Editors' Choice

Science  09 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6218, pp. 142
  1. Glaciology

    Losing traction at higher speeds

    1. H. Jesse Smith

    An Alaskan glacier sliding to its destruction


    How, exactly, will glaciers and ice sheets respond to climate warming? We know that they will melt faster as temperatures rise, but the way they slide over the ground below also should be affected, and that could have a significant impact on how fast they fall apart at their margins. Zoet and Anderson conduct a laboratory study to investigate how drag between ice and the surface that supports it changes with increased sliding speed. They find that drag decreases with increased sliding speed if there exist the right kinds of gaps between the ice and the surface below, which means that weather or climate variability has the potential to cause even more rapid glacier motion, and thus faster sea-level rise.

    J. Glaciology 10.3189/2015JoG14J174 (2014).

  2. Caspases

    For caspases, an escape from death

    1. Beverly A. Purnell

    Caspase proteins are well known for their role in degrading proteins and causing programmed cell death, but researchers now show that they may have nondeadly jobs, too. While looking for proteins that partner with microRNAs (small noncoding RNAs that silence gene expression) to regulate how the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans develops, Weaver et al. found the caspase CED-3. Further experimentation revealed that CED-3 cleaved proteins that play important roles in temporal cell fate patterning, stem cell pluripotency, and microRNA processing.

    eLife 10.7554/eLife.04265 (2014).

  3. Psychology

    Filing words away makes room for more

    1. Gilbert Chin

    Google's search engine makes remembering facts less important than it used to be; Internet access in many countries is 24/7, so finding facts like the speed of sound (340 m/s) is quick and easy. To better understand how people remember new information they encounter digitally, Strom and Stone had subjects use computers to study two PDF files containing lists of words. They found that the metaphorical savings of space, gained by saving the first PDF file to the computer, translated into more memory available for encoding a second list of words. Subjects who saved the first file improved the number of words recalled from the second list.

    Psychol. Sci. 10.1177/0956797614559285 (2014).

  4. Animal Cognition

    Greater challenge, smarter birds

    1. Sacha Vignieri

    Female great tits have superior memories when it comes to food.


    Males of many species, including humans, perform better than females at spatial navigation tasks. Great tits, a common European songbird, reply on spatial navigation for feeding—they pilfer stores of food cached by other bird species. Brodin and Urhan studied whether male and female great tits differed in their ability to find food after watching it get cached. Surprisingly, they found that females remembered the locations of the hidden food better than males. The authors attribute this to male dominance in foraging interactions, which makes finding food harder for females, but also makes them smarter about doing so.

    Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 10.1007/s00265-014-1836-2 (2014).

  5. Mental Health

    Biology undermines clinician empathy

    1. Brad Wible

    The translation of biological insight into therapeutic success is the Holy Grail of biomedical researchers. In the field of mental health, a clinician's empathy with patients also is a key to successful outcomes. Lebowitz and Ahn show that a focus on biological roots for mental disorders can threaten this empathy and the therapeutic alliance between clinician and patient. Mental health providers were presented with descriptions of patients experiencing depression, social phobia, schizophrenia, or obsessive compulsive disorder. Clinicians expressed more empathy when those descriptions emphasized potential causes that were psychosocial (e.g., aspects of life history) rather than biological (e.g., genetics or neurobiology). The pattern held whether the clinician had more medical training (psychiatry) or less (psychologist or social worker).

    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1414058111 (2014).

  6. Paleobiology

    Microbes driving the time machine

    1. Nicholas S. Wigginton

    Preservation of the tissues of Earth's earliest animals—those that were present before and during the Cambrian explosion—required a lot of luck. According to new isotope data from Conotubus hemiannulatus fossils from Shaanxi Province, China, that luck was a function mostly of microbial activity. Schiffbauer et al. show that decaying carbon-rich animals are preserved typically either by being replaced three-dimensionally by pyrite crystals or compressed as carbonaceous films. Sedimentation rate ultimately controlled whether and for how long animal tissues were exposed to zones of bacterial sulfate reduction or methanogenesis within the sediment and thus their preservational style.

    Nat. Commun. 10.1038/ncomms6754 (2014).

  7. HIV Control

    For HIV drugs, location trumps all

    1. Caroline Ash

    An HIV-infected woman in the Central African Republic


    When resources are limiting, HIV-control programs need to be geographically selective. Gerberry et al. reached this conclusion after performing a comparative study of strategies for deploying prophylactic antiretroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa. The researchers used geospatial modeling to compare programs that would provide equal access to drugs with programs that would maximize the overall societal benefit, two guiding principles created by the World Health Organization for allocating scarce resources. The authors' analysis suggests that the utilitarian principle, which maximizes overall societal benefits by locally distributing drugs to high-incidence areas, trumps access to all.

    Nat. Commun. 10.1038/ncomms6454 (2014).

  8. Molecular Medicine

    Bat-filled tree source of Ebola epidemic?

    1. Gretchen Vogel

    Ground zero for the Ebola epidemic in West Africa may have been a hollow tree where children played and bats roosted. A year ago, a toddler in the Guinean village of Meliandou died of a mysterious disease; his family became infected shortly after. Bats are leading suspects for how the toddler caught the disease; in March 2014, scientists went to Guinea to look for signs of an Ebola outbreak in wildlife. But Saéz et al. report finding no such evidence and no direct evidence of Ebola infections in 169 bats they captured and tested. Yet they did find a clue: A tree stump near the toddler's house that burned on 24 March 2014, causing a “rain of bats,” villagers said. Ash around the tree contained DNA fragments matching the Angolan free-tailed bat, known to survive infections with Ebola.

    EMBO Mol. Med. 10.15252/emmm.201404792 (2014).

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