Editors' Choice

Science  21 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6348, pp. 264
  1. Evolutionary Biology

    Wasp venom evolution

    1. Catherine Griffin

    Parasitoid wasps have evolved venoms for host control.


    Parasitoid wasps use venom to immobilize their hosts and manipulate them into providing a suitable environment for the growth of wasp larvae. In response to changes in host ranges and availability, venom genes need to evolve rapidly to maintain efficacy. Martinson et al. studied the sequence and expression of venom genes in closely related wasp species to determine how they evolve. The authors found that many of these genes do not evolve through duplication and neofunctionalization, as expected, but rather are the result of co-opting single-copy genes of different functions. Similarly to genes that have lost venom function, these new venom genes are not a consequence of alterations in the gene sequence itself, but instead have modified cis-regulated expression patterns.

    Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2017.05.032 (2017).

  2. Quantum Computing

    Making a quantum-classical hybrid

    1. Jelena Stajic

    Predicting the dynamics of many-body quantum systems is a formidable computational task, in which quantum computers could come to the aid of classical ones. However, the corrections needed to keep errors in check as a quantum computer works require enormous quantum resources. Li and Benjamin propose a hybrid quantum-classical computer based on variational principles. In the proposed system, the classical computer does most of the work and “outsources” to its quantum partner only very specific tasks. This reduces the number of operations that the quantum partner needs to do, allowing it to be less than perfect; the system can efficiently compensate for the quantum partner's errors. A numerical simulation of this hybrid system compares it favorably with competing methods.

    Phys. Rev. X 7, 021050 (2017).

  3. Climate Change

    Get ready, get set, get wet

    1. H. Jesse Smith

    One of the expected consequences of anthropogenic climate change is the intensification of the hydrological cycle as a result of higher surface air temperatures. A commonly invoked description of how that will happen is “the dry will get drier and the wet will get wetter”—but exactly how much wetter the wet regions will get is difficult to predict. Borodina et al. used spatially aggregated observational data of precipitation from 1951 to 2005 to calibrate model outputs of historical rainfall. They found that most models underestimate the scale of heavy rainfall in regions with high rainfall intensity, and the land fraction that it covers, suggesting that the wet may get even wetter than has been expected.

    Geophys. Res. Lett. 10.1002/2017GL074530 (2017).

  4. Cancer Immunotherapy

    A setback for immune checkpoint therapy?

    1. Gemma Alderton

    Nivolumab, an immunotherapy drug, has shown unprecedented success at treating patients with certain types of advanced cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals for nivolumab, and other drugs like it, are for patients with advanced cancer that has progressed or relapsed while on chemotherapy. Carbone et al. tested whether nivolumab could be used as a first-line therapy (before chemotherapy) in lung cancer patients that express the nivolumab target, PD1, and unexpectedly found that the drug was not better than chemotherapy. Compared with chemotherapy, nivolumab did not extend the time before the disease progressed, nor did it improve overall survival. These results suggest that pretreatment with chemotherapy may influence the response to nivolumab.

    N. Engl. J. Med. 376, 2415 (2017).

  5. Population Genetics

    Evolutionarily, the beat goes on

    1. Laura M. Zahn

    Genetic variants affecting heart development and function, such as those associated with coronary artery disease (CAD), are subject to rapid removal from the gene pool. Thus, it is expected that inherited genes related to CAD should also have positive effects. Byars et al. looked for evidence of positive selection in genes previously associated with CAD in populations across the globe. Selection signals were seen in many variants and populations, some of which were associated with the number of offspring. Thus, genetic variants that are linked to disease may also affect other traits that could affect persistence within a population.

    PLOS Genet. 13, e1006328 (2017).

  6. Cognitive Science

    Babies favor facelike stimuli before birth

    1. Emily Morris

    Unborn babies notice facelike images.


    Babies at birth show a preference for facelike stimuli—for instance, a triad of dots configured in a top-heavy manner like a face. Reid et al. show that this predisposition does not require any postnatal experience. Visual stimuli were projected through the mothers' abdomens to human fetuses in the third trimester of pregnancy. Using four-dimensional ultrasound technology, the authors saw that fetuses are more likely to turn their heads to look at a facelike configuration of three dots than an inverted dot configuration. It has often been assumed that no visual experience takes place before birth. A baby's perceptual bias toward faces may be innate or generated by prenatal visual experiences in the womb, rather than rapidly learned after birth.

    Curr. Biol. 27, 1825 (2017).

  7. Photochemistry

    A rhodium catalyst hogs the spotlight

    1. Jake Yeston

    Photochemistry offers an efficient route to constructing four-membered carbon rings, but the product geometry is hard to control precisely. Even though catalysts can selectively orient the reacting partners, it is hard to outpace the unselective background reaction stimulated by catalyst-free light absorption. Huang et al. devised a chiral rhodium catalyst that enhanced the intrinsic blue light absorption of imidazole-substituted enones by more than 100-fold, thereby accelerating their [2+2] reaction with dienes and styrene derivatives. The acceleration was sufficient to achieve 92 to 99% enantiomeric excess in a wide variety of cyclobutane products, several of which bore contiguous quaternary stereocenters.

    J. Am. Chem. Soc. 10.1021/jacs.7b04363 (2017).