Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Animal


The restoration of dentine lost in deep caries lesions in teeth is a routine and common treatment that involves the use of inorganic cements based on calcium or silicon-based mineral aggregates. Such cements remain in the tooth and fail to degrade and thus normal mineral volume is never completely restored. Here we describe a novel, biological approach to dentine restoration that stimulates the natural formation of reparative dentine via the mobilisation of resident stem cells in the tooth pulp. Biodegradable, clinically-approved collagen sponges are used to deliver low doses of small molecule glycogen synthase kinase (GSK-3) antagonists that promote the natural processes of reparative dentine formation to completely restore dentine. Since the carrier sponge is degraded over time, dentine replaces the degraded sponge leading to a complete, effective natural repair. This simple, rapid natural tooth repair process could thus potentially provide a new approach to clinical tooth restoration.

Concepts: Enzyme, Animal, Teeth, Tooth, Dental caries, Portland cement, GSK-3, GSK3B


While components of the pathway that establishes left-right asymmetry have been identified in diverse animals, from vertebrates to flies, it is striking that the genes involved in the first symmetry-breaking step remain wholly unknown in the most obviously chiral animals, the gastropod snails. Previously, research on snails was used to show that left-right signaling of Nodal, downstream of symmetry breaking, may be an ancestral feature of the Bilateria [1, 2]. Here, we report that a disabling mutation in one copy of a tandemly duplicated, diaphanous-related formin is perfectly associated with symmetry breaking in the pond snail. This is supported by the observation that an anti-formin drug treatment converts dextral snail embryos to a sinistral phenocopy, and in frogs, drug inhibition or overexpression by microinjection of formin has a chirality-randomizing effect in early (pre-cilia) embryos. Contrary to expectations based on existing models [3-5], we discovered asymmetric gene expression in 2- and 4-cell snail embryos, preceding morphological asymmetry. As the formin-actin filament has been shown to be part of an asymmetry-breaking switch in vitro [6, 7], together these results are consistent with the view that animals with diverse body plans may derive their asymmetries from the same intracellular chiral elements [8].

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Animal, Symmetry, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail


More than US$21 billion is spent annually on biodiversity conservation. Despite their importance for preventing or slowing extinctions and preserving biodiversity, conservation interventions are rarely assessed systematically for their global impact. Islands house a disproportionately higher amount of biodiversity compared with mainlands, much of which is highly threatened with extinction. Indeed, island species make up nearly two-thirds of recent extinctions. Islands therefore are critical targets of conservation. We used an extensive literature and database review paired with expert interviews to estimate the global benefits of an increasingly used conservation action to stem biodiversity loss: eradication of invasive mammals on islands. We found 236 native terrestrial insular faunal species (596 populations) that benefitted through positive demographic and/or distributional responses from 251 eradications of invasive mammals on 181 islands. Seven native species (eight populations) were negatively impacted by invasive mammal eradication. Four threatened species had their International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List extinction-risk categories reduced as a direct result of invasive mammal eradication, and no species moved to a higher extinction-risk category. We predict that 107 highly threatened birds, mammals, and reptiles on the IUCN Red List-6% of all these highly threatened species-likely have benefitted from invasive mammal eradications on islands. Because monitoring of eradication outcomes is sporadic and limited, the impacts of global eradications are likely greater than we report here. Our results highlight the importance of invasive mammal eradication on islands for protecting the world’s most imperiled fauna.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Animal, Endangered species, Extinction, IUCN Red List


We have investigated how birds avoid mid-air collisions during head-on encounters. Trajectories of birds flying towards each other in a tunnel were recorded using high speed video cameras. Analysis and modelling of the data suggest two simple strategies for collision avoidance: (a) each bird veers to its right and (b) each bird changes its altitude relative to the other bird according to a preset preference. Both strategies suggest simple rules by which collisions can be avoided in head-on encounters by two agents, be they animals or machines. The findings are potentially applicable to the design of guidance algorithms for automated collision avoidance on aircraft.

Concepts: Animal, Bird, Introductory physics, Projectile, Camera, Parrot, Animals, Traffic Collision Avoidance System


The ability to acquire large-scale recordings of neuronal activity in awake and unrestrained animals is needed to provide new insights into how populations of neurons generate animal behavior. We present an instrument capable of recording intracellular calcium transients from the majority of neurons in the head of a freely behaving Caenorhabditis elegans with cellular resolution while simultaneously recording the animal’s position, posture, and locomotion. This instrument provides whole-brain imaging with cellular resolution in an unrestrained and behaving animal. We use spinning-disk confocal microscopy to capture 3D volumetric fluorescent images of neurons expressing the calcium indicator GCaMP6s at 6 head-volumes/s. A suite of three cameras monitor neuronal fluorescence and the animal’s position and orientation. Custom software tracks the 3D position of the animal’s head in real time and two feedback loops adjust a motorized stage and objective to keep the animal’s head within the field of view as the animal roams freely. We observe calcium transients from up to 77 neurons for over 4 min and correlate this activity with the animal’s behavior. We characterize noise in the system due to animal motion and show that, across worms, multiple neurons show significant correlations with modes of behavior corresponding to forward, backward, and turning locomotion.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Rhabditidae, Caenorhabditis briggsae, Calcium in biology


The Myxozoa comprise over 2,000 species of microscopic obligate parasites that use both invertebrate and vertebrate hosts as part of their life cycle. Although the evolutionary origin of myxozoans has been elusive, a close relationship with cnidarians, a group that includes corals, sea anemones, jellyfish, and hydroids, is supported by some phylogenetic studies and the observation that the distinctive myxozoan structure, the polar capsule, is remarkably similar to the stinging structures (nematocysts) in cnidarians. To gain insight into the extreme evolutionary transition from a free-living cnidarian to a microscopic endoparasite, we analyzed genomic and transcriptomic assemblies from two distantly related myxozoan species, Kudoa iwatai and Myxobolus cerebralis, and compared these to the transcriptome and genome of the less reduced cnidarian parasite, Polypodium hydriforme. A phylogenomic analysis, using for the first time to our knowledge, a taxonomic sampling that represents the breadth of myxozoan diversity, including four newly generated myxozoan assemblies, confirms that myxozoans are cnidarians and are a sister taxon to P. hydriforme. Estimations of genome size reveal that myxozoans have one of the smallest reported animal genomes. Gene enrichment analyses show depletion of expressed genes in categories related to development, cell differentiation, and cell-cell communication. In addition, a search for candidate genes indicates that myxozoans lack key elements of signaling pathways and transcriptional factors important for multicellular development. Our results suggest that the degeneration of the myxozoan body plan from a free-living cnidarian to a microscopic parasitic cnidarian was accompanied by extreme reduction in genome size and gene content.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Genome, Animal, Cnidaria, Myxozoa


Many organisms spanning from bacteria to mammals orient to the earth’s magnetic field. For a few animals, central neurons responsive to earth-strength magnetic fields have been identified; however, magnetosensory neurons have yet to be identified in any animal. We show that the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans orients to the earth’s magnetic field during vertical burrowing migrations. Well-fed worms migrated up, while starved worms migrated down. Populations isolated from around the world, migrated at angles to the magnetic vector that would optimize vertical translation in their native soil, with northern- and southern-hemisphere worms displaying opposite migratory preferences. Magnetic orientation and vertical migrations required the TAX-4 cyclic nucleotide-gated ion channel in the AFD sensory neuron pair. Calcium imaging showed that these neurons respond to magnetic fields even without synaptic input. C. elegans may have adapted magnetic orientation to simplify their vertical burrowing migration by reducing the orientation task from three dimensions to one.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Human migration


Among trapping mechanisms in carnivorous plants, those termed ‘active’ have especially fascinated scientists since Charles Darwin’s early works because trap movements are involved. Fast snap-trapping and suction of prey are two of the most spectacular examples for how these plants actively catch animals, mainly arthropods, for a substantial nutrient supply. We show that Drosera glanduligera, a sundew from southern Australia, features a sophisticated catapult mechanism: Prey animals walking near the edge of the sundew trigger a touch-sensitive snap-tentacle, which swiftly catapults them onto adjacent sticky glue-tentacles; the insects are then slowly drawn within the concave trap leaf by sticky tentacles. This is the first detailed documentation and analysis of such catapult-flypaper traps in action and highlights a unique and surprisingly complex mechanical adaptation to carnivory.

Concepts: Plant, Animal, Nutrient, Carnivorous plant, Charles Darwin, Drosera, Tentacle, Droseraceae


A rise in the oxygen content of the atmosphere and oceans is one of the most popular explanations for the relatively late and abrupt appearance of animal life on Earth. In this scenario, Earth’s surface environment failed to meet the high oxygen requirements of animals up until the middle to late Neoproterozoic Era (850-542 million years ago), when oxygen concentrations sufficiently rose to permit the existence of animal life for the first time. Although multiple lines of geochemical evidence support an oxygenation of the Ediacaran oceans (635-542 million years ago), roughly corresponding with the first appearance of metazoans in the fossil record, the oxygen requirements of basal animals remain unclear. Here we show that modern demosponges, serving as analogs for early animals, can survive under low-oxygen conditions of 0.5-4.0% present atmospheric levels. Because the last common ancestor of metazoans likely exhibited a physiology and morphology similar to that of a modern sponge, its oxygen demands may have been met well before the enhanced oxygenation of the Ediacaran Period. Therefore, the origin of animals may not have been triggered by a contemporaneous rise in the oxygen content of the atmosphere and oceans. Instead, other ecological and developmental processes are needed to adequately explain the origin and earliest evolution of animal life on Earth.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Evolution, Earth, Plate tectonics, Animal, Atmosphere, Cambrian explosion, Neoproterozoic


Amphibians, a class of animals in global decline, are present in agricultural landscapes characterized by agrochemical inputs. Effects of pesticides on terrestrial life stages of amphibians such as juvenile and adult frogs, toads and newts are little understood and a specific risk assessment for pesticide exposure, mandatory for other vertebrate groups, is currently not conducted. We studied the effects of seven pesticide products on juvenile European common frogs (Rana temporaria) in an agricultural overspray scenario. Mortality ranged from 100% after one hour to 40% after seven days at the recommended label rate of currently registered products. The demonstrated toxicity is alarming and a large-scale negative effect of terrestrial pesticide exposure on amphibian populations seems likely. Terrestrial pesticide exposure might be underestimated as a driver of their decline calling for more attention in conservation efforts and the risk assessment procedures in place do not protect this vanishing animal group.

Concepts: Species, Animal, Pesticide, Tetrapod, Risk assessment, Amphibian, Frog, Toad