School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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Scientists are learning new things every day. They are also writing about their discoveries. In most cases they publish in science magazines called journals, like those produced by the Public Library of Science (PLOS). In PLOSable you will find stories that will help you read and explore the articles written by scientists.

Now jump in and start exploring PLOSable - a place where firsthand science is only a mouse click away.

Delecate Arch image at sunset.

A Warmer Future for National Parks?

By Michelle Sullivan

Are we robbing ourselves of our own natural treasures? A team of scientists is investigating how human-caused climate change is affecting U.S. National Parks.

A Win-Win with Wind

By Melanie Sturm

When we think about using the natural power of the earth, like sun or wind, we don't usually think about how this might hurt animals. But researchers are finding that we can use sustainable energy while still taking care of our flying friends.

Aerial Ant Acrobatics

By Andrew Burchill

Trap-jaw ants come with spring-loaded jaws that can snap shut faster than any other animal's. But they may also use their jaws to catapult themselves through the air.

Red comb of the Chinese Grouse

Always Judge a Grouse by its Cover

By Veerta Singh

Whoever came up with the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” probably never met the Chinese Grouse (Tetrastes sewerzowi). For the Chinese Grouse, judging a mate by its cover is actually the way to go.

Amoeba Families Stick Together

Amoeba Families Stick Together

By Ben Pirotte

Families are important to many animals, but are they also important to organisms made of just one cell? For amoebas, the ability to recognize relatives can make a world of difference.

Are Plankton Ocean Super Stars?

By Laura Lach

Plankton are ocean creatures so small we can't see them without a microscope, but just because they are small doesn't mean they don't play an important role in the ocean ecosystem.

Batty for Food

By Meghan A. Murphy

We can learn a lot about animals by watching their behavior, but what about by looking at their surroundings? See what scientists can learn about bats based on the type of environment in which they live.

Male and female zebra finches

Benefits of Being Choosy

By Malika Ihle

Being able to choose which people we interact with seems to affect how happy we are and how well we do our jobs. Is this true in other species? Learn how choosing a mate affects the success of zebra finches in making and raising young.
Also in: Français

a great tit seen from the side. The bird has a yellow belly and a black head.

Birds of a Feather Change Together

By Erica L. Lovett

The climate on our planet is changing, but what does this mean for living things, like plants and animals? Scientists investigated how birds respond to the changing climate.

Plant-imals

Blurring the Line Between Plants and Animals

By James Long

Dreaming up an organism that is part plant and part animal can make some funny mental images, but it's just thata dream...right?

Brain Food

By Rianna Mergens

Your mom tells you to eat all your vegetables for a reason, because she wants you to grow big and strong. She doesn't just want your body to grow strong. She wants your brain to grow strong too.

Brain waves

Brain-to-Brain Instant Messaging

By Christopher Albin-Brooks

Reading minds may no longer be science fiction. Brain waves can be sent through the Internet to create an instant message in another person's mind.

Newborn baby

Can Stress Prolong Pregnancy?

By Taylette Nunez

Nine months – that’s about the amount of time that healthy babies develop before they are born. But what if that nine months is a bit more flexible, and can change in response to the environment?

Cancer Cells on the Move

By Erin M. Campbell and Bojana Gligorijevic

Cancer cells decide how to behave by “listening” to signals around them.  Scientists recently studied these signals by watching cancer cells as the cells moved through their environment. 

Cellular Fountain of Youth?

Cellular Fountain of Youth

By Benjamin Katchman

Did you ever think the search for the “fountain of youth” would end up inside of our very own cells? There are some scientists that have found that parts of our cells might hold the answer to aging and diseases like cancer.

Choosing words wisely

Choosing Words Wisely

By Ben Pirotte

How careful are you with your words? Scientists are figuring out how to choose words more wisely to have a better chance to stop certain diseases.

Peruvian poison frog

Colorful Copycat Frogs of Peru

By Kyle Summers

Peruvian poison frogs mimic, or look like, other poison frogs that live in the same area. But they don't just look like one other species. Depending on the location, frogs of this species may mimic one of many other species of poison frog.  

Sleep-walking neurons: Brain’s GPS never stops working — even during sleep

Combining Senses

By Malte Bieler and Ileana Hanganu-Opatz

Our daily life depends on the ability to see, hear, feel, and smell at the same time, a skill that develops during childhood. In this article scientists studied how the brain develops the ability to combine sensory information. 

Breast cancer cell

Cooperation in Cancer Cells

By Mylan Blomquist

We study cooperation in humans a lot, but what about cooperation in... cancer? Learn how researchers are applying the same behavioral dilemmas experienced by people to the outcomes of cell cooperation. 

Soay lamb from St. Kilda

Coping with Parasites in a Wild World

By Adam Hayward

How do wild animals defend themselves against infections? Biologists studied a wild population of sheep to work out whether being tolerant of infections could be as good a strategy as killing infections.

Heads are shown next to one another, with no facial features.

Decoding Emotions in the Brain

By Patrick McGurrin

Signals from the brain have been used to help scientists understand how people see, move, and make decisions. In this experiment scientists tested whether they could also use these signals to record a person's emotional state. Would they be able to detect fear, surprise, sadness, and more by looking inside the brain?

Brown sugar crystals

Diabetes Protein Puzzle

By Justin Hassler, Philip Li, and Randal J. Kaufman

Diabetes affects nearly one tenth of the population in the United States, but we still have a lot to learn about the disease. Researchers are finding that a lack of specific proteins might reduce our abilities to absorb sugar, making it a key player in the diabetes problem.

Do You Have a Caveman's Brain?

By Ceara O'Brien

How much has the human brain changed from the brains of our ancient ancestors? Evolutionary psychologists think that the modern human brain has not changed much over the past 50,000 years, but other scientists disagree.

Mother by Mikuláš Galanda

Does Parental Age Matter? A New View on Brain-related Disorders

By Patrick McGurrin

You might think of your parents as being old, or being fairly young; maybe they are many years apart in age. Did you know that parental age may affect the likelihood that a child will develop a brain disorder? 

Depression by van Gogh

Does Past Experience Affect Depression?

By Alex Biera and Patrick McGurrin

Depression affects millions of people worldwide yet anti-depressive medications only work on a handful of people who suffer from the disorder. By looking at depression through the lens of evolution, scientists may learn more about depression and how it can be treated.

This is an image of the human brain wearing headphones.

Does Playing Music Reduce Stress?

By Shannon L. Jewell

Everyone gets stressed. Many of us find that listening to our favorite song usually brightens up our mood. Scientists wanted to study whether music can actually affect stress levels in the body. 

Doggy DNA

Doggie Diversity

By Emilio Galan

Scientists are finding out that even though dogs look very different on the outside, what causes them to look that way is much similar than we thought.

hospital road sign

Down the Drain: Hospital Sewage and Antibiotic Resistance

By Tyler Quigley

Hospitals try to stay clean and reduce the spread of germs within their walls, but what happens when medicines and bacteria from the hospitals reach bacteria in the sewer?

Eat More, Sleep More

By Alexis Abboud

Could it be your stomach and not your brain that is keeping you up at night? Scientists are learning that for some species, the effects of sleep loss may depend on how much fat an animal stores.

Microscopic image of bacteria

Feeding the Beast: How Germs Eat for You

By Nicholas Jakob

When it comes to digesting your food, you may think that your body does all of the work by itself. In reality, your gut is full of helpful bacteria that help break down your food and keep you healthy.

Goldfish

Fish Out of Water

By Daniel Maas

Fish use their two fins and a tail to glide through the ocean, but some fish like the mudskipper use their fins for flopping across land too. Scientists are investigating how fish evolved limbs to walk on dry land.

Coral Reef

Fishy Vanishing Act

By Rianna Mergens

Some ocean dwelling species are starting to go extinct. Scientists are researching whether how many species there are in an ocean environment has anything to do with this fishy vanishing act.

Flight of the Bumblebees

By Jennifer R. Craer

It's pretty easy for people to find their way around, but is it easy for insects? Researchers are finding that even without maps and navigation devices, bumblebees can usually find the best route to take when collecting pollen.

Foraging in the City

By Elizabeth Cook

Birds in the city seem to have endless options of places to eat. How do they choose, and where do they prefer to eat most?

Friend or Foe: Fish Facial Recognition

By Melinda Weaver

Most humans can determine whether or not they know someone by looking at her or his face. Scientists have discovered that humans are not the only animal with this ability. The cichlid fish can also use facial differences to tell each other apart.

Game on!

By Jonathan Herrea

Time flies when you're having fun, especially when playing video games. Researchers examine how it is that gamers can lose track of time playing their favorite video games.

The eggs of helminths, parasitic worms

Germs May Decrease Our Chances of Disease

By Alex Biera

We are often taught that germs are bad, but what if exposure to germs or other microorganisms has long-term positive effects? Recent studies show that certain microbes in our environment might actually offer a protective effect against Alzheimer’s Disease.

Internet Addiction

Give Your Brain a Break

By Meenakshi Balakrishnan

Is there such a thing as too much time on the Internet? Scientists are studying the affects of Internet use and how it can be addictive for some people.

Giving Bees a Sweet Tooth

By Nicholas Baker

This could bee - yes, bee - a key to our sweet tooth and possibly a way to learn more about diabetes.

Half Man, Half Machine: Becoming Robotic

By Daniel Maas

Have you wondered if it was possible to be a cyborg? Half man and half machine? Scientists are conducting experiments to see how brains control robotic limbs.

How humans match voices and faces

Hey, I Know You!

By Melissa Brisbin

Even a toddler can recognize his mother's voice on the phone, but what parts of the brain help match voices and faces in your brain?

Cancer cell dividing

How Stem Cells Affect Cancer

By Heather Geissel

Cancer is a disease that affects a lot of  people. But there are still many things that scientists don’t understand about it. The goal of this experiment was to see how stem cells are involved with the growth and spread of cancer cells. 

this image shows a cartoon depiction of a mosquito

Hungry Mosquito Habits

By Chanapa Tantibanchachai

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes and becomes more common in humans during the summer months. Is there a connection between the feeding habits of mosquitoes and the spread of the virus to humans?

The hippcampus might be watching over your stuff.

I Spy With My Little Eye...

By Juliana Goenaga

Do you notice when your brother or sister take stuff from your room? Even if they put it back, you can still see those small differences. Scientists are studying what part of your brain is responsible for seeing those kind of changes.

Fast Food

If You Give a Mouse McDonalds...

By Samantha Hauserman

Have you ever wondered what makes one animal different from another?  Scientists conducted an experiment and found that food is one of the reasons chimpanzees and humans are so different.

Is a City Slicker Sicker?

By Pierce Hutton

City life can be stressful for people, but what about for other animals? Learn what scientists found out about the effects of city life on the stress and health levels of birds. 

Poison Dart Frog

Is it Easy Being Green?

By Brett Seymoure

The story of a frog's life in the rainforest can be one filled with danger. Some frogs are brightly colored and other blend into the forest. Do bright colors work better than dull colors for keeping a frog from being eaten?

Isn't it Ionic?

By Ryan LaMarca

Mud may look boring, but it has a lot more going than you might think. Some clays can kill bacteria, but exactly why they could wasn't clear. Scientists tested whether bacterial killing ability of some clays is due to the ions attached to them.

Kangaroo

Jumping Genes of the Kangaroo

By Sarah Ly

Have you ever wondered how different animals are related? Marsupials like kangaroos live in Australia, but scientists think they may have traveled there from as far away as South America.

A wheeled animal sculpture from Eastern Mexico

Larval Beetles Spin Their Wheels on the Beach

By David L. Pearson

Wheels are common in our lives but rare in nature. A larval tiger beetle is one of the few animals in the world that turns into its own wheel to help it move along sandy beaches.

Lazy eye icon

Lazy Eyes Hard at Work

By Juliana Goenaga

Mom might have told you that video games would rot your brain, but scientists are finding ways to use video games to make your brain stronger. This is especially true when it comes to treating vision disorders like a "lazy eye."

Looking for E. T.

By Courtney Bruce

Life on other planets. Is it possible? Are there going to be little green people, or a friendly Martian? This PLoS article is the story about how scientists are looking for life beyond our planet.

Amanita mushroom

Making Medicine from Mushrooms

By Megan Turnidge

Mushrooms can be mysterious. You might know that some are poisonous while others can be tasty, but did you know that a few kinds can be used as medicine? Learn more about the new ways scientists are using mushrooms to treat cancer. 

Alexey Venetsianov painting

Milk - It Does a Baby's Immune System Good

By Tyler Quigley

They say mother knows best; this may be especially true when it comes to moms sharing protective immune molecules with their babies.

Image of paper bills

Money Matters: How Wealth Affects Offspring Success

By Kimberly Olney

Does being born a son or a daughter mean your reproductive success might be different? In some societies, it does. 

Magic hat and wand

Motions of Magic

By Patrick McGurrin

Magic might be real, at least in the brain, for some people. Scientists are finding that magicians' brains are wired differently than those of the average person.

Nature's Balancing Act

By Stephanie Vera

When humans change an environment, it means we can lose species. And losing species is bad news for humans, animals, and the environment.

New World Under the Sea

By Savanah McMahon

Sea life might not appear to be restricted to living in certain areas. But often they can only live in specific areas, even in the deepest parts of the ocean.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB)

One-Two Punch for Tuberculosis

By Shima Shiehzadegan

Tuberculosis (TB) can be a lethal infection that affects your lungs and can make breathing difficult. Here, scientists investigated how a new TB drug, called bedaquiline (BDQ), works in the body, and which combination of medications helps BDQ work better. 

Hand Palm

Organ Swap

By Lindsey O'Connell

A transplant is what happens when doctors take a body part from one person and give it to another person, kind of like Frankenstein except not so scary-looking. Scientists are hard at work on some of the most difficult parts to transplant like hands and faces.

Our Bodies, the Tumor Feeders

By Alexis Abboud

When a tumor grows in a human body, you'd think that the body would fight it every way possible. But our bodies build vessels that deliver blood to tumors, helping them to grow. Scientists are trying to figure out why this happens so they can stop our bodies from feeding tumors. 

A neanderthal skull has been partially uncovered from it's resting place, a mix

Proof is in the Poop

By Han Duerstock

Most people believed that Neanderthals, a species related to humans, were hunters that only ate meat. By taking a look at the Neanderthal’s fossilized poop, scientists discovered that there was more to their diet than just meat.

a cartoon notebook is shown with a large pencil sitting on top. The paper is bei

Ranked and Ready: The Most Important Diseases To Study

By Megan Berry

Are we armed with all the information to fight the worst diseases, even the ones that we’ve just discovered? Scientists wanted to create a list to identify the worst diseases to gain more information and be ready to help treat these diseases. 

Rare Species Work Hard

By Natasha Coult

There are different ecosystems all around the world. All of these ecosystems are supported by the animals, plants, and other things living there. Researchers are learning that even the very rare species are important for an ecosystem to survive. 

Robot Mutant

Robo-Mutants!

By Craig Trevor Johnson

Mutant robots with six arms and a mind of their own are stuff of science ficiton, right? Scientists are challenging that idea by creating robo-mutants in the lab and seeing how they evolve.

Science of Teamwork

By Viviane Callier

Scientists study the science of basketball teamwork and how different networks can make the difference between winning and losing.

a honeybee flies close to a vibrant pink flower.

Shimmery Defense

By Melinda Weaver

Many animals, including humans, build homes to live in. But when you have a home, you often need to work hard to defend it. In this article scientists discovered a peaceful defense mechanism that giant honeybees use to fend off predators and protect their homes.

Sleeping Secret Behind Bullying Behavior

By Bethany Vu

Could more sleep make fewer bullies? Scientists have learned that there may be a link between sleep, technology, and bullying behavior.

Speed of the Human Brain

By Devin K. Phillips

The human brain works quickly and handles difficult tasks. Is it just the size of our brains that allows us to do these things? As it turns out, it may also have a lot to do with how well our brain cells can send multiple messages to other cells.

Paussus favieri beetle

Spies Among Ants

By Tyler Quigley

As most spies know, the best way to infiltrate a group is to look and act like the members of that group. But what does it take to be a spy among ants? One beetle may have figured out the ultimate ant imitation strategy.

Cartoon television set

Spreading Stories of Sickness

By Karla Moeller

Watching the news is a daily part of life for some people. What effect does that action have on the rest of your life? Scientists studied whether news reports can influence what you search for or communicate through your network when online.  

Students, Brains, and Science

By Patrick McGurrin

Many people know that the brain is important. But what does it really do, and who has a brain? In this article, scientists investigated what students think about these questions to try to understand how much they know about the brain. 

The Nose Knows

By Stephanie Outlaw

With their tails wagging and noses sniffing, can dogs tell what we can't with our eyes? These scientist wanted to find out the answer.

a black and white photo showed the left side of a woman's waist to shoulder area

The Push for Perfection in Breast Cancer Screening

By Giselle Lee

Breast cancer screening that is built around each patient’s needs and risks may be more successful in diagnosing a disease early. In this experiment, scientists studied a new strategy to help to better identify people at risk for breast cancer.

Treefrog Tadpole

The Tadpole or the Egg?

By Gordon Lau

We used to believe that tadpoles always came from jelly-like eggs laid by frogs. However, scientists recently discovered that tadpoles don't always come straight from eggs.

a young by sits in a classroom. He has his hand up and has an excited look on hi

Think Fast!

By Garrison Leach

What motivates you? We hear this question a lot, and scientists decided it was time to find out. They tested which parts of the human brain are involved in creating feelings of motivation. 

Tigers are Grrrrreat!

By Rachel Caspar

Most people grow up seeing tigers on TV and in zoos, but as endangered species, what is being done to protect tigers in the wild? This article examines the Six Percent Solution.

GMO papaya seeds

To Grow or Not to Grow GMOs

By Sharyn Horowitz

Growing crops for a living can be a bit of a gamble. Do farmers who use genetically modified seeds have better results?

Ant tending scale insect

Trees Get By with Ant Aides

By Elizabeth G. Pringle

Plants need help to get by when water is limited. For some plants it is their ant partners that come to their aid. This relationship provides benefits for both the plant and the ant.

Globe view of Earth with the red region showing the tropic region as a red band

Trouble in the Tropics

By Anika Larson

There tend to be more bugs in areas with warmer, tropical climates. The people in these areas also tend to be sick more often, and even have lower incomes. Scientists wanted to see if there was a relationship between the bugs in these tropical climates and people.

highlighted stomach

War in Your Stomach

By Mylan Blomquist

Your stomach is full of tiny organisms that live in peace and harmony with your body – but what happens when the peace is disrupted?

An illustration of a human head with a music symbol

What’s the Link Between Music and Your Brain?

By Annika Vannan

People like diferent types of music, but can the type of music you like be controlled by your style of thinking?

When Ecosystems get Fishy

By Eric Moody

Animals that are moved around by the activity of people can affect the places they end up. This article discusses the effects one particular fish has on the river ecosystems where it is introduced.

This is a picture of a woman using two hands to hold a tissue against her face.

When the Flu Gets Cold

By Chanapa Tantibanchachai

People always seem to get the flu more often during the colder months. Scientists set out to investigate why the flu virus is more common when it's cold outside. 

Where Are the Insects?

By Terri Tang

Insects are found in both rural and urban environments, but do they have a preference? Scientists are studying how urban environments affect an insect's chances of survival. 

Sleeping Baby

Who Needs Sleep Anyway?

By Lindsey O'Connell

Do we really need to sleep? What about other animals? Scientists examine whether sleep is really necessary, and what happens when animals do sleep.

Why Are Our Arms the Same Length?

By Russell Zuniga

Ever wonder how our arms and legs know how fast and how long to grow? So have scientists.

Snapping turtle face by Andrea Westmoreland

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

By Sharyn Horowitz

When we start talking about turtles crossing roads, you may think it's a joke. But crossing roads and highways is serious business for reptiles and many other animals. Is there any way to keep them safe?

Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches?

By Samantha Hauserman

Head injury in humans and other animals are bad news. So how is it that woodpeckers can peck wood all day without injuring their brains?

Zombie ant biting onto plant

Zombie Ants

By Christopher M. Jernigan

Do zombies really exist? The do... at least in the world of ants. Learn how some ants are made into zombies and find out what ants can do to avoid being zombified.

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Anyone can use PLOS ONE  and PLOS Biology. You do not have to pay to read articles online or to download and print them. With PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology you have first-hand access to the latest science.

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PLoS Biology Banner

Anyone can use PLOS ONE  and PLOS Biology. You do not have to pay to read articles online or to download and print them. With PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology you have first-hand access to the latest science.

Want to write a PLOSable story? Take a look at our Notes to Authors & Artists.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.