Editors' Choice

Science  20 Mar 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6484, pp. 1337
  1. Cognition

    Avian statisticians

    1. Sacha Vignieri

    Parrots, like this New Zealand kea, are increasingly recognized for having high-level cognitive abilities.


    We humans, even those not well versed in the study of statistics, make statistical inferences regularly when we decide to, say, choose from a bowl with a high ratio of chocolate chips to nuts. In the animal world, this kind of inference, and the ability to broadly apply it when making choices, has also been found in chimpanzees, but whether it exists outside of this lineage has been debated. Bastos and Taylor looked for statistical ability in parrots, which are increasingly recognized as having high-level cognitive functions. When trained to understand that certain tokens conferred a reward, keas (scavenging parrots native to New Zealand) consistently judged their chances of acquiring one under different circumstances. They were as successful as humans at avoiding samples offered from containers with the fewest reward tokens and consistently chose samples offered from containers with the most. They also spotted when the experimenters introduced biases.

    Nat. Commun. 11, 828 (2020).

  2. Brain Mapping

    Connecting the human amygdala

    1. Peter Stern

    The amygdala is a brain structure that is affected in many different psychiatric disorders. We still have an inadequate understanding of its role within the organization of the human brain. Sylvester et al. used repeated sampling and precision mapping to define three amygdala subdivisions in 10 individuals based on connectivity patterns with the cortex. These subdivisions occupied similar locations in different subjects and similar network connectivity. One subdivision has preferential functional connectivity to the default mode network, which engages when an individual is focused on a specific task; a second, medially located subdivision preferentially connects to the dorsal attention network; and a third connects to a ventrally located amygdala subdivision, but does not show any functional network preferences. These data may help to develop biologically plausible biomarkers and targets for intervention in psychiatric patients.

    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 117, 3808 (2020).

  3. Seismology

    The red planet quakes

    1. Brent Grocholski

    Seismic activity on Mars (shown) has been detected by NASA's InSight lander.


    The first unsuccessful attempt to detect seismic activity on Mars was in 1975 on the Viking landers. More than 40 years later, Giardini et al. finally detected marsquakes with the seismometer on the InSight mission that landed on Mars in 2018. Most of the detected marsquakes have been small, but there were a few that could be as large as a magnitude 4. Although most of the 174 events were likely due to seismic activity, some may have been caused by meteorite impact or other sources. The catalog forms a basis for further investigation into the rock properties in the martian interior.

    Nat. Geosci. 13, 205 (2020).

  4. Cancer

    Cancer therapy in good order

    1. Paula A. Kiberstis

    Treatment of cancer patients with two or more drugs acting through different mechanisms is a strategy that has prolonged many lives. Whether the drugs within these combination therapies are delivered concurrently or sequentially can have a major impact on efficacy. A new study illustrates this principle for drugs that inhibit cell cycle kinases CDK4 and CDK6 (CDK4/6 inhibitors), which have attracted great interest because of their clinical efficacy in breast cancer. Studying mouse models of pancreatic cancer, Salvador-Barbero et al. found that sequential treatment with Taxol (which inhibits mitosis) followed by a CDK4/6 inhibitor (which prevents cell cycle entry) offered substantially more therapeutic benefit than concurrent treatment with the drugs. Mechanistically, this is because the CDK4/6 inhibitor prevents cancer cells from repairing the chromosomal damage caused by Taxol.

    Cancer Cell 10.1016/j.ccell.2020.01.007 (2020).

  5. Psychology

    The psychology of the alt-right

    1. Tage S. Rai

    The political movement known as the “alt-right” has increased in popularity in the United States over the past several years. However, empirical descriptive research on the psychological characteristics that unite members of the movement is needed. Forscher and Kteily conducted detailed survey work to determine the popularity of the movement and its psychological profile. On the basis of their findings, the authors estimate that 6% of the U.S. population, and 10% of people who voted for Trump in the 2016 election, identify as being part of the alt-right. Alt-right members do not indicate feelings of economic anxiety, but rather exhibit preferences for social group–based hierarchies favoring whites. These results have implications for understanding the role of intergroup relations and conflict in U.S. electoral politics.

    Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 15, 90 (2020).

  6. Cheminformatics

    Machine learning for natural extracts

    1. Yury Suleymanov

    Natural products and their derivatives continue to be an important source of drug candidates because of their structural diversity and wide-ranging biological activities, which are unmatched by synthetic compounds. Natural products are generally complex mixtures with chemical constituents that are not well characterized. Reher et al. report a nuclear magnetic resonance–based machine-learning tool, SMART, for rapid structural analysis of major constituents from crude natural extracts and for the discovery of new natural products. For example, SMART automatically characterized a cyanobacterial extract mixture and isolated a new chimeric macrolide, symplocolide A; it also dereplicated several known natural products. The proposed cheminformatic tool paves the way for new computer-aided approaches to natural product drug discovery.

    J. Am. Chem. Soc. 142, 4114 (2020).

  7. Signaling

    A decoy insulin receptor in worms?

    1. L. Bryan Ray

    Insulin signaling in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans appears to be regulated by expression of a truncated, alternatively spliced form of the receptor that lacks the intracellular signaling domain of the receptor. Expression of the spliced form of the receptor, DAF-2B, is regulated in the worm and serves to modulate the effects of insulin-like peptides. Expression of DAF-2B alters sensitivity to insulin. Martinez et al. suggest that the modified receptor might alter insulin signaling by sequestering insulin peptides on the inactive receptor, although such binding was not shown. Interaction with the full-length receptor is also a possibility. The results raise the intriguing possibility that a spliced receptor might function similarly in mammals and contribute to the control of insulin signaling.

    eLife 9, e49917 (2020).

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