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.

 

Insects take a rain-check on sex
The mating behaviours of three taxonomically unrelated species of insects are significantly modified in response to changes in atmospheric pressure. The three species of beetle, moth and aphid all altered their interactions with members of the opposite sex when placed in a pressure chamber. In low pressure conditions usually associated with inclement weather, male beetles reduced their search for female pheromones and  showed little interest in courtship, whilst female moths and aphids reduced their calling behaviours to attract a mate. This weather-forecasting behaviour is likely to be an adaptation to reduce the likelihood of getting caught out in storm when out courting.
Pellegrino et al. PLoS One

 

“Scientists are poor at judging scientific merit”
Journal impact factor, post-publication review, and the number of citations an article receives are all well-established methods of judging the merits of scientific work. But how accurate are they as a measure of scientific impact? By analyzing two large datasets  of subjective, post-publication assessments, researchers find little support for the use of any of these methods for accurately predicting impact. Although experts appeared to agree on which articles were likely to accrue the most citations, this judgement was heavily biased by the impact factor of the journal in which the article appeared. Whilst both citation number and impact factor are highly error-prone measures of impact, the authors argue that journal impact factor currently remains the least-worst form of scientific assessment.
Eyre-Walker & Stoletzki. PLoS Biology

 

Sniffing out successful smells, in silico
A computational pipeline that is able to predict whether specific odours will bind with cellular detectors uses a panel of almost a quarter of a million chemical structures to successfully predict functional interactions between receptors and odorants in fruit fly antennae. With a prediction accuracy of greater than 70 percent, this means that large-scale analysis of whole organism systems is now feasible using this method.
Boyle et al. eLife

 

Wafer-thin imaging to study cells in mint condition
A new method of microscopic imaging is able to visualise the structure and properties of live cells without the need to label them with dyes or adhere them to transparent surfaces. By combining a method called Quantitative Phase Imaging – which involves passing a laser beam through a substance and then recombining the scattered image as it passes through it – with near-infrared wavelengths of light, researchers have been able to resolve live cellular structures through opaque materials like silicon. Wafer-thin slices of silicon are often used in microfluidic devices that can manipulate the behaviour of tiny volumes of fluid, opening up the possibility that cellular behaviours can be seen both inside and out.
Joshi et al. Scientific Reports

 

Flowering plants were early bloomers
New evidence from fossilised pollen grains suggests that the evolutionary origin of flowering plants was some 100 million years earlier than previously thought. The fossilised grains of an angiosperm-like plant were unearthed from a site in northern Switzerland, which could date back to the Middle Triassic period, around 245 million years ago. Pollen is typically preserved much more readily than leaves and other tissues, although these grains displayed such unusual characteristics that they required a whole new terminology to describe some of their features.
Hochuli & Feist-Burkhardt. Frontiers in Plant Science

 

Time to ring the changes in bacterial growth
Patterns are everywhere in nature, from animal stripes to the formation of bacterial growth rings. The mechanisms that form these patterns may also be involved in key developmental processes, such as the growth of limbs. Previous models, including some developed by computer pioneer Alan Turing, assumed that this pattern of control was under the influence of regulatory chemicals called morphogens that act as ’on’ and ‘off’ switches for growth, according to their relative concentration gradient in space. Now, a new synthetic gene circuit programmed into E.coli bacteria has been able to generate the same growth ring patterns in the absence of any such chemical gradient. Instead the timing of this growth acts as the organisational cue operating the ‘on’ and ’off’ switches – not its spatial pattern.
Payne et al. Molecular Systems Biology

 

Beginning to understand a cell’s end
The aptly named enzymes RIP 1 and RIP3 together form a complex called the necrosome, which starts the process of passive cell death. Although a better understanding of the signalling processes involved in this mechanism could provide valuable information on necroptosis-associated diseases in  neurodegeneration and viral infection, further functional insights are hampered by a lack of atomic-resolution structures of these proteins. Now, the crystal structures of RIP3 and another component of the necrosome called MLKL reveal that binding between these two proteins is necessary for necrosis signalling, providing crucial structural data for a better understanding of the signalling mechanisms behind cellular death.
Xie et al. Cell Reports

 

Written by Simon Harold, Senior Executive Editor for the BMC Series.

 

 

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