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[Podcast] Science Podcast: 30 October Show

Thu, 10/29/2015 - 23:00
On this week's show: Where the Amazon Bason's stunning biodoversity comes from and a roundup of daily news stories.
Categories: Journal Articles

[Working Life] Going where the science matters

Thu, 10/29/2015 - 23:00
Author: Stephen T. Jackson
Categories: Journal Articles

[Editorial] Smart villages

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
Last month in New York, the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), defining the global development agenda for the next 15 years. Among the 17 goals is Goal 7's aim to ensure “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Given that an estimated 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity and that 70% of the world's poor live off-grid in the countryside, this is indeed ambitious. How do we ensure that these remote communities have access to energy? Authors: John Holmes, Bernie Jones, Brian Heap
Categories: Journal Articles

[In Brief] This week's section

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
In science news around the world, the results of this week's Canadian elections cheer scientists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency releases rules to tighten emissions restrictions on potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons, scientists add new apps to Apple's open-source health research platform ResearchKit, U.S. researchers prepare to launch the first national chimpanzee brain resource, the Royal Society in the United Kingdom celebrates the 350th anniversary of scientist and amateur artist Robert Hooke's Micrographia, and more. Also, new research presented at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting suggests that a specimen thought by some to be a species dubbed Nanotyrannus was really just a juvenile T. rex after all. And a pollen-covered honey bee eye takes first prize in the annual Nikon Small World photography competition.
Categories: Journal Articles

[In Depth] U.S. targets matter-antimatter frontier

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
Nuclear physicists in the United States urged government funders to swiftly launch a new experiment to test whether the neutrino is—weirdly—its own antiparticle. If it is, the discovery would rewrite textbooks in both nuclear and particle physics. First, though, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) must to come up with roughly $250 million to build a massive detector deep underground, where it would search for a new type of nuclear decay, called neutrinoless double beta decay. That decay can occur only if neutrino and antineutrino are one. The call for the experiment, which physicists hope to start building in 2018, is one part of a new long-range plan that physicists presented to DOE's Nuclear Science Advisory Committee on 15 October in Washington, D.C. The plan mainly calls for continuing with current projects and facilities and says that a dreamed of billion dollar electron-ion collider won't be possible until the end of the next decade at the earliest. Author: Adrian Cho
Categories: Journal Articles

[In Depth] Shining a light on sexual harassment in astronomy

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
The field of astronomy has been reeling since one of its most prominent members, exoplanet pioneer Geoff Marcy, was found guilty of sexually harassing female students at the University of California, Berkeley, over a decade. The university did not publish the results of its 6-month investigation, triggered by complaints from four former students, and it simply admonished Marcy to change his behavior. But a 9 October article in the online publication BuzzFeed and pressure from Berkeley students and faculty as well as the wider astronomy community persuaded Marcy to resign from his Berkeley professorship and other positions. Astronomer Joan Schmelz, former chair of the American Astronomical Society's (AAS's) Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, talks to Science about her role in bringing the case to light and how the field can move forward. Author: Daniel Clery
Categories: Journal Articles

[In Depth] Second bid for brain observatory

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
Last Friday, prior to the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in nearby Chicgao, nearly 100 top researchers and government officials met to discuss a bold proposal: the creation of a National Brain Observatory, a network of neurotechnology centers tied to the Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Labs. Such a network, akin to the type of big, expensive facilities historically built for physicists and astronomers by governments, was first mooted 3 years ago, when Rafael Yuste, a neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York, and five colleagues drafted the proposal for what would ultimately become President Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. As part of that proposal, they argued that the technological challenges facing neuroscience require "big science" investments similar to national telescopes and particle accelerators. But the first round of federal BRAIN funding—roughly $100 million—went almost exclusively to grants for technology development by individual labs. At the meeting, attendees discussed four broad goals for the proposed Observatory: expanding access to large scale electron microscopes; providing fabrication facilities for new, nanosized electrode systems; developing new optical and magnetic resonance brain activity imaging technologies; and finding new ways to analyze and store the staggering amount of data detailed brain studies can produce. They also discussed creating a map of roughly half of the human brain's 100,000 km of axons, the threadlike extensions that project from neurons, as the NBO's first big project. Author: Emily Underwood
Categories: Journal Articles

[In Depth] Protein ‘drops’ may seed brain disease

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
Over the past year, several groups have independently seen liquidlike droplets formed by proteins in test tubesand in cells, and four papers on the unusual phenomenon have just been published in Cell and Molecular Cell. Already, investigators are proposing that such droplet formation is a key part of the machinery regulating gene expression in cells. When the process goes awry, they suggest, it can also lead to the solid protein aggregatethat are a hallmark of several other neurodegenerative diseases. Steve McKnight, a biochemist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, suggests that biologists are on the cusp of something profound. "We are seeing the first glimpses of … a whole new understanding of how cells are organized." Author: Ken Garber
Categories: Journal Articles

[In Depth] Europe's food watchdog embraces transparency

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
Europe's transparency advocates are hoping for a new victory in the battle for the public's right to scrutinize the data behind regulatory decisions. Last year, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in London changed its rules to make public the massive amounts of clinical trial data that it receives as part of marketing applications. The move will allow anyone to see the evidence underpinning EMA's decisions to allow (or reject) medicinal products on the European market. Now, a sister agency in Parma, Italy, says it will follow in EMA's footsteps. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) plans to make public the data it uses to assess whether products such as pesticides, food additives, and genetically modified (GM) crops are safe to use, eat, or grow. "We want to make our data as open as possible and make it reusable," EFSA Executive Director Bernhard Url pledged on 14 October at the opening session of EFSA's second scientific conference here. Industry, however, worries that the openness—which will extend to detailed industry reports—could threaten trade secrets, and some say it could stir unwarranted concerns. EFSA itself cannot decide Author: Tania Rabesandratana
Categories: Journal Articles

[Feature] Twisted logic

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
In a gleaming research lab in Germany's northeastern corner, researchers are preparing to switch on a fusion device called a stellarator, the largest ever built. The €1 billion machine, known as Wendelstein 7-X looks a bit like Han Solo's Millennium Falcon, towed in for repairs after a run-in with the Imperial fleet. Stellarators have long been dark horses in fusion energy research but the Dali-esque devices have many attributes that could make them much better prospects for a commercial fusion power plant than the more popular tokamaks: Once started, stellarators naturally purr along in a steady state and they are not prone to the potentially metal-bending magnetic disruptions that plague tokamaks. Unfortunately they are devilishly hard to build. Author: Daniel Clery
Categories: Journal Articles

[Feature] Out of the darkness

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
For years, physicians assumed that once a blind person passed a critical age in early childhood without regaining vision, their brain would never be able to make sense of the visual world. A project called Prakash has demolished that assumption. Since 2004, project eye surgeons have removed congenital cataracts from hundreds of blind children, teenagers and young adults in India, restoring their sight. The surprising capacity of Prakash patients to regain substantial vision is rewriting our understanding of visual neuroscience. While probing how the newly sighted process visual cues, project scientists are peeling away layers of mystery about which aspects of sight come preprogrammed and which are shaped by experience. Author: Rhitu Chatterjee
Categories: Journal Articles

[Perspective] Assembling the wheel of death

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
Inflammation is an essential defense strategy mounted by the innate immune system to eradicate infections and repair tissue damage. The inflammasome is an intracellular signaling complex involved in inflammation initiation and perpetuation. These multimeric protein assemblies promote the activation of proteases and the maturation of proinflammatory cytokines, as well as a form of cell death (pyroptosis) that incites further inflammation (1). Excessive inflammasome activation has been implicated in chronic inflammatory disorders such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease (2). However, inflammasomes also play protective roles in response to microbial pathogens. On pages 404 and 399 of this issue, Zhang et al. (3) and Hu et al. (4) report the structural basis for activation of an inflammasome implicated in both infectious disease response and autoinflammatory disorders (see the first figure). Authors: Zhonghua Liu, Tsan Sam Xiao
Categories: Journal Articles

[Perspective] Chiral anomaly without relativity

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
The Dirac equation, which describes relativistic fermions (like electrons moving at nearly the speed of light), has a mathematically inevitable but puzzling feature: negative-energy solutions. The physical reality of these solutions is unquestionable, as one of their direct consequences—the existence of antimatter—is confirmed by experiment. However, the interpretation of the solutions has always been somewhat controversial. Dirac's own idea was to view the vacuum as a state in which all the negative energy levels are physically filled. This “Dirac sea” idea seems to contradict a common-sense view of the vacuum as a state in which matter is absent. On the other hand, the Dirac sea is a very natural concept from the point of view of condensed matter physics, as there is a direct and simple analogy: filled valence bands of an insulating crystal. There exists, however, a phenomenon within the context of relativistic quantum field theory, whose satisfactory understanding seems to be hard to achieve without assigning physical reality to the Dirac sea. This phenomenon, the chiral anomaly, presents a quantum mechanical violation of chiral symmetry; it was first observed experimentally in particle physics as a decay of a neutral pion into two photons. On page 413 of this issue, Xiong et al. (1) report the observation of this phenomenon in a condensed matter system—a crystal of Na3Bi—manifesting as an unusual negative longitudinal magnetoresistance; the vacuum/insulating crystal analogy is now all the more tangible. Author: Anton Burkov
Categories: Journal Articles

[Perspective] The unknowns of cognitive enhancement

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
“Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain.” These words are attributed to the 20th century Romanian psychopharmacologist Corneliu Giurgea, an early advocate of cognitive enhancement—that is, the use of medications or other brain treatments for improving normal healthy cognition. Contemporary attempts at cognitive enhancement involve an array of drugs and devices for modifying brain function, such as pills taken by students to help them study, or electrical stimulators focused on prefrontal cortex by electronic game players (“e-gamers”) to sharpen their skills. What is known about current methods of cognitive enhancement? What specifically do they enhance, for whom, and with what risks? We know surprisingly little. Author: Martha J. Farah
Categories: Journal Articles

[Perspective] Snapshots of a protein quake

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
“Everything that living things do can be understood in terms of the jigglings and wigglings of atoms,” Richard Feynman famously surmised (1). This question has captured the imagination of biologists since the first protein structure, that of myoglobin, an oxygen (O2) carrier in muscles, was solved by x-ray crystallography (2). Myoglobin binds carbon monoxide (CO) two orders of magnitude more strongly than O2. Bound CO can be dislodged from the active-site heme by light, and the subsequent structural response of the protein has been the focus of intense study by spectroscopic (3), x-ray scattering (4), and x-ray diffraction (XRD) (5, 6) methods, yet complex structural questions remain (7). On page 445 of this issue, Barends et al. (8) provide three-dimensional snapshots of structural changes in myoglobin—low-amplitude collective motions that rapidly spread throughout the protein—that occur during the first few picoseconds (9) after the CO photodissociation. Author: Richard Neutze
Categories: Journal Articles

[Policy Forum] Making waves: The science and politics of ocean protection

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
The ocean has recently taken a more prominent role on the international policy stage. In June, the United Nations (UN) initiated development of a treaty for conservation of biodiversity on the High Seas. One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in September focuses on the ocean. In early October, the second Our Ocean Conference (OO-2015) provided a high-profile platform for nations to tout progress or make promises to protect and restore the ocean. We discuss recent progress in creating and enforcing strongly protected areas, and we emphasize the need to accelerate the pace and draw on scientific knowledge. Authors: Jane Lubchenco, Kirsten Grorud-Colvert
Categories: Journal Articles

[Perspective] Beyond known methanogens

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
Recent advances in DNA sequencing and analysis have shown that much of the microbial life on Earth differs from previously described organisms. The organisms in this “microbial dark matter” are globally ubiquitous and numerous but have largely unknown physiologies (1–4). Given their great evolutionary distance from all laboratory cultures, these mysterious organisms may harbor unique functions with potentially useful biotechnological applications. Like most environments on Earth, coal-bed reservoirs contain microbial dark matter. On page 434 of this issue, Evans et al. (5) show that members of the microbial dark matter phylum Bathyarchaeota (6) from coal beds have the genetic potential to generate methane. Author: Karen Lloyd
Categories: Journal Articles

[Perspective] Toward a rapid and reversible male pill

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
The population of our planet continues to rise at a rapid rate and is reaching unsustainable numbers. The Strategic Plan 2000 of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) states that uncontrolled fertility “is one of the most pressing public health challenges facing the world today” (1). However, while women have had the freedom to control their own reproductive destiny with the “pill” for more than 50 years, there remains no oral contraceptive for men. On page 442 of this issue, Miyata et al. (2) demonstrate that genetic disruption of either the catalytic subunit (PPP3CC) or the regulatory subunit (PPP3R2) of sperm-specific calcineurin or short-term in vivo pharmacological inhibition with cyclosporine A or FK506 yields dysfunctional mouse sperm incapable of proper motility toward the egg. Authors: Julio Castaneda, Martin M. Matzuk
Categories: Journal Articles

[Perspective] Systems biology (un)certainties

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 23:00
Systems biology, some have claimed (1), attempts the impossible and is doomed to fail. Possible definitions abound, but systems biology is widely understood to be an approach for studying the behavior of systems of interacting biological components that combines experiments with computational and mathematical reasoning. Modeling complex systems occurs throughout the sciences, so it may not be immediately clear why it should attract greater skepticism in molecular and cell biology than in other scientific disciplines. The way in which biological models are often presented and interpreted (and overinterpreted) may be partly to blame. As with experimental results, the key to successfully reporting a mathematical model is to provide an honest appraisal and representation of uncertainty in the model's predictions, parameters, and (where appropriate) in the structure of the model itself. Authors: P. D. W. Kirk, A. C. Babtie, M. P. H. Stumpf
Categories: Journal Articles