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Volume 594 Issue 7864, 24 June 2021

Quantum compass

Many creatures use Earth’s magnetic field to help them navigate, but the exact nature of this internal compass has remained elusive. In this week’s issue, scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Oldenburg reveal the quantum properties of a protein that makes it a strong contender for the compass in migratory songbirds. The researchers examined the protein cryptochrome (ErCRY4), which is found in the retina of migratory European robins (Erithacus rubecula), and found that it could have the required level of magnetic sensitivity to act as a light-dependent compass. They identified that in vitro ErCRY4 undergoes a light-driven chemical reaction that triggers quantum effects that might enable sensing of magnetic signals. The team also found that the molecule in robins has greater magnetic sensitivity than the equivalent protein in non-migratory pigeons and chickens, leading them to conclude that it is likely to be a key component in the way robins navigate.

Cover image: Corinna Langebrake and Ilia Solov’yov

This Week

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News in Focus

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  • News & Views

    • How animals sense Earth’s magnetic field is an enduring mystery. The protein cryptochrome ErCRY4, found in the eyes of migratory European robins, has the right physical properties to be the elusive magnetosensor.

      • Eric J. Warrant
      News & Views
    • Plasmons are combinations of light and collective electron oscillations. The demonstration that plasmons can be dragged by drifting electrons in the 2D material graphene could lead to advances in optical physics.

      • Hugen Yan
      News & Views
    • Combined imaging and gene-expression analyses reveal that the arrangement of cells in concentric rings in the disc-like structures that give rise to hair follicles predetermines their eventual fate and location in mature follicles.

      • Nivedita Saxena
      • Michael Rendl
      News & Views
    • Natural killer cells can drive spreading cancer cells to enter a state of dormancy. That finding, together with the discovery of a pathway that hinders this antitumour function, could spur the development of new treatments.

      • Noella Lopes
      • Eric Vivier
      News & Views
    • An imaging method has been developed that tracks ion transport in functioning battery materials in real time, at submicrometre scales — offering insights into how to design batteries that charge in minutes.

      • Aashutosh Mistry
      News & Views
  • Articles

    • As a blueprint for high-precision quantum simulation, an 18-qubit algorithm that consists of more than 1,400 two-qubit gates is demonstrated, and reconstructs the energy eigenvalues of the simulated one-dimensional wire to a precision of 1 per cent.

      • C. Neill
      • T. McCourt
      • V. Smelyanskiy
    • Direct infrared nano-imaging of plasmonic waves in graphene carrying high current density reveals the Fizeau drag of plasmon polaritons by fast-moving quasi-relativistic electrons.

      • Y. Dong
      • L. Xiong
      • D. N. Basov
    • The dynamics of ions within a working lithium-ion battery are examined using optical interferometric scattering microscopy, which allows ion transport to be related to phase transitions and microstructural features.

      • Alice J. Merryweather
      • Christoph Schnedermann
      • Akshay Rao
    • A molecular-scale pump whose operation is driven by a catalytic process when in the presence of chemical fuel is autonomous, within an operating window, as long as the fuel lasts.

      • Shuntaro Amano
      • Stephen D. P. Fielden
      • David A. Leigh
    • Cryptochrome 4 from the night-migratory European robin displays magnetically sensitive photochemistry in vitro, in which four successive flavin–tryptophan radical pairs generate magnetic-field effects and stabilize potential signalling states.

      • Jingjing Xu
      • Lauren E. Jarocha
      • P. J. Hore
    • All odours elicit a unique pattern of neuronal activity in primary olfactory cortex but these patterns drift over time, posing a problem for the perceptual constancy of odours.

      • Carl E. Schoonover
      • Sarah N. Ohashi
      • Andrew J. P. Fink
    • Live imaging and single-cell transcriptomics of mouse hair follicles reveal their development from 2D concentric zones in the placode to 3D longitudinal compartments, one of which is a stem cell compartment.

      • Ritsuko Morita
      • Noriko Sanzen
      • Hironobu Fujiwara
    • Immunization of macaques with nanoparticle-conjugated receptor-binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 adjuvanted with 3M-052 and alum results in cross-neutralizing antibodies against bat coronaviruses, SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 variants, and may provide a platform for developing pan-coronavirus vaccines.

      • Kevin O. Saunders
      • Esther Lee
      • Barton F. Haynes


    • MARK4 regulates cardiomyocyte contractility by promoting MAP4 phosphorylation, which facilitates the access of VASH2 to microtubules for the detyrosination of α-tubulin; MARK4 deficiency after acute myocardial infarction limits the reduction in the left ventricular ejection fraction.

      • Xian Yu
      • Xiao Chen
      • Xuan Li
    • Liver-resident natural killer (NK) cells sustain the dormancy of disseminated breast cancer cells, and a decrease in NK cells and increase in activated hepatic stellate cells is associated with the formation of liver metastases.

      • Ana Luísa Correia
      • Joao C. Guimaraes
      • Mohamed Bentires-Alj
    • A small proportion of Spo11-dependent DNA double-strand breaks are ‘double cuts’—adjacent breaks that occur in concert—revealing that gap repair during meiosis includes that of DNA gaps generated by Spo11 itself.

      • Dominic Johnson
      • Margaret Crawford
      • Matthew J. Neale
    • Cryo-electron microscopy structures of homo- and heterodimers of mGlu2 and mGlu7 provide insights into their dimerization modes and the subunit conformational changes that characterize the activation of these class C G-protein-coupled receptors.

      • Juan Du
      • Dejian Wang
      • Qiang Zhao
    • Cryo-electron microscopy structure of heterodimeric GABAB receptor in complex with Gi1 protein reveals that the mode of G-protein binding in this class-C G-protein-coupled receptor differs from that of other classes.

      • Cangsong Shen
      • Chunyou Mao
      • Jianfeng Liu
      Article Open Access
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