Editors' Choice

Science  04 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6252, pp. 1067
  1. Genetics

    A beetle reveals its genetic secrets

    1. Beverly A. Purnell

    Both overlapping and distinct genes regulate cellular processes in fruit flies and red flour beetles


    Sequencing tells us the molecular makeup of a genome, but genetic screens—an experimental technique that uses RNA interference (RNAi) or mutagenesis to select for specific phenotypes of interest—reveal gene function. Genetic screens of the Drosophila genome have informed scientists about how cell signaling, metabolism, and development occur in these insects. However, whether other insects exhibit similar biology remains unclear. To find out, Schmitt-Engel et al. performed an RNAi screen of the red flour beetle and found both similarities and differences in the genes and pathways that regulate beetle development, signaling, and physiology as compared to Drosophila. Broadening genetic screens to other insects may prove instrumental for understanding insect gene function.

    Nat. Commun. 6, 782 (2015)

  2. Psychology

    Need we think about what others think?

    1. Gilbert Chin

    Imagine how everyday life would be if we were unable to represent in our own minds what others believed or intended or desired. Such a scenario would likely demand a whole new level of mental focus. Yet we enjoy rich social lives without seeming to spend much effort figuring out what others are thinking—it merely happens—in a process psychologists call automaticity. Phillips et al., however, cast doubt on this hypothesis by conducting a thorough analysis of a complex experimental design used to obtain evidence in favor of automaticity; they find that a subtle error in experimental design undermines the earlier conclusions. These errors do not rule out automaticity, but highlight the need for more carefully designed research.

    Psych. Sci. 26, 10.1177/0956797614558717 (2015).

  3. Neuroscience

    Stress reduces self-control

    1. Laura Schuhmacher

    Stress can lead people to make unhealthy food choices


    Everyone experiences situations in which our willpower fades, and we abandon self-control for choices that we later regret. Maier et al. assessed how stress affects self-control in young adults that have a healthy lifestyle but reported indulging in fast-food treats regularly. Compared to control participants, participants who were experimentally stressed preferred tastier foods more often in a two-choice taste test, regardless of whether their choice was less healthy and in disagreement with their self-imposed dietary restrictions. Brain imaging revealed more-active reward and taste circuits in stressed participants and less activity in regions associated with self-control. This suggests that stressed individuals prefer immediate reward over following a long-term goal.

    Neuron 87, 621 (2015).

  4. Political Science

    Electing by Internet search algorithm

    1. Barbara R. Jasny

    With more people relying on the Internet as their primary information source, how information is delivered becomes increasingly important. To determine how Internet search rankings can influence undecided voters, Epstein and Robertson performed double-blinded, randomized controlled experiments on participants in the United States and India. They found that manipulating search engine results influenced voting preferences of undecided voters in a manner that could substantially affect a close election. Study participants perceived the induced bias infrequently. Artificially increasing the ranking of candidates shifted the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20% or more.

    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1419828112 (2015).

  5. Glaciology

    Shaking with the flow

    1. H. Jesse Smith

    The flow of water beneath glaciers affects glacial motion, the transport of sediments, and water discharge into the ocean, among other things. Too little is known about the details of subglacial hydrology, however, to fully understand the full range of its impacts. Bartholomaus et al. report that subglacial discharge can be detected by measurement of the seismic tremor that it causes. Their observations at the edges of a half-dozen glaciers in Alaska and Greenland show that subglacial discharge is less intense in the winter than in the summer, and they demonstrate how the technique can be used to constrain important processes such as iceberg calving and submarine glacial melting.

    Geophys. Res. Lett. 10.1002/2015GL064590 (2015).

  6. Astrochemistry

    Diffuse interstellar bands in the lab

    1. Keith T. Smith

    The diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs) are a set of hundreds of broad optical/near-infrared absorption features seen throughout the interstellar medium. Despite the first DIBs being discovered as long ago as 1922, none of the bands has ever been convincingly identified with a particular chemical species. Now Campbell et al. have obtained gas-phase lab spectroscopy of the buckminsterfullerene ion C60+ that matches two of the known DIBs, finally confirming a tentative assignment made in 1994. This is the first conclusive identification of a DIB carrier and demonstrates that fullerenes are widely distributed in space.

    Nature 523, 322 (2015).

  7. Ferroelectrics

    Stretching ferroelectrics from within

    1. Jelena Stajic

    Squeezing or stretching ferroelectric materials can strongly affect their properties. Although it is relatively easy to apply isotropic compressive stress, tensile stress is trickier. Wang et al. have found a way to do that in nanowires made out of the ferroelectric PbTiO3. The wires initially had a tetragonal structure, but when they were exposed to air and high temperatures, they transformed into the so-called perovskite phase, which is much denser. The densification progressed from the surface of the wires inward, inflicting tensile stress and causing voids to form inside the wires. For a narrow range of wire diameters, this resulted in a deformation along the polarization axis and the enhancement of ferroelectric properties.

    Nat. Mat. 10.1038/nmat4365 (2015).