SciBites: Week of November 25th

SciBites: Week of November 25th

Malaria elimination in sub-Saharan Africa may be possible in certain conditions

Many countries have eliminated malaria over the past century, but no sub-Saharan African country has yet stamped out the disease. In their recently published study, researchers from the Institute for Disease Modeling (Bellevue, Washington), the Zambia National Malaria Control Centre (Lusaka, Zambia) and PATH Malaria Control and Elimination Partnership in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) combined a mathematical model for malaria transmission with field data from Zambia to computationally test a variety of strategies for eliminating malaria in a southern African setting. They found that elimination requires high yet realistic levels of vector control, and that mass drug campaigns to kill parasites within the human population can boost the chances of achieving elimination if vector control is well-implemented.


Minimally invasive autopsies may help determine cause of death in lower-income countries

While complete autopsies are considered the gold standard for determining the cause of death, they are poorly accepted and difficult to perform in low- and middle-income countries. New research in PLOS Medicine tested and discussed the feasibility and validity of a simpler alternative. One study found that minimally invasive autopsies had a 75.9% concordance rate with complete autopsies, with particularly high agreement for infectious diseases. In a linked research article, scientists conducted 504 interviews with people who’d recently lost a family member across five countries, and found that 75% of the participants would be willing to know the cause death of a relative and that the overall hypothetical acceptability of minimally invasive autopsy on a relative was 73%. In a linked Perspective, Peter Byass of Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden, reflects on the potential challenges for minimally invasive autopsies (MIAs) to become routinely used for determining cause of death in low- and middle-income countries. “MIA shows signs of being an important addition to the world’s available range of cause-of-death assignment methods,” he says.



Memory-related brain activity loses cohesion as people age

Typically, research on brain activity relies on average brain measurements across entire groups of people. In a new study, Elizabeth Davison of Princeton University and colleagues describe a novel method of characterizing and comparing the brain dynamics of individual people. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record healthy people’s brain activity during memory tasks, attention tasks and at rest. They recast the fMRI data from each person’s brain as a network composed of brain regions and the connections between them, allowing the researchers to measure how closely different groups of connections changed together over time. The researchers found that during memory tasks, variations between people are closely linked to age. The brain regions that coordinate memory-related activities lose cohesion as the person ages, providing new insight into aging’s effect on the brain. Next steps for the research will investigate how to distinguish between healthily aging brains and brains with age-related impairments.


Image Credit: Milen Nikolov


Tessa is the Journal Media Manager at PLOS. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with degrees in Rhetoric and Music. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter at @tessagregs.

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