Could cranberries help us prevent dementia? Check out 5 fascinating Frontiers articles you don’t want to miss

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers Science Communications Manager

Image: Jean Beaufort

At Frontiers, we bring some of the world’s best research to a global audience. But with tens of thousands of articles published each year, many often fly under the radar. Here are just five amazing papers you may have missed.

  1. Daily eating of cranberries may give us a memory boost and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol

The famous proverb says that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but a recent study published to Frontiers in Nutrition has found that significant health benefits may come from eating a cup of cranberries a day.

A team of researchers from the UK, the Netherlands, and Italy set out to see what benefits this daily dose of the popular berry would have on those aged between 50 and 80. Of those taking part in the study, half ate freeze-dried cranberry powder equivalent to 100g of fresh cranberries, while the other half were given a placebo.

The results showed that those who were eating cranberries daily saw a significant improvement in their memory of everyday events, neural functioning, and delivery of blood to the brain.

The researchers hope that their findings could have implications for the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

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2. Beavers boost biodiversity in Germany’s oldest national park

According to a recent study published to Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, beavers play a crucial role in boosting biodiversity in key regions across the globe.

Estimates suggest that freshwater species have suffered an 84% decline in their global abundance since 1970 and include the most threatened species in Central Europe. However, the beaver is described in this study as an “ecological engineer par excellence”, due to its ability to directly create freshwater habitats by raising the water level through dam building and to alter existing habitats through foraging on woody and herbaceous plants.

Despite being almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century, efforts were made to reintroduce beaver populations in the 20th century with a noticeable impact. Now the researchers found that in areas where beaver ponds existed in the Bavarian National Forest Park in Germany, there were more species of conservation concern found at the beaver ponds than on the river and forest plots.

Likewise, there were many more bats and birds at the beaver ponds than at the river or forest sites. For these reasons, the researchers say that beavers are important in promoting biodiversity in freshwater regions and should be supported in conservation efforts.

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3. Research warns of significant conservation gaps in US ocean territory

A study published to Frontiers in Marine Science has warned that more than 98% of US waters outside of the Pacific Ocean are not protected areas, leaving them vulnerable to damaging human influence.

The team led by Oregon State University researchers looked at the US’s 50 largest marine protected areas (MPAs) which accounts for 99.7% of the country’s total MPA coverage. However, many critical marine systems – such as in the Atlantic, Arctic and northeast Pacific oceans; and the Caribbean Sea – are very vulnerable and could impact the coastal economies in those areas.

In addition to urging the creation of more fully and highly protected areas, the authors offered US policymakers recommendations including making sure future MPAs can withstand the impact of the climate crisis and track their progress.

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4. Our handwriting may be a window to our health status as we age

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been trained to analyze handwriting in a bid to better monitor our neurological health. In a paper published to Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, researchers in Italy and the US recruited 156 right-handed subjects divided into three age groups.

Each of them was asked to write their name and surname 10 times on a sheet of white paper with a black biro and then take a photograph of their writing sample with a smartphone and send it to the researchers.

The AI was then trained to detect certain handwriting ‘patterns’ attributable to physiological ageing in healthy subjects.

Although previous research had already demonstrated age-related changes in handwriting dexterity, approaches based on more complex analysis techniques such as machine learning were required to analyze large amounts of data in remote medicine. handwriting disorders have also been frequently observed in patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease (micrographia) and Alzheimer’s disease (agraphia).

In the future the researchers hope that AI trained to watch out for changes in handwriting may constitute an innovative biomarker of ageing in the future.

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5. Surprising discovery shows microplastic beads does not impact cricket growth

While there remains many questions about the long term impact of the digestion of microplastics that are so ubiquitous that they can be found in our blood stream, new research published to Frontiers in Physiology has found a surprising discovery of their impact on crickets.

Researchers from the University of Ottawa hypothesized that the ingestion of microplastics would impact the growth rate of tropical house crickets. Additionally, they wanted to see what impact the type of plastic – fibers versus beads – would have on this growth rate.

A number of newly hatched crickets were then fed a diet of either fluorescent polyethylene microplastic beads, or untreated polyethylene terephthalate microfibers until they died or reached adulthood.

Surprisingly, they found that while microplastic beads had no effect on the crickets’ growth rate, female crickets saw a reduction in size and weight when fed high concentrations of plastic fibers.

These results, the researchers said, suggest that high concentrations of polyethylene beads can pass through the cricket gut without a substantial negative effect on their growth and development time, but high concentrations of polyethylene terephthalate microfibers cannot.

Despite this, it remains unclear what negative effects ingesting microplastics pose to insects as a whole.

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