Since 2011, Open Biology has been publishing high impact articles covering all aspects of molecular and cellular biology. This open access online only journal is at the forefront of the Society’s mission to disseminate high quality science and includes innovative features like open peer review, and partnerships with Biostudies and EMBL Heidelberg. Over the years we have published many topical and interesting articles that have been well received by our readers. As part of Open Access Week, we highlight some of our best-performing articles from the last seven years.
Oxidants, antioxidants and the current incurability of metastatic cancers
This fascinating perspective from Dr James Watson looks at the genetic complexity of cancer and the need for the development of anti-metastatic drugs. The vast majority of all agents used to directly kill cancer cells work through either directly or indirectly generating reactive oxygen species that block key steps in the cell cycle. As mesenchymal cancers evolve from their epithelial cell progenitors, they tend to possess higher amounts of antioxidants that effectively block oxidant therapies. This perspective suggests that a much faster timetable should be adopted towards developing more new drugs effective against p53− cancers.
Tracing the dynamics of gene transcripts after organismal death
This article examines what happens when healthy adult animals die. The authors found that gene expression followed a step-wise process that involved increases in transcript abundances of hundreds of genes with postmortem time. Although the exact mechanisms for why this happens was not known, they speculate that it is probably due to the upregulation of genes involved in survival and stress compensation. Their study suggested that studying death might lead to a better understanding of life.
The evolution of scale sensilla in the transition from land to sea in elapid snakes
The authors examined poorly understood organs known as ‘scale sensilla’ that are found on the heads of many lizards and snakes. In land snakes, these organs have a tactile function and are used for sensing objects by direct contact. In sea snakes and sea kraits, scale sensilla purportedly function as hydrodynamic receptors capable of sensing vibrations underwater. The authors found that the quantification of the sensillum ultrastructure and overall coverage of sensilla, as a proxy for ‘sensitivity’, revealed that dome-shaped and higher coverage had evolved only in the aquatic snakes. Their findings suggest a derived, possibly hydrodynamic, role for scale sensilla in sea snakes and sea kraits.
The sclerostin-neutralizing antibody AbD09097 recognizes an epitope adjacent to sclerostin’s binding site for the Wnt co-receptor LRP6
In this research article, the authors examined a protein called sclerostin that is known to negatively regulate bone growth. This protein is of interest as it could be used in novel therapies that might help fight osteoporosis, a disease that affects a number of elderly people. Osteoporosis causes a continuous decrease in bone density that leads to an increasing risk of fractures. Antibodies that neutralise sclerostin’s bone growth-inhibiting function have been shown to counteract bone loss providing hope for osteoporosis patients to regain bone mass. In this article the authors present a crystal structure of an antibody fragment inhibiting sclerostin’s action. This could be used for the design of new and highly efficient anti-sclerostin antibodies and drugs to treat osteoporosis.
Neocortex expansion is linked to size variations in gene families with chemotaxis, cell–cell signalling and immune response functions in mammals
The neocortex is a structure unique to mammals thought to mediate higher cognitive abilities and is highly variable in size among taxa. In this article, a group of authors from the Universities of Bath, Lincoln and Oxford, explored the genomic basis of the variations of size of the neocortex. They showed a significant link between gene family size, which varies through gene duplication and deletion of related genes, and the size of the neocortex. They concluded that these genes offer new avenues for research on the molecular basis of neocortex development in highly encephalised species and are consistent with a central role for gene duplication/deletion in the evolution of complex phenotypes.
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