Was it really the barber? A look at Jack the Ripper’s DNA test


Jack the Ripper hit the headlines this week, as his supposed ‘true’ identity was revealed. It was said to be none other than Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant and hairdresser of 23 years of age. It’s not a huge shock that the public has been in uproar: ‘Jack the Ripper’ trended on Twitter, news outlets are dishing out the details, and everyone is surprised the mask has finally been lifted 126 years later. But while the media world is blowing up, we’d do well to remember these are only claims.


Aaron Kosminski was a relatively young barber, only 23 years old. I’ve always imagined our famed murderer to be much older, but instead we’re faced with a suspect …

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A new impact factor, a model modeler, and how to make a syllabub


This year, the impact factor of BMC Biology has increased for the second year in succession, to reach 7.4. Although like (probably) most of you, we have serious reservations about the value and validity of impact factors as a measure of quality, we know how much they matter in practice to research biologists competing for jobs and funds; so it would be silly to say we don’t care about them. And it is especially important to acknowledge our debt to all the Editorial Board members, off-Board experts, and referees, without whose help we should not have been able to achieve this.

Our saddest news this year is the loss of Julian Lewis, one of the most thoughtful and sagacious of our …

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Combating malaria: mechanisms of immunity and vaccination strategies

Malaria pic

Malaria is present in over 100 countries worldwide, and it is estimated that around 3.4 billion people – half of the world’s population – are at risk of infection. There were an estimated 627,000 deaths caused by malaria infection in 2012, with over 90% of deaths occurring in African children.

The disease is caused by Plasmodium parasites including P. falciparum and P. vivax, which are carried by infected Anopheles mosquitoes. Antimalarial drugs can be used to prevent and treat malaria, but resistance to these agents frequently develops. Recent research found that P. falciparum parasites are becoming increasingly resistant to artemisinin therapies in Southeast Asia, highlighting that radical action is required to prevent the spread of malaria …

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‘You might as well patent oxygen’ – an unashamedly unbalanced take on Australia’s support for gene patents


Last year, a rainbow coalition of civil liberties campaigners, cancer patients and eminent geneticists – heck, even Jim Watson! – argued before the US Supreme Court that gene sequences are a product of nature and therefore ineligible for patent protection.

And the Supreme Court replied, in all its refined wisdom:

'Well, duh!'

A nine-to-nothing unanimous decision.

A difference of opinion

But the US has long known that truths held to be 'self-evident' are not always in for a smooth ride, and so we perhaps should not be too surprised – if still perplexed and saddened – to learn that the Australian Federal Court, when faced with the same question, responded: 'um, maybe not'.

I do not pretend to understand what brand of logic could …

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For the ‘greater good’ would you share your biological data? Science’s need for study participants’ consent

Cote picture

Last week the National Institutes of Health released its genomic data sharing policy. From next year, study participants will need to give researchers permission to re-use and share their data. But, what about many older studies that were obtained years before re-use of samples was envisaged? Michele Cote and colleagues from Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute, USA, wondered what would happen if people from a 15-year old lung cancer study were re-contacted and asked to share their de-identified data.

Fifteen years ago when I embarked upon a career in medical research as a project coordinator, the world of high-throughput genomics was in its infancy.  The Human Genome Project was nearing completion, but most …

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A whole new world. How physiological anthropology helps study our modern lives


Our environment has changed dramatically since our hunter-gatherer days, but how is this having an impact on our health? Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Physiological Anthropology, Akira Yasukouchi, explains how the study of physiological anthropology will help us understand our relationship with this new world in his latest guest blog. 


What is physiological anthropology?

Research in physiological anthropology focuses on the capacity for environmental adaptation seen in the physiological function of present-day humans. Areas of study include physical and cultural aspects related to living environments as factors that affect the capacity for environmental adaptation.

At the same time, researchers investigate the interactions of these factors with the genetic triggers that are the basis of human physical and functional resources.  All humankind …

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Quality matters: applying healthcare best practice to environmental policy-making

Badger By Killianwoods _Template_University Observer_ Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A guest post from Gary Bilotta, a senior lecturer at the University of Brighton, in which he discusses his recent article published in the journal Environmental Evidence.

From badgers and bovine tuberculosis, pesticides and pollinators, to shale gas and pollution, environmental policies can attract a lot of attention from the public and experts on all sides. When even the experts have their own views on environmental topics, policy-makers need mechanisms to take these views into account. Policy implementation is multidimensional and rightly includes electoral, ethical, cultural, practical, legal and economic considerations alongside scientific evidence. But, if policy-makers wish to discover what the evidence base is on a given topic, they must attempt to navigate personal …

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August blogs digest: breastfeeding, Ebola, cancer, and more

Overall winner - a sticky snack for mice by Petra Wester

Missed out on some of our posts from the last month? Not for much longer! Here’s a selection of our most popular posts for you to read at leisure.

10 things you might not know about breastfeeding

Did you know that telephone support can help new mothers to breastfeed? Or that a cyber version of wet nursing is flourishing over the internet? World Breastfeeding Week ran from 1-7 August this year, and to mark the start of it BioMed Central’s Natasha Salaria worked with the Editor of the International Breastfeeding Journal to bring you 10 things that you might not know about breastfeeding.

Ebola – what is it, and how do you recognize it?

Reports over the rapid spread of the …

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An update on the Earth Microbiome Project

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When BMC Biology launched its iconic image we acknowledged the extreme artistic licence of portraying selected vertebrate phyla pictorially while whole microbial kingdoms were denoted with a single blob. This was not intended to signify a lack of interest in the microbial world on our part, and to update our readers on a major effort to explore its taxonomic diversity and role in the biosphere, we invited the instigators of the Earth Microbiome Project (EMP), launched in 2010 with the aim of sampling the microbial diversity of the planet, to give us a progress report.

In their short comment article on the achievements and aspirations of the EMP, Jack Gilbert, Janet Jansson and Rob Knight deliver a positive …

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Twelve reasons you need to read about lactic acid bacteria


You may not know much about them, but you’ll almost certainly have eaten something that lactic acid bacteria have had a hand in. To mark a new supplement in Microbial Cell Factories, guest editor Eric Johansen tells us his 12 reasons why you ought to read it.

Lactic acid bacteria have a long history of use in the food industry where they are best known for turning milk into cheese or yoghurt, cabbage into sauerkraut or kimchi, and even improving the quality of wine. They’re also consumed in probiotic products for their health-promoting effects.

We’ve dedicated a whole supplement to these ‘friendly’ bacteria, and these are my 12 reasons why you need to read about them:

1. Their surface structure is

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