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Volume 485 Issue 7399, 24 May 2012

The rorqual whales include the largest vertebrates known, living or extinct. Their natural history is well known — they have been hunted for centuries — yet many details of their biomechanics and morphology remain obscure. They have evolved 'lunge feeding', a method unique among vertebrates, which involves swimming at speed while gulping large volumes of water laden with fish, krill or other prey. Now, an interdisciplinary team reports the discovery in the jaws of fin, minke and other rorqual whales of a previously unknown sensory organ that has a crucial role in coordinating lunge feeding. The organ is formed from vascular and nervous tissue derived from the ancestral, anterior-most tooth socket and contains mechanoreceptors that record the dramatic changes in jaw position and throat-pouch expansion during a lunge. The cover shows a Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni) feeding on sardines off Baja California, Mexico. (Credit: Doug Perrine/


  • Editorial |

    A controversial field trial of technology to mitigate climate change has been cancelled, but research continues. A robust governance framework is sorely needed to prevent further setbacks.

  • Editorial |

    Research into the Fukushima meltdowns has given a new lease of life to a valuable group.

  • Editorial |

    A previously unknown sensory organ provides a lesson in coordination.

World View

  • World View |

    The concept of environmental thresholds is compelling, but it has the potential to shift political focus to the wrong areas, says Simon L. Lewis.

    • Simon L. Lewis

Research Highlights

Seven Days

  • Seven Days |

    The week in science: Canada shuts down influential lakes research site; France’s science minister appointed; and commercial spaceflight firm SpaceX launches its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.



News Feature

  • News Feature |

    The fight over mutant flu has thrown the spotlight on a little-known government body that oversees dual-use research. Some are asking if it was up to the task.

    • Brendan Maher
  • News Feature |

    The world's largest underground laboratory has been a success story for Italian science. But 30 years after construction began, its future is uncertain.

    • Nicola Nosengo


  • Comment |

    Bacterial evolution is overwhelming our antibiotic defences, says Kim Lewis. Using modern technology to replicate past success might tip the balance in our favour.

    • Kim Lewis
  • Comment |

    Urgent public debate is needed over a European proposal to regulate environmental levels of the active ingredient in birth-control pills, say Richard Owen and Susan Jobling.

    • Richard Owen
    • Susan Jobling

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    New York-based author and illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm makes hand-printed books on Darwin and other historical scientific subjects — including a hand-stitched treatise on surgical suturing. As he releases Trinity, a graphic history of the atomic bomb, Fetter-Vorm talks about crafting science chronicles.

    • Jascha Hoffman


News & Views Forum

  • News & Views Forum |

    Predicting plant responses to increasing temperatures is integral to assessing the global impact of climate change. But the authors of a comparative study assert that warming experiments may not accurately reflect observational data. Climate and ecosystem scientists discuss how impact prediction should proceed. See Letter p.494

    • This Rutishauser
    • Reto Stöckli
    • Lara Kueppers

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    An inorganic semiconductor can take the place of the liquid electrolyte typically used in dye-sensitized solar cells. This achievement points the way to making these devices more easily manufactured and more stable. See Letter p.486

    • Thomas E. Mallouk
  • News & Views |

    Alterations in brain blood vessels in mice precede the neural dysfunction associated with Alzheimer's disease. The finding highlights potential targets for drug development. See Letter p.512

    • Peter Carmeliet
    • Bart De Strooper
  • News & Views |

    An analysis of geochemical data reveals a substantial change in the composition of Earth's magmas about 2.5 billion years ago, just as Earth's atmosphere and climate were also changing drastically. See Letter p.490

    • William M. White
  • News & Views |

    An ingenious technique allows the monitoring of brain-wide patterns of neuronal activity in a vertebrate at the cellular level, while the animal interacts with a virtual environment. See Article p.471

    • Joseph R. Fetcho
  • News & Views |

    The latest measurements of the mass of the W boson, one of two elementary particles that mediate the weak nuclear force, are a powerful reminder of the profound beauty in the standard model of particle physics.

    • Jonathan Butterworth
  • News & Views |

    Stars that are just like our Sun have flares more than a million times more energetic than the biggest flare ever seen on the Sun. The Kepler satellite has allowed these superflares to be studied in detail for the first time. See Letter p.478

    • Bradley E. Schaefer


  • Article |

    The small GTPase Rab5 has been proposed to be a master regulator of endosome biogenesis; using in vivo RNA interference and mathematical modelling it is shown here that the endolysosomal system is resilient to loss of Rab5 until its concentration drops below a critical level, at which point endosomes are lost, leading to increased serum low-density lipoprotein levels, alterations in metabolism and hepatocellular polarity.

    • Anja Zeigerer
    • Jerome Gilleron
    • Marino Zerial
  • Article |

    Neural activity is recorded at the cellular level, throughout the brain of larval zebrafish, while the animals interact with a virtual environment and adapt their motor output to changes in visual feedback; this is used to derive candidates of functional elements driving motor learning.

    • Misha B. Ahrens
    • Jennifer M. Li
    • Ruben Portugues


  • Letter |

    Observations of superflares on solar-type stars indicate that they are associated with much larger starspots than appear on the Sun, occur more frequently on rapidly rotating stars and, contrary to a previous proposal, are not frequently associated with hot Jupiters.

    • Hiroyuki Maehara
    • Takuya Shibayama
    • Kazunari Shibata
  • Letter |

    A method for achieving fully tunable entanglement between a single 40Ca+ ion and the polarization state of a single photon within an optical resonator is reported, providing a promising means of distributing information within quantum networks.

    • A. Stute
    • B. Casabone
    • R. Blatt
  • Letter |

    A solution-processable inorganic semiconductor is reported that can replace the liquid electrolyte of dye-sensitized solar cells, yielding all-solid-state solar cells with impressive energy conversion efficiencies.

    • In Chung
    • Byunghong Lee
    • Mercouri G. Kanatzidis
  • Letter | | Open Access

    Whole-genome sequencing of 25 metastatic melanomas and matched germline DNA in humans reveals that the highest mutation load is associated with chronic sun exposure, and that the PREX2 gene is mutated in approximately 14 per cent of cases

    • Michael F. Berger
    • Eran Hodis
    • Levi A. Garraway
  • Letter |

    Accumulation of prion protein during prion replication causes persistent translational repression of global protein synthesis, which is mediated by eIF2α-P and is associated with synaptic failure and neuronal loss in prion-diseased mice; promoting translational recovery in hippocampi of prion-infected mice is neuroprotective.

    • Julie A. Moreno
    • Helois Radford
    • Giovanna R. Mallucci
  • Letter |

    Stalled bacterial ribosomes can be rescued by interaction with SmpB protein and a highly structured transfer-messenger RNA, and a cryo-electron microscopy map of this complex now shows how EF-G-dependent translocation of this non-canonical ligand is facilitated by conformational changes in the ribosome and the transfer-messenger RNA.

    • David J. F. Ramrath
    • Hiroshi Yamamoto
    • Christian M. T. Spahn
  • Letter |

    The diffusion limited stereospecific enzyme chalcone isomerase represents the adaptive evolution of a catalytically perfected enzyme from non-catalytic, fatty-acid-binding proteins (FAPs) with contemporary roles in plant fatty-acid metabolism as evidenced by altered fatty acid content and marked reproductive defects in Arabidopsis thaliana plants bearing FAP knockouts.

    • Micheline N. Ngaki
    • Gordon V. Louie
    • Joseph P. Noel




Career Brief

  • Career Brief |

    Female faculty members at Canadian universities earn less than males.

  • Career Brief |

    US higher education system tops a list of 48 nations, according to rankings.

  • Career Brief |

    Canada contributes funds to early-career neuroscience training programmes.



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