Volume 474 Issue 7351, 16 June 2011

Hearing is initiated by the movement of tiny bundles of cilia located at the top of hair cells inside the ear. Despite being surrounded by the viscous fluid that bathes the inner ear, these stereocilia remain sensitive to movements of atomic dimension. The mechanism that makes this possible by eliminating most of the viscous drag in the liquid between the stereocilia has now been demonstrated. Analysis of the balance of forces in bullfrog hair cell stereocilia on a subnanometre scale shows that, at the frequencies used in hearing, most stereocilia inside the hair bundle are shielded from the external liquid and move almost as one. The cover depicts simulations of the motion of the hair bundles; increasing sound frequency progressively entrains more stereocilia (middle image) until the bundle moves as a unit over a broad range of audible frequencies (back image).


  • Editorial |

    If it is to deal effectively with outbreaks of infectious diseases, Germany must streamline its convoluted systems for reporting and communication.

  • Editorial |

    Nations should release global nuclear-monitoring data to academics and the public.

  • Editorial |

    Researchers should contribute to a US analysis of the case for chimpanzee research.

World View

Research Highlights

Seven Days


News Feature


  • Comment |

    Our brains are hard-wired to make poor choices about harm prevention in today's world. But we can fight it, says Daniel Gilbert.

    • Daniel Gilbert
  • Comment |

    Keith Lloyd and Jo White commend a way for patients, clinicians and scientists to set priorities jointly.

    • Keith Lloyd
    •  & Jo White

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    Carl Zimmer's primer on viruses entertains, but reveals little about their basic traits, says Robin Weiss.

    • Robin Weiss
  • Books & Arts |

    Good notebook skills are vital for documenting observations of the natural world, finds Sandra Knapp.

    • Sandra Knapp
  • Books & Arts |

    Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rap artist whose award-winning show The Rap Guide to Evolution wowed UK crowds at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival during Charles Darwin's bicentenary year. As the show opens next week for a long summer run off Broadway in New York, Brinkman discusses rhyme, improvisation and scientific certainty.

    • Kerri Smith


News & Views

  • News & Views |

    In animals that live in groups, some individuals are leaders and others are followers. A modelling study shows that variation in leadership evolves spontaneously and need not be related to differences in knowledge or power.

    • Franz J. Weissing
  • News & Views |

    A subtle biochemical alteration can reprogram signals that herald the termination of protein translation into signals encoding amino acids at the level of messenger RNA — and without altering the corresponding DNA. See Letter p.395

    • Adrian R. Ferré-D'Amaré
  • News & Views |

    The presence of magnetic moments in materials known as Kondo lattices can lead to an exotic transformation in their properties. The first successful endeavour into imaging such a transformation has now been made. See Letter p.362

    • Piers Coleman
  • News & Views |

    The crystal structure of a sugar-transferring enzyme offers insight into the mechanism of a ubiquitous protein-modification reaction, and solves the mystery of how the enzyme recognizes certain sequences in proteins. See Article p.350

    • Reid Gilmore
  • News & Views |

    Collective X-ray emission from distant galaxies reveals a hidden population of supermassive black holes. This finding suggests that galaxies and their central black holes have been coevolving since early cosmic times. See Letter p.356

    • Alexey Vikhlinin
  • News & Views |

    Separating primary from secondary changes in the autistic brain has long been a research goal. With knowledge of wide-ranging molecular deficits, identification of the best therapeutic targets becomes a priority. See Letter p.380

    • Željka Korade
    •  & Károly Mirnics


Review Article




  • Feature |

    Cramped living conditions, unruly colleagues or crowded schedules can be challenging for the most intrepid scientist.

    • Lucas Laursen


Career Brief

  • Career Brief |

    UK university offers fellowships leading to academic posts.

  • Career Brief |

    Early-career scientists sought to join collaborative institutions in Germany.

  • Career Brief |

    Isolation and lack of confidence hold back careers of female postdocs, says US association.



  • Insight |

    Intestinal Networks in Health and Disease

    The intestinal tract has two main functions: the digestion and absorption of nutrients, and an essential barrier to the external environment, protecting against infection and disease. Tens of trillions of resident microbes, known as the gut microbiota, help to keep this system in balance. This Insight explores the complex networks involved in maintaining a healthy gut, and may point to future strategies for more effective preventative and therapeutic measures.

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