Making the News in May


Laughter, fungi, pipettes and ants – last month, PLOS ONE papers made headlines with an array of research. Here are some of our May media highlights:

Not all laughter is the same and your brain knows it. In recently published research, scientists studied the effects of three types of laughter (joyous, taunting, and “tickling”) on the human brain. Participants listened to recordings of these laugh and were asked to discern the type and count how many bouts had occurred. The researchers found that the participants could discern joyous and taunting laughter at comparable rates and that it was slightly more difficult to discern laughter in response to tickling. Participants were  able to count the number of taunting laughs more accurately than joyous and tickling laughs. Read more about this study in the Huffington Post UK, TIME, and Los Angeles Times.

There are fungi afoot! New research confirms that the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatis), which has decimated amphibian populations around the world, can be found in frogs in California. Scientists swabbed 201 South African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) in the California Academy of Sciences’ collection, 23 of which were caught in California. Eight specimens tested positive for chytrid, including one frog caught in San Francisco County in 2003. This frog species was once imported to aid in pregnancy testing. To read more, visit the National Geographic, Science News, ABC and the Smithsonian blog, Smart News.

Pipettes are a staple lab equipment, but not without their drawbacks. According to a new PLOS ONE paper, certain methods of dispensing and diluting liquids can introduce errors in experimental data. The researchers of this study compared pipetting, or tip-based transfer, with an acoustic dispensing technique and found that laboratory results depended greatly on the dispensing technique. Learn more about this study by reading the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry World, Nature’s Methagora blog, and In the Pipeline.

There are plenty of odd couples in nature. For one example, just look at the unlikely partnership of the ant and the pitcher plant. A recent study finds that a particular ant species, Camponotus schmitzi, has formed a mutually beneficial relationship with the carnivorous Nepenthes bicalcarata, a pitcher plant. Scientists observed that the ants provide pitcher plants with nitrogen and preys on other insects, such as mosquitoes, that may otherwise steal nutrients from the plant. In return, the pitcher plant provides a home and a steady source of sustenance. You may find more about this study at Discovery News, The Scientist, and the New York Times.

To find out what other PLOS ONE papers were in the news in May, check out our Media Tracking Project.

Image: Figure 1 from “A Novel Type of Nutritional Ant–Plant Interaction: Ant Partners of Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Prevent Nutrient Export by Dipteran Pitcher Infauna”


Wildgruber D, Szameitat DP, Ethofer T, Brück C, Alter K, et al. (2013) Different Types of Laughter Modulate Connectivity within Distinct Parts of the Laughter Perception Network. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63441. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063441

Vredenburg VT, Felt SA, Morgan EC, McNally SVG, Wilson S, et al. (2013) Prevalence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Xenopus Collected in Africa (1871–2000) and in California (2001–2010). PLoS ONE 8(5): e63791. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063791

Ekins S, Olechno J, Williams AJ (2013) Dispensing Processes Impact Apparent Biological Activity as Determined by Computational and Statistical Analyses. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62325. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062325

Scharmann M, Thornham DG, Grafe TU, Federle W (2013) A Novel Type of Nutritional Ant–Plant Interaction: Ant Partners of Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Prevent Nutrient Export by Dipteran Pitcher Infauna. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63556. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063556

Worth a Thousand Words

Photomicrographs of Glomus versiforme (basionym Endogone versiformis) are this week’s featured image. The colorful figure contains pale spores used in the paper, Revealing Natural Relationships among Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi: Culture Line BEG47 Represents Diversispora epigaea, Not Glomus versiforme.

In the abstract, the authors write:


Understanding the mechanisms underlying biological phenomena, such as evolutionarily conservative trait inheritance, is predicated on knowledge of the natural relationships among organisms. However, despite their enormous ecological significance, many of the ubiquitous soil inhabiting and plant symbiotic arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF, phylum Glomeromycota) are incorrectly classified.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Here, we focused on a frequently used model AMF registered as culture BEG47. This fungus is a descendent of the ex-type culture-lineage of Glomus epigaeum, which in 1983 was synonymised with Glomus versiforme. It has since then been used as ‘G. versiforme BEG47’. We show by morphological comparisons, based on type material, collected 1860–61, of G. versiforme and on type material and living ex-type cultures of G. epigaeum, that these two AMF species cannot be conspecific, and by molecular phylogenetics that BEG47 is a member of the genus Diversispora.


This study highlights that experimental works published during the last >25 years on an AMF named ‘G. versiforme’ or ‘BEG47’ refer to D. epigaea, a species that is actually evolutionarily separated by hundreds of millions of years from all members of the genera in the Glomerales and thus from most other commonly used AMF ‘laboratory strains’. Detailed redescriptions substantiate the renaming of G. epigaeum (BEG47) as D. epigaea, positioning it systematically in the order Diversisporales, thus enabling an evolutionary understanding of genetical, physiological, and ecological traits, relative to those of other AMF. Diversispora epigaea is widely cultured as a laboratory strain of AMF, whereas G. versiforme appears not to have been cultured nor found in the field since its original description.

All of PLoS ONE’s sporific papers are open access and free for you to read, rate and reuse.

Citation: Schüßler A, Krüger M, Walker C (2011) Revealing Natural Relationships among Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi: Culture Line BEG47 Represents Diversispora epigaea, Not Glomus versiforme. PLoS ONE 6(8): e23333. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023333