SciBites: Week of January 27th

SciBites: Week of January 27th

Researchers genotyped a medieval pilgrim afflicted with leprosy

In a recent study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, researchers genotyped a skeleton excavated from a leprosy hospital cemetery in Winchester, U.K. They found that the genome of the leprosy-causing bacteria Mycobacterium leprae has not changed much since the disease peaked in medieval Europe, which may explain a decline in disease transmission as people possibly developed resistance. Genotyping the M. leprae strain sampled from the excavated skeleton placed it in the 2F lineage, a strain usually associated today with cases from south-central and Western Asia. The authors suggest that this finding may support the theory that the individual was a religious pilgrim, most likely of non-U.K. heritage.

Low levels of brain stimulation may temporarily reduce bulimia symptoms

Researchers from King’s College London published a small proof-of-principle study on the effects of brain stimulation in people suffering from bulimia nervosa. They carried out a double-blind, randomized controlled trial on 39 bulimic adults, using electrodes in different configurations and set to low levels for three 20-minute sessions, including one sham session in which the stimulation lasted only 30 seconds. Participants then self-reported their desire to binge eat, fear of weight gain, general mood and frequency of bulimic behaviors in the 24 hours following treatment. The researchers found that, compared to the sham, the treatment was effective in reducing bulimia symptoms, at least immediately following the study.

Social network analysis may help predict the spread of disease among farm animals

New PLOS Computational Biology study shows that looking at movements of people and vehicles between farms in the same way that social networks are analyzed can help explain the spread of dangerous infectious diseases from livestock, such as foot-and-mouth disease and avian influenza. The researchers collected high-resolution data on veterinarian movements in a network of dairy farms in northern Italy and examined how these movements and the movements of animals being exchanged between farms may help spread disease. They found that these two movements combined to amplify the potential for spreading disease. This study demonstrates how multilayer network analysis can significantly improve the way disease spread is described, and thus potentially help in containing it.

Image Credit: Roffey, S. and colleagues, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases


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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