Science


[Perspective] Managing cell and human identity

Science

Scientific discoveries and new technologies that aim to improve human health challenge our understanding of what it means to be human. Perceptions of being and the boundaries between humans and other species may be disrupted by our potential to manipulate genes and their expression, regulate cellular functions, and replace tissues to improve the quality of life. As we gain a greater understanding of genetic complexity, molecular mechanisms, and cellular and tissue functions, technologies aimed at modifications could, in theory, also be applied to enhance our physical and cognitive abilities. How can the normative and historical discourse about human identity help us decide if, how, and when to use genetic, stem cell, and reproductive technologies that may change characteristics of our cells and thus, perhaps, our individual and human identities (1)?


[Feature] The weather master

Science

For decades, code devised by Shian-Jiann Lin, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has powered many of the United States's climate models. Now, his program, which describes with canny accuracy the swirl of air around the globe, will expand into a new domain: the short-term weather forecasts of the National Weather Service. By 2018, Lin's program will power a unified system for both climate and weather forecasting, one that could predict conditions tomorrow, or a century from now. It represents a coming merger between weather and climate scientists, who have discovered common ground in seeking rapid progress on "subseasonal to seasonal" predictions--forecasts from a month to 2 years out.


[Report] Giant viruses with an expanded complement of translation system components

Science

Some giant viruses encode a genome larger than that of some bacteria, but their evolutionary history is a mystery. Examining the genomes within a sample from a wastewater treatment plant in Austria, Schulz et al. assembled a previously undiscovered giant virus genome, which they used to mine genetic databases for related viruses. The authors thus identified a group of giant viruses with more genes encoding components of the protein translation machinery, including aminoacyl transfer RNA synthetases, than in other giant viruses.



[Perspective] Breathing to inspire and arouse

Science

This behavior is more complicated than just producing inspiration, as breathing is integrated with many other motor functions such as vocalization, orofacial motor behaviors, emotional expression (laughing and crying), and locomotion (1, 2). Conscious breathing during yoga, meditation, or psychotherapy can modulate emotion, arousal state, or stress (3). Therefore, understanding the links between breathing behavior, brain arousal state, and higher-order brain activity is of great interest. This finding provides new insight into how the motor act of breathing can influence higher-order brain functions.


[Report] Dengue diversity across spatial and temporal scales: Local structure and the effect of host population size

Science

A fundamental mystery for dengue and other infectious pathogens is how observed patterns of cases relate to actual chains of individual transmission events. Using geolocated genotype (800 cases) and serotype (17,291 cases) data, we show that in Bangkok, Thailand, 60% of dengue cases living 200 meters apart come from the same transmission chain, as opposed to 3% of cases separated by 1 to 5 kilometers. This trend is observed regardless of whether population density or area increases, though increases in density over 7000 people per square kilometer do not lead to additional chains. These findings are consistent with local, density-dependent transmission and implicate densely populated communities as key sources of viral diversity, with home location the focal point of transmission.


[Editors' Choice] Recovering galaxy images from noisy data

Science

The information that can be extracted from an image of a galaxy is fundamentally limited by the resolution and noise in the data. Schawinski et al. have applied a machine learning method to galaxy images, which is trained by comparing artificially degraded images with the originals. The algorithm is then used to recover features from previously unseen degraded images, which it performs more successfully than traditional deconvolution techniques.


[Policy Forum] A roadmap for rapid decarbonization

Science

Although the Paris Agreement's goals (1) are aligned with science (2) and can, in principle, be technically and economically achieved (3), alarming inconsistencies remain between science-based targets and national commitments. Following the Agreement, which became international law earlier than expected, several countries published mid-century decarbonization strategies, with more due soon. Model-based decarbonization assessments (4) and scenarios often struggle to capture transformative change and the dynamics associated with it: disruption, innovation, and nonlinear change in human behavior. To harness these dynamics and to calibrate for short-term realpolitik, we propose framing the decarbonization challenge in terms of a global decadal roadmap based on a simple heuristic--a "carbon law"--of halving gross anthropogenic carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions every decade.


[Review] Vertically extensive and unstable magmatic systems: A unified view of igneous processes

Science

New conceptual models of transcrustal magmatic systems raise new questions about the development and stability of these complex systems and the processes that control their chemical and physical evolution. Over long times, magmatic processes are modulated by slow (plate rate) melt generation and transfer to the lower crust; these slow processes contrast with volcanic eruptions, where large amounts of magma are erupted quickly. The end results of these slow and fast processes are a diverse suite of igneous rocks and a wide spectrum of eruptive behaviors observed in the world's volcanoes.


[Policy Forum] CRISPR, surrogate licensing, and scientific discovery

Science

Several institutions are embroiled in a legal dispute over the foundational patent rights to CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, and it may take years for their competing claims to be resolved (1–4). But even before ownership of the patents is finalized, the institutions behind CRISPR have wasted no time capitalizing on the huge market for this groundbreaking technology by entering into a series of license agreements with commercial enterprises (see the figure). With respect to the potentially lucrative market for human therapeutics and treatments, each of the key CRISPR patent holders has granted exclusive rights to a spinoff or "surrogate" company formed by the institution and one of its principal researchers (5, 6). Although this model, in which a university effectively outsources the licensing and commercialization of a valuable patent portfolio to a private company, is not uncommon in the world of university technology transfer, we suggest it could rapidly bottleneck the use of CRISPR technology to discover and develop useful human therapeutics.