Emerging Topics in Life Sciences

Journal Information
ISSN / EISSN : 2397-8554 / 2397-8562
Published by: Portland Press Ltd. (10.1042)
Total articles ≅ 392
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Latest articles in this journal

Published: 8 September 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, Volume 6, pp 271-284; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20210279

Population-level lateralization in structure and function is a fundamental measure of the human nervous system. To what extent nonhuman primates exhibit similar patterns of asymmetry remains a topic of considerable scientific interest. In this mini-review, a brief summary of findings on brain asymmetries in nonhuman primates in brain regions considered to the homolog's to Broca's and Wernicke's area are presented. Limitations of existing and directions for future studies are discussed in the context of facilitating comparative investigations in primates.
Published: 8 September 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, Volume 6, pp 227-229; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20210265

In this special issue of Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, we present a series of mini-reviews of some of the most exciting research involving the concept of symmetry. This research spans the biological sciences from proteins to ecosystems. The reviews examine protein and floral symmetry, primate brain and behavioral asymmetries, geometric morphometrics, and various fluctuating asymmetries.
, Michael Domjan
Published: 7 September 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20220001

Activation of the fear system is adaptive, and protects individuals from impending harm; yet, exacerbation of the fear system is at the source of anxiety-related disorders. Here, we briefly review the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of fear, with an emphasis on models that encapsulate the elegant complexity of rodents’ behavioral responding in the face of impending harm, and its relevance to developing treatment interventions.
, Ana Martínez Rodríguez, Richard D. Handy
Published: 7 September 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20220015

Biodegradable plastics have been proposed as a potential solution to plastic pollution, as they can be biodegraded into their elemental components by microbial action. However, the degradation rate of biodegradable plastics is highly variable across environments, leading to the potential for accumulation of plastic particles, chemical co-contaminants and/or degradation products. This paper reviews the toxicological effects of biodegradable plastics on species and ecosystems, and contextualises these impacts with those previously reported for conventional polymers. While the impacts of biodegradable plastics and their co-contaminants across levels of biological organisation are poorly researched compared with conventional plastics, evidence suggests that individual-level effects could be broadly similar. Where differences in the associated toxicity may arise is due to the chemical structure of biodegradable polymers which should facilitate enzymatic depolymerisation and the utilisation of the polymer carbon by the microbial community. The input of carbon can alter microbial composition, causing an enrichment of carbon-degrading bacteria and fungi, which can have wider implications for carbon and nitrogen dynamics. Furthermore, there is the potential for toxic degradation products to form during biodegradation, however understanding the environmental concentration and effects of degradation products are lacking. As global production of biodegradable polymers continues to increase, further evaluation of their ecotoxicological effects on organisms and ecosystem function are required.
Published: 5 September 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20220023

There is mounting evidence that plastic and microplastic contamination of soils can affect physico-chemical processes and soil fauna, as has been excellently summarised in many recently published meta-analyses and systematic reviews elsewhere. It has become clear that impacts are highly context dependent on, e.g. polymer type, shape, dose and the soil itself. Most published studies are based on experimental approaches using (semi-)controlled laboratory conditions. They typically focus on one or several representative animal species and their behaviour and/or physiological response — for example, earthworms, but rarely on whole communities of animals. Nevertheless, soil animals are rarely found in isolation and form part of intricate foodwebs. Soil faunal biodiversity is complex, and species diversity and interactions within the soil are very challenging to unravel, which may explain why there is still a dearth of information on this. Research needs to focus on soil animals from a holistic viewpoint, moving away from studies on animals in isolation and consider different trophic levels including their interactions. Furthermore, as evidence obtained from laboratory studies is complemented by relatively few studies done in field conditions, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms by which plastic pollution affects soil animals under realistic field conditions. However, field-based studies are typically more challenging logistically, requiring relatively large research teams, ideally of an interdisciplinary nature to maintain long-term field experiments. Lastly, with more alternative, (bio)degradable and/or compostable plastics being developed and used, their effects on soil animals will need to be further researched.
Published: 22 August 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20220025

Developmental instability (DI) is an individual's inability to produce a specific developmental outcome under a given set of conditions, generally thought to result from random perturbations experienced during development. Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) — asymmetry on bilateral features that, on average, are symmetrical (or asymmetry deviating from that arising from design) — has been used to measure DI. Dating to half a century ago, and accelerating in the past three decades, psychological researchers have examined associations between FA (typically measured on bodily or facial features) and a host of outcomes of interest, including psychological disorders, cognitive ability, attractiveness, and sexual behavior. A decade ago, a meta-analysis on findings from nearly 100 studies extracted several conclusions. On average, small but statistically reliable associations between FA and traits of interest exist. Though modest, these associations are expected to greatly underestimate the strength of associations with underlying DI. Despite the massive sample size across studies, we still lack a good handle on which traits are most strongly affected by DI. A major methodological implication of the meta-analysis is that most studies have been, individually, woefully underpowered to detect associations. Though offering some intriguing findings, much research is the past decade too has been underpowered; hence, the newer literature is also likely noisy. Several large-scale studies are exceptions. Future progress depends on additional large-scale studies and researchers’ sensitivity to power issues. As well, theoretical assumptions and conceptualizations of DI and FA driving psychological research may need revision to explain empirical patterns.
Yuxiang Jiang,
Published: 22 August 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20210270

The flower is an astonishing innovation that arose during plant evolution allowing flowering plants — also known as angiosperms — to dominate life on earth in a relatively short period of geological time. Flowers are formed from secondary meristems by co-ordinated differentiation of flower organs, such as sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels. The position, number and morphology of these flower organs impose a geometrical pattern — or symmetry type — within the flower which is a trait tightly connected to successful reproduction. During evolution, flower symmetry switched from the ancestral poly-symmetric (radial symmetry) to the mono-symmetric (bilateral symmetry) type multiple times, including numerous reversals, with these events linked to co-evolution with pollinators and reproductive strategies. In this review, we introduce the diversity of flower symmetry, trace its evolution in angiosperms, and highlight the conserved genetic basis underpinning symmetry control in flowers. Finally, we discuss the importance of building upon the concept of flower symmetry by looking at the mechanisms orchestrating symmetry within individual flower organs and summarise the current scenario on symmetry patterning of the female reproductive organ, the gynoecium, the ultimate flower structure presiding over fertilisation and seed production.
, Ana I. Catarino, Nathaniel J. Clark
Published: 16 August 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20220014

Microplastics (MPs, <5 mm in size) are a grave environmental concern. They are a ubiquitous persistent pollutant group that has reached into all parts of the environment — from the highest mountain tops to the depths of the ocean. During their production, plastics have added to them numerous chemicals in the form of plasticizers, colorants, fillers and stabilizers, some of which have known toxicity to biota. When released into the environments, MPs are also likely to encounter chemical contaminants, including hydrophobic organic contaminants, trace metals and pharmaceuticals, which can sorb to plastic surfaces. Additionally, MPs have been shown to be ingested by a wide range of organisms and it is this combination of ingestion and chemical association that gives weight to the notion that MPs may impact the bioavailability and toxicity of both endogenous and exogenous co-contaminants. In this mini-review, we set the recent literature within what has been previously published about MPs as chemical carriers to biota, with particular focus on aquatic invertebrates and fish. We then present a critical viewpoint on the validity of laboratory-to-field extrapolations in this area. Lastly, we highlight the expanding ‘microplastic universe’ with the addition of anthropogenic particles that have gained recent attention, namely, tire wear particles, nanoplastics and, bio-based or biodegradable MPs, and highlight the need for future research in their potential roles as vehicles of co-contaminant transfer.
Published: 2 August 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20210276

There are many environmental and genetic factors that disrupt the stable structure of development in organisms. Although the strength of these vary, they leave certain signs in the body structure. Fluctuating asymmetry is a widely used population-level index of developmental instability, developmental noise, and robustness. Many bilateral traits are used in fluctuating asymmetry studies in humans. These traits include dermatoglyphics, limb lengths and widths, bilateral facial characters, and teeth. In this review, I evaluate the measurement methods of many bilateral anthropometric characters, taken from the bodies of living individuals with classical digital calipers.
Published: 8 July 2022
Emerging Topics in Life Sciences; https://doi.org/10.1042/etls20210267

The symmetry of biological molecules has fascinated structural biologists ever since the structure of hemoglobin was determined. The Protein Data Bank (PDB) archive is the central global archive of three-dimensional (3D), atomic-level structures of biomolecules, providing open access to the results of structural biology research with no limitations on usage. Roughly 40% of the structures in the archive exhibit some type of symmetry, including formal global symmetry, local symmetry, or pseudosymmetry. The Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics (RCSB) Protein Data Bank (founding member of the Worldwide Protein Data Bank partnership that jointly manages, curates, and disseminates the archive) provides a variety of tools to assist users interested in exploring the symmetry of biological macromolecules. These tools include multiple modalities for searching and browsing the archive, turnkey methods for biomolecular visualization, documentation, and outreach materials for exploring functional biomolecular symmetry.
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