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Volume 583 Issue 7815, 9 July 2020

Robo chemist

Automation is on the rise in chemistry laboratories, but to date this tends to involve custom-made automated instruments or bespoke interfaces to allow robotic arms to work with lab equipment. In this week’s issue, Andrew Cooper and his colleagues show that a mobile robot that might be found in a car-assembly line can be modified to operate alongside humans in a wet chemistry lab, and can use the same instruments as a human chemist. The team programmed the robot with the objective of improving the performance of a polymeric photocatalyst. Over the course of eight days, the robot autonomously performed 688 experiments and identified photocatalyst mixtures that were six times more active than the initial formulations — a task that would have taken humans several months. By automating the researcher rather than the instruments, the team says its approach could find multiple applications in chemistry labs.

Cover image: Ella Maru Studio

This Week

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News in Focus

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  • News & Views

    • Efforts are intensifying to try to harness antibodies as a therapy for COVID-19. A study reveals the insights that can be gained from antibodies made by a person who had a coronavirus infection that caused the disease SARS.

      • Gary R. Whittaker
      • Susan Daniel
      News & Views
    • Fibroblast, epithelial and endothelial cells are more than just the scaffold of an organ — it emerges that they communicate with immune cells and are primed to launch organ-specific gene-expression programs for antiviral defence.

      • Tomás Gomes
      • Sarah A. Teichmann
      News & Views
    • DNA damage can cause mutations due to failure of DNA repair and errors during DNA replication. Tracking the strand of the DNA double helix on which damage occurs has shed light on processes that affect tumour evolution.

      • Trevor A. Graham
      • Sarah E. McClelland
      News & Views
  • Articles

    • Pulsar timing measurements show a mass ratio of about 0.8 for the double neutron-star system PSR J1913+1102, and population synthesis models indicate that such asymmetric systems represent 2–30% of merging binaries.

      • R. D. Ferdman
      • P. C. C. Freire
      • J. van Leeuwen
    • A detailed assessment of the techno-economic potential of enhanced rock weathering on croplands identifies national CO2 removal potentials, costs and engineering challenges if it were to be scaled up to help meet ambitious global CO2 removal targets.

      • David J. Beerling
      • Euripides P. Kantzas
      • Steven A. Banwart
    • Dannychaeta tucolus, a bristle worm from the early Cambrian period, belongs to crown annelids, and has characters that provide evidence of ecological and morphological diversity in ancient annelids, thus reconciling the fossil record with molecular phylogenetic analyses.

      • Hong Chen
      • Luke A. Parry
      • Xiaoya Ma
    • Both piriform cortex and its sensory inputs from the olfactory bulb represent chemical odour relationships, but cortex reshapes relational information inherited from the sensory periphery to enhance odour generalization and to reflect experience.

      • Stan L. Pashkovski
      • Giuliano Iurilli
      • Sandeep Robert Datta
    • Thousands of sperm genomes have been analysed with a new method called Sperm-seq, revealing interconnected meiotic variation at the single-cell and person-to-person levels, and suggesting chromosome compaction as a way to explain the relationships between diverse recombination phenotypes.

      • Avery Davis Bell
      • Curtis J. Mello
      • Steven A. McCarroll
    • Mutagenic lesions such as those that give rise to cancer frequently segregate—unrepaired—during cell division, resulting in phasing of multiple alleles across generations of daughter cells and consequent tumour heterogeneity.

      • Sarah J. Aitken
      • Craig J. Anderson
      • Martin S. Taylor
    • A systems-level map of the Arabidopsis hormone signalling network, comprising more than 2,000 binary protein–protein interactions, reveals hundreds of interpathway contact points, many of which mediate crosstalk between different hormone pathways.

      • Melina Altmann
      • Stefan Altmann
      • Pascal Falter-Braun
    • Many of the molecular targets of strigolactones—plant hormones involved in development and in interactions with symbiotic and parasitic organisms—are uncovered, revealing how strigolactones function and an intriguing role for self-regulation of a downstream transcription factor.

      • Lei Wang
      • Bing Wang
      • Jiayang Li
    • SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses are identified in Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica); these pangolin-associated coronaviruses belonged to two sub-lineages of SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses, including one that exhibits strong similarity in the receptor-binding domain to SARS-CoV-2.

      • Tommy Tsan-Yuk Lam
      • Na Jia
      • Wu-Chun Cao
    • A newly identified coronavirus found in Malayan pangolins shares considerable sequence identity with SARS-CoV-2, which suggests that the latter may have originated from a recombination event involving SARS-related coronaviruses from bats and pangolins.

      • Kangpeng Xiao
      • Junqiong Zhai
      • Yongyi Shen
    • The cryo-EM structure of human U2 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) offers insights into what rearrangements are required for this snRNP to be stably incorporated into the spliceosome, and the role that the DEAD-box ATPase PRP5 may have in these rearrangements.

      • Zhenwei Zhang
      • Cindy L. Will
      • Holger Stark
  • Matters Arising

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Amendments & Corrections

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