June has been a busy month at PLOS Biology and this month we’ve covered a whole spectrum of Biology from flying spiders, to getting your caffeine fix, regretful mice, long bone growth, and manatee balls.
If spiders weren’t already terrifying enough, researchers have now discovered how they’re able to fly through the air by spinning a parachute of silk fibres. Crab spiders sense the wind direction, speed, and updraft using their legs, and choose only the optimal conditions in which to ‘balloon,’ often travelling on the wind for hundreds of kilometers. This amazing phenomenon has been featured in New Scientist, Smithsonian, New York Times, and The Washington Post.
Our second June paper explores the link between caffeine consumption and the protection of heart cells from damage. The authors found that the caffeine from four cups of coffee was sufficient to protect against heart damage in mice, by causing the migration of a specific protein to the mitochondria. The results are good news for coffee drinkers everywhere, and have been featured in Forbes, The Independent and Scientific American.
Humans are not the only ones who get that sinking feeling of regret in their stomach. Mice also experience regret, and are able to learn from their mistakes. By making mice choose between different ‘restaurants’ along a track with different queue lengths to receive food scientists found that the mice learned to plan ahead and change their minds in order to avoid disappointment. It seems that mice don’t like queueing for food either!
Equal bone growth in the womb is crucial to achieving a symmetrical adult form. Our next paper explores how mice can stimulate local growth while simultaneously suppressing overall growth in order to allow damaged tissues to catch up. This research could aid therapies for growth disorders, and has been very lively on social media.
In most mammals the balls drop during development to aid temperature regulation, however, in a group of mammals known as Afrotherians, which includes manatees and elephants, the balls do not drop and are retained inside the abdomen throughout adulthood. Our final June paper uses ‘molecular fossils’ to show that the testicles of the common ancestor of all mammals descended, and that testicle retention in Afrotherians was caused by gene changes that happened relatively late in evolution. The study has been featured in Daily Mail, Smithsonian, and The Conversation.
Join us next month for more PLOS Biology in the media!
Featured image credit: Moonsung Cho.