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Journal: Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences


Organizations' pursuit of increased workplace collaboration has led managers to transform traditional office spaces into ‘open’, transparency-enhancing architectures with fewer walls, doors and other spatial boundaries, yet there is scant direct empirical research on how human interaction patterns change as a result of these architectural changes. In two intervention-based field studies of corporate headquarters transitioning to more open office spaces, we empirically examined-using digital data from advanced wearable devices and from electronic communication servers-the effect of open office architectures on employees' face-to-face, email and instant messaging (IM) interaction patterns. Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction. In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM. This is the first study to empirically measure both face-to-face and electronic interaction before and after the adoption of open office architecture. The results inform our understanding of the impact on human behaviour of workspaces that trend towards fewer spatial boundaries.This article is part of the theme issue ‘Interdisciplinary approaches for uncovering the impacts of architecture on collective behaviour’.


Leeuwenhoek’s 1677 paper, the famous ‘letter on the protozoa’, gives the first detailed description of protists and bacteria living in a range of environments. The colloquial, diaristic style conceals the workings of a startlingly original experimental mind. Later scientists could not match the resolution and clarity of Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes, so his discoveries were doubted or even dismissed over the following centuries, limiting their direct influence on the history of biology; but work in the twentieth century confirmed Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of bacterial cells, with a resolution of less than 1 µm. Leeuwenhoek delighted most in the forms, interactions and behaviour of his little ‘animalcules’, which inhabited a previously unimagined microcosmos. In these reflections on the scientific reach of Leeuwenhoek’s ideas and observations, I equate his questions with the preoccupations of our genomic era: what is the nature of Leeuwenhoek’s animalcules, where do they come from, how do they relate to each other? Even with the powerful tools of modern biology, the answers are far from resolved-these questions still challenge our understanding of microbial evolution. This commentary was written to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Microbiology, Eukaryote, Science, Microorganism, Protist, Royal Society


This work is a synthesis of our current understanding of the mechanics, aerodynamics and visually mediated control of dragonfly and damselfly flight, with the addition of new experimental and computational data in several key areas. These are: the diversity of dragonfly wing morphologies, the aerodynamics of gliding flight, force generation in flapping flight, aerodynamic efficiency, comparative flight performance and pursuit strategies during predatory and territorial flights. New data are set in context by brief reviews covering anatomy at several scales, insect aerodynamics, neuromechanics and behaviour. We achieve a new perspective by means of a diverse range of techniques, including laser-line mapping of wing topographies, computational fluid dynamics simulations of finely detailed wing geometries, quantitative imaging using particle image velocimetry of on-wing and wake flow patterns, classical aerodynamic theory, photography in the field, infrared motion capture and multi-camera optical tracking of free flight trajectories in laboratory environments. Our comprehensive approach enables a novel synthesis of datasets and subfields that integrates many aspects of flight from the neurobiology of the compound eye, through the aeromechanical interface with the surrounding fluid, to flight performance under cruising and higher-energy behavioural modes.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight’.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Fluid mechanics, Computational fluid dynamics, Flight, Flying and gliding animals, Odonata, Dragonfly


The psychoactive component of the cannabis resin and flowers, delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), was first isolated in 1964, and at least 70 other structurally related ‘phytocannabinoid’ compounds have since been identified. The serendipitous identification of a G-protein-coupled cannabinoid receptor at which THC is active in the brain heralded an explosion in cannabinoid research. Elements of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) comprise the cannabinoid receptors, a family of nascent lipid ligands, the ‘endocannabinoids’ and the machinery for their biosynthesis and metabolism. The function of the ECS is thus defined by modulation of these receptors, in particular, by two of the best-described ligands, 2-arachidonoyl glycerol and anandamide (arachidonylethanolamide). Research on the ECS has recently aroused enormous interest not only for the physiological functions, but also for the promising therapeutic potentials of drugs interfering with the activity of cannabinoid receptors. Many of the former relate to stress-recovery systems and to the maintenance of homeostatic balance. Among other functions, the ECS is involved in neuroprotection, modulation of nociception, regulation of motor activity, neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity and the control of certain phases of memory processing. In addition, the ECS acts to modulate the immune and inflammatory responses and to maintain a positive energy balance. This theme issue aims to provide the reader with an overview of ECS pharmacology, followed by discussions on the pivotal role of this system in the modulation of neurogenesis in the developing and adult organism, memory processes and synaptic plasticity, as well as in pathological pain and brain ageing. The volume will conclude with discussions that address the proposed therapeutic applications of targeting the ECS for the treatment of neurodegeneration, pain and mental illness.

Concepts: Receptor, Cannabinoid receptor, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Cannabis, Cannabidiol, Cannabinoids, Anandamide


The fight against diseases spread by mosquitoes and other insects has enormous environmental, economic and social consequences. Chemical insecticides remain the first line of defence but the control of diseases, especially malaria and dengue fever, is being increasingly undermined by insecticide resistance. Mosquitoes have a large repertoire of P450s (over 100 genes). By pinpointing the key enzymes associated with insecticide resistance we can begin to develop new tools to aid the implementation of control interventions and reduce their environmental impact on Earth. Recent technological advances are helping us to build a functional profile of the P450 determinants of insecticide metabolic resistance in mosquitoes. Alongside, the cross-responses of mosquito P450s to insecticides and pollutants are also being investigated. Such research will provide the means to produce diagnostic tools for early detection of P450s linked to resistance. It will also enable the design of new insecticides with optimized efficacy in different environments.

Concepts: Malaria, Insect, Mosquito, Cytochrome P450, Fever, Dengue fever, Vector, Mosquito control


The evolutionary arms race between mammals and retroviruses has long been recognized as one of the oldest host-parasite interactions. Rapid evolution rates in exogenous retroviruses have often made accurate viral age estimations highly problematic. Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), however, integrate into the germline of their hosts, and are subjected to their evolutionary rates. This study describes, for the first time, a retroviral orthologue predating the divergence of placental mammals, giving it a minimum age of 104-110 Myr. Simultaneously, other orthologous selfish genetic elements (SGEs), inserted into the ERV sequence, provide evidence for the oldest individual mammalian-wide interspersed repeat and medium-reiteration frequency interspersed repeat mammalian repeats, with the same minimum age. The combined use of shared SGEs and reconstruction of viral orthologies defines new limits and increases maximum ‘lookback’ times, with subsequent implications for the field of paleovirology.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Molecular biology, Mammal, Retrovirus, Endogenous retrovirus, Retroviruses, Provirus


Many children with specific language impairment (SLI) have persisting problems in the correct use of verb tense, but there has been disagreement as to the underlying reason. When we take into account studies using receptive as well as expressive language tasks, the data suggest that the difficulty for children with SLI is in knowing when to inflect verbs for tense, rather than how to do so. This is perhaps not surprising when we consider that tense does not have a transparent semantic interpretation, but depends on complex relationships between inflections and hierarchically organized clauses. An explanation in terms of syntactic limitations contrasts with a popular morpho-phonological account, the Words and Rules model. This model, which attributes problems to difficulties with applying a rule to generate regular inflected forms, has been widely applied to adult-acquired disorders. There are striking similarities in the pattern of errors in adults with anterior aphasia and children with SLI, suggesting that impairments in appreciation of when to mark tense may apply to acquired as well as developmental disorders.

Concepts: Language, Word, Verb, Inflection, Romance languages, Grammatical mood, Grammatical aspect, Grammatical conjugation


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has become a paradigmatic case of goal-directed dysfunction in psychiatry. In this article, we review the neurobiological evidence, historical and recent, that originally led to this supposition and continues to support a habit hypothesis of OCD. We will then discuss a number of recent studies that have directly tested this hypothesis, using behavioural experiments in patient populations. Based on this research evidence, which suggests that rather than goal-directed avoidance behaviours, compulsions in OCD may derive from manifestations of excessive habit formation, we present the details of a novel account of the functional relationship between these habits and the full symptom profile of the disorder. Borrowing from a cognitive dissonance framework, we propose that the irrational threat beliefs (obsessions) characteristic of OCD may be a consequence, rather than an instigator, of compulsive behaviour in these patients. This lays the foundation for a potential shift in both clinical and neuropsychological conceptualization of OCD and related disorders. This model may also prove relevant to other putative disorders of compulsivity, such as substance dependence, where the experience of ‘wanting’ drugs may be better understood as post hoc rationalizations of otherwise goal-insensitive, stimulus-driven behaviour.

Concepts: Psychology, Patient, Cognition, Behavior, Human behavior, Obsessive–compulsive disorder, Compulsive behavior


Insect- and bird-size drones-micro air vehicles (MAV) that can perform autonomous flight in natural and man-made environments are now an active and well-integrated research area. MAVs normally operate at a low speed in a Reynolds number regime of 10(4)-10(5) or lower, in which most flying animals of insects, birds and bats fly, and encounter unconventional challenges in generating sufficient aerodynamic forces to stay airborne and in controlling flight autonomy to achieve complex manoeuvres. Flying insects that power and control flight by flapping wings are capable of sophisticated aerodynamic force production and precise, agile manoeuvring, through an integrated system consisting of wings to generate aerodynamic force, muscles to move the wings and a control system to modulate power output from the muscles. In this article, we give a selective review on the state of the art of biomechanics in bioinspired flight systems in terms of flapping and flexible wing aerodynamics, flight dynamics and stability, passive and active mechanisms in stabilization and control, as well as flapping flight in unsteady environments. We further highlight recent advances in biomimetics of flapping-wing MAVs with a specific focus on insect-inspired wing design and fabrication, as well as sensing systems.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight’.

Concepts: Insect, Aerodynamics, Bat, Drag, Flight, Wing, Flying and gliding animals, Aerospace engineering


The science of consciousness has made great strides by focusing on the behavioural and neuronal correlates of experience. However, while such correlates are important for progress to occur, they are not enough if we are to understand even basic facts, for example, why the cerebral cortex gives rise to consciousness but the cerebellum does not, though it has even more neurons and appears to be just as complicated. Moreover, correlates are of little help in many instances where we would like to know if consciousness is present: patients with a few remaining islands of functioning cortex, preterm infants, non-mammalian species and machines that are rapidly outperforming people at driving, recognizing faces and objects, and answering difficult questions. To address these issues, we need not only more data but also a theory of consciousness-one that says what experience is and what type of physical systems can have it. Integrated information theory (IIT) does so by starting from experience itself via five phenomenological axioms: intrinsic existence, composition, information, integration and exclusion. From these it derives five postulates about the properties required of physical mechanisms to support consciousness. The theory provides a principled account of both the quantity and the quality of an individual experience (a quale), and a calculus to evaluate whether or not a particular physical system is conscious and of what. Moreover, IIT can explain a range of clinical and laboratory findings, makes a number of testable predictions and extrapolates to a number of problematic conditions. The theory holds that consciousness is a fundamental property possessed by physical systems having specific causal properties. It predicts that consciousness is graded, is common among biological organisms and can occur in some very simple systems. Conversely, it predicts that feed-forward networks, even complex ones, are not conscious, nor are aggregates such as groups of individuals or heaps of sand. Also, in sharp contrast to widespread functionalist beliefs, IIT implies that digital computers, even if their behaviour were to be functionally equivalent to ours, and even if they were to run faithful simulations of the human brain, would experience next to nothing.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Mathematics, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebellum, Consciousness, System