Origins of life and plastic invasions: The most viewed Frontiers news articles of January 2022

By Colm Gorey, Science Communications Manager

Image: DisobeyArt/

Each month, Frontiers shines a spotlight on some of the leading research across a wide range of topics. Here are just some of the highlights that resonated strongly with readers on our news site in the month of January.

  1. Likely energy source behind first life on Earth found ‘hiding in plain sight’

Life on Earth arose roughly 4bn years ago. How it arose, and from what energy source is of interest to everyone because we humans like to know where we come from. The team of Prof William Martin at the University Düsseldorf’s Institute of Molecular Evolution investigates early evolution.

In a recent paper in Frontiers in Microbiology, they argue that the source of energy required at life’s origin has been hiding in plain sight: under the environmental conditions at deep sea hydrothermal vents, hypothesized to have been the sites where life on Earth originated, the central biosynthetic reactions of life do not require an external energy source.

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2. How do we define a well-lived life? First scientific evidence helps us get closer to an answer

A transition, such as the beginning of a new year or entering the second half of life, can strengthen our desire to be more aware of what really matters to us. People naturally take stock of their lives and look ahead to determine their priorities for their next chapter in life.

In the end, humans want to be able to look back on a life well-lived. But what constitutes a fulfilled life? And what are its defining characteristics?

Doris Baumann is currently finishing her PhD at the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich and wrote a fascinating guest editorial on her paper trying to help answer these questi_ons in Frontiers in Psychology_.

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3. Emotionally manipulative political ads fail at swaying new voters, but excel at ensuring party loyalty

Both Democrats and Republicans in US elections are more likely to be emotionally moved or angered by political advertising produced by the party to which they identify. This suggests that most ads today do little to sway the other side, but rather help motivate a party’s faithful to support a candidate through actions such as making a campaign donation or showing up at the ballot box.

A first-of-its-kind study by researchers based in Germany and Norway, also published in Frontiers in Psychology, investigated this behavior based on short political video ads intended to either emotionally move or anger voters, with implications for how parties communicate their messages and spend their ad dollars.

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4. Consuming sweeteners during pregnancy may affect baby’s microbiome and obesity risk

Could artificial sweeteners increase the obesity risk of your unborn child and even change the bacterial populations in their gut? This question is at the heart of a recent study in Frontiers in Nutrition, which found that when rat mothers consumed sweeteners during pregnancy, their offspring tended to have a higher body fat percentage.

The rat pups also showed changes in gut microbial communities, with increases in propionate- and butyrate-producing microbes and reductions in lactose-fermenting species, which could explain the weight gains. The results suggest that maternal diet during pregnancy can significantly affect obesity risk in children.

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5. More than half of plastics in Mediterranean marine protected areas originated elsewhere

Researchers have, for the first time, simulated both micro- and macroplastics accumulation in Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

They found that the majority of Mediterranean countries included in the study had at least one MPA where more than half of macroplastics originated elsewhere. The study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science by researchers from Greece, Italy, and Australia, highlights the need for international collaboration on plastic pollution management in marine protected areas.

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