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Volume 544 Issue 7649, 13 April 2017

Macroscopic patterns in the animal world, such as zebra stripes and leopard spots, can be described by processes occurring at the scale of biological cells. In this issue, Michel C. Milinkovitch’s team reveals a dynamical process that coordinates pattern formation on the skin of ocellated lizards. By recording the shifting patterns over four years, the team found that the colour changes occur at the level of individual skin scales and obey the rules of a hexagonal cellular automaton — a grid of elements whose states change according to the states of neighbouring elements. Numerical simulations and mathematical derivation show that such a discrete system can emerge at the mesoscopic scale from the continuous reaction–diffusion framework when variations in skin thickness are taken into account. The team’s work suggests that cellular automata are not just abstract computational systems, but that they can directly correspond to processes generated by biological evolution. Cover image: Michel C. Milinkovitch.


World View

Seven Days



News Feature


Books & Arts

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    Barbara Kiser reviews five of the week's best science picks.

    • Barbara Kiser




News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Evidence has been found that a biological tissue might behave like a liquid crystal. Even more remarkably, topological defects in this liquid-crystal system seem to influence cell behaviour. A materials physicist and a biologist discuss what the findings mean for researchers in their fields. See Letter p.212

    • Linda S. Hirst
    • Guillaume Charras
  • News & Views |

    A fishery can allow participants to fish as hard as they can until its quota is reached, or allocate quota shares that can be caught at any time. A comparison of the systems in action reveals that shares slow the race to fish. See Letter p.223

    • Andrew A. Rosenberg
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    Atomically thin semiconductors have been made by transferring the oxide 'skin' of a liquid metal to substrates. This opens the way to the low-cost mass production of 2D semiconductors at the sizes needed for electronics applications.

    • Young Duck Kim
    • James Hone
  • News & Views |

    The starfish Acanthaster planci destroys coral reefs. Whole- genome sequences provide clues to the proteins that mediate A. planci outbreaks — information that might be used to help protect coral. See Letter p.231

    • Mónica Medina
  • News & Views |

    Can a reptile compute? In one species of lizard, Timon lepidus, the colour and pattern of its scales evolve in a manner akin to a discrete rule-based computation called a cellular automaton. See Letter p.173

    • Leah Edelstein-Keshet
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    Individuals who lack a functional copy of a gene — gene knockouts — can reveal the gene's role. Most knockout research has used model organisms, but now a comprehensive catalogue of human knockouts is in sight. See Letter p.235

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  • Article |

    A mesoscopic cellular automaton arising from a microscopic reaction–diffusion system as a function of skin thickness is observed in ocellated lizards, showing that cellular automata are not merely abstract computational systems, but can directly correspond to processes generated by biological evolution.

    • Liana Manukyan
    • Sophie A. Montandon
    • Michel C. Milinkovitch
  • Article |

    Analysis of Aboriginal Australian mitochondrial genomes shows geographic patterns and deep splits across the major haplogroups that indicate a single, rapid migration along the coasts around 49–45 ka, followed by longstanding persistence in discrete geographic areas.

    • Ray Tobler
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    Cryo-electron microscopy maps of the fission yeast Mediator complex and of a Mediator–RNA polymerase II holoenzyme reveal how changes in the Med14 subunit enable large-scale rearrangements of the Mediator structure that are essential for holoenzyme formation.

    • Kuang-Lei Tsai
    • Xiaodi Yu
    • Francisco J. Asturias


Technology Feature


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    President Donald Trump's rise to power has been prompting scientists to explore possibilities for political action.

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  • Futures |

    All the time in the Universe.

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