This Week in Science

Science  27 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6093, pp. 388
  1. Insights into Type 2 Immunity

    Different pathogens trigger characteristic immune responses. Although the immune responses against many bacteria, viruses, and fungi are relatively well understood, those against parasitic worms—termed type 2 responses—are much less so. Intriguingly, type 2 responses also mediate responses to allergens and allergic asthma. Pulendran and Artis (p. 431) review progress in understanding the signals that trigger type 2 immunity and the cellular responses that these responses initiate.

  2. The Male Wiring Diagram

    The function of the nervous system is thought to represent an emergent property of its network connectivity. However, there are few complete descriptions of all the physical connections between neurons within a real nervous system. Working in nematodes, Jarrell et al. (p. 437; see the Perspective by Chklovskii and Bargmann) identified the complete connectome—every single chemical and gap junction synapse—of the tail ganglia, which govern mating behavior.

  3. Fiber with a Twist

    CREDIT: WONG ET AL.

    Optic fibers provide the backbone of communication networks. Controlling light propagation through the fiber is key to maximizing the capacity of information flow. By introducing a literal twist on the photonic crystal fiber, Wong et al. (p. 446) show that adding chirality to the cladding surrounding the core may provide another route to manipulating the transmission of light. Coupling between the twisted cladding and the core results in dips in the transmission spectrum, which are dependent on the degree of twist introduced into the fiber. Such twisted microstructure fibers may offer opportunities for coupling, filtering and manipulating light.

  4. Star Partners

    Stars more massive than eight times the mass of the Sun are rare and short-lived, yet they are fundamentally important because they produce all the heavy elements in the universe, such as iron, silicon, and calcium. Sana et al. (p. 444) examined the properties of a sample of ∼70 massive stars in six stellar clusters located nearby in our galaxy. Over half of the stars in the sample belong to a binary system and, during the course of their lifetimes, most of the stars in these binaries will interact with one another, either by merging or exchanging mass. Binary interaction may thus affect the evolution of the majority of massive stars.

  5. Going Green with Nanophotonics

    Plasmons are optically induced collective electronic excitations tightly confined to the surface of a metal, with silver being the metal of choice. The subwavelength confinement offers the opportunity to shrink optoelectronic circuits to the nanometer scale. However, scattering processes within the metal lead to losses. Lu et al. (p. 450) developed a process to produce atomically smooth layers of silver, epitaxially grown on silicon substrates. A cavity in the silver layer is capped with a SiO insulating layer and an AlGaN nanorod was used to produce a low-threshold emission at green wavelengths.

  6. Getting Packed

    If one neglects the role of specific interactions, the packing of similar-shaped objects will depend only on the particular shape of the object. Damasceno et al. (p. 453; see the Perspective by de Graaf and Manna) present computer simulations of the behavior of different types of polyhedra with simple and complex shapes that are packed under thermal equilibrium into various structures, from crystals to amorphous materials through liquid crystals. Despite the wide variety of starting shapes, the packing behavior could be quantitatively described using just two criteria; one for the particle shape as a function of its volume and surface area, and one for the number of nearest neighbors.

  7. Getting to Know Titan

    Gravity-field measurements provide information on the interior structure of planets and their moons. Iess et al. (p. 457; published online 28 June) analyzed gravity data from six flybys of Saturn's moon, Titan, by the Cassini spacecraft between 2006 and 2011. The data suggest that Titan's interior is flexible on tidal time scales with the magnitude of the observed tidal deformations being consistent with the existence of a global subsurface water ocean.

  8. Tricky Tryps

    African trypanosomes, responsible for human sleeping sickness, are known for their powerful strategies of immune evasion, in particular antigenic variation. Adding another facet to this adaptive potential, Salmon et al. (p. 463, published online 14 June; see the cover) now show that early after infection, these parasites subvert the first line of innate host defense by inhibiting tumor necrosis factor-α synthesis in myeloid cells. This occurs through the stress-induced synthesis and release of cyclic adenosine monophosphate by phagocytosed parasites. The findings provide a long-sought function for the abundant and diverse adenylate cyclases in salivarian trypanosomes. Furthermore, this altruistic host colonization strategy, in which a proportion of parasites are sacrificed so that others can thrive, also highlights the selective advantage of population behavior in infection.

  9. Sarm-Assisted Suicide

    CREDIT: VIVIAN BUDNIK/UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEDICAL SCHOOL

    Neurodegenerative disease or nerve lesions cause axons and synapses to disintegrate through a process known as Wallerian degeneration, which may involve an active “axon death program.” Osterloh et al. (p. 481, published online 7 June; see the Perspective by Yu and Luo) identify loss-of-function mutations in Drosophila dSarm that are capable of blocking the degeneration of severed axons for the fly life span. Deletion of mouse Sarm1 provides similar protection to severed axons for weeks after injury, which suggests that Sarm is part of an ancient axonal death signaling cascade.

  10. Resisting Arsenic

    The discovery of a bacterium living in the extreme conditions of Mono Lake, California, created a major controversy because it was claimed to be able to grow solely on arsenic and could substitute arsenate for phosphate in its key macromolecules, including DNA. Working with the same Halomonas spp. bacterium, known as GFAJ-1, and ultrapure reagents, Erb et al. (p. 467, published online 8 July) found that the bacterium needed a low level of phosphate (1.6 µM) to grow at all. Rather than significant specific arsenic incorporation, when the organism was grown in 40 mM arsenic, its nucleic acids acquired a trace of arsenic. Similarly, Reaves et al. (p. 470, published online 8 July) found that GFAJ-1 could not grow in the absence of phosphate and, moreover, that its growth was not stimulated by the addition of arsenate, although a trace amount of arsenic was also detected in DNA. Thus, GFAJ-1 shows no particular facility to substitute arsenic for phosphate, when phosphate is limiting, but it can tolerate high concentrations of the poison while efficiently scavenging phosphate.

  11. View of a Sodium Pump

    Membrane-integral pyrophosphatases (M-PPases) found in plants, protozoans, bacteria, and archaea, link pyrophosphate hydrolysis or synthesis to sodium or proton pumping and contribute to generating an electrochemical potential across the membrane. Kellosalo et al. (p. 473) report the structure of the sodium pumping M-PPase from Thermotoga maritima in the resting state with product bound. The structures reveal the conformational changes that are likely to accompany pyrophosphate binding and provide insight into the ion-pumping mechanism.

  12. Netting the Bad Guys

    CREDIT: HIUTUNG CHU

    Antimicrobial peptides are an evolutionarily conserved component of innate immunity in the intestine. One family, α-defensins, typically exert their antimicrobial effects through microbicidal activity against bacteria. Humans express only two α-defensins, human defensin 5 (HD5) and HD6. HD5 exhibits bactericidal activity and plays a role in shaping the bacterial composition of the gut. HD6, on the other hand, does not show bactericidal activity and its function in the gut is unclear. Now, Chu et al. (p. 477, published online 21 June; see the Perspective by Ouellette and Selsted) show that HD6 protects against bacterial pathogens. Rather than killing them directly, HD6 binds to bacteria surface proteins and, through a process of self-assembly, forms fibrils and nanonets that ensnare invading bacterial pathogens.

  13. New for Old?

    When confronted with a visual stimulus, such as an object or a scene, the brain decides whether it is new, and thus deserves to be encoded as a new memory, or old, which triggers the retrieval of the previously encoded memory. When shown a series of stimuli, some of which are similar to, but not identical to, old memories, it becomes necessary to switch back and forth between encoding and retrieval processing. Using behavioral tasks performed by human test subjects, Duncan et al. (p. 485) took advantage of the fact that switching takes a second or two and found that a subsequent object, presented before switching has occurred, was more likely to be identified as new when the previous object was new, and identified as old when the previous object was old.

  14. Cracking Up

    Hydraulic fracturing by fluids at high pressure results in damage or breakage along cracks in deep rocks, a process that in some cases causes earthquakes. This process can occur naturally when the hydrologic setting is just right, or can be induced by human activity when fluids are pumped at high pressure into deep aquifers. By studying the fault along which the 1999 magnitude 7.6 Chi-Chi earthquake occurred in Taiwan, where there are currently low tectonic stresses following the large earthquake, Ma et al. (p. 459) observed an unusual type of earthquake-like event that they attribute to natural hydraulic fracturing.

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