Top 10 PLOS Research News Articles of 2017

Top 10 PLOS Research News Articles of 2017

What research news captured the most attention in 2017? As we did for 2016, we’re reflecting on some of the most popular articles highlighted on PLOS Research News this year, with topics ranging from bioluminescent fish to smart watches to autism. Join us as we count down to the most popular research news story from PLOS in 2017.

  1. Lost in Translation: Why some languages are confused for others

Researchers investigated why some languages are easier for people to identify correctly than others. They analyzed data from The Great Language Game, a popular online game where players listen to an audio speech sample and guess which language they think they are hearing, selecting from two or more options. Their study revealed that participants were better able to distinguish between languages that were geographically farther apart and had different associated sounds.


  1. Health Watch: How smart watches could detect signs of illness

In this study, researchers followed 60 people through their everyday lives and found that smart watches and other personal biosensor devices can help flag when people have colds and even signal the onset of complex conditions such as Lyme disease. This research paves the way for the smartphone to serve as a health dashboard, monitoring health and sensing early signs of illness, likely even before the person wearing it does.


  1. Fraught Future for Flying Insects: Dramatic decrease in biomass in protected areas

PLOS ONE author Caspar Hallmann described his study that measured the total flying insect biomass over 27 years in nature protection areas in Germany. The research revealed a dramatic decrease of over 75 percent during this period, highlighting an urgent need to investigate both the causes and consequences of this alarming decline of insects.



  1. Genetics may influence outcome of efforts to promote maternal attachment

Mother and child by Jessica Lea/Department for International Development via FlickrCould genetics influence maternal-infant attachment? This PLOS Medicine study tested whether either of two versions, or alleles, of the serotonin transporter gene affects maternal-infant attachment. The researchers found that the short allele of the gene may indeed explain why some infants were more likely than others to form strong attachments with their mothers. Research in this area has potential to influence strategies for strengthening early childhood development to mitigate the harmful effects of poverty.


  1. Alcohol and marijuana use associated with lower GPA in college

Previous studies have shown a link between consumption of alcohol and marijuana and rates of absences and drop-outs, but the link between consumption and academic performance was not known. In a recent study, researchers analyzed data from the Brain and Alcohol Research with College Students study, which tracked 1,142 students for two years after they began college, and clustered students into groups of low users or medium-to-high users of alcohol or both substances. They found that U.S. college students who consumed medium-to-high levels of alcohol and marijuana had a consistently lower GPA over two years.


  1. Light It Up: Splitfin flashlight fish use bioluminescent light to detect and feed on planktonic prey

In this PLOS ONE study, researchers examined the blink frequency of a school of flashlight fish under different laboratory conditions. When the flashlight fish detected living planktonic prey in their experimental tank at night, their light-producing organs were opened for a longer time, keeping the light on longer, and they blinked five times less frequently than in the absence of prey. The authors suggest that the flashlight fish reduce their blinking and keep their light organs open so that they can produce more light to detect and feed on prey. Watch this blinking in action here.


  1. Mollusc-Munching Marine Monster: First Jurassic ichthyosaur found in India

PLOS ONE author Guntupalli Prasad described the discovery of what is thought to be the first Jurassic ichthyosaur found in India. He and his research team believe that its unusually complete skeleton may provide insights into ichthyosaur diversity and evolution in the oceans that once covered the Kachchh region of India.


  1. African elephants sleep only two hours a day

Elephants were known to sleep as long as six hours a day in captivity, but researchers recently investigated how long they slept in the wild. In this PLOS ONE study, researchers fitted two free-roaming African elephant matriarchs in Chobe National Park, Botwana, with Actiwatch devices to track their activity and gyroscopes to track their sleeping position. They found that the elephants slept an average of two hours out of every day, usually broken into several episodes, and regularly stayed awake 48 hours straight.


  1. New biomarker method may accurately identify autism in children

PLOS Computational Biology authors published a study describing a new accurate diagnostic method for identifying autism in children based on blood sampling. The method detects substances in the blood produced by two metabolic processes known as the folate-dependent one-carbon (FOCM) metabolism and the transulfuration (TS) pathways, both of which are altered in children with autism. 



  1. Even tiny bumblebee brains can solve complex problems

In new research reported in PLOS Biology, researchers made the delightful discovery that bumblebees could easily be trained to pull strings for sugar water. First the researchers attached strings to blue discs with sugar water in the middle, and then let the bees learn that these fake flowers held a reward. The next step was putting the flowers under plexiglass – only the very tips of the strings were within reach. Watch the string-pulling in action here.


Image Credits:Leandro Neumann Ciuffo via Flickr; Mediterranean Center of Medical Sciences; Skirgård et al (2017); C_osett via Flickr; Hallmann et al (2017); Mother and child by Jessica Lea/Department for International Development via Flickr; aeroSoul via Flickr; Hellinger et al (2017); Prasad et al (2017); jude via Flickr; Daniel P. Howsmon; Sylvain Alem


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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