Welcome to the first PLOS Biology media blog of 2018! We’re starting the year with a bang, with research on marine food web collapse, global flower-power, ancient Scandinavians, hot mitochondria, and musculoskeletal networks.
Our first study adds to the growing list of ways that climate change is impacting the world around us, by demonstrating how it can drive the collapse of marine food webs. Experiments using “mesocosms” show that increased sea temperatures can reduce the vital flow of energy from the primary producers at the bottom, via intermediate consumers, to predators at the top of marine food webs, and could lead to a decrease in food availability for top predators.
Researchers have finally solved Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery’; how flowering plants achieved world domination. The paper argues that downsizing their genomes about 130 million years ago allowed flowering plants to construct smaller cells and grow faster to outcompete ferns and conifers. The study was covered by the BBC, and many people came to the defence of conifers on Twitter.
Genomic data indicates that the first human settlers on the Scandinavian peninsula followed two distinct migration routes. The resulting mixed population showed several genetic variants linked to physical performance and reduced skin pigmentation, which may indicate genetic adaptation to the extreme environmental conditions.This intriguing paper was picked up globally and has been covered in The Independent, The Conversation, and multiple News outlets across Scandinavia.
Despite our body temperature being held at a steady 37.5°C, researchers have found that our mitochondria may be able to run more than 10°C hotter than the body’s bulk temperature – up to 50°C. This surprising finding suggests that mitochondria might operate much like thermostatic radiators in a poorly insulated room, running at a higher temperature than their surroundings. Because of the extraordinary nature of these findings, if true, we commissioned a primer by Nick Lane to help readers interpret it with caution. The work was covered in the Washington Post.
Our final paper presents a mathematical model that maps out the entire body’s network of bones and muscles. Their model provides insight into how an injury in one part of the body can create increased strain elsewhere, and could help clinicians and physical therapists predict where one injury could lead to another.
Featured image credit: Beate Kjørslevik