Rhapsody in Green
If you have visited the PLoS ONE homepage this week, you may have noticed the rather quirky juxtaposition in the Recently Published block of a paper on the effect of a broccoli-rich diet on prostate gene expression with an article on the acoustic properties of classical and modern violins. Indeed, these two articles generated the most news coverage of the 63 papers published in PLoS ONE on July 2.
In the first of these, entitled, Broccoli Consumption Interacts with GSTM1 to Perturb Oncogenic Signalling Pathways in the Prostate, Richard Mithen and colleagues report the results of a study on changes in gene expression in the prostate gland of volunteers as they participated in a dietary intervention study, involving broccoli-rich or pea-rich diets. The authors are based in Norwich (just up the road from the UK office in Cambridge), and so there were quite a few articles in the UK press (as well as from further afield), ranging from the Norwich Evening News to the BBC News, as well as The Telegraph (Broccoli reduces risk of prostate cancer), The Guardian (Broccoli 'could help fight cancer'), Reuters (Study shows how broccoli fights cancer) and The Age (Broccoli 'reduces risk of prostate cancer'). Mithen was also interviewed about the study by BBC News 24.
The coverage of Berend Stoel’s article, A Comparison of Wood Density between Classical Cremonese and Modern Violins, was no less extensive. Stoel, a researcher at the Leiden University Medical Center, teamed up with an American luthier, Terry Borman, to try to determine why it is that certain classical violins, such as those made by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri Del Gesu, have set the standards in terms of sound and acoustics, which modern luthiers often try to emulate. The researchers used computed tomography scans to compare five classical violins with eight modern violins. Although the median densities of the modern and the antique violins were similar, the density difference between wood grains of early and late growth was significantly smaller in the classical Cremonese violins compared with modern violins, and the authors suggest this may contribute to the superior sound production of classical Cremonese violins.
Some of the stories on the study have included: BBC News (Wood density key to violin sound), The Telegraph (Secret of Stradivarius violins' superiority uncovered), The Independent (Solved: the mystery of why Stradivarius violins are best), Nature (Acoustics: Fiddling the numbers) and Reuters (Wood density holds key to Stradivarius sweet sound). I am also hopeful that the question “what does a luthier make?” will come up now in the pub quiz some of the Cambridge-based PLoS staff often attend.
Sunny Jun and colleagues at Stanford may have found a way of predicting a woman's chances of becoming pregnant after IVF treatment by assessing an embryo’s quality, as well as recording the woman’s hormone levels; this is reported in an article entitled, Defining Human Embryo Phenotypes by Cohort-Specific Prognostic Factors. “We envision that dissection of human embryo phenotypes and their corresponding molecular correlates is not only a necessary step towards improving the treatment of clinical infertility,” said the corresponding author, Mylene Yao, “but will also contribute significantly to research efforts in the hESC field.” The article was featured in The Guardian (Fertility: Doctors find test to predict chances of IVF success), Time (Predicting In Vitro Success) and Reuters (New method may help predict IVF success: study), and on BBC Radio 4.
Several other papers also enjoyed some media coverage – a paper on the potential benefits of relaxation by Dusek and colleagues was picked up by Newsweek (Train Your Mind, Change Your DNA) and El Mundo (Los genes también 'se relajan'), while French researchers made the front page of Le Monde (En France, les hépatites B et C font entre 4 000 et 5 000 morts par an) and Gratwicke and colleagues were featured in Journal Watch (Extinction in pieces).
Jake Snaddon’s article on children’s perceptions of rainforest biodiversity was featured in Wired, even if the writer, Brandom Keim, described “the study as a well-meaning but hopelessly academic analysis” (not that this is a bad thing)! The Cambridge-based researchers had young children draw pictures of a rainforest, as part of a museum competition, and found that while the children were shown to have a sophisticated understanding of the biodiversity of the rainforest ecosystem, they tended to overemphasise the numbers of charismatic megafauna at the expense of (arguably) “less cute” annelids and social insects, which the authors felt may be a reflection of the number of articles in the news about the plight of mammals, reptiles and birds, as well as the possibility that the children thought they might stand a better chance of winning the competition if they drew more prettier animals.
The other 56 papers published this week are, of course, ready and waiting to be read, rated and discussed online on the PLoS ONE website.