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Models have made numerous contributions to evolutionary biology, but misunderstandings persist regarding their purpose. By formally testing the logic of verbal hypotheses, proof-of-concept models clarify thinking, uncover hidden assumptions, and spur new directions of study. thumbnail image credit: modified from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Concepts: Evolution, Molecular biology, Mathematics, Life, Species, Ecology, Charles Darwin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck


Non-specific low back pain (NSLBP) is a large and costly problem. It has a lifetime prevalence of 80% and results in high levels of healthcare cost. It is a major cause for long term sickness amongst the workforce and is associated with high levels of fear avoidance and kinesiophobia. Stabilisation (or ‘core stability’) exercises have been suggested to reduce symptoms of pain and disability and form an effective treatment. Despite it being the most commonly used form of physiotherapy treatment within the UK there is a lack of positive evidence to support its use. The aims of this systematic review update is to investigate the effectiveness of stabilisation exercises for the treatment of NSLBP, and compare any effectiveness to other forms of exercise.

Concepts: Disease, Spinal disc herniation, Low back pain, Back pain, Exercise, Symptoms, Acupuncture, Massage


Jim McCambridge and colleagues reflect on how the concept of harm reduction may be being usurped by the alcohol industry. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.

Concepts: Alcohol abuse, Editors


School-located influenza vaccination (SLIV) programs can substantially enhance the sub-optimal coverage achieved under existing delivery strategies. Randomized SLIV trials have shown these programs reduce laboratory-confirmed influenza among both vaccinated and unvaccinated children. This work explores the effectiveness of a SLIV program in reducing the community risk of influenza and influenza-like illness (ILI) associated emergency care visits.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Virus, Vaccine, Vaccination, Influenza, Program, Influenza vaccine, Influenza-like illness


Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions. Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world’s oceans from 24 expeditions (2007-2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres, costal Australia, Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea conducting surface net tows (N = 680) and visual survey transects of large plastic debris (N = 891). Using an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal calibrated by our data, and correcting for wind-driven vertical mixing, we estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons. When comparing between four size classes, two microplastic <4.75 mm and meso- and macroplastic >4.75 mm, a tremendous loss of microplastics is observed from the sea surface compared to expected rates of fragmentation, suggesting there are mechanisms at play that remove <4.75 mm plastic particles from the ocean surface.

Concepts: Oceanography, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris


Increasing biomedical workforce diversity remains a persistent challenge. Recent reports have shown that biomedical sciences (BMS) graduate students become less interested in faculty careers as training progresses; however, it is unclear whether or how the career preferences of women and underrepresented minority (URM) scientists change in manners distinct from their better-represented peers. We report results from a survey of 1500 recent American BMS Ph.D. graduates (including 276 URMs) that examined career preferences over the course of their graduate training experiences. On average, scientists from all social backgrounds showed significantly decreased interest in faculty careers at research universities, and significantly increased interest in non-research careers at Ph.D. completion relative to entry. However, group differences emerged in overall levels of interest (at Ph.D. entry and completion), and the magnitude of change in interest in these careers. Multiple logistic regression showed that when controlling for career pathway interest at Ph.D. entry, first-author publication rate, faculty support, research self-efficacy, and graduate training experiences, differences in career pathway interest between social identity groups persisted. All groups were less likely than men from well-represented (WR) racial/ethnic backgrounds to report high interest in faculty careers at research-intensive universities (URM men: OR 0.60, 95% CI: 0.36-0.98, p = 0.04; WR women: OR: 0.64, 95% CI: 0.47-0.89, p = 0.008; URM women: OR: 0.46, 95% CI: 0.30-0.71, p<0.001), and URM women were more likely than all other groups to report high interest in non-research careers (OR: 1.93, 95% CI: 1.28-2.90, p = 0.002). The persistence of disparities in the career interests of Ph.D. recipients suggests that a supply-side (or "pipeline") framing of biomedical workforce diversity challenges may limit the effectiveness of efforts to attract and retain the best and most diverse workforce. We propose incorporation of an ecological perspective of career development when considering strategies to enhance the biomedical workforce and professoriate through diversity.

Concepts: Regression analysis, Logistic regression, Medical research, Employment, College, Personal development, Bachelor's degree, Biomedical scientist


Sensorimotor control in vertebrates relies on internal models. When extending an arm to reach for an object, the brain uses predictive models of both limb dynamics and target properties. Whether invertebrates use such models remains unclear. Here we examine to what extent prey interception by dragonflies (Plathemis lydia), a behaviour analogous to targeted reaching, requires internal models. By simultaneously tracking the position and orientation of a dragonfly’s head and body during flight, we provide evidence that interception steering is driven by forward and inverse models of dragonfly body dynamics and by models of prey motion. Predictive rotations of the dragonfly’s head continuously track the prey’s angular position. The head-body angles established by prey tracking appear to guide systematic rotations of the dragonfly’s body to align it with the prey’s flight path. Model-driven control thus underlies the bulk of interception steering manoeuvres, while vision is used for reactions to unexpected prey movements. These findings illuminate the computational sophistication with which insects construct behaviour.

Concepts: Brain, Arthropod, Force, Classical mechanics, Rigid body, Dragonfly, Libellulidae, Common Whitetail


The provenance of water and organic compounds on the Earth and other terrestrial planets has been discussed for a long time without reaching a consensus. One of the best means to distinguish between different scenarios is by determining the D/H ratios in the reservoirs for comets and the Earth’s oceans. Here we report the direct in situ measurement of the D/H ratio in the Jupiter family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the ROSINA mass spectrometer aboard ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, which is found to be (5.3 ± 0.7) × 10(-4), that is, ~3 times the terrestrial value. Previous cometary measurements and our new finding suggest a wide range of D/H ratios in the water within Jupiter family objects and preclude the idea that this reservoir is solely composed of Earth ocean-like water.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Comet


Globally, greenhouse gas budgets are dominated by natural sources, and aquatic ecosystems are a prominent source of methane (CH4) to the atmosphere. Beaver (Castor canadensis and Castor fiber) populations have experienced human-driven change, and CH4 emissions associated with their habitat remain uncertain. This study reports the effect of near extinction and recovery of beavers globally on aquatic CH4 emissions and habitat. Resurgence of native beaver populations and their introduction in other regions accounts for emission of 0.18-0.80 Tg CH4 year(-1) (year 2000). This flux is approximately 200 times larger than emissions from the same systems (ponds and flowing waters that became ponds) circa 1900. Beaver population recovery was estimated to have led to the creation of 9500-42 000 km(2) of ponded water, and increased riparian interface length of >200 000 km. Continued range expansion and population growth in South America and Europe could further increase CH4 emissions.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Natural gas, Beaver, Methane, Americas, Greenhouse gas, European Beaver, Beavers


Despite recent advances, the structures of many proteins cannot be determined by electron cryomicroscopy because the individual proteins move during irradiation. This blurs the images so that they cannot be aligned with each other to calculate a three-dimensional density. Much of this movement stems from instabilities in the carbon substrates used to support frozen samples in the microscope. Here we demonstrate a gold specimen support that nearly eliminates substrate motion during irradiation. This increases the subnanometer image contrast such that α helices of individual proteins are resolved. With this improvement, we determine the structure of apoferritin, a smooth octahedral shell of α-helical subunits that is particularly difficult to solve by electron microscopy. This advance in substrate design will enable the solution of currently intractable protein structures.

Concepts: Protein, Protein structure, Electron microscope, Enzyme, Protein structure prediction, Microscope, Microscopy, Musical form