April 2015: BMC Series Highlights

• Bad backs and the evolution of bipedalism • Brains and kin of urban birds • New frogs emerge from an evergreen forest • Cigars as harmful as cigarettes • TP53 mutations and breast cancer • Flux predictions at sub-optimal growth

BMC Evolutionary Biology: Bad backs and the evolution of bipedalism

Humans are more commonly afflicted with spinal disease than non-human primates. This study of human, chimpanzee, and orangutan vertebrae examines the links between vertebral shape, locomotion, and Schmorl’s nodes. Human vertebrae with Schmorl’s nodes, indicative of disc herniation, share more similarities in shape with chimpanzee or orangutan vertebrae than do human vertebrae without Schmorl’s nodes. This would suggest that sufferers’ vertebrae are less well adapted to bipedalism.

BMC Ecology: Brains and kin of urban birds

Recent studies in birds have suggested that relatively large brains predispose species for urban living. This new study by Dale et al., investigated the relative importance of three potential predictors of urban bird communities: source population size, relative brain mass and ecology. Results indicate that urban commonness is primarily determined by the numbers of species in rural areas surrounding cities (in combination with habitat preferences and nest site locations), and not by the relative brain mass or body mass of species. These findings have implications for development of rural areas and minimizing disturbances to local species diversity.

BMC Research Notes: New frogs emerge from an evergreen forest

Recent genetic evidence has supported the distinctiveness of East African spiny-throated reed frog populations, suggesting a number of cryptic species. Morphological and molecular analyses of newly collected specimens were carried out to evaluate the taxonomic distinctiveness of populations. This study by Loader et al. describes three new species of spiny-throated reed frog from specimens collected in the Eastern African Afromontane biodiversity hotspot. Current estimates of species range areas are revealed to be very narrow and given that the majority of species are associated with limited remaining forest areas, species are likely to be threatened by increasing habitat change with implications for conservation management.

Image of the month

Colour patterning of spiny throated reed frogs
Colour patterning of spiny throated reed frogs. Loader et al. BMC Research Notes 2015 8:167

BMC Public Health: Cigars as harmful as cigarettes

While cigarette smoking has recently seen a decline in the US, primary cigar smoking (current, exclusive cigar smoking with no history of previous cigarette or pipe smoking) is on the increase. This systematic review of 22 studies from 16 different prospective cohorts found primary cigar smoking to be associated with oral cancer, oesophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD) and aortic aneurysms. The evidence suggests that some risks associated with cigar smoking can be as high as or higher than those associated with cigarette smoking, especially at the highest doses and levels of inhalation for cigar smoking.

BMC Medical Genetics: TP53 mutations and breast cancer

Germline TP53 mutations have been reported in rare instances in families that suffer from hereditary types of breast cancer but have tested negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility genes. This new French-Canadian study identifies germline mutations in the TP53 gene in patients attending hereditary breast cancer clinics and also assesses the frequency of TP53 mutations in 1235 breast cancer cases from an additional out patient clinic. These cases were not specifically selected for a family history of cancer. Five new TP53 mutations were found in six families from the hereditary cancer clinic. The targeted screen of 1235 breast cancer cases also uncovered a new TP53 mutation in two breast cancer cases. All TP53 mutation carriers were women who were under 50 years of age when first diagnosed with breast cancer.

BMC Systems Biology: Flux predictions at sub-optimal growth

Flux Balance Analysis (FBA) is a widely used tool to model metabolic behavior and cellular function. COst Reduced Sub-Optimal FBA (corsoFBA) is a new two-step flux balance analysis method for analyzing and predicting internal cell fluxes of growth at sub-optimal biomass objective levels based on protein and thermodynamic cost minimization. Simulations successfully predicted features of E. coli central carbon metabolism and the method may prove useful for predicting fluxes in healthy, multicellular organisms, which have more complex objectives than the production of biomass.


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