards. It inspires me to contribute one small piece to this important step: the method that my colleagues and I published in PLOS ONE enables the accurate and metrologically-traceable analysis of trace metals in/on plastic particles. I originally studied Chemistry and Business Studies and entered the field of particulate plastic monitoring through my master thesis. During my PhD thesis at the Helmholtz-Zentrum hereon, I deepened the work and added more aspects to it such as interactions between particulate plastics and trace metals.

BB: After graduating from school in 2001, I proposed my to friends that we do a volunteer cleaning campaign in Ilam (my hometown). We cleaned several places and realized plastic is a menace. It blocks drains and pollutes water sources. This realization motivated us to work against plastic pollution. Then we registered a youth-led NGO with an objective to lobby for a plastic bag ban and work for a clean and green city. Ilam municipality declared a ban on the use of single-use plastic bag in 2010. Other municipalities followed suit. However, the effect was mixed. I was intrigued by the question of ‘why does a plastic ban works in some municipalities and not in others?’ In 2013, SANDEE—a research network in South-Asia, provided a research grant to investigate the question. The study result showed that appropriate policy and its enforcement are key to the effectiveness of the ban. From this study I learned that the ban is helpful but not sufficient to tackle plastic pollution. Working to reduce plastic encouraged me to learn about other aspects of plastic pollution such as the circular economy and behavioural change.    

I am inspired by the fact that sound research into environmental particulate plastics, i.e. nano- and microplastics, is extremely demanding analytically on the one hand and highly relevant to society on the other. The social consequences are less abstract than with respect to other chemical-analytical topics.

Lars Hildebrandt

AA: My early life’s first strong impact was in first grade in Elementary School when our General Biology teacher took our class out for a field trip to collect disposed environmental trash in our town. This hands-on experience opened my eyes, and I realized that plastic debris disposed into the environment is not only aesthetically disturbing; it also may pose harm to terrestrial and aquatic habitats, wildlife, and humans. At this point, I started realizing how biodegradable engineered plastics derived from natural resources could help to reduce the environmental impact through pollution. Another part of this sustainable thinking I have experienced through the family-owned sawmill business. The conversion of logs into lumber yields virtually 100% product recovery by utilizing the main products, slabs, and sawdust. This experience instilled in me to learn more about renewable materials and natural resources.

The following education in Forest Products Technology & Management at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences (SUAS), Austria biobased materials, improved my sustainable thinking by efficiently converting and utilizing the lignocellulosic materials.

I have learned the crucial steps for successfully conducting research and developing new products by collaborating with companies during this study. An internship at the Center for Renewable Carbon at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), was one element of my overall academic highlights as an undergraduate student from the SUAS, which has paved the way for the joint venture graduate degree between UTK and SUAS for the following years.

In the subsequent years, I have researched as an associate at the Center for Renewable Carbon and the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science (BESS) department at UTK. Under the supervision of Professor Dr. Hayes, I have gained excellent expertise in conducting research, the publication of research results, and collaborating with a team of students, faculty, and staff.

What do you see are the biggest hurdles that we need to overcome in order to tackle plastic pollution in the environment?

LH: A broad understanding is required that we, humanity, have to stop handling giant masses of plastic waste too carelessly and recklessly. Only global attempts to foster real circular economies, wide usage of biodegradable plastics for packaging and omission of persistent plastic products with a very short lifetime can solve the problem. I want to underline that the plastics used for products with short lifetimes should be really biodegradable and not only a “smart marketing trick”. Additionally, we have to find a way to produce them efficiently in terms of resource consumption.

Only global attempts to foster real circular economies, wide usage of biodegradable plastics for packaging and omission of persistent plastic products with a very short lifetime can solve the problem.

Lars Hildebrandt

BB: When I was a kid plastic was not as common as it is today; people used paper pouches, jute bags, iron buckets and wooden chairs. All these things are made of plastic these days. This rapid increase in plastic use with no concrete action is a concern.    

We use plastic for short-term convenience, then throw it away for long-term harm. Plastic looks cheap and convenient. But what about the social cost associated with its carbon emission and the environmental damage for centuries? There is a lack of global commitment against plastic pollution. Although diverse sets of programs are under implementation, many of these are local in scale. For instance, bans or levies on single use plastic bag are typically implemented at the municipality level. We do not see any countrywide regulation or agreement at regional level. Is the knowledge that there are micro-plastics in table-salt insufficient to act against plastic pollution at a global level? If so, until when will we be able to ignore this problem? Why are governments allowing this rapid march to common tragedy? We do not have clear answer to so many questions. This poor understanding is a known challenge.     

AA: Most important is to understand all phases of the plastic materials’ “life cycle” — from creation to utilization to disposal. Therefore, it is crucial to find new ways to reduce waste and better protect the environment and communities. In this context, scientific research can contribute to understanding the critical aspects of the plastic problem. New technologies and product designs, such as developing novel and environmentally benign biodegradable materials, will also be an inherent part of reducing plastic waste.

In agriculture, plastics are frequently used for the cultivation of plants and to increase crop yields. Plastic mulch films are essential materials for the sustainable production of vegetables and other specialty crops by elevating soil temperatures, conserving soil moisture, controlling weed growth, and providing protection against severe weather impacts. However, polyethylene mulches are the most used conventional mulch film materials and are lacking sustainable disposal methods. Improperly disposed materials form smaller particles through environmental impacts (sunlight, wind) and trigger gradual fragmentation into micro- (MPs) and nanoplastics (NPs). These small particles may remain in the soil, be mobilized, and distributed by wind, transported via surface run-off to the aquatic environment posing a severe threat to ecosystems.

In recent years, biodegradable plastic mulches (BDMs) became important in the sustainable production of vegetables and other specialty crops, designed to be inexpensively plowed into the soil, where they will fully biodegrade into carbon dioxide, water, and cell biomass.

Our current research focuses on understanding the implications of biodegradation in the field during and after the growing season, the formation of MPs and NPs, and the fate and impact on terrestrial ecosystems.

What are the areas where you see promise for helping us deal with plastic pollution? Either in the short term or long term?

LH: The research about the presence and toxicity of particulate plastics as well as their interactions with co-pollutants is important since it increases the awareness of plastic pollution in general. However, only the consumers and politics can initiate action by the decisive economic sectors. On the one hand, the products should be designed in a smart way that facilitates recycling, which is definitely possible. On the other hand, we have to streamline the recycling system and expand its capacities – especially in countries with alarmingly low recycling rates and high shares of plastic waste discharged directly into the environment.

We use plastic hundreds of times a day without knowing we used it. What this indicates is that plastic use is deep in our habits and replacing it needs convenient but environmentally friendly substitutes. Finding a substitute is not easy because plastic provides a wide range of advantages to different sectors.

Bishal Bharadwaj

BB: Inaction against plastic pollution is partly contributed to by the poor knowhow about the social cost of plastic use. We use plastic hundreds of times a day without knowing we used it. What this indicates is that plastic use is deep in our habits and replacing it needs convenient but environmentally friendly substitutes. Finding a substitute is not easy because plastic provides a wide range of advantages to different sectors. We need more research in all aspects of these aspects. However, having a substitute is not enough; economic incentives and behavioral measures are equally important to replace plastics in daily life. Therefore, an integrated approach is crucial. An integrated approach demands a collaborative engagement of researchers from different fields. Behavioral science, for instance, may suggest an intervention to change the plastic use behavior whereas chemical engineering can provide insights about the sustainable substitute of plastic. We need industry, policy makers and civil societies to take the innovation from labs to our households.    

AA: In many countries worldwide, governments, communities, businesses, academia, and researchers work diligently to find solutions and new ways to tackle our global plastic pollution problem. The short-term actions reach from the reduction of single-use-plastics (banning plastic straws, styrofoam containers), implementing efficient waste collection, and conducting research in terrestrial and marine habitats.

In the long term, it will be required to include all “players” in a joint effort to increase awareness of plastic pollution and its consequences by shifting from typical one-way commodity plastics to more environmentally benign materials such as biodegradable/compostable materials.

For agriculture, in the face of increased interest in organically-grown plants and crops, I see a considerable potential for sustainable-oriented farmers who are also encouraged to employ environmentally friendly farming practices.  

How important are open science practices in your field – e.g. data sharing, code sharing, protocols sharing, preprints etc.?

LH: I hold the opinion that open science practices are mandatory in environmental research to maximize its outreach. Ultimately, taxpayers finance most of the work. Thus, access to the results must not be denied to anybody.

This synchronized effort needs open science practices. I am impressed with our open science practice in COVID-19 research and information. The main takeaway from this COVID-19 practice is that open science is crucial to tackling global problems.

Bishal Bharadwaj

BB: Plastic use behavior is a mix of interlinked factors. We cannot tackle plastic pollution only through local action such as municipality bans or product-specific intervention such as targeting plastic straws. These small-scale initiatives are helpful, but plastic has now become a major element of global trade.  Therefore, research and collaboration among all concerned stakeholders is necessary. Research from one field will become a steppingstone for other fields to develop a workable solution. For instance, a chemical engineer can use social science on consumer preferences for a bag to find an effective substitute. This synchronized effort needs open science practices. I am impressed with our open science practice in COVID-19 research and information. The main takeaway from this COVID-19 practice is that open science is crucial to tackling global problems.

AA: Data archiving and sharing with the scientific community is an inherent part of conducting successful research. Therefore, data storage and preservation, and publication will be essential. I believe that data sharing can catalyze new collaborations, increase confidence in findings, and serves as a basis for making progress in specific research areas. Our fundamental research area is essential since the detection and characterization of MPs and NPs lack standards. Therefore, data and information exchange are crucial to building on implementing standardized procedures for peer researchers gradually.  Furthermore, using a digital object identifier (DOI), data sets are becoming easier to cite and independently discoverable. This “citability” gives researchers credit for their data sets and allows researchers to list them on job, tenure, and promotion applications.

How does interdisciplinarity fuel your work? Do you often collaborate with researchers from other fields or others outside of academia?

LH: Working in an interdisciplinary network fuels the overall impact of research on particulate plastics. For instance, analytical chemists must collaborate with biologists and toxicologists since a risk assessment comprises assessment of the exposure and evaluation of the toxic effects as well as effect levels (e.g. LOEC) of a pollutant. In a larger context, microplastic researchers should also cooperate with social scientists to convey the key messages that can be derived from their specific findings. Even if we massively reduce the global discharges of plastic waste into the environment, the fragmentation of the giant amounts of plastics present in all aquatic compartments will continue. One of these messages could be: Action that we take today to tackle plastic pollution might need decades to “become visible”.

BB: Like other environmental problems, the fight against plastic pollution also requires a) identification of workable solutions and then b) their implementation. Initially I started my journey from civil society where we lobbied for a ban and worked on social mobilization against plastic bags. While working in the environment management section of the Ministry of Local Development I realized the complexities of environmental policies and its implementation. That is why, as a researcher, I tried to answer questions that are helpful for policy makers. However, collaboration between academia, industry, civil society, and governments will expedite the fight against plastic pollution. If policy makers or industry, for instance, identify the knowledge gaps on plastic pollution, then researchers can help to fill them.       

AA: Collaboration across different disciplines is crucial in our field of research. In particular, our research areas involve the scientists’ expertise in biosystems and biomolecular engineering, soil physics, polymer science, chemistry, statistics, and nuclear engineering.  Our research team regularly interacts and collaborates with researchers within our academic departments across campus. Our particular research also involves collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, focusing on NPs detection in soil by employing Small-Angle Neutron Scattering (SANS) techniques. Interdisciplinary research allows the synthesis of ideas and characteristics from many disciplines, developing essential, transferable skills.

Data and information exchange are crucial to building on implementing standardized procedures for peer researchers gradually.  Furthermore, using a digital object identifier (DOI), data sets are becoming easier to cite and independently discoverable. This “citability” gives researchers credit for their data sets and allows researchers to list them on job, tenure, and promotion applications.

Anton Astner

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in helping with the efforts to reduce plastic pollution – whether as a researcher or a private citizen? How can the rest of the world support the work that you and your colleagues do?

LH: Every private citizen as a consumer has an impact. If we start being very critical about our own behavior when it comes to single-use plastics and plastic beads in cosmetics, for example, the companies will adapt their practices. Actually, there are many parallels to other topic such as the interlink between meat consumption and animal welfare. Sustainability might be an “overused” word in a way. Nevertheless, it starts with everybody’s (consumer) behavior.

BB: We can contribute in several ways. First, being a responsible consumer, we can make a difference. Using reusable bags will reduce the billions of single-use plastic bags. This behavioral change is possible in many dimensions of our day-to-day life, such as straws and coffee cups. Second, even if it is necessary to use plastic, it does not take much effort to make sure the used plastic enters the recycling process. Thirdly, we can contribute from where we are working. For example, an agriculture scientist can investigate the ways to reduce or replace plastic wrapper for cucumbers. Fourthly, being a responsible human being lets us gather evidence and raise our voices for global treaties against plastic pollution as we are doing for climate change. To summarize, let us take plastic pollution seriously and try our best to fight plastic pollution before it is too late.     

AA: An annual amount of eight million metric tons of plastic waste enters the oceans each year, and predictions estimate by 2050 that the amount of plastic in the oceans will have more mass than all fish. The consequent reduction of plastic product utilization can avert this concerning prediction by employing reusable shopping bags, opting for clothing made of cellulose, hemp, wool, and other natural fibers, and choosing products packed in natural raw materials such as corn starch or cotton, just to mention a few options.

The consequent reduction of plastic product utilization can avert this concerning prediction by employing reusable shopping bags, opting for clothing made of cellulose, hemp, wool, and other natural fibers, and choosing products packed in natural raw materials such as corn starch or cotton, just to mention a few options.

Anton Astner

As a researcher, I encourage farmers to employ sustainable farming by opting for sustainable plant cultivation using environmentally benign materials such as biodegradable plastics (mulches) to reduce waste.  Furthermore, I motivate communities to avoid plastic waste by creating public awareness and implementing recycling practices, e.g., rigorous waste separation.

In recent years, MPs and NPs have received considerable attention regarding fate and pollution to the various environmental compartments. The long-term fate of plastic fragments in the soil is unknown. Our fundamental research aims to understand the life cycle, the ecotoxicological fate of MPs, and NPs for plant and soil organisms in subsurface agroecosystems. The outcome of our research may provide a pathway for current and prospective researchers interested in understanding the implications and fate of MPs and NPs in the terrestrial environment. 

About the authors:


Lars Hildebrandt: Lars studied Chemistry and Economics at Kiel University (B.Sc. and M.Sc.). In 2017, his master thesis dealt with microplastics in marine sediments. During his PhD work, which he finished in March 2021 at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, he focused on Nano- and Microplastics as well as the particles’ interactions with trace metals. Currently, he works as a postdoc at the Helmholtz-Zentrum hereon and his research focus is still on environmental particulate plastics as well as trace metals.


Bishal Bharadwaj: Bishal Bharadwaj has worked in environment management and policy for more than a decade. In 2001 Bishal and his friend established an NGO, with the aim to lobby for a ban on plastic bag use and mobilize youth to tackle plastic pollution. Bishal also served in the Government of Nepal, and worked on the Initial Environmental Examination Review committee of Ministry of Local Development and supported drafting of the Environment Friendly Local Governance Framework in 2013. Bishal’s research interests is in the evaluation of environmental policies. He is currently doing PhD at the University of Queensland, where his research aims to understand the influence of decision context on energy access at the subnational regions of Nepal.


Anton Astner: As a native Austrian born in Salzburg, Anton graduated from the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences (SUAS) in 2009, and with a master’s degree in Natural Resources at the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at the Center for Renewable Carbon in 2012. In 2017, he started as a Research Associate in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science (BESS) at the Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee Knoxville, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Douglas Hayes in collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with the focus on the formation and dynamics of micro- (MPs) and nanoplastics (NPs) in the agricultural soil environment. In the fall of 2018, he started pursuing a Ph.D. degree at the BESS department in a joint effort with ORNL, investigating the interactions and fate of MPs and NPs in the terrestrial environment.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

Featured image: Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands NationalWildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore. (Susan White/USFWS) CC-BY

The post Plastics in the Environment – Author Perspectives – Part 2 of 2 appeared first on EveryONE.

Plastics in the Environment – Author Perspectives – Part 1 of 2

In 2020, PLOS ONE published a Collection of research entitled Plastics in the Environment, submitted to a Call for Papers on this important topic. A year later, we are checking in with some of the authors who are a part of this collection, to hear their thoughts on where this research field is headed, and what all of us can do to support their work. They discuss their motivations for going into this field in the first place, the importance of reliable data, the collaborative nature of their work, and how recycling might change in the future.

In this first installment of two, we hear from Amanda Laverty (NOAA), Lauge P W Clausen (Technical University of Denmark) and Elisabeth von der Esch (GEOMAR).

What inspired you to want to work in this field? What path did you take to where you are today?

AL: Growing up appreciating the outdoors by way of camping and hiking, I’ve always had a passion for protecting and preserving the environment. Over time, I developed a particular passion for the ocean – likely stemming from my parents’ love for scuba diving. My path wasn’t necessarily linear, but once I discovered that I could go to school to study the ocean, I was all in. Lab research with my undergraduate advisor – and co-author on this paper – Dr. Fred Dobbs, fueled my interest in aquatic microbial ecology and inspired me to attend graduate school. For my master’s thesis, I was determined to incorporate my long-term interest in marine debris with Fred’s background in microbial ecology, and that combination is what ultimately led us to this niche research.

Following graduate school, I headed to Washington, D.C. after receiving Virginia Sea Grant’s John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship — a year-long fellowship that brings approximately 65 post-graduate students from across the United States to the Nation’s Capital to experience the science-policy interface. During my fellowship, I worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program and learned about marine debris prevention, removal, research, emergency response, and regional coordination at the federal level. The fellowship was a pivotal point in my life, and ultimately led me to where I am today.

LPWC: The abundance of plastic pollution in the environment has been a main motivator for why I want to address the issue. Also, being part of the solution to a “real” problem and help solve it is of great motivation to me.

I was raised by passionate biologist and thus my interest for nature was nourished in my childhood. As an adult, I pursued a career as an environmental engineer to help solve the many environmental issues we face. After I graduated, I went into consultancy but returned to academia to pursue a Ph.D. within the field of phytoremediation – studying uptake of pollutants to plants and their use for remediation of contaminated sites. During my Ph.D. I grew more and more interested in the regulatory aspects of environmental management and stakeholder inclusion. Using the blatant cases of plastic pollution and nanomaterials as an outset, I got involved on two large projects, MarinePlastic and Mistra Environmental Nanosafety Phase II, providing funding for a 3-year postdoc position at the Technical University of Denmark exploring the topics.   

EvdE: Today I am a Postdoc at GEOMAR and develop sensors to explore the ocean. The path was of course filled with many adventures in chemistry and occasional expeditions. In my PhD at the Technical University of Munich, I chose to work on automating the quantification of microplastic as sometimes the best thing that you can contribute to a problem is reliable data.

Without ‘turning off the tap’ on plastic pollution, we will never be able to adequately address the issue. In order to begin effecting change, efforts should focus on behavior change at the individual, community and industry levels, as well as radical policy change at the state, national, and international levels.

Amanda Laverty

What do you see are the biggest hurdles that we need to overcome in order to tackle plastic pollution in the environment?

AL: In my mind, the biggest hurdle to overcoming plastic pollution in the environment is preventing its accumulation in the first place. Removal and research are unquestionably important pieces of this very complex puzzle, but the issue will undoubtedly persist and intensify without prevention. The NOAA Marine Debris Program has a great analogy for this: if we walked into our home and found that our kitchen sink was overflowing, our first step would be to turn off the faucet – not to begin mopping up the water. Without ‘turning off the tap’ on plastic pollution, we will never be able to adequately address the issue. In order to begin effecting change, efforts should focus on behavior change at the individual, community and industry levels, as well as radical policy change at the state, national, and international levels.

LPWC: The transition to a circular plastic economy will be the main obstacle to overcome. To achieve this, a fundamental change to our society will have to be implemented in a scale that have not been seen before. This includes behavioral changes at all levels of the society (industry, policy and consumer level) but also changes in perception and mindset. 

The circular plastic chain is a subtle thing, requiring that one part of the chain deliver services to the next. Failure at one part leads to a break in the chain, making the system fragile. E.g. a producer of a plastic component require a reliable flow of recycled plastics in sufficient quantity and quality to deliver their service to consumers, which must be facilitated by the society. This dependency makes the implementation phase challenging, as implementation at one stage only can be successful when the previous and subsequent steps are mature and ready for the transition.  

EvdE: I believe that plastic is essential for our modern world, as there is just no alternative as versatile and cheap as plastic. This is also true for the packaging industry. Here plastic serves as a very lightweight, durable, safe and recyclable solution to keeping products fresh. The problem however arises, when we don’t recycle our plastic and instead deposit it in landfills, form where it can enter the environment in large quantities. Therefore, improving the recycling of polymers is a key hurdle to overcome. Another large source of microplastic in the environment is the abrasion of car tires, which is unfortunately exactly what we want tires to do to provide grip.

In my opinion, we need to stop designing non-recyclable products and we need to factor in the disposal/recycling cost into the price of a product.

Elisabeth von der Esch

What are the areas where you see promise for helping us deal with plastic pollution? Either in the short term or long term?

AL: I see a lot of promise and hope for our future in younger generations. Young people across the globe are taking ownership of our crises, forming innovative solutions, and calling for urgent action in areas such as plastic pollution, climate change, environmental justice, and many others. With impassioned, dedicated, and emboldened youth, I see real promise in dealing with plastic pollution on a global scale. I’m hopeful that we can each do our parts in lifting up and creating space for the next generation of bright young minds to succeed.

LPWC: My research focuses on bridging societal and regulatory needs. I hope to help regulators identify and address important issues related to plastic pollution and the society by pinpointing where changes can or should be implemented. Also, I hope to raise the citizen awareness and stakeholder engagement with respect to plastic pollution and its consequences, thereby preparing the ground for a smooth(er) transition to a circular plastic economy.    

EvdE: In my opinion, we need to stop designing non-recyclable products and we need to factor in the disposal/recycling cost into the price of a product. As I worked with yogurt cups in my research, I asked myself why these cups are made from Polyethylene, Polyethylene terephthalate and Polystyrene among other polymers if the function of the cup “keeping yogurt fresh” is the same in all instances. Therefore, I would assume that these polymers are equally suited to the task. The recyclability of these polymers however differs. In instances such as these the more recyclable alternative should always preferred by the manufacturer. Applying this mindset or reevaluation could potentially, among many other advancements, help us get towards a more circular economy.

Sharing knowledge is a fundamental prerequisite for transparency, which again is paramount for trust making and stakeholder engagement. Further, open science is of major importance for reproducibility of science.

Lauge P W Clausen

How important are open science practices in your field – e.g. data sharing, code sharing, protocols sharing, preprints etc.?

AL: Open science practices are extremely important in this field. Open science improves the quality of work, increases the reproducibility of findings by other researchers, promotes collaboration, and builds greater confidence in science overall. Without a solid understanding of how other researchers are conducting experiments and collecting data, comparison of our datasets may be ‘apples to oranges’, ultimately proving of little utility in a broader context, limiting understanding, and creating inefficiencies in resource utilization. 

LPWC: In my opinion, the most important thing about open science is that knowledge gets free to everyone – scientists, regulators and not least, the public. Sharing knowledge is a fundamental prerequisite for transparency, which again is paramount for trust making and stakeholder engagement. Further, open science is of major importance for reproducibility of science.

EvdE: Open science is very important to me, as the goal is to solve problems and everyone should be welcome to contribute. Form my experience there is more to research then can ever be achieved by a single person or research group and everyone can benefit from working together on fair and quality controlled terms.

How does interdisciplinarity fuel your work? Do you often collaborate with researchers from other fields or others outside of academia?

AL: The research we published with PLOS ONE included an important collaboration with our coauthors from the Alfred-Wegener-Institute to perform Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) analysis. Without this collaboration, we would not have had the tools to examine and determine microplastic sample types, which was a vital component of our study.

Though I’ve left my university, I think that if I had decided to pursue a career in academia I would have continued to seek out collaborations with other researchers who could contribute tools, analyses, and varying perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Additionally, I would be certain to engage with policy makers at all levels of government in order to help inform research questions that could prove useful in decision making.

LPWC: My research works at the interface of policy and society. It requires a detailed understanding of the regulatory landscape as well as the societal needs and perceptions. As an environmental engineer working within regulatory engineering, I work with social and environmental scientists and sometimes directly with citizens themselves.

EvdE: I love working with colleagues from other fields! They provide different viewpoints and solutions to questions. For me this is a very important source of inspiration and provides excellent learning opportunities.

You might sort all of your recyclables and think you are contributing to the solution, but that does not guarantee that there is a demand for your recycled plastic and that it gets recycled at all, as only a fraction of plastic that could be recycled ends up recycled. This needs to change on a systemic rather than individual level.

Elisabeth von der Esch

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in helping with the efforts to reduce plastic pollution – whether as a researcher or a private citizen? How can the rest of the world support the work that you and your colleagues do?

AL: I would say that each of us play a critical role in the reduction of plastic pollution. It is our job as researchers, global citizens, and change-makers to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences. It is important that we aggressively avoid or limit our use of plastic products, particularly single-use plastics and plastic packaging materials, which contribute to much of the plastic we find in the environment. We can also educate our loved ones, participate in citizen science efforts, and advocate for better policies to help create change beyond our own individual behavior. Solutions to this global issue are challenging and multifaceted, but one thing is certain: our success is hinging on our collective and active participation. 

LPWC: My best advice is to be curious. This entails to stay updated and engage actively in the plastic debate – in the media, on online media and in the scientific literature. Raise questions whenever something is unclear and spread the knowledge gained on the platforms available.

EvdE: The best way to change the lifecycle of plastic from production to disposal is for manufacturers to design more sustainable products and manufacturing chains. Therefore, it is important to demand this change, as it seems that the blame for plastic pollution has been more on the consumer side for a long time and has only recently been shifting towards producers. Because even though all plastics have the recycling logo and a number indicating the polymer type that does not mean that they are collected for recycling. You might sort all of your recyclables and think you are contributing to the solution, but that does not guarantee that there is a demand for your recycled plastic and that it gets recycled at all, as only a fraction of plastic that could be recycled ends up recycled. This needs to change on a systemic rather than individual level.

If you are interested in supporting researchers that want to know where the plastic ends up in the environment, you could join a citizen science project. E.g. https://www.plastic-pirates.eu/en/about. And even though it would be best not to make a mess in the first place you could always join a plastic cleanup near you, as every little bit helps.

About the authors:

Amanda Laverty: Amanda Laverty is a budget analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). In her current role, Amanda primarily assists in the development of the annual NOAA NESDIS President’s Budget and works to ensure timely and effective presentation and use of budget information in support of NESDIS performance, goals, and objectives.

Before coming to NOAA, Amanda obtained her B.S. and M.S. in Ocean and Earth Sciences from Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, VA. She focused her master’s research on plastic pollution as a potential vector for bacteria and human pathogens. Following graduate school, Amanda moved to Washington, D.C. to join the NOAA Marine Debris Program as a 2017 Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow. During this time, she served as the lead on developing content for outreach products, supported regional partner planning workshops, and led the zero-waste initiative for the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference, held in March 2018.

Lauge P W Clausen: As a Ph.D. student, Lauge studied plant and soils science, with special focus on uptake of pollutants to plants and the use of plants for remediation purposes of soil and groundwater. As a postdoc he has moved into the field of regulatory engineering, studying regulation of plastics and microplastics and nanomaterials with focus on stakeholder analysis.

Elisabeth von der Esch: Dr. Elisabeth von der Esch completed her PhD in analytical chemistry at the Institute of Hydrochemistry of the Technical University of Munich in 2021. Within her work she combined reference material production, statistical sample size reduction and image analysis to enable the development of a Raman Microscopy based automated quantification of microplastic. Based on her interest in automation of analytical chemistry she joined the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel, to develop sensors for biogeochemical parameters in the ocean.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

Disclaimer from Amanda Laverty: All views and opinions expressed here are her own and do not represent the views of her employer.

Disclaimer from Elisabeth von der Esch: All views and opinions expressed here are her own and do not represent the views of her employer.

Featured image: Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore. (Susan White/USFWS) CC-BY

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Introducing the Health and Healthcare in Gender Diverse Communities Collection


We are delighted to announce our Collection on Health and Healthcare in Gender Diverse Communities, curated by our Guest Editors Dr. Asa Radix, Dr. Ayden Scheim, and Dr. Jae Sevelius. The collection includes a diverse group of articles investigating influences on mental and physical health, experiences accessing healthcare and engaging with the healthcare system, and the impacts of violence, discrimination, and stigma on health and wellbeing within gender diverse communities around the world. Additional articles will be added to the Collection as they become available, so be sure to keep checking back for the newest research.

Here, Drs. Sevelius and Scheim share their thoughts on this crucial area of research.

What recent developments or emerging trends in the field do you find most interesting or exciting?

JS: It is absolutely critical that we continue to advance the science around transgender children and youth. This science is imperative to inform advocacy for policies that support our young people and provide access to life-saving treatment, especially in this era of proposed treatment bans and myths around ‘desistance’. Further, learning more about how best to support trans people in their youth can help to prevent some of the persistent mental and physical health disparities we see among trans adults.

AS: I’m excited by the changing scientific and organizational leadership in the field, with trans health research increasingly led by trans people. This is not simply a matter of representation for its own sake — I think community knowledge and relationships can be leveraged to improve the rigour, relevance, and reach of our research. I also see growing topical and regional diversity in trans health research. Like cisgender people, trans people live everywhere in the world, grow older, and form families, and so improving the health of trans populations requires a holistic and global approach.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges faced by researchers working with and within gender diverse communities? Do you have any advice for effectively overcoming these challenges?

JS: As an intervention scientist working in close collaboration with trans communities, some of the biggest challenges are structural. The priorities of the funders drive the science, and the funding mechanisms and timelines often do not account for the incredible investment of time and funds required to get community-engaged science right. To be successful and relevant, our intervention research needs to be led by trans people themselves. Due to social marginalization, this work is the first formal job many of the trans people I work with have had, which means there is significant training and support required to ensure our teams are successful and thriving professionally.

AS: Although trans health research increasingly involves trans people in leadership roles, those trans people are too often those who (like me) benefit from structural racism and discrimination. It is vital that researchers attend to differences in power and life experience within trans and gender diverse communities. Ideally, they would use community-based participatory research approaches to forge research partnerships that build power and resources of trans individuals and organizations from marginalized backgrounds.

Why is open access publication important in this field?

JS: Among the many reasons open access is important, one tremendous benefit is ensuring that health care providers who are treating trans patients have access to the most current and relevant science, enabling them to make more informed treatment decisions. Further, because taxpayers fund the majority of our research, they should have free access to the results of our work.

AS: As anyone plugged into trans Twitter can tell you, trans advocates actively engage with research being published on trans health and use that research in their advocacy, from educating families to pursuing legal challenges. Among the many reasons for OA, making research findings accessible for community advocates is a key priority for me.

About the Guest Editors:

Asa Radix is the Senior Director of Research and Education at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and a Clinical Associate Professor and the NYU  Grossman School of Medicine.

Ayden Scheim is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Drexel University.

Jae Sevelius is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Co-Director of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS), Co-Director of the CAPS Developmental Core, and PI and co-founder of the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health.

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A river of new ecological data – An Interview with the Guest Editors of our Freshwater Ecosystems Call for Papers

Freshwater ecosystems provide important services to human societies, such as water, food, regulation of hydrological extremes, pollutant attenuation, and carbon sequestration. As freshwater systems are under pressure from human activity and climate change, a more complete understanding of these systems is needed to respond to the environmental changes associated with these processes.

Here Prof Kirsten Seestern Christoffersen and Dr Ben Abbott, Guest Editors of PLOS ONE Call for Papers on Freshwater Ecosystems, share their thoughts on the present and future of freshwater science research.

What are the most interesting scientific advances in freshwater science recently?

KSC: I would say it is the enormous amount of data that is becoming available as we apply more and more continuous recording data loggers with sensitive sensors, drones, unmanned vehicles, all sort of cameras, fast running analytic instruments – and that these great things are also becoming more and more affordable. Because of these advances, it is possible to get data, photos and live videos for almost any part of the World, from the deepest lakes and the permanently ice-covered lakes to boiling mud-holes. And then, it follows from these advances mentioned above that these great challenges require computer power to handle, analyse and store these large amounts of data. So, it is no longer a question of how to get enough data but rather how to manage the wealth of data that we can produce.

BA: Our capacity to measure parameters in more ways has greatly expanded over the past two decades. This opens up the possibility for new spatiotemporal analyses to move beyond just calculating concentrations and loads to understanding the mechanisms driving ecosystem function across the terrestrial-aquatic gradient. The combination of traditional physicochemical parameters with metrics of ecological community and remotely-sensed watershed characteristics is really exciting.

And, on the other hand, what are the main challenges freshwater ecosystems will face in the near future?

KSC: Here I would say all the “usual challenges”: climate change, biodiversity crisis, eutrophication (still an issue despite it has been a problem for many years now). One thing that we really need to do is to establish what the baseline conditions are especially for freshwater ecosystems that have not yet been affected too much – like the freshwaters in the Arctic and alpine regions.

BA: This flood of new data represents a challenge in itself. More numbers do not automatically translate into greater understanding. We need new approaches to extract meaningful patterns and attribute those signals to ecological processes, especially human disturbance. Another challenge is that many of our long-term monitoring stations are at risk because of changes in funding priorities. We need to leverage these long-term data sources and figure out ways to better integrate across sites.

What new approaches are needed to respond to these challenges?

KSC: Awareness, political will and resources.

BA: See my last two responses.

What are your main research interests? What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in your career so far?

KSC: My main interests these years are understanding how Arctic freshwater ecosystems are organised under different (natural) environmental conditions and identifying the drivers and stressors that rule the biota. This might be the key elements to understand the uniqueness of pristine ecosystems and also to be able to predict their changes.

BA: There are still two million people who die every year from polluted water. Many more than that are affected by chronic or acute disease associated with exposure to pollutants. At the same time, aquatic ecosystems around the world are experiencing huge declines in biomass and biodiversity. We need to improve global water governance and ensure access to clean water for all people and ecosystems. The biggest accomplishment of my career has been the privilege of working with students, researchers, and water managers who are striving to address these global water crises.

What advice would you give to early-career freshwater researchers that want to make a difference?

KSC: It will be to follow your interests and go for the things that you think is important; if you can’t really get yourself into an enthusiastic mode when doing your research, you should maybe change horse. In other words, don’t necessary follow the main stream and where the money is often good – but follow your sense for what really matters. Another go advice is to talk with other scientists but not only those that are close to you (physically and thematically)!

BA: The distinction between basic and applied research is really counterproductive. Any good research has applications, and we should be seeking to share the relevant information we discover with all interested parties. As an early-career researcher myself, I frequently ask myself, how relevant and important is the work I am doing? Are there other issues or problems that I could be contributing to in a meaningful way? In this time of accelerating consumption and restructuring of human activity, the world needs high-quality information more than ever.

***

PLOS ONE has an open Call for Papers on Freshwater Ecosystems. Researchers working on freshwater ecology are encouraged to submit their work before January 8, 2021.

***

About our Guest Editors:

Kirsten Seestern Christoffersen

Kirsten Seestern Christoffersen is Professor of Freshwater Ecology at the University of Copenhagen

Ben Abbott

Ben Abbott is an Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University

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Open science and cognitive psychology: An interview with Guest Editor Nivedita Mani and Mariella Paul

Nivi is Professor at University of Göttingen, Germany where she leads the “Psychology of Language” research group at the Georg-Elias-Müller Institute for Psychology. Her work examines the factors underlying word learning and recognition in young children and views word learning as the result of a dynamic mutual interaction between the environment and the learner. She is also one of the Guest Editors of an ongoing PLOS ONE Call for Papers in developmental cognitive psychology in collaboration with the Center for Open Science. This Call has a particular emphasis on reproducibility, transparency in reporting, and pre-registration.

Prof. Dr. Nivedita Mani

Mariella is a postdoctoral researcher in Nivi’s department. She is interested in how children’s interests shape their word learning, which she investigates using several methods, including EEG, online studies, and meta-analytic approaches. Mariella was one of the co-founders of the Open Science initiative at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, where she did her PhD, and was awarded an eLife Community Ambassadorship to promote open science.

Mariella Paul

I asked them about their views on how open science affects and shapes their research and their field.

Can you tell me about your interest in open science?

MP: The first time I heard about open science and the replication crisis was during a conference I attended during my Master’s, but I only really got into it during my PhD, when I learned much more about it through academic Twitter and started to apply it to my own research. I think the ideas around open science appealed to me as a (then very) early career researcher (ECR) because they were how I, perhaps idealistically, thought science should be done. I have heard the same sentiment from bachelor’s (or undergrad) students when giving lectures about open science practices: “Why wasn’t it always done like this?”. After learning bits and pieces from Twitter and podcasts, such as ReproducibiliTea and the Black Goat, I got in touch with other ECRs at my institute and we founded an open science initiative, organized workshops for our colleagues and ourselves to learn more about open science, and eventually even started our own ReproducibiliTea journal club, where we read and discuss papers about different open science practices.

NM: My interest in open science is relatively recent. I am quite late to the party and my invitation is by virtue of the people in my lab who keep finding better ways to do science. My interest is driven by the fact that the small steps towards transparency and best practice that we take in successive projects not only makes us more confident of the results we report but also makes us calmer in planning projects. What I find interesting and quite marvelous actually, is that this trend towards greater transparency in research and reporting is being spearheaded by young researchers. That’s really amazing to me, because, as a tenured Professor, that next publication – and lingering difficulties associated with publishing null results – is not going to impact my next paycheck but it might well impact the future prospects of the young researchers who are leading this change, who nevertheless weigh doing science well equally with getting cool results!    

How does transparency in reporting affect your own research?

MP: My PhD consisted largely of conceptual replications, that is, I replicated studies previously done with infants and adults with young children. Directly building on previous studies has clearly illustrated the need for transparent reporting for me – because only with transparent reporting and shared materials one can hope to conduct a close replication. Therefore, for my own research, I aim to report my methods as transparently as possible, to make the lives of future researchers wanting to run replications or meta-analyses easier.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

NM: I think the best thing to say for it is that it is frees you. There is, on the one hand, more acceptance these days for the publication of null results, but also, more importantly, greater appreciation for the scientific process rather than the scientific result. This makes it a much more relaxing climate to be a researcher in, since you don’t need to find that perfect result, you need only to document that you went about looking for evidence of that effect in an appropriate manner. This makes you more conscious of critically evaluating your methods prior to testing while leaving you rather calm about the result of your manipulation. So for instance in my group, we now routinely write up the Introduction, Methods and Planned analyses of a paper before we start testing. This makes us think much more about what it is we are actually testing, what we plan to analyze, whether we can conduct the analyses we hope to, and whether that analyses actually tests the hypotheses under consideration. I think this way of planning studies not only makes us methodologically rigorous but also makes us more likely to actually find meaningful effects.

Why do you think pre-registration matters in developmental cognitive psychology?

MP: I think pre-registration can be valuable for any confirmatory study, by adding transparency early during the research process, and by decreasing researchers’ analytic flexibility. In developmental cognitive psychology in particular, we deal with unique issues. For example, when working with infants and young children, data collection and drop-outs require special attention. Pre-registration can help us set some of the parameters around these issues beforehand, for example by pre-specifying transparent data-peeking and planning a correction for sequential testing. I work a lot with EEG, where we additionally have a myriad of analytic decisions to make in how to preprocess the data. Also here, pre-registration can decrease researchers’ analytic flexibility and reduce bias by making these decisions before seeing the data.

NM: Developmental research is plagued with many of the issues in cognitive science, unfortunately amplified by difficulties with regards to access to participant pools (babies are more difficult to recruit relative to undergraduate students) and resulting issues in sample size, shorter attention spans of participants (leading to shorter and less well-powered experiments) as well as greater variance in infant responding. Thinking more carefully about the study and what you actually have adequate power to do – as one is forced to with a preregistration – may help us avoid costly mistakes of running under-powered studies that eventually lead to inconclusive results. From a pragmatic point of view, preregistration, in particular, helps us to better motivate analyses choices that may be questioned later in the process – so in a recent review of a paper, we were asked why we chose a particular exclusion criterion. We did not preregister this analysis (it’s a relatively old study that is only now seeing the light of day) but based this exclusion criterion on previous work – had we preregistered this, it would have been easier for us to justify our choice of this particular exclusion criterion. As it stands now, I can see that a skeptical reviewer may be inclined to believe our choice of this exclusion criterion is post-hoc.

How does the field of developmental cognitive psychology differ now compared to 10-15 years ago, and has open science played a role in that?

MP: I have only been in the field for a few years, but even in that time, I think open science has played a role in the development of the field. For example, large-scale replication efforts such as the ManyBabies project help us better understand central findings in our field, such as infants’ preference for speech presented in a child-directed manner. Similarly, platforms such as Wordbank – an open database of children’s vocabulary – and MetaLab –an interactive tool for meta-analysis in cognitive development – are now available for everyone to run their own studies on large-scale data.

there is greater acceptance of such “failed” experiments these days and this is to a large extent due to our increased appreciation for the scientific process (including open science practices) rather than the result.

NM: To be really honest, on a personal level, I am rather shamefaced about the practices that I believed acceptable 10 years ago. For instance, 10 years ago, I posted on social media that my “failed” experiments folder was 1.5 times larger than my “successful” experiments folder. Back then, it didn’t occur to me that the failed experiments folder (null results to be precise) was as important as the published successful experiments folder – and indeed, they were not failures, because they were providing us valuable information about potential contexts in which we do not find evidence for particular effects. However, now, there is greater acceptance of such “failed” experiments these days and this is to a large extent due to our increased appreciation for the scientific process (including open science practices) rather than the result. At the same time, there is greater emphasis on correct reporting of results, which I belatedly realize, I have been on the wrong side of, by not reporting aspects of the analyses that were important to interpretation of the results. I think this is changing too, with greater awareness of what we need to report when it comes to reporting the analyses we perform.  

What do you see as the greatest challenges for the field going forward?

MP: I think with the current development of the field and psychology in general, there are many challenges as well as opportunities. For many, including myself, one of the most direct challenges recently has been the restrictions on data collection due to the pandemic. With studies in the lab, as we know them, not having been possible (or only to a very limited degree) for over half a year now, many projects needed to be delayed, and we have been forced to rethink our way of planning new experiments. However, this unique situation also offers the possibility to conduct studies that we perhaps usually would not have thought of. For example, meta-analyses of previous studies in the literature can be conducted even when the lab is closed, and so can online-studies, of course. Also, the time away from the lab can be used to get started on new open science practices. For example, a registered report can be written and submitted so that the stage 1 protocol [i.e., a Registered Report Protocol at PLOS ONE] is already accepted by the time testing can be resumed.

NM: We seem to have achieved greater understanding of the requirements of good science, but I do worry about the extent to which we can implement these requirements. How can we run well-powered studies in developmental research, given restrictions on access to population pools and infant attention span? Cross-laboratory efforts (like the ManyBabies projects or a recent project on the effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on language development that I am involved in) here may be the way forward, allowing us to pool resources across laboratories. Equally, we are looking more deeply into sequential Bayesian designs, that may potentially allow us to get around some of the problems I have mentioned (sample size, power, inconclusive results). In general, I think we need to get more inventive about how to continue doing good developmental research.

At the same time, I don’t know if we really know how to analyze our data. In asking the more critical questions that the field is asking these days, I don’t really see one correct answer – and unfortunately, I don’t feel qualified to choose one answer over another. Again, I think greater transparency in research reporting helps here, because I get to post my data and my analyses and the results that I obtained with these analyses. This allows someone else to look through my data and analyze it differently to see if the pattern holds. Having said that, I don’t also think we are where we could be with regards to this solution – at least, I know my group isn’t – with regards to how well we archive our data and how transparent it is for others to use. That is definitely going to be one of the challenges we will face going forward.

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Introducing the Open Soft Robotics Research Collection

PLOS ONE is delighted to announce a Collection entitled Open Soft Robotics Research. This Collection consists of research articles submitted to a 2019-2020 Call for Papers on the same topic. As the Collection launches today, it consists of six research articles, while two reviews will be added at a later stage.

Largely inspired by the way many living organisms move and adapt their shape to their surroundings, soft robots have been designed and constructed with compliant, deformable and variable-stiffness materials, sensors and actuators. Biomimicry has allowed soft robots to acquire novel features such as stretchability, growth, morphing, self-reconfigurability, self-healing and edibility. Their impact has grown in a variety of sectors, from search and rescue and exploration, to rehabilitation medicine, surgery, prostheses and exoskeletons, as well as various applications that improve wellness and quality of life.

The papers published today present several exciting aspects of the latest research on the topic of soft robotics. Two papers touch on 3D printing, one for printing surgical devices [1], and one for cores [2] which can be used in a variety of applications. A second set of papers intersect with medicine, in that they provide methods for fabricating prosthetic hands [3] and artificial muscles [4], respectively. Lastly, two of the papers utilise dynamic modelling, one for dielectric elastomer actuators [5] and one for soft continuum manipulators [6]. Taken together, these papers present a fascinating snapshot of the state-of-the-art within soft robotics research.

This Collection was curated by a dedicated team of Guest Editors: Guoying Gu (Shanghai Jiao Tong University), Aslan Miriyev (EMPA, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology), Lucia Beccai, (IIT, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia), Matteo Cianchetti (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, School of Advanced Studies Pisa), Barbara Mazzolai (IIT, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia) and Dana D. Damian (University of Sheffield).

We invite you to explore the Collection starting today, and encourage you to check back in for more Open Soft Robotics Research in PLOS ONE.

References:

[1] Culmone C, Henselmans PWJ, van Starkenburg RIB, Breedveld P (2020) Exploring non-assembly 3D printing for novel compliant surgical devices. PLoS ONE 15(5): e0232952. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232952 

[2] Preechayasomboon P, Rombokas E (2020) Negshell casting: 3D-printed structured and sacrificial cores for soft robot fabrication. PLoS ONE 15(6): e0234354. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234354 

[3] Mohammadi A, Lavranos J, Zhou H, Mutlu R, Alici G, Tan Y, et al. (2020) A practical 3D-printed soft robotic prosthetic hand with multi-articulating capabilities. PLoS ONE 15(5): e0232766. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232766 

[4] Harjo M, Järvekülg M, Tamm T, Otero TF, Kiefer R (2020) Concept of an artificial muscle design on polypyrrole nanofiber scaffolds. PLoS ONE 15(5): e0232851. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232851 

[5] Huang P, Ye W, Wang Y (2020) Dynamic modeling of dielectric elastomer actuator with conical shape. PLoS ONE 15(8): e0235229. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0235229 

[6] Tariverdi A, Venkiteswaran VK, Martinsen ØG, Elle OJ, Tørresen J, Misra S (2020) Dynamic modeling of soft continuum manipulators using lie group variational integration. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0236121. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0236121 

Featured Image credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering CC-BY 2.0

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Taking a walk on the wild side: An interview with the Guest Editors of our Rewilding & Restoration Call for Papers

PLOS ONE has an open Call for Papers on Rewilding & Restoration, with selected submissions to be featured in an upcoming Collection. We hope to feature a diverse range of multidisciplinary and interdiscipinary research, and are especially keen to encourage studies from ecoregions and voices that are underrepresented in the restoration literature. 

We asked three of the Guest Editors- Karen Holl, Benis Egoh, and Chris Sandom- to share their thoughts on the past, present, and future of research in rewilding and ecological restoration.

Why is rewilding and restoration an important area of research? How is it relevant to contemporary society and the challenges we face?

KH: Over the past few years there have been a growing number of commitments at the global, national and regional scale to restore ecosystems to conserve biodiversity, sequester carbon, improve water quality and supply, and provide goods and services to people. For example, the United Nations has declared 2021-2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the Bonn Challenge aims to get countries to commit to restore 350 million hectares of forest (an area roughly the size of India) by 2030. So there is a dramatic need for ecological and social studies of how to successfully scale up restoration to the large areas proposed.

BE: Restoration is important because it is the only means through which we can recover nature that has been lost. However, it is important that we understand what, how and where we want to restore. One of the biggest challenges is how to measures restoration success. In my opinion, many times we set out to restore with an objective in mind without thinking of the trade-offs and how to measure our success.

CS: We are about to enter the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). It has been declared to ‘massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems’ to help ‘fight the climate crisis and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity’. It is an exciting prospect! But, there is a danger this decade will be squandered if restoration practice is not combined with effective rewilding and restoration research. We need this science to improve our understanding of how to increase the probability of rewilding and restoration success across different ecosystems and circumstances. If we can do the science right, we will make restoration more effective and efficient, meaning limited resources can be put to the greatest use in our efforts to meet the big sustainability challenges.

How does your own research fit into this theme?

KH: For the past 25 years, I have studied how to restore forests, primarily in Latin America, and a range of ecosystems in California and worked with practitioners on how to implement the results of this work. I hope that the papers in this Collection will provide additional insights and case studies that complement my recent Primer of Ecological Restoration book and that I can use in teaching.

BE: In my research, I investigate the trade-offs and benefits from restoration and how we can plan to minimise these trade-offs- where should we be restoring to get the biggest benefits while minimizing cost?

CS: My research is focused on rewilding, in particular, trophic rewilding. I want to understand how reintroducing large mammals can help ecosystems restore and maintain themselves. I typically look at how carnivores influence herbivores, herbivores influence vegetation structure, and how this effects ecosystem functioning and the delivery of ecosystem services like mitigating climate change. I do my best to cover multiple spatial and temporal scales, covering local field projects, such as the Knepp rewilding project, to global macroecological research and looking at snapshot comparisons in the present to palaeoecology that spans millennia.

What trends or exciting advances have you seen in your field recently?

KH: There is increasing recognition of the importance of socioeconomic considerations. The scale of studies is also slowly increasing, which is important. There is increasing recognition that we are restoring in a time of rapid global change and that our restoration approaches need to reflect this reality.

BE: The most exciting advances to me is the research around financing restoration and how a variety of sectors including insurance companies are coming on board to fund restoration measures. Beneficiaries of restoration projects are starting to understand the benefit they get from nature through research on ecosystem services. Also, our research on planning restoration to achieve multiple benefits moves away from traditional ad-hoc restoration. However, implementation of restoration plans is still very low because restoration is mostly opportunistic.

CS: Two papers I’ve really enjoyed this year are “The megabiota are disproportionately important for biosphere functioning” by Brian Enquist and colleagues and “Trophic rewilding revives biotic resistance to shrub invasion” (paywall) by Jennifer Guyton and colleagues. The first provides a theoretical underpinning for the importance of ‘megabiota’ – the largest plants and animals – for driving biosphere scale processes like ecosystem total biomass, resource flows and fertility using metabolic scaling theory. The second reports that in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, a decade of large ungulate population recovery has reversed the expansion of an invasive woody species, which had established after the megafauna had been massively reduced in the preceding decades. I think these papers offer important advances in the theory and empirical evidence supporting trophic rewilding.

How does interdisciplinarity contribute to progress in this area of research?

KH: Restoration ecology is an inherently interdisciplinary field. Even if we knew everything about the science of the physical and ecological processes needed to restore ecosystems, which we don’t, success of ecological restoration projects depends critically on engaging stakeholders throughout the process, from planning to implementation to maintenance and monitoring. We need good examples of projects that have succeeded in addressing legal, economic, and social considerations to result in ecological restoration projects that last beyond the first few years.

BE: Successful restoration requires information on land suitability from soil scientists, cost of restoration from an economic perspective, type of species and habitat requirement from ecologists, consideration of the social aspect and careful planning to maximize benefits. Interdisciplinarity is therefore at the center of research in restoration.

CS: Interdisciplinary research is absolutely essential in rewilding and restoration. While the practices of rewilding and restoration seem to be focused on ecology, the factors governing success or failure are typically more about people. As a result, we need social scientists, psychologists, economists, researchers across the humanities as well as practitioners and indigenous and local knowledge to develop and implement innovative rewilding and restoration science.

What advice would you give to a student keen to work in this area of research?

KH: I tell my students to get training in both the natural and social sciences. It is important thing to get hands on experience working on restoration projects to understand the constraints and opportunities of on-the-ground projects and to collaborate with practitioners on designing research questions that are both scientifically rigorous and will help improve restoration efforts.

BE: This is an exciting area of research with a variety of directions that can be pursued.

CS: Think big and get creative. Rewilding and restoration are systems science. They are all about understanding how all the parts of nature, including people, fit together and function. You need to think about the system as a whole, and how whatever it is you are researching fits into that bigger picture. You need to address the question: what are the potential cascading effects of any particular rewilding or restoration action? Because nature is a complex system it is dynamic and chaotic, so you need to be comfortable with uncertainty and work in probabilities. Also, we still have a lot to learn so get creative and embrace diversity in thinking and practice. It is an exciting and challenging field to work in, it makes it very rewarding!

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Introducing the Health and Healthcare in Gender Diverse Communities Call for Papers

Health inequity has wide ranging impacts on health status and carries significant social and economic costs for individuals and communities. While there has been increasing attention to this issue and its unique effects on LGBT+ populations, transgender and gender diverse people remain uniquely affected. Relatively little research has focused on the healthcare needs and outcomes specific to these communities and the existing literature has tended toward a narrow focus on sexual and reproductive health, often including small and geographically limited participant samples and cross-sectional or retrospective study designs. 

The experience of a gender diverse identity can have a variety of multifaceted influences on physical, mental, and social health as well as complex interactions with other aspects of identity and demographics. Transgender and gender diverse individuals also face an array of challenges in accessing effective and affirming healthcare including disparities in treatment and outcomes as well as barriers to care. Researchers and policymakers cannot understand the varied needs within these communities without first understanding the experiences of the people within these communities and the challenges they face. 

Healthcare research focusing on gender diverse and trans participants has historically faced unique challenges, including a socioeconomically diverse population typically present in numbers insufficient for statistically rigorous sampling and analysis at a single center, unclear patient-oriented outcomes, inconsistent grouping and definitions, inappropriately gendered laboratory reference ranges, variability in cultural competence and training across providers, and many more. However, the visibility of these communities and their needs has grown, facilitating the emergence of methodologically rigorous research and high quality datasets focusing on this underserved population and revealing new opportunities for community engagement. 

PLOS ONE recently launched a call for papers on Health and Health Care in Gender Diverse Communities with the goal of encouraging and emphasizing research addressing prior challenges associated with sampling, study design, and cultural competence, and overcoming previous limitations. This is an exciting time for health-related research focused on trans and gender diverse communities, as collaborative, large scale, longitudinal, and multi-site data inclusive of gender diversity is finally being collected and made available, often for the first time. The United States Center for Disease Control began including questions related to sexual and gender minority-related experiences in national health surveys in 2014, and The National Center for Transgender Equality has released the the data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, the largest survey ever devoted to the lives and experiences of transgender people in the United States, including over 27,000 participants. Also in the U.S. and with the support of a national network of community engagement efforts, the PRIDE study is collecting large scale nationwide longitudinal cohort data over at least 10 years to investigate the long term health of Americans identifying as LGBTQ+. Research from this effort focused on gender minorities is already beginning to become available, including several studies published in PLOS ONE (1, 2, 3) and this exciting work is ongoing. The largest study of transgender people in the world is underway under the European Network for the Investigation of Gender Incongruence, and the network has steadily expanded since its launch in 2010. Productive opportunities for research in this and related areas can only grow and diversify as awareness of gender diversity increases and sigma continues to recede worldwide. 

This call for papers represents an opportunity to collect and showcase the cutting edge research into health and gender diversity now emerging and to make this critically important work available globally and without restriction to anyone who may benefit through PLOS ONE’s open access mission. We welcome submissions to the call through September 24th 2020, and more information is available here.

References:

  1. Lunn MR, Capriotti MR, Flentje A, Bibbins-Domingo K, Pletcher MJ, Triano AJ, et al. (2019) Using mobile technology to engage sexual and gender minorities in clinical research. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216282. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216282
  2. Flentje A, Barger BT, Capriotti MR, Lubensky ME, Tierney M, Obedin-Maliver J, et al. (2020) Screening gender minority people for harmful alcohol use. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0231022. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231022
  3. Moseson H, Lunn MR, Katz A, Fix L, Durden M, Stoeffler A, et al. (2020) Development of an affirming and customizable electronic survey of sexual and reproductive health experiences for transgender and gender nonbinary people. PLoS ONE 15(5): e0232154. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232154

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Introducing the Photovoltaic Solar Cell Materials – Design, Fabrication and Testing Collection

With the need to shift away from fossil fuel usage, while at the same time supporting increasing global demands for energy, improving efficiency and lowering costs in renewable energy production is critical. Unlike wind energy or hydroelectric energy, solar energy is a relatively reliable source of energy. It is found across all areas of the planet and is the most abundant renewable energy source on earth. Photovoltaics play a pivotal role in harnessing this energy by transforming sunlight to electricity. We are therefore excited to present the PLOS Collection “Photovoltaic Solar Cell Materials – Design, Fabrication and Testing Collection”. This collection highlights the dynamic and multidisciplinary research in this area, showcasing promising new materials, as well as new approaches and techniques to create efficient solar cells.

The collection was curated by a team of Guest
Editors with a wide range of experience and research specializations: Juan-Pablo
Correa-Baena (Georgia Tech), David P. Fenning (University of California San
Diego), Shuxia Tao (Eindhoven University of Technology), Maria Antonietta Loi
(University of Groningen), Graeme Blake (University of Groningen), and Hongxia
Wang (Queensland University of Technology).

Metal halide perovskite-based PV

Metal halide perovskite materials are increasingly demonstrating potential as semiconductor light absorbing materials in solar cells, as cost and energy-efficient alternatives to silicon. In their review, Wieghold and Nienhaus highlight the advantages of perovskite, as well as their current drawbacks with the aim of stimulating this relatively new field. A study by Rivas et al. demonstrates the effective use of cryo-focused ion beam technology to prepare perovskite-based solar cells, while Kirmani et al. investigate ways to improve the optoelectronic properties of perovskite crystals.

SEM cross section image of the full PSC stack obtained by FIB. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0227920.g004

New Solar Cell Material Technologies

Sulvanites, with their suitable band gap for solar absorption and relative earth-abundance may also be a promising candidate for solar cell use. In their study, Liu et al. synthesise sulvanite-based materials and evaluate their optoelectronic properties. Meanwhile, Yau et al. present a new method for generating graphene oxide, a material with excellent thermoconductivity and mechanical properties. The authors combined the optimized graphene with titanium oxide, to increase the absorption rate of excited dye in dye-sensitized solar cells.

(A) Low-resolution TEM images. (B) HRTEM images. (C) SEM image of synthesized CVSe NCs. (D-F) SEM–EDS elemental mapping of CVSe NCs. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232184.g002

This multifaceted collection will serve to introduce readers to the world of photovoltaics, while linking the diverse community of researchers who are currently advancing the field.

Guest Editors

David Fenning

David is an Assistant Professor in the Department of NanoEngineering
at UC San Diego, where he directs the Solar Energy Innovation
Laboratory. His research focuses on defect engineering to improve
performance and reliability in silicon and hybrid perovskite solar cells
and on CO2 electrocatalysis for energy storage and green
fuels. He specializes in the use of synchrotron-based X-ray microscopies
to understand the relationships between local chemistry, structure, and
performance in energy conversion materials.

Maria Antonietta Loi

Maria Antonietta studied physics at the University of Cagliari in
Italy where she received a PhD in 2001. In the same year, she joined the
Linz Institute for Organic Solar cells, of the University of Linz,
Austria as a postdoctoral fellow. Later she worked as a researcher at
the Institute for Nanostructured Materials of the Italian National
Research Council in Bologna, Italy. In 2006, she became an assistant
professor and Rosalind Franklin Fellow at the Zernike Institute for
Advanced Materials of the University of Groningen, The Netherlands,
where she is now full professor and chair of the Photophysics and
OptoElectronics group. In 2018 she received the Physicaprijs from the
Dutch physics association for her outstanding work on organic-inorganic
hybrid materials

Hongxia Wang

Hongxia has a PhD degree in Condensed Matter Physics from the
Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Science, Master’s degree and
Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the Central South University, China.
She is currently a full Professor at Queensland University of
Technology (QUT), Australia. Her research group is dedicated to the
development of new routes to enhance the performance and stability of
next generation solar cells, in particular perovskite solar cells and
energy storage devices such as supercapacitors, through innovative
material and device engineering. She was the recipient of several
prestigious fellowships including the “Australian Research Council (ARC)
Future Fellowship” and the “Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship
(Industry)”.

Graeme Blake

Graeme is an Assistant Professor at the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials, University of Groningen, Netherlands. He received his PhD in inorganic chemistry at the University of Oxford, then worked as a postdoc split between Argonne National Laboratory and the ISIS neutron scattering facility, UK, before joining the faculty at the University of Groningen. His research interests include the chemical synthesis and characterisation of hybrid perovskite-related materials, with a special focus on their crystallography. He is also interested in magnetic materials, especially multiferroic order, skyrmion phases, and magnetism arising from p-electrons in oxygen, and in addition, investigates the chemistry and physics of thermoelectric materials such as chalcogenides.

Want to find out more about the Guest Editors and their interests in this field? Read our interview with them here.

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Introducing the Biodiversity Conservation Collection

  It is with great pleasure that we announce the launch of our Biodiversity Conservation Collection. This Collection showcases research on a broad range of conservation science related topics, including anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity, such

Introducing the Biodiversity Conservation Collection

 

It is with great pleasure that we announce the launch of our Biodiversity Conservation Collection. This Collection showcases research on a broad range of conservation science related topics, including anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity, such as habitat degradation, the spread of invasive species and global warming; conservation of key ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and pest regulation; and new management strategies to prevent further biodiversity loss.

We are extremely grateful to our team of Guest Editors, Steve Beissinger (University of California, Berkeley), Thomas Couvreur (Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador), Carlos Duarte (KAUST), Claudia Mettke-Hoffmann (Liverpool John Moores University) and Stuart Pimm (Duke University), for evaluating all submitted research and selecting articles for inclusion in the Collection. We also want to express our thanks to the PLOS ONE Academic Editors involved in the handling of submissions, to the reviewers, and to all the authors who submitted their research to this Call for Papers.

 

 

Habitat loss

Eight of the studies published in the initial Collection release focus on habitat destruction in a wide range of regions, ecosystems and species. In the North Pacific Ocean, Edwards et al. investigated the ecological consequences of marine deforestation caused by shifting trophic interactions in the Aleutian Archipelago. They show that the rapid decline of sea otter populations, caused by increased predation pressure from killer whales, led to high sea urchin densities causing widespread deforestation of the kelp forests and general loss of biodiversity and ecosystem function. In the mainland USA, Bradshaw et al. evaluated whether wetland management practices for waterfowl were also beneficial to other wetland-dependent species such as bitterns, grebes and crakes. Habitats for marsh bird species have more than halved in the last 50 years due to wetland loss and degradation; their results highlight the importance of maintaining wetland hydrologic and vegetation complexity for the conservation of breeding marsh birds.

In Brazil, three independent studies provide evidence of the impacts of habitat fragmentation in the Amazon rain forest, where biodiversity has rapidly declined in recent decades. Palmeirim et al. quantified the effect of deforestation on small mammals and found that forest dwelling species are being replaced by open-habitat species as the deforestation frontier expands. Teixeira-Santos et al. studied four endangered emblematic large terrestrial mammals and showed that the survival ability was different for each species and that some species can adapt to tolerate anthropogenically altered habitats. Paschoalini et al. studied the effects of habitat fragmentation on the Araguaian river dolphin, whose populations have been dramatically reduced due to dam construction. This research provides potential practical applications to help species management and conservation in the region, as occupation and development of the Amazon is currently being encouraged in Brazil.

 

 

When the habitat is fragmented, isolated populations lose genetic diversity, leaving them more vulnerable to changing environmental conditions and with a higher risk of extinction. In the Midwestern USA, Douglas et al. examined the genetic population structure of three upland game birds inhabiting the declining American prairie grasslands, including the endangered Greater Prairie Chicken, and found that their populations are experiencing a genetic bottleneck. They advocate for a multi-species approach as a more effective management strategy for endangered upland game birds and for making more land available to prairie species. In the United Kingdom, Ball et al. conducted a study on the conservation genetic state of adder populations and found that the species’ polyandrous breeding system is, for the moment, protecting it against inbreeding. However, this might become a problem in the future as loss of connectivity prevents movement of individuals between patches of suitable habitat. Dondina et al. studied the suitability of ecological corridors to connect two isolated wolf populations through the degraded lowlands of Northern Italy and showed the importance of keeping natural areas, such as rivers, for maintaining habitat connectivity for the conservation of endangered species in a fragmented landscape.

 

 

Climate change

Three studies among the first batch of articles published in this Collection address the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and potential mitigation strategies. Carbon sequestration has been suggested as a potential approach to mitigating the effects of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. In Spain, Morant et al. investigated the relationships between wetlands’ ecological characteristics, conservation measures and carbon emissions in the Ebro Delta wetlands. Wetlands are an important ecosystem service acting as natural carbon sinks but are under threat due to habitat destruction. 

Large-scale empirical studies of the existing and projected impacts of climate change on wildlife are vital to scientifically-informed conservation management strategies aimed at minimizing and mitigating these impacts. In Southern California, Fogarty et al. used a large bird abundance dataset to investigate whether annual variation in seasonal temperature and precipitation was associated with relative abundances of breeding bird species. They found that species in arid areas may be negatively affected by increased temperature and aridity, but species from cooler areas may respond positively to those fluctuations in climate. Carbon pricing policies can also have unintended consequences for biodiversity through changing land management. Hashida et al. modelled forest habitat changes in response to forest landowner decision-making under multiple carbon pricing scenarios in Western USA. Their results predict a major shift from coniferous forest to hardwoods which could result in a dramatic loss of biodiversity in the region.

 

 

Invasive species

Three studies published in the Collection showcase research on species invasions. International trade is a major pathway of introduction of invasive species. Lucardi et al. conducted a comprehensive survey of the plant community at the largest container terminal in the USA . Their research identified the presence of a high number of invasive plant species in the port, providing  important evidence that shipping ports are crucial sources of emergent plant invasions but  are largely under-researched. Invasive species can have complex ecological impacts on the regions of invasion. Besterman et al. studied the ecological impacts of the establishment of one of the most invasive macroalgae on habitat selection and foraging behaviour of shorebirds in the mid-Atlantic region of the USA and found that generalist species preferred invaded habitats while specialist shorebirds preferred uninvaded mudflats. Invasive species also cause major economic losses in the regions of invasion. One of the most successful methods for sustainable management of invasive species is using their own natural enemies against them. In Morocco, Qessaoui et al. discovered the insecticidal activity of native rhizobacteria present in the soil against an important pest of tomato crops and suggested that using biological control agents would reduce the amount of synthetic chemical pesticides being used to control plant pests.

 

 

Conservation strategies

Finally three papers report methodological advances in conservation of endangered species. Endangered species are usually difficult to study because their population densities are low which hampers conservation efforts. Here, Nagarajan et al. report successful results of a non-invasive method for monitoring a wood-boring beetle species threatened by habitat loss in California. Current monitoring efforts require extensive field work looking for this rare species. In this study, the authors collected faecal samples from exit holes on trees and applied genetic barcoding techniques to identify the makers of the holes.

Large terrestrial carnivores are often keystone species in the ecosystems but have historically been persecuted and their populations are in decline globally. In the USA, sport hunting is used as a tool for managing puma populations. Laundré et al. investigated the effectiveness of this strategy for reducing conflict with humans, livestock and game species. Their results indicate that there is little evidence that puma control reduces conflict, and remark the need to reassess traditional predator control practices.

Management of captive populations is crucial for conservation of endangered species whose wild populations are at high risk of extinction. Fazio et al. studied the stress physiology of the fishing cat, a threatened wild cat from Southeast Asia, that is notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. Their study suggests that management actions such as transfers between facilities increases levels of stress while reduced animal-keeper interaction and social housing could lower stress levels and increase breeding success. This study might provide insights to better manage translocations of captive individuals of easily stressed species.

 

 

At the time of launch, there are 17 research articles featured in the Collection but more papers will be added as they are published over the coming weeks – so do check back for updates!

 

About the Guest Editors:

Steve Beissinger

Steve Beissinger is Professor of Ecology & Conservation Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he held the A. Starker Leopold Chair in Wildlife Biology (2003-13), is a research associate of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and is the co-Director of the Berkeley Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity. Professor Beissinger’s current research centers on wildlife responses to global change and species’ extinctions – with recent fieldwork carried out in protected areas and working landscapes in California and Latin America. He directs the Grinnell Resurvey Project – a 15 year effort to revisit locations throughout California first surveyed by Joseph Grinnell in the early 1900’s in order to quantify the impacts of a century of climate and land-use change on the birds and mammals of California. Steve’s studies of parrotlets in Venezuela extend more than 30 years. Integrative studies of secretive, threatened rails in California provide a model for understanding coupled natural and human systems. He has authored over 200 scientific publications and is senior editor of three books. He served on the editorial boards of Ecology Letters, Ecology, Conservation Biology, Studies in Avian Biology, and Climate Change Responses. Steve is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the American Ornithological Society, which awarded him the William Brewster Memorial Award in 2010 for his research on Western Hemisphere birds.

Thomas Couvreur

Thomas L.P. Couvreur is a senior researcher at the French National Institute for Sustainable Development, and is currently based at the “Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador”, in Quito Ecuador. He received his PhD in tropical biodiversity from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and worked as post doc at the Osnabruck University in Germany and The New York Botanical Garden in the USA. His main interest lies in understanding the evolution, resilience and diversity of tropical biodiversity, and rain forests in particular, one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet. He undertakes research in taxonomy, conservation, molecular phylogenetics and phylogeography of tropical plants. His research mainly focuses on tropical Africa and South America. He is chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission for palms since 2018.

 Carlos Duarte

Professor Carlos M. Duarte (Ph.D. McGill University, 1987) is the Tarek Ahmed Juffali Research Chair in Red Sea Ecology at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in Saudi Arabia. Before this he was Research Professor with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Director of the Oceans Institute at The University of Western Australia.
Duarte’s research focuses on understanding the effects of global change in aquatic ecosystems, both marine and freshwater. He has conducted research across all continents and oceans, spanning most of the marine ecosystem types, from inland to near-shore and the deep sea and from microbes to whales. Professor Duarte led the Malaspina 2010 Expedition that sailed the world’s oceans to examine the impacts of global change on ocean ecosystems and explore their biodiversity. Professor Duarte served as President of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography between 2007 and 2010. In 2009, was appointed member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC), the highest-level scientific committee at the European Level, where he served until 2013. He has published more than 700 scientific papers and has been ranked within the top 1% Highly-Cited Scientist by Thompson Reuters in all three assessments of this rank, including the 2018 assessment released by Clarivate Analytics.

 Claudia Mettke-Hofmann

Dr Claudia Mettke-Hofmann is Reader in Animal Behaviour at Liverpool John Moores University, UK, and Subject Leader of the Animal Behaviour team. She received her externally conducted PhD from Free University of Berlin, Germany, and subsequently worked as a postdoc at the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell and Andechs, Germany, in collaboration with the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Behaviour, Vienna, Austria, before moving to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Washington DC, USA. She is now based at Liverpool John Moores University. Her research area is cognitive ecology, mainly in birds, with strong links to conservation aspects and animal welfare. She investigates how animals collect and store environmental information in relation to their ecology on the species level but also on the individual level (personality). A focus is how animals respond to environmental change, particularly in species that differ in their movement patterns such as being resident, migratory or nomadic. Differences in cognitive abilities in these groups help explain and predict population developments in our rapidly changing environments. More recently, her research has focussed on individual differences in cognition in colour-polymorphic species highlighting exciting differences in responses to environmental change between colour morphs. Claudia has been a PLOS ONE Section Editor since 2014.

 Stuart Pimm

Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of over 300 scientific papers and four books. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).

 

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Stem Cell Plasticity in Tissue Repair and Regeneration Collection

 

We are excited to publish a collection entitled Stem Cell Plasticity in Tissue Repair and Regeneration, which results from a PLOS ONE’s call for papers announced last year. We encouraged submissions spanning a broad range of biomedical topics, including basic stem cell biology, preclinical research and biomedical engineering. The papers included in the collection provide examples of how the dynamic functions of stem cells can be harnessed to regenerate damaged or lost tissues. Regenerative approaches may offer a unique therapeutic opportunity for diseases where with no established treatments exist.

 

In line with PLOS ONE publication ethos, we welcomed solid and clearly reported studies regardless of the perceived impact and positive nature of the main findings. We think that in the fast-paced field of stem cell research, addressing publication bias is particularly important to advance knowledge and bring new therapies to the clinic.

 

Two studies included in the collection reported the role and regenerative ability of adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Chung et al. showed the regenerative potential of human MSCs in a rat model of bladder disease. They also identified the bladder submucosa as the most effective route of MSC administration. In a clinical study among patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, Patry et al. found that extracorporeal membrane oxygenation increased the number of circulating MSCs, although further research is needed to establish the regenerative potential of these cells in the context of pulmonary disease.

 

Bladder tissue regeneration identified via IHC staining pone.0226390

 

Two methodological papers focused on the differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) into cardiac cells. This rapidly evolving research area aims at overcoming the current challenges in generating mature cells in large quantity and high purity for tissue engineering applications. Rupert et al. described practical methods for the optimization of hiPSC-cardiomyocyte differentiation, highlighting the key role of metabolic selection. Chu et al. demonstrated that cardiac differentiation can be achieved by co-culturing hiPSCs with mature cardiomyocytes, without the addition of exogenous pharmacological agents.

 

Workflows for cardiac differentiation of stem cells pone.0230001

 

This collection was made possible thanks to the fantastic work of our Guest Editors – Michelina Iacovino, Scott D. Olson and Che Connon – who helped develop the scope of the call for papers and evaluated all submitted research for inclusion in the collection. We are also extremely grateful to the members of our editorial board and external peer-reviewers for dedicating their time and expertise to the evaluation of submissions.

 

We will add new papers to the Collection as they are published, so we invite you to check back the collection webpage in the coming weeks. If you are interested in keeping up to date with the latest stem cell research from the broader literature, check out our PLOS Channel too.

 

Guest Editors

Scott D. Olson

Scott Olson is a mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) Biologist working in the Children’s Program in Regenerative Medicine in the Department of Pediatric Surgery at McGovern School of Medicine. Dr. Olson completed his doctorate in the lab of Dr. Darwin Prockop at Tulane University’s Center for Gene Therapy studying novel methods by which MSCs can contribute to tissue repair. At University of California at Davis’s Health Sciences Institute for Regenerative Cures with Dr. Jan Nolta, Dr. Olson worked to apply MSCs as a platform to develop new treatments for Huntington’s Disease. Dr. Olson joined UTHealth in September 2011.

 

Dr. Olson is involved in developing and transitioning studies with direct translational applications. At UT Health, his primary focus is bringing his expertise in the field of adult stem cells, specifically MSCs, to explore their potential in the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and in trauma-associated neuroinflammation in general. MSCs have been used in a number of completed, ongoing, and proposed clinical trials with reported therapeutic benefits. Dr. Olson strives to better describe the role of MSCs in injuries of the central nervous system, highlighting their innate therapeutic abilities in an effort to create an improved treatment for TBI.

 

Michelina Iacovino

Michelina Iacovino is an Assistant Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and a Principal Investigator at Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LABioMed) at Harbor-UCLA in the Pediatrics Department.

She obtained her Doctorate in Italy in Biochemistry and Applied Chemistry working on mitochondrial DNA inheritance in yeast in collaboration with Dr. Ronal Butow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She then trained in the field of hematopoietic stem cells with Dr. Michael Kyba during her postdoctoral fellowship, studying the role of Hox genes during blood development. She joined LABioMed in 2012, extending her expertise of stem cell biology to develop treatments for rare lysosomal disorders that affect brain function. She is currently developing a stem cell therapy for Sanfilippo syndrome, an incurable and rare lysosomal disorder, using neural progenitor cells.

 

Che Connon

Che Connon obtained his PhD in Biophysics from the Open University Oxford Research Unit in 2000, during which time (under the supervision of Professor Keith Meek) he investigated corneal wound healing and transparency. He subsequently obtained a JSPS post-doctoral fellowship to work with Professor Shigeru Kinoshita in Kyoto, Japan for two years studying corneal stem cell transplantation. Upon his return to the UK he was awarded a Royal Society Fellowship to investigate the use of biomaterials in stem cell therapies. He obtained his first permanent position in 2007 at University of Reading, School of Pharmacy and since 2014 he has held the position of Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University.

Professor Connon’s research team seeks to engineer functional replacement and temporary ‘bridge’ tissues using a modular approach while also developing model systems to study physiological and pathophysiological corneal tissue formation. He is currently working with smart (cell responsive) biomaterials, characterizing the mechanical and geometric environment of the corneal stem cell niche and 3D printing the corneal stroma.

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