Editors' Choice

Science  18 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6279, pp. 1277
  1. Evolution

    Your mother's blue eggs

    1. Sacha Vignieri

    Blue cuckoo eggs (topmost on the right) are maternally inherited


    The common cuckoo is able to lay its eggs in the nests of a variety of other bird species due to the fact that different cuckoo races lay different-colored eggs. Most of these eggs are spotted, or “maculated,” in various degrees of brown. One race, however, produces immaculate blue eggs, the origin of which has long been something of a mystery. Fossøy et al. sampled eggs across Europe and Asia and found that cuckoo races with blue eggs are distinguished only by maternally inherited components of the genome. Further, females laying blue eggs belong to a single lineage that originated in Asia roughly 2.4 million years ago, and later spread across the continent.

    Nat. Commun. 10.1038/ncomms10272 (2016).

  2. Sleep Research

    Sleep loss, brain structure, and learning

    1. Peter Stern

    Sleep loss is bad for memory formation; however, it affects some of us more than others. Saleti et al. combined memory tests, brain imaging, and sleep EEG recordings to study the interaction between brain structure, sleep loss, and cognitive performance. Individual differences in the anatomy of the human hippocampus explained many of the differences in learning impairment after sleep loss. These structural differences also predicted the subsequent EEG slow-wave activity during recovery sleep and the restoration of learning after sleep. The anatomical structure of the brain may thus represent a biomarker that predicts vulnerability to sleep loss and how easily an individual will recover.

    J. Neurosci. 36, 2355 (2016).

  3. Photosynthesis

    Making the most of too much sun

    1. Pamela J. Hines

    Chlorella ohadii reroutes electrons to thrive in the desert sun


    In sandy crusts of the desert lives a single-celled algae, Chlorella ohadii. Although too much sun will fry people and algae alike, this species survives and thrives in the harsh desert climate. Treves et al. explore the adaptations the algae taps as light conditions shift from enough to too much. In many plants and algae, excess light causes the photosynthetic system to generate singlet oxygen, which in turn causes oxidative damage to nearby proteins. C. ohadii can reroute electrons between radiative and nonradiative pathways, thus limiting the photodamage. An increase in the range of sunlight that can be productively assimilated may find biotechnological and agricultural applications.

    New Phytol. 10.1111/nph.13870 (2016).

  4. Immunology

    Lymphocytes force target cells to die

    1. L. Bryan Ray

    The ability of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) to kill target cells is essential for immune system function and recent cancer therapies. Basu et al. show that CTLs induce cell death in part by tugging on the target cell. Stimulating CTLs caused increased force generation that was associated with increased formation of pores in target cells, which result from release of the perforin protein from CTLs. Enhanced pore formation and the resultant lysis of target cells were diminished if force generation was limited by growing cells on soft hydrogels. Local activation of pore formation in this manner may help protect neighboring cells from cytolytic secretions.

    Cell 10.1016/j.cell.2016.01.021(2016).

  5. Chemistry

    Beyond blank slates in the lab notebook

    1. Jake Yeston

    Keeping an accurate laboratory notebook is a critical element of good scientific practice. It's helpful to start at an early age, so Willoughby et al. explored the influence of the reporting format on the record kept by undergraduates (and in one case more experienced researchers) conducting several chemistry experiments. Specifically, they focused on how templates, both paper-based and computer-based, affected the quantity and quality of information captured. They found that section headings and contextual cues helped ensure the preservation of a certain essential subset of information. At the same time, a free-form reporting format led to more detailed explanatory discussion of observations.

    J. Cheminform. 10.1186/s13321-016-0118-6 (2016).

  6. Diversity

    How a subtle bias influences retention

    1. Melissa McCartney

    Why do gender disparities in different science fields continue to persist? Grunspan et al. took a closer look at the social environment women experience in science classrooms. Students and instructors in three sections of the same undergraduate biology course were asked at multiple points during the semester to name the students they considered knowledgeable about course content. After controlling for differences in performance and outspokenness, females nominated their male and female peers equitably, whereas male students received more recognition from other males than did their female classmates. Further analysis showed that gender bias among male students was 19 times stronger than among females. The favoring of males by their peers may play a role in the retention of women in science.

    PLOS One 10.1371/journal.pone.0148405 (2016)

  7. Materials Science

    A light protective overcoat

    1. Marc S. Lavine

    Dynamic windows, whose transmission properties can be tuned using heat or electric fields, can help lower heating and cooling costs in a building. Vanadium(IV) oxide has long been studied as a coating material, but on its own has a high modulation temperature and poor visible light transmission and is subject to chemical attack. Powell et al. examined layered films made from VO3, SiO2, and TiO2. The SiO2 adds a barrier layer to the vanadium, stabilizing it from attack and diffusion of Ti, whereas the TiO2 adds self-cleaning properties to the glass. The combination also increased the visible light transmission by 30%.

    Chem. Mater. 10.1021/acs.chemmater.5b04419 (2016).