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Another Biology Week is here and what better time to remind ourselves of the fascinating papers that have been published so far this year. Let’s take a look….


When you clean your house do you ever consider whether the microscopic organisms living in the dust are the same as those that live outside? Well, this Proceedings B paper by Barberán and colleagues did and they found that where you live tends to determine what fungi are in your household dust. On the other hand, the female to male ratio and whether a household has pets determines the makeup of the bacterial community living there.

Hummingbird Image

Credit: Rico-Guevara et al. 2015

On a brighter note, hummingbirds continue to amaze as a recent study discovered that their tongues act like elastic micropumps. They were previously thought to act in the same way that fluid rises in a capillary tube. These results are significant because they provide an alternative hypothesis of hummingbird-flower coevolution.

Meanwhile, Biology Letters has been very busy producing a special issue focused on marine movement ecology. The role of movement patterns in the marine environment is particularly critical because a majority of marine species have a mobile phase at some stage of their life history. This special feature showcases a collection of papers that illustrate the current frontiers of marine movement ecology and point the way for future research in this critical area. Just one example of the studies featured is an investigation of female blue crab migration. Not only did the authors establish that acoustic transmitters coupled with passive acoustic receivers provided reliable and valuable data on migration patterns of mature female blue crabs, but they also discovered new information regarding the timing and route of their migration to their spawning grounds.

Blackpoll Warbler Image

Credit: By PJTurgeon, via Wikimedia Commons

Moving from marine to avian migrations, a stunning discovery was made regarding the autumn migration of the blackpoll warbler. This 12g songbird that breeds in North American boreal forest and winters in South America, makes a non-stop flight over the Atlantic Ocean during fall migration. Using state-of-the-art miniaturized tracking devices, researchers provide the first irrefutable evidence that blackpolls accomplish this transoceanic migration, covering an average distance of 2,540 km and lasting up to 3 days. Their results challenge conventional wisdom about the physiological limits of animal migration and provide evidence for one of the most amazing migratory feats on the planet.

Seal Image

Credit: Erdsack et al. 2015

From bird migration to fur coats… It is well known that vertebrate fur and skin have undergone various modifications during evolution according to the functional purpose it is required to fulfil. In this paper featured in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the authors describe the unique fur structure they found in harbour seal whiskers. These hairs were arranged in bundles consisting of broad, flattened guard hairs along with narrower, also flattened guard hairs of a new type. They believe that this new fur composition serves both for thermal insulation and drag reduction.

Also on the topic of marine mammals, researchers have found that the teeth of limpets are stronger than some alloy metals. They can withstand an incredible amount of pressure when rasping onto rocks and as such provide a design template that could help improve mechanical properties when using sustainable, biologically assembled materials and structures.

Neurological research tends to hone in on specific pathways and/or structures in the brain and study them in isolation to the rest of the organ. However, as discussed in an issue of Philosophical Transactions B, the Human Brain Project is a new “big science” initiative that is attempting to make use of modern computing advances to collate and integrate the vast abundance of knowledge stored in the archives of many hospitals. By doing so they hope to identify the “design principles” governing the function of the healthy and the diseased brain.

Bumblebee Image

Credit: By Holger Casselmann, via Wikimedia Commons

Royal Society Open Science has published a variety of biology papers to be excited about including Nityananda and Chittka’s study investigating how bees simultaneously avoid predators and choose rewarding flowers. They looked at whether bees could use smell to differentiate flowers while looking out for predators and found that having tasks involving different senses helped them do this. They, however, failed to perform the tasks using only vision, showing that their attention can be independently allocated to different senses.


Another fascinating read is a study which suggests that cell motility and possibly metastasis of cancerous cells can be controlled by transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of the protein Periostin, offering a potentially new way to control their spread.

Strongylocentrotus purpuratus

Credit: Kirt L. Onthank, via Wikimedia Commons

Physiological processes and behaviour are regulated by neuropeptides. A study featured in the April issue of Open Biology identified the receptor for the sea urchin neuropeptide NGFFFamide and showed how gene duplication gave rise to: 1. A conserved family of vasopressin/oxytocin-type neuropeptides, which regulate social behaviour in humans; and 2. A divergent family of neuropeptides that includes NGFFFamide and neuropeptides that control shedding of the exoskeleton in insects (CCAP) and reduce anxiety in humans (NPS).

This is just a small selection of biology papers we’ve published this year. Take a moment this Biology Week to delve into the 2015 issues and let us know your favourites on Facebook or Twitter . All papers, issues and special features mentioned above are free to access until the end of November – happy biology reading!


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