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Volume 591 Issue 7848, 4 March 2021

Deep-sea diver

The extreme conditions found in the deep sea mean that this part of the planet remains largely unexplored. In this week’s issue, Tiefeng Li and his colleagues present a soft robot that can operate at depths of nearly 11,000 metres. The design of their robot was inspired by the deep-sea snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei). The robot’s various electronic components are distributed throughout its body and the whole is encased in a flexible silicone matrix that allows it to withstand extreme pressure. In tests, the team successfully operated the robot at depths of 3,224 metres below the surface of the South China Sea, and up to 10,900 metres in the Mariana Trench. The cover shows an artist’s impression of both robot and the snailfish that inspired it.

Cover image: Tiefeng Li/Zhejiang University.

This Week

News in Focus




    News & Views

  • News & Views |

    A self-powered robot inspired by a fish can survive the extreme pressures at the bottom of the ocean’s deepest trench, thanks to its soft body and distributed electronic system — and might enable exploration of the uncharted ocean.

    • Cecilia Laschi
    •  & Marcello Calisti
  • News & Views |

    Rupture of the plasma membrane in different forms of cell death was long thought to be a passive process. The finding that it is an active one, mediated by a specific membrane protein, reveals an unexpected feature shared by dying cells.

    • Sebastian Hiller
    •  & Petr Broz
  • News & Views |

    An understanding of how quickly biomolecules bind and dissociate in cells is crucial for developing quantitative models of biology, but measurements of these kinetics were possible only using purified proteins in vitro — until now.

    • Olivia S. Rissland
  • News & Views |

    A programmable photonic circuit has been developed that can execute various quantum algorithms and is potentially highly scalable. This device could pave the way for large-scale quantum computers based on photonic hardware.

    • Ulrik L. Andersen
  • Perspective

  • Articles

  • Article |

    A free-swimming soft robot inspired by deep-sea creatures, with artificial muscle, power and control electronics spread across a polymer matrix, successfully adapts to high pressure and operates in the deep ocean.

    • Guorui Li
    • , Xiangping Chen
    •  & Wei Yang
  • Article |

    The binding of multidentate ligands to the surface of lead halide perovskite nanocrystals suppresses the formation of surface defects that result in halide segregation, yielding materials with efficient and colour-stable red emission.

    • Yasser Hassan
    • , Jong Hyun Park
    •  & Henry J. Snaith
  • Article |

    Data from the ICESat-2 satellite quantifying the variability of water levels in natural and human-managed water bodies show that a disproportionate majority of global water storage variability occurs in human-managed reservoirs.

    • Sarah W. Cooley
    • , Jonathan C. Ryan
    •  & Laurence C. Smith
  • Article |

    Dire wolves split from living canids around 5.7 million years ago and originated in the New World isolated from the ancestors of grey wolves and coyotes, which evolved in Eurasia and colonized North America only relatively recently.

    • Angela R. Perri
    • , Kieren J. Mitchell
    •  & Laurent A. F. Frantz
  • Article |

    A genome-wide association study of critically ill patients with COVID-19 identifies genetic signals that relate to important host antiviral defence mechanisms and mediators of inflammatory organ damage that may be targeted by repurposing drug treatments.

    • Erola Pairo-Castineira
    • , Sara Clohisey
    •  & J. Kenneth Baillie
  • Article |

    Two complete volumetric reconstructions of the Caenorhabditis elegans main neuropil (the nerve ring) reveal multi-scale spatial organization that supports both conserved and variable circuitry, and enables the derivation of a modular structure–function model of the neuropil.

    • Christopher A. Brittin
    • , Steven J. Cook
    •  & Netta Cohen
  • Article |

    Electrophysiology combined with correlated light and electron microscopy confirms the long-standing assumption that the size of a synapse is proportional to its strength, and reveals that neocortical synapses may have greater computational capacity than thought.

    • Simone Holler
    • , German Köstinger
    •  & Ken J. Stratford
  • Article |

    An ultra-high-throughput multiplex protein–DNA binding assay is used to assess binding of 270 human transcription factors to 95,886 noncoding variants in the human genome, providing data to improve prediction of the effects of noncoding variants on transcription factor binding and thereby increase understanding of molecular pathways involved in diverse human traits and genetic diseases.

    • Jian Yan
    • , Yunjiang Qiu
    •  & Bing Ren
  • Article |

    Time-resolved RNA–protein cross-linking with a pulsed femtosecond ultraviolet laser, followed by immunoprecipitation and high-throughput sequencing, enables the determination of binding and dissociation kinetics of the RNA-binding protein DAZL within cells.

    • Deepak Sharma
    • , Leah L. Zagore
    •  & Eckhard Jankowsky
  • Article |

    Structures of the human sodium-dependent citrate transporter NaCT in complexes with citrate or a small-molecule inhibitor reveal how the inhibitor—which binds to the same site as citrate—arrests the transport cycle of NaCT.

    • David B. Sauer
    • , Jinmei Song
    •  & Da-Neng Wang
  • Matters Arising

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