Editors' Choice

Science  14 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6407, pp. 1084
  1. Ecology and Climate

    Organic-matter flow in kelp forest

    1. Andrew M. Sugden

    Laminaria ochroleuca is moving north as the climate warms.


    As the global climate warms, there are shifts in the geographical distribution of organisms, which can be accompanied by changes in ecosystem functioning. Pessarrodona et al. have been investigating the ecosystem consequences of the climate-driven arrival of warm-temperate kelp forest communities to the northwestern coastlines of Europe. Cycling of organic matter in the ecosystem—through kelp growth, herbivory, and decomposition—was faster in the new communities relative to cycling in native cold-temperate kelp communities. Notably, decomposition of plant detritus occurred 6.5 times faster. The continued northward expansion of warm-temperate kelp can be expected to lead to shifts in the flow of organic matter through these ecosystems and to further changes in associated communities of consumer organisms.

    J. Ecol. 10.1111/1365-2745.13053 (2018).

  2. Cancer

    The benefits of marginal brain therapy

    1. Paula A. Kiberstis

    Diffuse gliomas are among the most common brain tumors in adults. Surgery is often successful, but, in many patients, the tumor eventually recurs at the surgical margins. A promising drug targets certain mutationally altered metabolic enzymes in gliomas but is toxic when delivered systemically. Shankar et al. hypothesized that both problems could be addressed by applying the drug directly to the surgical margins immediately after tumor resection. They developed a diagnostic tool that can be used in the operating room to determine tumor mutation status and, hence, drug sensitivity. By studying mouse models, they found that when they injected a sustained-release formulation of the drug directly into gliomas of the appropriate genotype, the mice survived considerably longer than control mice.

    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 115, E8388 (2018).

  3. Developmental Biology

    Unraveling the mystery of thalidomide

    1. Priscilla N. Kelly

    Off-label use of thalidomide became a worldwide trend in the 1950s and early 1960s to alleviate morning sickness. It resulted in a historical tragedy, as thousands of babies were born with severe birth defects. Donovan et al. may have found a missing link to explain how the drug affects fetal development. The researchers show that thalidomide and closely related drugs rapidly degrade the transcription factor Sal-like protein 4 (SALL4), which is necessary for fetal limb and organ formation. Adding further weight to their findings, certain individuals with mutations in the SALL4 gene develop abnormalities that resemble thalidomide-induced birth defects.

    eLife 7, e38430 (2018).

  4. Phosphatase Drugs

    Drugging the undruggable

    1. Stella M. Hurtley

    The reversible phosphorylation of proteins controls all aspects of life. Targeting phosphorylation offers a broad range of therapeutic opportunities. Although kinases are among the most prevalent drug targets, phosphatases have traditionally been overlooked. Krzyzosiak et al. used surface plasmon resonance to develop a method to enable target-based discovery of serine/threonine phosphatases. The method identified Raphin1, a selective inhibitor of the regulatory subunit of protein phosphatase 1, PPP1R15B, a negative regulator of protein quality control. Raphin1 boosted protein quality control in cells and slowed down disease progression in a mouse model of Huntington's disease.

    Cell 174, 1216 (2018).

  5. Physics

    The entropy of a few

    1. Jelena Stajic

    Mesoscopic structures have been predicted to host topologically nontrivial quantum states that could form the basis of fault-tolerant quantum computing. Distinguishing these states from more mundane ones is tricky; one potentially distinguishing characteristic is the entropy of the state, which would have to be measured to high precision in a system of only a few particles. Hartman et al. demonstrate such a technique and validate it using a well-understood GaAs quantum dot system. The method is based on the relationship between changes in the chemical potential and changes in temperature, entropy, and the number of particles residing on the dot. Its precision suggests that it could be used in more exotic settings.

    Nat. Phys. 10.1038/s41567-018-0250-5 (2018).

  6. Environment

    Following plastic through the economy

    1. Julia Fahrenkamp-Uppenbrink

    Reducing plastic pollution requires better knowledge of its entire life cycle.


    Over the past 50 years, plastic production and pollution have surged. Efforts to better handle plastic waste require detailed knowledge of the life cycles of different plastic types. Kawecki et al. report a probabilistic study of the life cycles of seven polymers that together make up 80% of the plastics used by manufacturers in Europe. The authors provide a detailed picture of the production, manufacturing, consumption, waste collection, and recycling, including trade flows, for each polymer, with a particular focus on textiles. The results can be used to predict how much plastic is likely to be released into the environment at different stages of each plastic's life cycle, thus informing strategies for preventing plastic pollution.

    Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 9874 (2018).

  7. Protein Folding

    Specialized chaperones required

    1. Michael A. Funk

    Although some proteins can reach a properly folded state without assistance, many require help to adopt the correct topology and avoid kinetic trapping in nonnative states. Chaperones encapsulate guest proteins and use adenosine triphosphate (ATP)–driven conformational changes to help them fold, but not all chaperones work for all substrates. Balchin et al. compared the folding pathway of the cytoskeleton protein actin with its proper chaperone, TRiC, to the incorrect folding that occurs with the bacterial chaperone GroEL. TRiC functions by stabilizing an extended form of actin with the proper secondary structure and topology. ATP binding and hydrolysis drives release of this partially folded intermediate into the chaperone where it can successfully fold. GroEL fails to bind the intermediate properly and thus is not able to successfully fold actin, even after ATP binding and hydrolysis.

    Cell 174, 1507 (2018).