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Bats, mummies, and cows in costume: PLOS research making headlines in October!

Though Halloween is behind us, we’re always in the spirit for good science here at PLOS—and our most-talked-about October articles prove it!

In the Northwest Indian state of Nagaland, local ethnic groups have conducted bat harvests for many generations as a source of food and traditional medicine. Now, authors of a recent PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases article show that these Nagaland bats may carry Ebola viruses, with the first report of filovirus reactive antibodies in both humans and bats in a region with no historical record of Ebola virus disease.

The authors note: “Our results reinforce the need to select sentinel sites for virus surveillance at the human-animal interface and highlights some of the gaps in our understanding of filovirus transmission and ecology,”

Read more at The Times of India and The Wire.

(Image: Bat harvest in Nagaland. Image credit: Dr Zavei Hiese, senior scientific officer at the Science and Technology – Nagaland institute. (CC-BY 4.0))

Ötzi the Iceman is a 5,300-year-old human mummy found frozen in ice approximately 3,200 meters above sea level in the Italian Alps. The preservation of his body, clothing, and gear is remarkable—and that’s not all. He was found alongside an abundant assemblage of plants and fungi, the subject of this recent PLOS ONE study.

These tiny flora provide big clues to the Iceman’s fate: 70% of the identified plant and fungi species are non-local and were transported to the spot in Ötzi’s gut and clothing or by mammalian herbivores whose droppings ended up frozen alongside the Iceman. These non-local species help confirm the path Ötzi took to his final resting place: several of the identified moss species thrive today in the lower Schnalstal valley, suggesting that Ötzi traveled along the valley during his ascent.

Lead author James Dickson adds: “Most members of the public are unlikely to be knowledgeable about bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). However, no fewer than 75 species of these important investigative clues were found when the Iceman (aka Ötzi) was removed from the ice. They were recovered as mostly small scraps from the ice around him, from his clothes and gear, and even from his alimentary tract. Those findings prompted the questions: Where did the fragments come from? How precisely did they get there? How do they help our understanding of the Iceman?”

Learn more at Newsweek,, Fox News, and The Daily Mail.

(Image: Ötzi the Iceman. Image credit: Erich Ferdinand, “Ecce Homo” on Flickr Commons.)

Lastly, this recent PLOS ONE article describes how painting cows with zebra stripes may ward off biting fly attacks.

The authors painted two cows with white zebra-like stripes, two with black stripes, and left two cows unpainted as controls. After nine days, a mere 55 flies were observed on the zebra cows, compared with 111 on the black-painted cows and 128 on the control cows. Furthermore, the zebra-striped cows demonstrated fewer fly-repelling behaviors (like flicking their tails and shaking their heads) compared with the black-striped and control cows. These results suggest that painting zebra-esque stripes on cattle can prevent biting fly attacks without the use of pesticide.

Read more at the Guardian, Forbes, and the Telegraph–and for more articles about the potential benefits of disguising livestock as zebra, check out this February PLOS ONE paper on fancy zebra-coat-wearing horses, and its New York Times coverage.

(Image: Zebra-painted, black-painted, and control cows. Image credit: Kojima et al, 2019, PLOS ONE)




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