SciBites: Week of December 2nd

SciBites: Week of December 2nd

Early hominin ‘Lucy’ may have been a tree climber

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University recently scanned the bones of the 3.18 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis fossil known as ‘Lucy’ to assess how much this early hominin used its arms and legs while moving. The scans revealed that the relative strength of Lucy’s humerus and femur was between those of today’s chimpanzees and modern humans, which suggests that she may have used her arms to move through trees, possibly to forage for food or escape predators. Lead researcher Christopher Ruff says, “This is the most direct evidence to date that Lucy and her relatives actually spent a significant portion of their time in the trees.”


High-resolution brain scans may help detect concussions

A recent study from PLOS Computational Biology investigated whether high-resolution imaging of the brain could be combined with machine learning algorithms to detect concussions in the brains of individual patients. The researchers were able to detect concussions with 88 percent accuracy using this method. Study coauthor Sam Doesburg explains, “Changes in communication between brain areas, as detected by magnetoencephalography, allowed us to detect concussion from individual scans, in situations wherein typical clinical imaging tools such as MRI or CT fail.” To further improve detection, inform treatment and monitor recovery from concussions, a potential next step for research would be to refine understanding of the specific neural changes associated with concussions.


Informing patients of their risk for diabetes may not motivate changes in behavior

In a new study, researchers collected blood samples from 569 men and women born between 1950 and 1975 to screen for genetic variants and phenotypic factors (i.e., age, body mass index, and others) that could indicate diabetes risk. Then, the researchers randomly assigned each person to a control group that received only standard lifestyle advice on preventing diabetes, or a group that also received their personal genetic or phenotypic risk estimates of developing diabetes. Eight weeks later, participants were fitted with a device to monitor physical activity for six days. The researchers found that, compared to the control group, the group that received their genetic or phenotypic risk estimates did not increase their physical activity. The authors suggest that the results provide support for a shift away from interventions solely based on providing information and advice and a new approach to promote healthy changes.

Image Credit: John Kappelman/University of Texas at Austin


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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