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Lab Times



Of Cheats, Thieves and Death

German researchers discovered that a plant deceives its pollinator with the smell of fresh kill.


enerally, flowering plants depend on animals to get pol-

linised. To make it worthwhile for the pollinator, most plants

give something back: delicious pollen or nectar. But a small

number (4 - 6 % of angiosperms) cheat

by faking a certain scent or look, with no

reward for the pollinator. Researchers at

the Technical University of Dresden, Ger-

many, recently discovered a fascinating,

new mimicry system in



prove the existence of a new pollination

system in flowering plants (

New Phytolo-


, doi: 10.1111/nph.13210).

Reminiscent of a “Dutchman’s pipe”,

plants of the genus



specialised flowers to trap pollinators,

in their case flies. The flies, allegedly dung flies, are lured to the

plant through an irresistible smell of rotten fish, carrion and dung.

This strategy is called sapromyiophily. For their latest study, Stefan

Wanke and first author Birgit Oelschlägel analysed the tempting

odours in more detail and identified a clever trick.

Their first astonishing finding:

A. rotunda

’s (or smearwort) main

pollinators are not dung flies but fruit flies of the family Chloropidae


Trachysiphonella ruficeps

). Next, Oelschlägel

et al.

analysed the

chemical composition of the scent released by

A. rotunda

’s flow-

ers and noticed compounds, which had previously been identified

in true bugs of the family Miridae. The bugs release these volatiles

when predators like spiders or ants attack them. Chloropidae fruit

flies, attracted by the dying bugs’ volatiles, join in on the feeding

frenzy as food thieves.

Fascinated by this interrelation, the

Dresden biologists created an artificial


-Miridae’ mix, containing

seven compounds that had elicited an

electrophysiological antennal response


T. ruficeps

. And as expected, the

chloropid fly was highly attracted to the

synthetic mix. For the researchers, this is

a sufficient proof that

A. rotunda


its pollinators by mimicking the scent of

freshly killed bugs, which the pollinator

otherwise prefers as food.

As this is the first study describing such a strategy, the authors

coined a novel term: ‘kleptomyiophily’ for pollination by kleptopara-

sites (parasitism by theft). Another novelty is the fact that the plant

releases compounds, known only from freshly killed rather than

living insects. And it shouldn’t go unmentioned that the flies have

been found to be exceptionally selfish. Rather than thinking about

feeding their young (like, for instance, bees), they think only about

filling their own empty tummies.

Karin Lauschke

(More research results from European labs on pp. 24-29)

raphy and cryo-electron microscopy help

him and his group to zero in on the virus-

es’ structure.

Scientists, who could need a little sup-

port from EMBO and are at the moment ap-

plying for a full-time position at an institute

or university in the Czech Republic, Portu-

gal, Poland or Turkey or have, in the past

two years, set up a lab in any of these four

countries, can note April 15


in their calen-

dar, the next deadline for an EMBO Instal-

lation Grant proposal.

Peer review scam at BioMed Central

Faking it

As we already reported online (Novem-

ber 28


, 2014), the Open Access publish-

er BioMed Central

recently fell victim to a

peer review scam. In as many as 50 cases,

author-suggested reviewers of manuscripts

turned out to be fake. Luckily, spelling mis-

takes and odd non-institutional email ad-

dresses gave most of them away. Five man-

uscripts, however, made it into the scientif-

ic record.

BioMed Central

suspected a third

party behind the fraud and promised to in-

vestigate thoroughly.

Meanwhile, more and more cases of

rigged reviews are coming to light. Elsevier

retracted 16 papers by economist Khalid Za-

man, who submitted false contact informa-

tion for the reviewers he suggested. And



, a Wolters Kluwer title ranked

among the top journals for General & Inter-

nal Medicine, recently retracted two papers

by Chinese authors for “violating the peer-

review process and publishing ethics stand-

ards”. In this case, a fictitious email account

fooled the journal editor into thinking the

manuscript was reviewed by a well-known

expert in the field.


’s director of publishing servic-

es, Catriona Fennell, told

Retraction Watch


“About a year or two ago it became clear

these cases are not isolated. […] Our mes-

sage for editors is, be alert but not alarmed.

This is a small minority but we do need to

start watching out for it.”

The ongoing

BioMed Central


tions substantiated earlier suspicions of the

involvement of third party agencies, which

“may be providing services to authors [in-

cluding] fabricated contact details for peer

reviewers during the submission process

and then supplying reviews from these ad-


Also COPE, the Committee on Publica-

tion Ethics, takes the scam seriously. In a

statement, they comment, “We are unclear

how far authors of the submitted manu-

scripts are aware that the reviewer names

and email addresses provided by these

agencies are fraudulent. However, given

the seriousness and potential scale of the

investigation findings, we believe that the

scientific integrity of manuscripts submit-

ted via these agencies is significantly un-

dermined. […] COPE is working with pub-

lishers, publishing organizations and rele-

vant national bodies to determine how best

to address this situation in the longer term.

[…] We encourage anyone with informa-

tion on these issues to contact COPE direct-

ly.” The contact form is available at




/George Hodan