SciBites: Week of January 13th

SciBites: Week of January 13th

More volunteers are needed to test malaria vaccines and help eliminate the disease

Malaria kills 438,000 people every year, and the disease is the leading cause of death in children worldwide. Over the past ten years, 40 of the many candidate vaccines for malaria have been tested in humans. Vaccinating a larger group of people in clinical studies increases the likelihood of finding a promising vaccine. However, clinical study organizers must balance risks, including potential side effects, against the need to enroll enough patients. In a new study from PLOS Computational Biology, researchers developed a mathematical model that can determine the ideal number of people needed for a good trial of a malaria vaccine. “We hope that this model will contribute to more effective studies and ultimately to eliminating malaria,” says Luc Coffeng, researcher at Erasmus MC’s Department of Public Health.


Lower socioeconomic position may be associated with higher BMI across generations

Previous studies have found that lower socioeconomic position (SEP) is associated with higher adult body mass index (BMI), but whether those associations have changed over the past decades was unclear. In a new study from PLOS Medicine, researchers analyzed data on 22,810 people enrolled in three British birth cohort studies initiated in 1946, 1958 and 1970. The researchers found that lower SEP in childhood was associated with higher adult BMI in both genders and in all cohorts. This association increased with age — the older someone got, the greater the influence of childhood SEP on BMI. Given these results, the authors suggest that new and/or improved strategies are necessary to reduce inequalities in BMI across generations and that interventions might be most effective if initiated as early in life as possible.


Termite queens’ efficient antioxidant systems may allow them to live long lives

Termite queens can live for much longer than non-reproducing termites, and they don’t lose their fertility as they age. The authors of a recent PLOS ONE study examined samples of the Japanese termite, Reticulitermes speratus, comparing queens to non-reproductive workers. The researchers measured levels of oxidative damage markers and examined enzyme expression and activity, both potential anti-aging mechanisms, and found that termite queens had less oxidative damage to DNA, proteins and lipids compared to workers. The queens also showed higher expression levels of antioxidative enzymes, suggesting that termite queens have an efficient antioxidant system with enzymes providing resistance to oxidative damage. This system might help slow down the aging process in the queens, enabling them to live and reproduce for longer than other termites.


Image Credit: CC-BY: Radboud University Medical Center Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


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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