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Weekly PLoS ONE News and Blog Round-Up

In this week’s PLoS ONE media digest, we answer the following questions and discuss other recent news and blog coverage of PLoS ONE research: Were dinosaurs born to run? Is amphibians’ sensitivity to environmental contaminants skin deep? How do foreign—but not native-language—subtitles in films boost language learning?

The question of whether dinosaurs were endothermic (warm-blooded) like present-day birds and mammals or ectothermic (cold-blooded) like present-day lizards has important implications. If dinosaurs were warm-blooded, they would have likely rivaled mammals with their athletic ability and could have survived in cold environments that would have killed ectothermic animals. However, these benefits come at a cost as endotherms require much more food than ectotherms and so a constant supply of fuel is needed. Herman Pontzer and colleagues studied anatomical models of 14 dinosaur species. They used the hip height of the dinosaurs to calculate their locomotor costs and also worked out how big the dinosaurs’ muscles must have been to able to move the animal. Based on these measurements, the researchers concluded that many dinosaurs were probably endothermic.

The study received extensive news and blog coverage, including: the Guardian, Wired Science, Not Exactly Rocket Science, Endless Forms, Palaeoblog, Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs and The Open Source Paleontologist.

The skin of amphibians is much more permeable than that of mammals, which, in the former, allows gas, water and electrolyte exchange with the environment. This permeability does, however, also allow contaminants to pass into an amphibian’s body. In their recent PLoS ONE paper, researchers at the University of Bari compared the passage through the skin of two test molecules and three common herbicides in frog (amphibian) and pig ear skin (the best model of human skin). Frog skin allowed higher permeability than pig ear skin for all five substances and the authors suggest that the thickness of the outer layer of the epidermis and the lipid composition and structure in amphibians might cause these differences. The study has been discussed on Lab Rat’s blog.

If you want to improve your foreign language understanding while watching a movie, you should turn the subtitles on—but only if the subtitles are in the foreign language rather than your native language. These are the findings of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, reported in PLoS ONE. In the study, Dutch students watched episodes from the Australian sitcom Kath & Kim or extracts from the film Trainspotting, which depicts a Scottish drug addict, Renton and his friends—with English or Dutch subtitles or with no subtitles—and were then tested on their speech perception. English subtitles were associated with the best performance and while Dutch subtitles boosted performance when the students were listening to an extract they’d heard before, they led to a worse performance on new extracts.

The researchers suggest that the semantic (meaning-based) information in the Dutch subtitles allowed the students to work out which English words had been spoken but didn’t allow them to retune their phonetic categories, preventing them from improving their comprehension of new utterances from the same speaker. ScienceNOW, the Age and the English Blog have discussed the study.

And finally, here is a summary of some of the other PLoS ONE papers that made the headlines this week:

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