Insights from MDPI Top 5 Picks: March 2024

This month’s Top 5 MDPI articles cover a variety of topics—from breakthroughs in the taxonomy of anacondas in South America to improvements in computing architecture. We explore the studies in greater detail below, with contributions from the authors.

Disentangling the Anacondas: Revealing a New Green Species and Rethinking Yellows

In the quest to unravel the mysteries of the natural world, the discovery and description of a new species of green anaconda, Eunectes akayima, marks a significant milestone. This breakthrough highlights the importance of genetics in identifying cryptic species, which, despite their elusive nature, are vital to conservation efforts. These species, often indistinguishable through traditional means, can now be properly recognized and protected thanks to genetic analysis.

This research also represents a meaningful leap in integrating indigenous knowledge into scientific practices. The acknowledgment and adoption of an indigenous name for the new species underscore a respectful collaboration with and appreciation for local cultures, their understanding of the natural world, and their contributions to biodiversity.

Beyond the scientific community, these giant reptiles capture the public’s imagination and draw attention to the wonders of the ecosystems they inhabit. The presence of such megafauna is not only a beacon for ecotourism but also plays a crucial role in sustaining local economies. Visitors eager to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures contribute financially, supporting conservation projects and initiatives that protect the broader environment these anacondas call home.

The revelation of Eunectes akayima serves as a reminder of the deep interconnectedness of our ecosystems, the value of indigenous wisdom, and the far-reaching impact of safeguarding our planet’s biodiversity. It’s a story of collaboration, discovery, and hope for the future of conservation.

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Optimizing Resistance Training Technique to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review

When engaging in any form of exercise, it is important to understand how technique impacts safety. It’s also useful to understand other factors such as muscle growth. However, it can be difficult to understand what is meant by proper technique.

In this narrative review of the literature, the authors aim to identify the components that constitute proper resistance training technique for enhanced hypertrophy (increases in muscle size). The authors highlight studies that have investigated repetition tempo, range of motion and exercise-specific kinematics (body movement).

The authors found range of motion to be the main variable influencing muscle growth. Range of motion is the degree of movement occurring at a specific joint while performing an exercise. Specifically, the authors found that training at longer muscle lengths was found to correlate with increased muscle growth in certain muscles in previous research.

Further research is required to explore this idea further, and to see whether other factors such as non-targeted muscle group engagement and teaching practices can reveal more about muscle building in resistance training.

Development of a Low-Density Waste-Based Geopolymer Construction Material

In the current global landscape, sustainability and environmental consciousness are at the forefront of societal concerns. Hence, the need for innovative solutions in construction materials is vital. Addressing this pressing issue, our recently published article: “Development of a Low-Density Waste-Based Geopolymer Construction Material” shares an approach that seeks to improve the sustainability of the construction industry. The construction industry is heavily reliant on Portland cement, which is known for its high energy consumption and significant carbon dioxide emissions, thus contributing to environmental degradation. However, our study introduces a sustainable alternative construction material using waste fly ash and polystyrene to create geopolymers with augmented environmental and economic benefits.

The research objectives included determining optimal mix ratios, assessing the impact of activator concentration, evaluating curing conditions, and characterizing the waste-based geopolymers. Through experimentation and analysis, we successfully developed low-density geopolymers incorporating polystyrene, thereby achieving thermal resistance properties ideal for diverse construction applications. The findings show a clear pathway for incorporating waste materials in construction, as evidenced by the reduction in density (for ease of mobility and improvement in thermal resistance). While higher alkaline activator concentrations enhanced the structural integrity and compressive strength of geopolymers, the addition of polystyrene effectively reduced density, albeit with a slight trade-off in strength.

The implications of the study extend beyond academia, offering tangible solutions for real-world applications. By validating the viability of fly ash and polystyrene waste utilization in construction, our research contributes to sustainable development efforts and addresses the need for eco-friendly building materials. Overall, the study serves to guide policymakers, researchers, and industry professionals seeking innovative approaches to mitigate environmental impact in the construction industry. Embracing sustainability and resource efficiency, the waste-based geopolymer represents a step towards a greener, more sustainable future for the construction industry.

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MeMPA: A Memory Mapped M-SIMD Co-Processor to Cope with the Memory Wall Issue

To keep up with the data-intensive applications of modern computing technologies, such as neural networks, new computing approaches that can solve issues including long execution times and high power requirements are necessary.

This research, published in Electronics, proposes a new memory-mapped co-processor (MeMPA) that can help improve computing architectures. Briefly, coprocessors are secondary processors—different from core processing units (CPUs)—that have specific, specialized functions and are dependent on the main CPU to function. MeMPA could be part of the solution to the Memory Wall or von Neumann Bottleneck issue, which describes a problem that exists in the exchange of data between memory and processors.

By introducing MeMPA, this work contributes to improvements of the classical von Neumann computing architecture—crucial to advances in computing over the last 80 years. The authors build on the ‘Beyond von Neumann’ approach introduced recently by creating customizable units within computing architectures. The approach can increase data-handling capacities and thereby overcome speed- and power-related issues. Improvements in the architecture of processing units that help reduce the space between a system’s memory and processor can also reduce the impact of the Memory Wall Issue on speed and power by overcoming related bottleneck issues. Describing enhancements in performance that could be made possible by MeMPA, the authors note the following:

Specifically, MeMPA can perform up to three different instructions, each on different data blocks, concurrently. Hence, MeMPA efficiently processes data-crunching algorithms, achieving energy and time savings up to 81.2% and 68.9%, respectively, compared with a RISC-V-based system.”

Effect of Aromatic Herbs and Spices Present in the Mediterranean Diet on the Glycemic Profile in Type 2 Diabetes Subjects: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

The Mediterranean diet has been hailed for its various benefits, including improved gut health, better sleep, and reduced inflammation. It is defined as a diet low in saturated fat and high in vegetable oils; importantly, it includes a variety of spices and aromatic herbs including black cumin, clove, parsley, cinnamon and ginger.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Nutrients investigates whether any links exist in studies available in the broader literature between spices and aromatic herbs in the Mediterranean diet and the glycaemic profile of people with type 2 diabetes.

The authors found that several studies have produced promising results. The primary outcome measures selected here were fasting glucose, insulin, and HbA1c. Here’s a summary of the authors’ findings:

  • Cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, black cumin, and saffron were found to significantly decrease fasting glucose;
  • Ginger and black cumin led to a significant improvement in HbA1c;
  • Cinnamon and ginger were found to significantly decrease concentrations of insulin.

These results could therefore indicate the usefulness of the Mediterranean diet in managing and avoiding the risk of type 2 diabetes. Further research will elucidate the extent of this diet’s benefits.


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