This Week in Science

Science  12 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6142, pp. 107
  1. Ionic Materials via Charged Clusters


    The formation of salts from atomic and small molecular ions could in principle be replicated with larger inorganic clusters. However, many clusters are stabilized by organic ligands that create a barrier for charge transfer reactions to create ions. Roy et al. (p. 157, published online 6 June; see the Perspective by Batail) now report that chromium, cobalt, and nickel selenide and telluride clusters form materials by charge transfer with C60. The Co and Cr clusters formed a layered structure analogous to CdI2, while the Ni cluster formed a structure related to NaCl.

  2. Unexpected Magnetic Highway

    The heliopause is thought to separate the heliosphere (the bubble of plasma and magnetic field originating at the Sun) from interstellar plasma and magnetic field. In August last year, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which was launched 35 years ago, was 18.5 billion kilometers away from the Sun, close to the expected location of the heliopause. Krimigis et al. (p. 144, published online 27 June) report observations of energetic ions and electrons by Voyager 1 that suggest that a sharp and distinct boundary was crossed five times over ∼30 days. Burlaga et al. (p. 147, published online 27 June) found that the magnetic field direction did not change across any of the boundary crossings, indicating that Voyager 1 had not crossed the heliopause but had entered a region in the heliosphere that serves as a magnetic highway along which low-energy ions from inside stream away and galactic cosmic rays flow in from interstellar space. Stone et al. (p. 150, published online 27 June) report the spectra of low-energy galactic cosmic rays in this unexpected region.

  3. One-Step Coverage

    Controllable formation of thin films often requires slow deposition conditions or multiple rounds of coating. Ejima et al. (p. 154; see the Perspective by Bentley and Payne) report a simple and versatile method for coating surfaces with thin biocompatible films made from the condensation of Fe3+ ions and a natural polyphenol, tannic acid, from aqueous solutions. Flat surfaces, colloidal particles, and even bacterial cells could be coated, and the coats could subsequently be degraded by changing the pH.

  4. From Jawless to Jawed

    The earliest vertebrates were jawless. Past reconstructions have assumed that the primitive jawed condition was much like that found in sharks. Trinajstic et al. (p. 160, published online 13 June; see the Perspective by Kuratani) describe fossil musculature from the early jawed placoderms (an extinct class of armored prehistoric fish) that show that the basal structure was distinct from that found in sharks, having a notable dermal joint between the skull and shoulder girdle.

  5. Keeping the Inflammasome in Check

    Nucleotide-binding and oligomerization domain (NOD)–like receptors (NLRs) play an important role in the detection of pathogens by cells of the innate immune system. For several NLR family members, activation results in relief from autoinhibition, oligomerization, and the recruitment of signaling components that together make up the inflammasome, a large multiprotein complex. The inflammasome protects the host by inducing cell death and cytokine secretion. The specific molecular mechanisms that regulate NLR activation and inhibition, however, are not well understood. Hu et al. (p. 172, published online 13 June) report the crystal structure of autoinhibited NLR family member NLRC4, which reveals the domains that are critical for interaction with adenosine diphosphate to keep NLRC4 in its inactive state and the domains that mediate oligomerization of the protein upon activation.

  6. From Nasty to Tasty

    Some of our favorite food crops derive from wild relatives that were distasteful or even toxic. Domestication over many years selected for variants with reduced levels of antinutritional compounds. The wild relatives remain valuable, however, for other traits such as resistance to pathogens, but their use in crop development is complicated by the continued presence of unpalatable compounds. Itkin et al. (p. 175, published online 20 June) elucidate the metabolic pathways and genes directing synthesis of some of these antinutritionals in potato and tomato.

  7. Inward-Facing Antiporter


    Calcium/cation antiporters play a role in regulating the cytosolic calcium concentration by using the electrochemical gradient of other cations to catalyze Ca2+ transport across cell membranes. The structure of a Na+/Ca2+ exchanger in an outward-facing conformation was recently determined. Nishizawa et al. (p. 168, published online 23 May) now report the crystal structure of a H+/Ca2+ exchanger in an inward-facing conformation. Comparison of the structures shows how structural changes create hydrophilic cavities to alternate between the intra- and extracellular sides of the protein, facilitating cation transport.

  8. Avian Flu in Ferrets

    A recent outbreak of avian H7N9 influenza in humans in eastern China has been closely monitored for any evidence of human-to-human transmission and its potential for sparking a pandemic. Zhu et al. (p. 183, published online 23 May) examined the behavior of the avian virus in the ferret, a mammalian model for human influenza. The virus was excreted by the ferrets and could be transmitted readily by contact but displayed limited capacity for airborne infectivity. The pathology of H7N9 is similar to H1N1, and it seems that factors other than the intrinsic pathogenicity of the virus contribute to the reported high fatality rate.

  9. Movers and Shakers


    We tend to view earthquakes as unpredictable phenomena caused by naturally shifting stresses in Earth's crust. In reality, however, a range of human activity can also induce earthquakes. Ellsworth (10.1126/science.1225942) reviews the current understanding of the causes and mechanics of earthquakes caused by human activity and the means to decrease their associated risk. Notable examples include injection of wastewater into deep formations and emerging technologies related to oil and gas recovery, including hydraulic fracturing. In addition to directly causing increased local seismic activity, activities such as deep fluid injection may have other ramifications related to earthquake occurrence. Van der Elst et al. (p. 164; see the news story by Kerr) demonstrate that in the midwestern United States, some areas with increased human-induced seismicity are also more prone to further earthquakes triggered by the seismic waves from large, remote earthquakes. Improved seismic monitoring and injection data near deep disposal sites will help to identify regions prone to remote triggering and, more broadly, suggest times when activities should, at least temporarily, be put on hold.

  10. Cancer Hits a Nerve

    Solid tumors sculpt their microenvironment to maximize their growth and metastatic potential. This concept is illustrated most famously by tumor angiogenesis, a process whereby tumors induce the growth of new blood vessels to boost their supply of oxygen and blood-borne nutrients. Magnon et al. (10.1126/science.1236361; see the Perspective by Isaacs) now highlight the important contribution made by another microenvironmental component—developing autonomic nerve fibers—to tumor growth and metastasis. In mouse models of prostate cancer, surgical or chemical destruction of sympathetic nerves prevented early-stage growth of tumors, whereas pharmacological inhibition of parasympathetic nerves inhibited tumor dissemination. In a small study of human prostate cancer specimens, the presence of a high density of nerve fibers in and around the tumor tissue was found to correlate with poor clinical outcome. These results raise the possibility that drugs targeting the autonomic nervous system may have therapeutic potential for prostate cancer.

  11. Leprosy: Ancient and Modern

    In medieval Europe, leprosy was greatly feared: Sufferers had to wear bells and were shunned and kept isolated from society. Although leprosy largely disappeared from Europe in the 16th century, elsewhere in the world almost a quarter of a million cases are still reported annually, despite the availability of effective drugs. Schuenemann et al. (p. 179, published online 13 June; see the 14 June News story by Gibbons, p. 1278) probed the origins of leprosy bacilli by using a genomic capture-based approach on DNA obtained from skeletal remains from the 10th to 14th centuries. Because the unique mycolic acids of this mycobacterium protect its DNA, for one Danish sample over 100-fold, coverage of the genome was possible. Sequencing suggests a link between the middle-eastern and medieval European strains, which falls in line with social historical expectations that the returning expeditionary forces of antiquity originally spread the pathogen. Subsequently, Europeans took the bacterium westward to the Americas. Overall, ancient and modern strains remain remarkably similar, with no apparent loss of virulence genes, indicating it was most probably improvements in social conditions that led to leprosy's demise in Europe.

  12. Magnesium to the Rescue

    Individuals with X-linked immunodeficiency with Mg2+ defect, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, and neoplasia (XMEN) disease are genetically deficient for expression of MAGT1, a magnesium transporter. Chaigne-Delalande et al. (p. 186) sought to better understand why these individuals are chronically infected with EBV at high viral loads and are susceptible to the development of lymphomas. CD8+ T cells and natural killer cells, which help to keep EBV infection in check, exhibited reduced cytotoxicity owing to their lower expression of the cell surface receptor NKG2D, which triggers cytolysis upon ligation. Magnesium supplementation in vitro and also in two XMEN patients restored levels of free Mg2+, increased NKG2D expression, and resulted in reduced amounts of EBV+ cells, suggesting that this may be an effective therapeutic approach for XMEN patients.

  13. Hierarchy and Representation

    Neuronal representations of objects are elaborated through the hierarchy of occipitotemporal cortical areas, and the recognition of a feature as “novel” is commonly thought to emerge and become prevalent at a cortical area because of local signal processing. Hirabayashi et al. (p. 191) tested another possibility—that a feature representation becomes prevalent in a given area because a microcircuit creates a small number of precursor representations in a prior area in the cortical hierarchy, and the representations then become prevalent through proliferation in the subsequent area. In support of this notion, critical microcircuits for object association were observed using multiple single-unit recordings in two areas of the macaque temporal cortex.