Highlights of the BMC-series: August 2016

The launch of BMC Zoology • ‘Exergaming’ vs. the gym • Sex specific response to kitten cries • Dying online • The tumor as an organ • Sexless cucumbers • Prescription drug abuse • Cockroaches in disguise • Improvements in stroke treatment • The mysteries of the sticky Hydra

The launch of BMC Zoology!

Undoubtedly our biggest event of the month was the launch of BMC Zoology, the newest addition to the BMC-Series. Complementing our existing animal science journals like BMC Ecology and BMC Evolutionary Biology, the new journal offers a home for all original research manuscripts that report scientifically valid results on animal research. Editor Dirk Krüger discussed the launch on our blog, while Yaiza Del Pozo Martín highlighted two ornithology focused launch articles in her excellent piece “Evolutionary lessons in the songs of island birds”.

Sports Science : ‘exergaming’ vs. the gym

Exergaming – exercise with the use of a video-game interactive element – has been suggested as a more acceptable alternative to ‘traditional’ forms of exercise for those who struggle to engage in regular physical activity. A new randomised controlled trial compared healthy young adults engaging in a month of regular sessions of balance training; one group performing traditional gym-based exercises, the other utilising Xbox Kinect interactive software. Objectively, the physiological demands of the exercise sessions were the same in both groups, with no difference in mean heart rate. However, the Kinect group perceived their sessions to be less demanding and of lower intensity than the gym group. The researchers therefore suggest that exergaming could improve acceptance of balance training as part of physical rehabilitation regimens.

Video of the month (1)

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Active parental care in the Carribean spiny lobster. This pregnant female engages in abdominal flapping to provide oxygen to the brood of eggs under her abdomen. From Baeza et al.Active parental care, reproductive performance, and a novel egg predator affecting reproductive investment in the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus“, BMC Zoology.

Evolutionary biology: Sex specific response to kitten cries

When it comes to distressed kittens, male and female cats respond in different ways. Adult cats were played recordings of two types of kitten cries; one (low arousal) when a kitten had been separated from its mother, another (high arousal) when the separated kitten was also additionally handled (previous work has shown that kitten cries are structurally different in these cases). Male cats (who play no role in parental care) responded to both types of cry in the same way. Females, however, responded more quickly to the cries of the distressed kittens, suggesting that differences in parental investment between the sexes have shaped their response to auditory cues.

Public health: dying online

Suicide attempts carried out online appear to be a growing phenomenon. A study of five suicide attempts blog-casted on the Chinese social media site Weibo, explored the behaviour of both the participants and online observers. Many audience members wished to be helpful, with some contacting emergency services, but often lacked the skills or knowledge to intervene appropriately; other audience members, however, actively engaged in verbal abuse. Suicide blog-casters communicated signs of pain and cries for help, suggesting that better knowledge of how to respond to these situations could help observers prevent successful suicides.

Bioinformatics: the tumor as an organ

Given the sheer complexity and multiscale nature of cancer, mathematical modelling is crucial in cancer research as a complement to classical approaches. A new paper presents a comprehensive 3D computational model of the development of a cancerous tumor together with its environment. The model can show individual tumor cells at their precise 3D location, along with the endothelial cells of the blood vessels serving the tumor. The model suggests that tumors are more robust than previously thought; constricting oxygen supply to a growing tumor may only delay its growth but not actually kill it.

Image of the month


The annual BMC Ecology image competition once again produced a superb selection of images celebrating biodiversity, natural beauty, and biological interactions, as documented by talented ecologists worldwide. We showcased the winning images on our blog, while an accompanying editorial additionally included a number of commended images in the supplementary files, including this photo of a herd of waterbuck taken by a motion-detecting trail camera in Moazambiqe’s Gorongosa National Park. (Attribution: Chuck Schultz, Science Education Department, Howard Hughes Medical Institute).

Plant biology: sexless cucumbers

Parthenocarpy is fruit development in the absence of fertilization, producing seedless fruits that can increase the overall yield and are often highly commercially desirable. Yet it is a poorly understood trait, involving complex interaction between genetics and physiological factors. Through whole genome re-sequencing, a new study in BMC Genetics identified significant genetic loci that promote parthenocarpy in cucumber, which may be useful for future breeding strategies.

Psychiatry: prescription drug abuse

A survey of five European countries – Denmark, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Great Britain – found that abuse of prescription drugs may be greater than previously thought. Opioids were the most commonly used non-medical prescription drug, with sedatives and stimulants also seeing significant use. Friends and family were the most likely source of obtaining these drugs, although internet pharmacies were also commonly used.

Ecology: cockroaches in disguise

Cockroaches of the genus Attaphila are regularly found inside leaf-cutter ant nests, feeding on the fungus grown by the ants. New research analyses the chemical strategies the cockroaches use to avoid detection when infiltrating ant colonies. The cockroaches mimic their host nests’ specific recognition labels by altering their own cuticular chemical profile; experiments show that cockroaches will be tolerated by ants from their host nest, but attacked by ant workers from other nests.

Video of the month (2)

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A theoretical depiction of group foragers (grey shapes) as they move through different resource patches (colored circles). From van der Post et al.Skill learning and the evolution of social learning mechanisms“, BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Neurology : improvements in stroke treatment

While fatalities from strokes have declined in recent decades, complications arising after the initial onset can still cause significant setbacks in patient’s recovery. The first week after a stroke is the key period, with most complications having their onset then. However, a study of stroke patients treated at the Trondheim University Hospital in Norway found a significant decline in first-week complications over the decade 2003-2013. The researchers suggest this improvement might be explained by an increased focus on continuous monitoring and stabilizing physiological homeostasis over the past 10 years.

Zoology: the mysteries of the sticky Hydra

The freshwater cnidarian Hydra temporarily binds itself to numerous natural substrates encountered underwater, such as rocks and leafs. This adhesion is mediated by material secreted from specialized cells found in the Hydra’s ‘foot’. However, the exact mechanism by which Hydra polyps attach to surfaces remains unresolved. Research published in BMC Zoology used several cutting edge electron microscopy techniques and enzyme histochemistry to provide insight into the bioadhesion of Hydra.

An adhesive glue-like material is produced by a single cell type and has the ability to spread over the surface, displace water, and create a proper environment for curing the secreted glue. Detachment on the other hand seems to occur because of muscular contractions. Hydra, already a classic model species in developmental and stem cell biology, presents a unique temporary adhesive system unknown in other aquatic organisms.

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