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Bartering Chimps and Banqueting Mice

Last week saw the publication of PLoS ONE’s 1,500th paper since our launch in December 2006, although there was no time for a celebration, sadly, as we were too busy with the 39 papers that were published on January 30, no less than four of which enjoyed considerable media attention, and which covered a broad range of subjects, from bartering chimps to banqueting mice and from carbon dating to cocaine addiction.

In order to further our understanding of the evolution of bartering, Sarah Brosnan (a member of the PLoS ONE Editorial Board) and her colleagues studied the circumstances under which chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, would exchange a lower-value food item (like an apple slice) for one valued more highly (like a grape). The article was covered by The Daily Telegraph, Wired and Live Science and is being discussed online at Economist’s View and at the Free Exchange blog at Economist.com. You can, as always, join in the discussion by posting your comments and notes directly onto the online version of Brosnan’s paper.

Chimps’ diet also played a role in a study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Somel and colleagues compared mice whose diet consisted of raw fruit and vegetables (comparable to that of a chimp) to those that were fed human diet (they either shared the cafeteria food eaten by the researchers or were treated to fast food from the local McDonald’s). These dietary changes resulted in thousands of gene expression differences in the livers of the two groups of mice, although no such differences were found in their brains. The paper was picked up by Newsweek and Wired, as well as The Daily Mirror, who grabbed the low-hanging fruit offered by the Big Mac mice with open arms. People who write press release titles shouldn’t really throw stones, though.

Moving from the liver to the eye, Danish scientists led by Niels Lynnerup have been able to predict the year of a person’s birth to a high degree of accuracy, by subjecting small, transparent proteins (crystallins) from the lens to radiocarbon dating techniques, or as the IANS put it, Forgot her birthday? Look deep into her eyes! The Times of London and Afarensis also covered the article. No more lying about your age, then. Read the paper for the full story.

Finally, a study by Anna Rose Childress (another new recruit to the PLoS ONE Editorial Board) used fMRI scans to investigate the mechanisms behind drug addiction. Childress and colleagues found that cocaine-related images activate the emotional centres of the brains of patients addicted to drugs – even if the subjects don’t realise they have seen anything. The researchers hope that the findings can be used to improve treatment strategies of drug-addicted patients. The paper was featured in the Baltimore Sun. Parla italiano? If so, you may want to read this article in the Italian, online news site, Altro Giornale. There is also a fascinating HBO video, part of a 2007 documentary Addiction, in which you can watch Dr Childress discussing the study and talking to some patients she studied.

Of course, this is just a small subset of the papers published in last week’s PLoS ONE. You can browse the other 35 on our website. Check back tomorrow for the next cohort!

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