Here is our selection of PLOS Computational Biology highlights for May.
“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” (Heraclitus of Ephesus, 535–475 BCE). This is how Yonatan Lowenstien and Tal Neiman introduce their paper, “Spatial Generalization in Operant Learning”: Lessons from Professional Basketball”. The paper looks at operant learning and how behaviours are not reinforced or inhibited by the “same” actions, but instead by similar events, as in natural environments the “same” situation never occurs. While this is a familiar generalisation, the computational principles that underlie it are not fully understood, so the paper used statistics from professional basketball to study these principles. It was found that players are more likely to attempt a field goal from the vicinity of a previously made shot than they are from the vicinity of a missed shot. This result indicates that rather than using low-level features, operant learning in basketball is determined by high-level cognitive processes that incorporate the abstract rules of the game.
Genome-Wide Association Studies can provide great understanding for the etiologies of many complex diseases and have the potential to inform the discovery of safe and effective medicines. However, authors Lei Xie et al. write in their Review that these data have not been fully explored in order to improve the efficiency of drug discovery. The Review studies the dynamics of molecular interactions for the entirety of the human genome and shows that progress is being made towards the final goal of personalised medicines for the treatment of complex diseases.
Despite arterial hypertension, or high blood-pressure, being one of the most common age-related chronic disorders, its major cause remains enigmatic. Klas H. Pettersen et al. developed a computer model of the circulatory system; using this they demonstrate that arterial stiffening seems sufficient to explain age-related emergence of hypertension. The stiffening causes the blood-pressure sensors in the arterial wall to misinform the highly complex machinery responsible for blood pressure regulation.