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The Nutcracker’s Eats – and More Recent PLoS ONE News Coverage

During the last week of April and the first week of May, PLoS ONE published over 100 papers, with another 57 following today. With such a great range of papers, covering topics from some very noisy bats and the eating habits of Paranthropus boisei, to endangered amphibians and substandard antimalarial drugs, it is perhaps unsurprising that PLoS ONE has recently been featured even more prominently in the news than usual.

Below follows a short summary of the news and blog coverage of some of the articles that received the most coverage. As always, you can add your own thoughts by posting Comments and Notes directly onto the articles themselves.

In a paper described by the Academic Editor, Peter Soyer, as “an exciting manuscript on a cutting edge technology,” Yair Granot and colleagues at UC Berkeley and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem used cell phone technology to provide a potential solution to the deficiency of medical imaging in underserved areas. Around three quarters of the world’s population is without access to medical imaging and by combining a hand-held scanner with a cell phone, the authors sought to solve this problem. The story was covered in The Economist (Doctor on Call), Live Science (Real Trekkie Tricorder Invented) and Pravda (New Technology Allows Sending Medical Images via Cell Phones), as well as a number of business and technology publications, such as Business Week (Medical Advances—Through Your iPhone?) and What PC? (Boffins send medical images via mobiles).

It might seem that the guy sitting opposite you on the train ride home, who won’t stop yakking on his cell phone, has a pretty loud voice – not compared to the bats studied by Annemarie Surlykke at the University of Southern Denmark. These bats can cry at up to 140 dB – 20 dB above the human pain threshold. The study was picked up by New Scientist (Bat squeaks louder than a rock concert), Live Science (Bats Screech Louder Than Rock Concerts), Physics Today (Noisy bats break decibel levels) and The Naked Scientists (Bats out of hell: it’s official, bats are louder than a Meatloaf concert), as well as the blogs Pondering Pikaia (For crying out loud…) and Hearing (The Echolocation Baton Is Intense).

From aural overload, to the oral cavity: Peter Ungar and colleagues conducted a quantitative analysis of dental microwear for Paranthropus boisei. The morphology of this hominin’s teeth suggested that the so-called “Nutcracker Man” ate hard, brittle foods like nuts and seeds, but in this study, the researchers found that while P. boisei was capable of eating harder foods, it generally did not do so. The study was covered by Scientific American (Nutcracker Man Preferred Soft Fruits and in the 60-Second Science podcast), The Economist (Gnashers at work), Science, Live Science (Tough Early Human Loved Fruit) and Wired News (The Counterintuitive Evolutionary Lesson of the Nutcracker Man) and there are some great blog posts on the paper too, including one by PLoS ONE editorial board member John Hawks (Average diet versus extreme diet in robust australopithecines) and another by Laelaps (Robust australopithecines and masticatory overkill).

The following week, PLoS ONE published another study involving the face; in this article, Anthony Little and colleagues studied symmetry and sexual dimorphism. Participants had to rate the masculinity or femininity of very symmetric and very asymmetric photos of Europeans, the Hadza – hunter-gatherers from Tanzania – and macaque monkeys. They found that the most symmetric male faces were judged to be most masculine and the most symmetric female faces were judged to be the most feminine, regardless of whether the photo depicted a European, a Hadza or a macaque, adding support to the theory that sexual dimorphism and symmetry in faces are signals advertising gene quality. The story was featured in The Telegraph (Why beauty is an advert for good genes), NHS Choices (Facial symmetry and gender perception), The Times of India (‘Beautiful people are healthier’), (The sexiness of facial symmetry across cultures and species) and on Mind Hacks (Male body symmetry, more female orgasms), although the female orgasms to which the title of the refers are actually part of a separate study.

In a study described by Nicola Jones on the Nature News blog as “grim,” Patrick O. McGowan and colleagues at McGill studied the epigenetic changes in the brains of men who had committed suicide and who had a history of childhood abuse or severe neglect, compared to controls who had normal upbringings but died in sudden accidents. The article received a great deal of news coverage, including in New Scientist (Abuse may trigger gene changes found in suicide victims), The Economist (Silencing of the lambs), The Telegraph (Evidence child abuse may ‘mark’ genes in brain), Newsweek (How Child Abuse Gets Into the Brain) and The Toronto Star (DNA may hold clue to suicide, study says). You can also read – and join – some of the discussions that are already taking place on the article.

The following five PLoS ONE papers have also been in the news recently:

Antimalarial Drug Quality in the Most Severely Malarious Parts of Africa – A Six Country Study (Bate et al.)
New York Times – Fake Malaria Drugs Emerging in Vulnerable Countries in Africa
The Times (UK) – A third of malaria drugs in Africa are ineffective

Reuters – Study finds Africans get substandard malaria drugs

The Herbicide Atrazine Activates Endocrine Gene Networks via Non-Steroidal NR5A Nuclear Receptors in Fish and Mammalian Cells (Suzawa et al.)
NPR’s Science Friday – Weedkiller Worries

Hung Out to Dry: Choice of Priority Ecoregions for Conserving Threatened Neotropical Anurans Depends on Life-History Traits (Loyola et al.)
Washington Post – ‘Ark’ Designed to Save Imperiled Amphibians
The study was covered widely in Brazil, including in O Estado de São Paulo, Folha de São Paulo, G1, and Ciência Hoje.
See also a blog post by Rafael Loyola, the corresponding author –
Our paper in PLoS ONE has been just published

The Druze: A Population Genetic Refugium of the Near East (Shlush et al.)
MSNBC – Druze people are living ‘gene sanctuary

Reuters – Gene trawl shows Druze are living “gene sanctuary”

Archeology News Report – Genetics Confirm Oral Traditions of Druze in Israel

Seed Dispersal and Establishment of Endangered Plants on Oceanic Islands: The Janzen-Connell Model, and the Use of Ecological Analogues (Hansen et al.)
Journal Watch – The ghost at the feast

Wildlife Extra – Seed dispersal in Mauritius – dead as a dodo?

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