Top 10 PLOS Research News Articles of 2016

Top 10 PLOS Research News Articles of 2016

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on some of our most popular PLOS Research News articles since the site’s inception in July of this year. Here are our 10 most read research stories featuring PLOS content that published this year, ranging from genetics to parasites to bat feces. We’re starting with 10, and counting down to the most popular article of 2016.

10. Face It: Genes control much of facial variation

Crowd of faces

John Shaffer and colleagues published a genome-wide association study in PLOS Genetics featuring 3,118 healthy individuals of European ancestry. The researchers identified facial characteristics including facial width, distance between eyes, and nose size that were associated with distinctive single base pair variations in their genome.



9. Tiny sacs of toxins produced by bacteria increase risk of preterm birth in mice

lab mouse

The authors of a PLOS Pathogens study infected mice with a bacterium known as group B streptococcus (GBS) and found that harmful toxins were sent up their reproductive tracts in tiny sacs called membrane-bound vesicles (MVs), potentially leading to preterm births.




8. Under My Skin: After infection, sleeping sickness parasite subpopulation grows in host skin

Trypanosoma brucei parasites (blue) interacting with a fat cell (grey) in the ear dermis of an infected mouse.

Guy Caljon of the University of Antwerp discussed his PLOS Pathogens research investigating how tsetse flies can potentially spread the parasite that causes sleeping sickness in a mouse model. Caljon and his colleagues discovered a subpopulation of infectious parasites that remained and multiplied in the inner layer of skin near the fly bite, which might reinfect tsetse flies to help transmit the infection to more hosts.





7. Your Hair Gave You Away: Identifying humans by their hair protein


In a PLOS ONE study, Glendon Parker, a biochemist from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and his team investigated whether proteins found in human hair could offer an alternative to traditional DNA profiling for identifying an individual. Parker and his team identified over 185 hair protein markers, which they estimate would be sufficient to provide a unique pattern that could distinguish one person among a population of 1 million.



6. A new metric measures the influence of scientific research

RCR Visualization by Ian Hutchins and George Santangelo

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Portfolio Analysis examined a new metric to quantify the influence of a scientific research article called the Relative Citation Ratio (RCR) and they published their results in PLOS Biology. They found that RCR values of papers authored by NIH awardees correlate well with the opinions of other experts in biomedical research and suggest that this approach could be applied to articles in all areas of science.





5. Two new species of deep-sea fish may communicate with light shining from their bellies


Jan Poulsen and her team from the Australian Museum in Sydney investigated the bioluminescence and unique pigment patterns of two new deep-sea fish species in a recent PLOS ONE study. The researchers found that these fish may shine light from their bellies to communicate in the depths of the sea, where sunlight barely reaches.



4. New evidence shifts the timeline back for human arrival in the Americas

Figure 1 Geographic site of AS2 site by Politis et al (2016

Ancient artifacts found at an archeological site in Argentina suggest that humans occupied South America earlier than previously thought, according to a study published in PLOS ONE by Gustavo Politis and colleagues from CONICET and the Universidad Nacional del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires.



3. Species from Feces: A new tool for identifying bat species

Spotted Bat_Photo Credit Faith Walker

In an attempt to identify and study elusive, endangered bat species, researchers from Northern Arizona University developed “Species from Feces,” a new DNA barcoding tool that can identify bat species from their fecal pellets. They published the results of this research in PLOS ONE.




2. Coral Decay: Scientists pinpoint regions where declining coral reefs could impact people the most

expl0601 Coral (Montastrea cavernosa). Gulf of Mexico, McGrail Bank by NOAA via Flickr

To identify where coral reef-dependent people are most likely to be affected by rising CO2 levels by 2050, Linwood Pendleton and his colleagues scored and mapped the two indicators of CO2-driven coral reef stress – ocean acidification and rising sea surface temperatures – along with two indicators of human dependence on coral reefs. Their research, published recently in PLOS ONE, identifies countries most at risk, such as Mexico, Indonesia, and parts of Australia.




1. No Longer Seeing Stars: Disease decimates sunflower sea star population in the Salish Sea

Sunflower Star Cliff Island March 30 2015

In a recent study published in PLOS ONE, researchers found dramatic declines in the populations of sunflower sea stars, Pycnopodia helianthoides, along with several other sea star species, living in the Salish Sea. Joe Gaydos, wildlife veterinarian and chief scientist with the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine’s SeaDoc Society, says the study could help provide evidence for listing sunflower sea stars as a Federal Species of Concern.




Image Credits:  Alexandre Delbos, Flickr; Global Panorama, Flickr; Caljon et al. (2016); Julie Russell/LLNL; Ian Hutchins and George Santangelo; Poulsen et al. (2016); Politis et al (2016); Faith Walker; Expl0601  Coral (Montastrea cavernosa) by NOAA via Flickr; Joseph Gaydos


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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