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Weekly PLoS ONE News and Blog Round-Up

As mentioned by PLoS ONE Section Editor, Andy Farke in his blog, the past few weeks have seen a number of exciting new paleontology papers published in PLoS ONE.

Hypothesized reconstruction of the Trichomonas-like infection of the oropharynx and mandible of MOR 980, commonly known as ‘Peck's Rex’
Hypothesized reconstruction of the Trichomonas-like infection of the oropharynx and mandible of MOR 980, commonly known as ‘Peck's Rex’

The most recent addition to our Paleontology Collection is by Ewan Wolff at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and colleagues at the University of Queensland, Australia, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Montana State University. The researchers reported that Tyrannosaurus rex and its close relatives may have suffered from a potentially life-threatening infectious disease, similar to trichomonosis, which occurs today in birds. Wolff and colleagues found evidence of symptoms of the disease, including swellings and holes in the back of the lower jaw, in ten T. rex specimens, including “Sue” at the Field Museum in Chicago. The severity of the lesions  in several of the specimens leads the authors to suggest that these animals may have died out as a result from the disease.

The study was covered extensively in the worldwide media, including some of the following stories: New Scientist, National Geographic, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, LiveScience and Wired Science.

Another piece of paleontology research published on Wednesday came from an international team led by Scott Hocknull at the University of Queensland, described in an article entitled, Dragon’s Paradise Lost: Palaeobiogeography, Evolution and Extinction of the Largest-Ever Terrestrial Lizards (Varanidae). New fossil evidence shows that the world’s largest living lizard, the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis), which grows up to three metres in length, is most likely to have evolved in Australia and then dispersed westward to Indonesia. Three further fossil specimens from the island of Timor represent a new (unnamed) species of giant monitor lizard, which was even larger than the Komodo Dragon, although Hocknull notes that more specimens are needed before the species can be formally described. Some of the online coverage of the study included: ABC News, the World Today podcast and the Surprising Science blog.

In their article published in PLoS ONE on September 23, Alfonso Arribas and colleagues in Spain describe the findings of various excavations at the fossil-rich site in Fonelas, southern, Spain, providing much valuable information about the mammalian fauna that lived there 1.8 million years ago—a period in which the previously available data in the region wasn’t very complete. The study has been discussed by, El Mundo and Publico.

Several other PLoS ONE papers have been appeared in the news this week. Sam Harris’s article, The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief, was covered by the Los Angeles Times, Ars Technica and Wired News; another paper from last week, which also looks at the relationship between the brain and the religion, Neuroanatomical Variability of Religiosity, was discussed by Gene Expression; and Alex Mesoudi’s paper, The Cultural Dynamics of Copycat Suicide, was highlighted by New Scientist and NPR.

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