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PLOS ONE 15 Year Anniversary: Staff Editors’ Favorites

This year, PLOS ONE celebrates its 15 year anniversary. Over this period the journal has published over a quarter of a million articles. Here, staff editors from different subject area teams choose their favorites, including reports of 13,000 year-old footprints, declining insect populations, the impact of plastic pollution on the release of greenhouse gases, and the pathophysiology of celiac disease.

Behavioral and Social Sciences, Neuroscience, & Mental Health

Atlantios, Pixabay

Larivière and colleagues show that interdisciplinary research has greater impact in the long run, suggesting that it is greater than the sum of its disciplinary parts.

Pexels, Pixabay

Ritter and Ferguson show that listening to happy music elicits higher levels of creativity, linking positive affect and arousal to traits of persistence and flexibility that facilitate creative thinking.


McLaren and colleagues uncover 13,000 year-old footprints on the west coast of Canada. The discovery of these footprints adds to the growing body of evidence that humans inhabited the Pacific coast of Canada during late Pleistocene times.

Life Sciences


This study from Hallmann and colleagues demonstrated a 75% decline in insect biomass over 27 years in German nature areas. This paper became one of the most influential and highly-cited studies in Entomology in the last decade, attracting attention from hundreds of media outlets, and raising public awareness of insect declines. Since this publication many funding bodies have made allocations for projects related to insect declines and conservation.


Palm oil is the world’s most widely traded vegetable oil. As global demand grows, large areas of tropical forest are being converted into oil palm plantations. In this important work, Vijay and colleagues showed how palm oil expansion from Southeast Asia into new regions of the Americas and Africa increased greatly the risk of deforestation and threatened vulnerable biodiversity at risk of extinction. Since publication this work has gained over 100,000 views, has been cited in more than two hundred publications, and has been featured in multiple news outlets.

Sawayamr, Wikimedia commons

This study attempts to answer a fundamental biochemistry question — why all living organisms only need 20 amino acid residue types to carry out a repertoire of diverse functions. A combination of quantum chemical and chemoinformatic investigations suggest that this set of 20 suffices the need of incorporating molecular complexity while retaining important chemical functionalities and structural stability. Efforts to extend the repertoire of “amino acid structural space” led to no novel or useful functionalities, indicating that these 20 building blocks are selected on the principle of parsimony.

Physical Sciences and Engineering


This study from Daniel Vogt and co-workers shows how, by using 3D printing and soft robotic manipulators, we can manipulate fragile and often old deep-sea organisms such as sea stars without damaging them.

brownpau, Flickr

James Hansen and colleagues assess the climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data in this groundbreaking study from 2013. Their work served as an early warning on the continuing impact of fossil fuel emissions on Earth’s climate, and has been followed by countless related studies.

Twentyfirstidentity, Wikimedia Commons

Royer and colleagues show that plastic pollution in the environment releases two common greenhouse gases under normal solar irradiation, studying both virgin and weathered plastics, and that this release may persist during an item’s lifetime. This research extends the focus of the detrimental effects of plastic pollution in the environment to possible climate impacts, in addition to direct effects on living organisms through entanglement, ingestion and the sorption of toxic chemicals. This study called for further research assessing the contribution of hydrocarbon release from plastic pollution to the global carbon budget.

Public Health & Medicine


This study from Daniele Fanelli was the first meta-analysis to investigate the frequency in which scientists falsify or fabricate data. The study concluded that self-reported or observed rates of misconduct are high, and suggested that the actual rate is likely to be higher than this. It was widely publicized in the popular media, and has attracted over 300,000 views since publication. In light of the so-called “replication crisis” within many scientific disciplines, this study and others like it really serve to highlight the importance of encouraging robust publication ethics and scientific practices.


This study from Lerner and co-workers demonstrated using cell culture and mouse models that flavoured electronic cigarettes used in vaping generate reactive oxygen species which cause inflammatory response, morphological changes and toxicity in lung tissue. This was one of the first studies to demonstrate the dangers of flavoured e-cigarettes.


In this study Chellappa and colleagues demonstrated that blue enriched light induces greater melatonin suppression, enhanced subjective alertness, faster cognitive reaction times (in attention focused tasks), in addition to improving well-being and visual comfort. This has important ramifications both for the workplace and in consideration of circadian rhythms


Using national data in the United States, Stanger-Hall and Hall demonstrate a correlation between abstinence-only sex education and increasing teenage pregnancy and birth rates


This study from Leonard and colleagues investigated the early steps in the pathophysiology of celiac disease (CD) by sc-RNA seq. The authors identified the upregulation of novel genes that are involved in the immune response machinery (IL-12RB1and IL-12RB2) and cell adhesion process in the mucosa (IGSF4 and ITGAM) and in the spliceosome pathway in subjects with active CD compared to those in remission, suggesting a potentil link between the microbiome, innate immune response, and the development of CD. The study also highlights novel possible targets for personalized therapies for disease intercetion (primary prevention) in genetically at-risk subjects.


Waqar, Asghar and Manzoor describe the use of liquid biopsy-based platelets mRNA signature for early diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma, and the use of mRNA as biomarkers for comparison of hepatic cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The study could also help to elucidate some of the signalling pathways involved in progression of cirrhosis towards hepatocellular carcinoma.

Dr. Frederick Murphy, CDC

Becquart and colleagues surveyed >10% of Gabon villagers for Zaire ebolavirus (ZEBOV)-specific IgG antibodies. They report overall seroprevalence of 15.3%, one of the highest reported at the time, and up to 33.8% in some villages. This is an interesting piece of epidemiology, published four years before the Western African Ebola virus epidemic shone a global spotlight on the virus. The study provides fascinating insights into human exposure to zoonotic diseases with epidemic potential.

jplenio, pixabay

In an attempt to bring the outdoors in, An and colleagues explore the impact of biophilic office designs on employee wellness. The authors found that sunlight exposure was positively associated with overall job satisfaction and organisational commitment.

ArthurHidden, Freepik

In this experimental study, Gillen and colleagues showed that sprint interval training among sedentary men achieved the same beneficial effects of traditional endurance training, despite a five-fold lower exercise volume and time commitment. These effects included insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content. This study could inform the design of time-efficient exercise interventions for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.


  1. Larivière V, Haustein S, Börner K (2015) Long-Distance Interdisciplinarity Leads to Higher Scientific Impact. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0122565.
  2. Ritter SM, Ferguson S (2017) Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0182210.
  3. McLaren D, Fedje D, Dyck A, Mackie Q, Gauvreau A, Cohen J (2018) Terminal Pleistocene epoch human footprints from the Pacific coast of Canada. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0193522.
  4. Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185809.
  5. Vijay V, Pimm SL, Jenkins CN, Smith SJ (2016) The Impacts of Oil Palm on Recent Deforestation and Biodiversity Loss. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0159668.
  6. Bywater RP (2018) Why twenty amino acid residue types suffice(d) to support all living systems. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0204883.
  7. Vogt DM, Becker KP, Phillips BT, Graule MA, Rotjan RD, Shank TM, et al. (2018) Shipboard design and fabrication of custom 3D-printed soft robotic manipulators for the investigation of delicate deep-sea organisms. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0200386.
  8. Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F, Beerling DJ, et al. (2013) Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648.
  9. Royer S-J, Ferrón S, Wilson ST, Karl DM (2018) Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0200574.
  10. Fanelli D (2009) How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5738.
  11. Lerner CA, Sundar IK, Yao H, Gerloff J, Ossip DJ, McIntosh S, et al. (2015) Vapors Produced by Electronic Cigarettes and E-Juices with Flavorings Induce Toxicity, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammatory Response in Lung Epithelial Cells and in Mouse Lung. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0116732.
  12. Chellappa SL, Steiner R, Blattner P, Oelhafen P, Götz T, Cajochen C (2011) Non-Visual Effects of Light on Melatonin, Alertness and Cognitive Performance: Can Blue-Enriched Light Keep Us Alert? PLoS ONE 6(1): e16429.
  13. Stanger-Hall KF, Hall DW (2011) Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S. PLoS ONE 6(10): e24658.
  14. Leonard MM, Bai Y, Serena G, Nickerson KP, Camhi S, Sturgeon C, et al. (2019) RNA sequencing of intestinal mucosa reveals novel pathways functionally linked to celiac disease pathogenesis. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0215132.
  15. Waqar W, Asghar S, Manzoor S (2021) Platelets’ RNA as biomarker trove for differentiation of early-stage hepatocellular carcinoma from underlying cirrhotic nodules. PLoS ONE 16(9): e0256739.
  16. Becquart P, Wauquier N, Mahlakõiv T, Nkoghe D, Padilla C, Souris M, et al. (2010) High Prevalence of Both Humoral and Cellular Immunity to Zaire ebolavirus among Rural Populations in Gabon. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9126.
  17. An M, Colarelli SM, O’Brien K, Boyajian ME (2016) Why We Need More Nature at Work: Effects of Natural Elements and Sunlight on Employee Mental Health and Work Attitudes. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0155614.
  18. Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2016) Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0154075.

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