Open Reading Frame brings together a selection of recent publication highlights from elsewhere in the open access ecosystem. This week we take a look at the past few weeks in biology.
Sexually transmitted infections are over when the fruit fly sings
There is a family of genes found in insects known as Turandot, which are involved in the immune and stress response. Rather appropriately, given the opera by Puccini of the same name, some of these genes have previously been shown to become activated at the sound of male courtship singing in fruit flies. But although females flies may be somewhat less choosy than their operatic counterparts, new research has found that activation of one of these genes, Turandot M, plays a crucial role in preventing the infection of a sexually transmitted fungal infection. However, this comes at some cost – flies expressing these prophylactic genes had significantly reduced survival compared to their unprotected counterparts.
Zhong et al. Proceedings of the Royal Society B
What’s in a name? Treasure trove of new species is a taxonomic test
A huge taxonomic assessment of thousands of tiny parasitic wasps collected from Costa Rica has identified more than 270 species new to science. Although this represents a remarkable haul of diversity from such a geographically small area, the authors estimate that as many as 50-100 further species from the tribe Heterospilini still await discovery. And although identifying so many tiny specimens represents a mammoth task, coming up with as many individual and novel species names must also have been tough. Many are named in honour of friends, family, wasp-collectors past and present, and after indigenous tribes of the area, whilst two are named after American presidents – Ronald Reagan and George Washington. One shiny specimen (Heterospilus wildi) also bears the name of one of the study’s co-authors, though you’ll have to discover for yourself just why…
Marsh et al. ZooKeys
How to evolve a bigger organism, in the lab
Complex life is characterised by a two stage cycle in which multicellular organisms reproduce via single-celled propagules like eggs and sperm. This two-stage life-cycle is thought to have occurred in order to eliminate evolutionary conflicts between different cells of the same organism—a bottleneck stage—but why this should occur in less complex, transitional stages in evolution is not clear. Now, a team of researchers have managed to evolve multicellular complexity in the lab in a single-celled alga that has never had a multicellular ancestor. By selecting populations of cells that settled quickly in liquid, they were able to create a single population of multicelluar clusters that reproduced via a single-celled stage, after only a few hundred generations. Reducing evolutionary conflict between cells via a single-celled reproductive phase may therefore be more of a useful consequence of this bottleneck strategy, rather than a direct cause.
Ratcliff et al. Nature Communications
Reading how well we read books
A new method of analysing our brain waves is able to predict reading comprehension ability with 88% accuracy. The process of reading can by divided simplistically into two stages: decoding individual words, and then comprehending their meaning in a sentence. The neural activity associated with these processes has been studied extensively using shorter texts, but researchers have now set some willing volunteers a larger task by monitoring their brain activity whilst trying to comprehend the works of the19th Century novelist Emile Zola. To make matters more tricky, they jumbled up the words in some sentences, to assess each reader’s ability to reconnect the text’s original meaning. The more accurate analysis developed through these long-text tests could help the diagnosis and management of people with reading difficulties.
Mossbridge et al. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Retractions haunt your research history
Retracting just one article from a researcher’s publication record can have knock-on consequences for not only their future prospects, but their previous research output as well. By analysing the number of citations accrued on all articles written by authors that had been subject to retraction notices at some point in their career, research has shown that their number of citations falls by an average of almost 7 percent per year compared to control articles in the same subject area, and can affect papers published as long as a decade after the retraction was announced. Crucially, this citation penalty is only apparent if the retraction was not self-reported. Researchers who had brought mistakes to the attention of journals suffered no citation penalty, and may even receive a boost to their previous work.
Feng Lu et al. Scientific Reports
Fusing proteins to fix DNA
When DNA breaks, there can be problems. Breaking both strands of the helix is the most problematic of all, destabilising the genome and potentially affecting evolutionary processes and cancer initiation. Now, researchers have come up with an ingenious method to view exactly where this breakage occur in cells, by fusing together two proteins – one from a virus, and one from a jellyfish. The new protein, called GamGFP, binds only to DNA with double-strand breaks and, because of the fluorescence derived from the jellyfish protein, gives the green light when it does so. This new method is able to identify DNA breaks in both bacterial and human cells, and paves the way for a new look at the mechanisms that underlie DNA damage and repair.
Shee et al. eLife
Written by Simon Harold, Senior Executive Editor for the BMC Series.