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PLoS ONE in the Science Superlatives, 2009 Edition

As we start 2010 in earnest, we felt it was high time to round-up some of the papers published in PLoS ONE last year that made it into various lists of the best—and quirkiest—research of the year; not to mention the biggest, oldest and cleverest discoveries. A number of these studies were also covered in our Media Round-Up of 2009 and, of course, you can freely read the full scientific papers online at PLoS ONE.

Best Bone Structure

2009 was a big year for paleontology research in PLoS ONE and our Paleontology Collection now contains over 40 papers. Scott Hocknull’s discovery of three new dinosaurs in Australia appeared in ABC Science’s review of 2009 and National Geographic’s top 10 (most viewed) dinosaur and fossil finds; this National Geographic list also included PLoS ONE research published by Jack Horner and Mark Goodwin that suggests three dinosaurs thought to be separate species may actually be from the same species. The report of two 47.5-million-year old whale fossils discovered in Pakistan, one of which was a pregnant female, was featured in the “Life” category of Science News’s top stories of the year and was one of four PLoS ONE studies to make Not Exactly Rocket Science’s review of 2009. Unsurprisingly, the fossil that appeared in most lists was Darwinius masillae, aka Ida. As well as some of the stories mentioned above, Ida was discussed in the annual round-ups of New Scientist, LiveScience, the BBC News, among others.

The W.C. Fields Award for Best Study Involving Animals

W.C. Fields is credited with the line, “never work with children or animals.” Well, he should be glad he wasn’t a scientist! A number of interesting and intriguing animal studies appeared in the 2009 round-ups, covering categories from “cleverest” and “biggest” to “best candidate for a 2010 Ignoble.”

Sakamoto and colleagues studied black-browed albatrosses by affixing a small camera to them and watched the birds interacting with a killer whale; this study was highlighted in the BBC’s list of “clever nature” in 2009. Another clever creature was the crow in Alex Kacelnik’s study, which found the birds could use up to three tools sequentially – a study which appeared in the Science News “life” round-up.

If asked the question, “does my web look big in this?” by a spider from the new species Nephila komaci, the answer is definitely yes.  Kuntner and Coddington reported that the new spider is one of the largest known orb-weaving spiders and the study made National Geographic’s top 10 new species of 2009. The chimpanzees that exchanged sex for food on a long-term basis were included in ABC Science’s list of the year, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the study reporting fellatio in bats was named as one of the weirdest science stories of the year by Cosmic Log, Conservation Maven and New Scientist.

The Human Condition: Best Study about People

Of course, we don’t just like to read about animals in the news; we want to know more about ourselves—people. A study published last January reporting the potential use of the video game Tetris to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, made Not Exactly Rocket Science’s Review of 2009, as well as the New York Times’s Year in Ideas and the top 10 psychology studies at True/Slant. What may have been one of the scariest studies of the year (Indicution of Empathy by the Smell of Anxiety by Prehn-Kristensen and colleagues) appeared in Discover Magazine’s top 100 science stories of 2009, a list that they are continuing to expand through the end of the month. People also turned out to be one of the most surprising creatures to glow, according to this review in Scientific American. In the “best use of science to solve a historical mystery” category, one of the candidates must surely be the paper that revealed that inbreeding may have been responsible for the decline of the Habsburg dynasty in Spain; this was another study included in the Not Exactly Rocket Science round-up.

Most Innovative

As many of you will know, PLoS ONE won the ALPSP’s award for Publishing Innovation of 2009 and we were very proud to be recognised for our constant efforts to innovate and to change the face of scientific publishing. In 2009, we launched our new programme of article-level metrics, which was nominated as one of the open science breakthroughs of 2009 on the World Association of Young Scientists blog. According to The Scientist, meanwhile, Mark Welch’s study, reporting a new recipe for protein expression, is one of the top 10 innovations of 2009.

It goes without saying, that 2009 was a great and superlative-filled year for PLoS ONE and we wish all of our readers, authors, editors and reviewers a very happy New Year!

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