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Volume 572 Issue 7768, 8 August 2019

Drawn together

From flocks of birds to molecular motors, active-matter systems are made up of individual units that each consume energy from their surroundings and convert it into mechanical work. Experimental demonstrations of such systems have been widely explored for their abilities to spontaneously form patterns and generate flows. But synthetic systems usually lack the level of spatiotemporal control seen in biological systems. In this week’s issue, Tyler Ross, Matt Thomson and their colleagues show that light can be used to guide the behaviour of an engineered active-matter system, giving rise to a suite of emergent structures and properties that can be dynamically manipulated and controlled. The cover shows the microtubules that form the basis of their system. Associated with these tubules are molecular motors (orange) that walk along the tubules. These motors form dimers under light, which can then pull the tubules towards each other, allowing the researchers to control the emergent structures.

Cover image: Inna-Marie Strazhnik/Wonderstruck Arts

This Week

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News in Focus

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  • News & Views

    • Superconducting magnets have been used to trap cold oxygen molecules and study their collisions. This method could lead to a better understanding of low-temperature interactions for a broad range of molecules.

      • Dajun Wang
      News & Views
    • Cells compete for survival during development. It emerges that mammalian cells on a path to form a tumour express specific versions of the protein Flower when they vie for survival with surrounding normal cells.

      • Yasuyuki Fujita
      News & Views
    • Stressed yeast cells take up the amino acid lysine and reprogram their metabolism to free up supplies of a stress-relieving molecule. Lysine uptake therefore increases the tolerance of yeast cells to stress.

      • Jens Nielsen
      News & Views
    • An analysis of aquifer replenishment in sub-Saharan Africa shows that reduced precipitation does not always deplete groundwater reserves, challenging the idea that these reserves will decrease in response to global warming.

      • Richard W. Healy
      News & Views
    • How Nature reported the camouflage strategies of nesting birds in 1919, and devices for getting rid of wasps in trees in 1969.

      News & Views
    • Accurate estimates of the biodiversity of soil animals are essential for conservation efforts and to understand the animals’ role in carbon cycles. Such information is now available on a global scale for nematode worms.

      • Nico Eisenhauer
      • Carlos A. Guerra
      News & Views
  • Articles

    • High-resolution spatial maps of the global abundance of soil nematodes and the composition of functional groups show that soil nematodes are found in higher abundances in sub-Arctic regions, than in temperate or tropical regions.

      • Johan van den Hoogen
      • Stefan Geisen
      • Thomas Ward Crowther
    • A technique for the de novo design of switchable protein systems controlled by induced conformational change is demonstrated for three functional motifs, in vitro and in yeast and mammalian cells.

      • Robert A. Langan
      • Scott E. Boyken
      • David Baker
  • Letters

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