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Life Is a Lot Like Jazz… It’s Best When You Improvise

PLoS Medicine’s domination of the UK (and worldwide) media last week was always going to be a hard act to follow but a number of the papers published in PLoS ONE this week did rather well in the news and in the blogosphere. From coral to quarrels and from improv to instinct, as usual, PLoS ONE has published some great papers in a wide range of different fields.

On Tuesday, a day earlier than usual in order to coordinate the publication with an accompanying essay published in PLoS Biology, PLoS ONE published a pair of research articles reporting the findings of a Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UC San Diego research expedition to the remote Line Islands of the Central Pacific. Dinsdale and colleagues describe a novel aspect of the microbial communities in the coral reefs while Sala and colleagues document the ecology of a still relatively pristine coral reef, from the smallest to the largest organisms, and describe the effect of slowly increasing human interactions. You can also read a summary by Niyaz Ahmed, the academic editor of the two research articles. Here’s a round-up of some of the coverage of the papers:

New York Times – Coral Reefs and What Ruins Them and Before They Vanish (a slideshow of gorgeous images). The story was also featured in Front Page podcast on Tuesday.
San Francisco Chronicle – Coral reefs without human intervention found to be healthier
San Diego Union Tribune – Studies show scope of damage to reefs
Environmental Research Web – Scripps expedition provides new baseline for coral reef conservation

The following day, we published another brace of 47 papers, several of which have been covered in the news; clearly, it’s hard just to pick one when there are so many interesting articles to read!

Morten Kringelbach’s paper, A Specific and Rapid Neural Signature for Parental Instinct, was featured in a number of news articles and blogs. The authors show that a certain region of the human brain is activated in response to (unfamiliar) infant faces but not to adult faces, suggesting there is a neural basis for the parental instinct.

Reuters – Study sheds light on parental instinct
Canadian Press – You've got the cutest little baby face: Brain activity linked to parental instinct

The Telegraph – Babies faces 'make us want to care for them'

The Discovery Channel – Adult Brains Wired to Go Ga-Ga Over Babies

Cognitive Daily – We respond differently to babies' faces within 150 milliseconds

World Science – Brain workings linked to parental instinct

In their paper Bats Use Magnetite to Detect the Earth's Magnetic Field, Richard Holland and colleagues showed that bats use a magnetic substance in their body called magnetite as an ‘internal compass’ to help them navigate; amazingly, no one used the term “bat-nav” in any of the stories I read – perhaps the journalists suffered the same sensation of l’esprit d’escalier as I did or perhaps they just had better taste in headlines.

The Times of India – Magnetism helps animals navigate
Channel 4 News – Bats have 'internal compass'

Cordis News, BelgiumStudy sheds new light on bats' animal magnetism
Pondering Pikaia – The Magnetite Maps of Microchiropterans

The Grove Dictionary of Music has described the act of improvisation as “The art of thinking and performing music simultaneously” and, indeed, we are still hoping for some more media mileage from an interesting study by Charles Limb, in a field I like to call ‘neuro-jazz’ (see also our neuro-art paper from last November), in which the authors investigate the neuroscience of jazz improvisation. There have been a lot of excellent blog posts about the paper, Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation, including the following:

Wired News – Creativity Explored, by Mapping Jazz Musicians' Brains
Mind Hacks – The Metaphysics of a Jazz Thing

Neurophilosophy – The neuroscience of jazz improvisation
Not Exactly Rocket Science –
What happens in the brain of an improvising jazz musician?
PsychCentral – Jazz “Improv” Turns-On Creativity

The Rehearsal Studio – Science Messes with Jazz (Again?)

Science A Gogo – This Is Your Brain on Jazz

Smooth Pebbles – How Jazz Players Get into the Zone

MedGadget – This Is Your Brain on Jazz

Back in Blighty, Katherine Buchanan and colleagues at Cardiff University studied the effect of pollutants on bird song. The paper, Pollutants Increase Song Complexity and the Volume of the Brain Area HVC in a Songbird, was picked up twice by the Daily Mail (Let's hear the music, as the Pill makes starlings hit the high notes and Singing starlings and why thousands of babies who should have been boys are being born as girls) and appeared in the New York Times (Polluted Worms Help Starling’s Song, but Not Mating Fitness) and the Science Times podcast.

Finally, there have been some stirrings of activity Down Under on Blair Patullo’s paper on fighting crayfish, too: Yabbies hold a grudge, Don't ever fight a yabby and Crayfish fight club; you can probably guess by now which headline I liked the best.

Struth! It’s really been a bonza week at PLoS ONE, and, of course, there will another posse of papers available on Wednesday, freely available online, as always.

Discussion
  1. Thanks for posting this Rebecca.

    That’s a most impressive round up I have to say.

    Indeed, it was indeed difficult to follow last week’s PLoS Medicine’s media coverage but I think your post clearly shows that broad coverage of PLoS Papers is pretty much now becoming the norm.

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