SciBites: Week of January 20th

SciBites: Week of January 20th

Extinct Tasmanian tiger’s brain may have been capable of complex cognition

In a recent PLOS ONE study, researchers examined and compared the brain structure of an extinct Tasmanian tiger with that of a modern-day Tasmanian devil. They found that the caudate zone of the Tasmanian tiger brain was larger than in the Tasmanian devil brain, suggesting that the former may have been capable of more complex cognition, such as action planning and decision making. This finding complements the ecological niches of these two animals, since Tasmanian devils are scavengers while Tasmanian tigers were hunters, and hunting requires more planning.


Polio vaccines may be safer to produce with a new method

While polio is almost completely eradicated, vaccines are still needed to ensure that it doesn’t re-emerge. Polio vaccines are produced by growing live polio virus, which can be dangerous for those involved in production. As an alternative to this method, the authors of a recent PLOS Pathogens study have developed a new technique that could potentially be used to produce polio vaccines without growing the virus. The researchers genetically manipulated the polio virus’s protein shells to be stable enough for use in a vaccine. When tested in mice and rats, the particles caused the animals to generate high levels of protective antibodies, suggesting that they could function effectively as vaccines. The next step would be to test this method on humans in clinical studies.


Proteins released by injured neurons may predict brain recovery after heart attack

When someone has a cardiac arrest out-of-hospital, their brain may be oxygen-deprived for some time, causing neurological injuries and loss of consciousness. To investigate the likelihood of brain recovery after an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, the authors of a recent PLOS ONE study retrospectively analyzed data from a clinical trial of 685 adults who had been admitted to hospital in a comatose state after suffering a cardiac arrest. For each patient, blood was drawn one, two and three days after the heart attack to measure levels of the protein biomarker neuron-specific enolase (NSE), which is released into the blood by injured nerves. The researchers found that, for patients who were comatose for three days or longer, all three NSE measurements were strong predictors of recovery. While their results support the current guidelines for management of comatose cardiac arrest patients by serially measuring NSE, the authors note that a long-term study should be done to verify the findings.


Image Credit: Smithsonian Institutional Archives, 1904


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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