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.


Would you like mycete? Fungi on the London Underground

An analysis of the distribution of fungi on the London Underground rail network reveals that you may be more likely to inhale viable spores if you travel on its newest line – the Jubilee line – than other, older routes. The study, which looked to develop a new test to discriminate between different  cryptic species of Penicillium fungi, also found that spore levels above ground were surprisingly lower than those on the rail lines beneath your feet.
Browne et al. Fungal Ecology


How your brain picks apart the cocktail party chit-chat

By measuring how subjects were able to distinguish between multiple overlapping sounds, researchers have moved one step closer to understanding how humans are able to pick out specific sounds from background noise. Previous models of the so-called ‘cocktail party effect’ could not sufficiently account for how the brain can distinguish between specific sounds on the basis of frequency alone. Now, data  from a new psychophysical model finds that accurate discrimination can be achieved by the brain integrating information on both the frequency and timing of complex tones.
Teki S et al. eLife


Worms meet their end in a blue wave of death

All life comes to end at some stage, and for nematode worms it comes in a wave. By exposing the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans to bouts of oxidative stress, researchers have identified the pathways that lead to the propagation of whole-organism necrosis. By tracking individual worms through time-lapse imaging, they pinpointed how this process spreads along the intestine via an influx of calcium where it, rather spectacularly, ends in an intense burst of blue fluorescence.
Coburn et al. PLoS Biology


A personalized approach to teaching personalized medicine

How well do the next generation of doctors and scientists understand the brave new world of personalized medicine? Stanford School of Medicine took a direct approach to teaching and learning by offering graduate students the opportunity to have their own genomes examined as part of the curriculum. Seventy percent of students reported a better understanding of the benefits and risks of personal genome testing, which translated into over 30 percent higher test scores compared to those choosing to forego the screens.
Salari et al. PLoS ONE


Tadpoles tolerate toxic test after early exposure as embryos

Exposure of non-target species to pesticides in the environment poses a real threat to ecosystem health and may vary hugely depending on the species involved and the timing of exposure. Now, by testing how wood frog tadpoles react to a lethal dose of the insecticide carbaryl following non-lethal exposure as embryos, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have shown for the first time that a vertebrate species is able to induce tolerance to a deadly dose of toxicity.
Hua et al. Evolutionary Applications


Terrestrial bacteria cope with extra-terrestrial light

By modelling how the purple photosynthetic bacteria Rhodospirillum photometricum copes with harvesting light under extreme intensities – such as those released from an unstable star – an interdisciplinary team of biologists and physicists have concluded that these simple bacteria could theoretically survive in extra-terrestrial environments where the incident light is far less stable than that released from our own sun.
Johnson et al. Scientific Reports


Mitochondria push all the right boutons to send a nerve signal

Brain signals are sent when neurotransmitting chemicals are released from structures called boutons, which are found along the length of nerve axons. Mitochondria – the body’s cellular powerstores – move along these axons and ensure that there is sufficient energy available to maintain a quality  signal. However, whether they are able to influence the strength of this signal was previously not known. Now, by zooming in to the cellular level, live images have captured these mitochondria at work and found that they play a crucial role in mediating the variability in nerve signal release.
Sun et al. Cell Reports


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


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