In celebration of Biology Week, organised by the Royal Society of Biology and now in its fifth year, we’ve picked some of favourite papers published so far this year. And they all have one thing in common: biology.
Bad for bees
First up, a Proceedings B paper looking at the impact of neonicotinoids on the reproductive capacity of male honey bees. Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides with a common mode of action that affects the central nervous system of insects. The authors show that bees exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides have reduced lifespans as well as reduced sperm viability and sperm quantity. This research provides the first evidence that neonicotinoids can have a negative impact on the reproductive capacity of male insects.
Many lizards and snakes have organs called scale sensilla on the sides of their heads. In land snakes, they have a tactile function used for sensing objects by direct contact. In sea snakes, however, the function of scale sensilla is uncertain.
Published in Open Biology, this paper is the first analysis of the evolution of scale sensilla in the transition from terrestrial to marine habitats, showing that in aquatic species these organs are more protruding and have greater coverage compared to their terrestrial counterparts. This suggests a divergent role of sensilla in sea snakes, possibly as hydrodynamic receptors capable of sensing vibrations underwater.
A new way to target kinases in cancer
Next up, another one from Open Biology, but this time a bit of biochemistry. Kinase mutations drive many cancers and kinase inhibitors, which target ATP-binding sites, have transformed cancer treatment. However, this site is also highly conserved and therefore many kinase inhibitors have off-target effects. The authors of this paper took a new biological approach to target a kinase in a way that is different from drugs currently used in patients.
They discovered a single domain antibody which blocks the activity of Aurora-A kinase by changing its shape. Aurora-A is a protein kinase that functions primarily in cell division and is over-expressed in breast, colon and other cancers. This new approach helps us to understand how Aurora-A activity is controlled in normal cells, and will enable new kinase inhibitors to be developed as potential therapeutics.
Fibonacci structure, or patterning, can be found in hundreds of different species of plants, for example the arrangement of leaves on a stem or the spirals of sunflower seedheads. This has led to a variety of different biomathematical models that have been developed to try and explain this phenomenon. This study, published in Royal Society Open Science, collected data on 657 sunflowers, from the general public, scientists and sunflower growers, to look at the occurrence of Fibonacci structure in the spirals of sunflower seedheads.
One of the most interesting findings reported in the paper was the presence of seedheads without Fibonacci structure. This is the largest study of its kind and aims to provide an empirical basis to help differentiate mathematical models used to explain Fibonacci structure.
The origin of food
Ever wondered where your food comes from? Countries produce and consume crops from diverse origins; 69% of crops are foreign as a global average. Foreign crop usage has increased over the past 50 years, providing a novel perspective on the globalisation of food systems. This paper discusses how important each origin region is to agricultural production and diets in countries worldwide to determine the significance of geography in the context of what is currently produced and consumed around the world. This work was published in Proceedings B.
And finally, a collection of articles on the evolutionary ecology of species ranges published earlier this year in Biology Letters. The Coral Triangle and diving beetles as used as specific examples, and factors influencing species distributions and the limits of categorising these as either historical or contemporary is also discussed.
Happy Biology Week!