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Volume 614 Issue 7948, 16 February 2023

Gone to earth

Using drones or planes to distribute plant seeds is a quick way to cover large or inaccessible areas in agriculture and reforestation. But aerial seeding can have relatively low germination rates because the seeds are not buried and so easily get blown away or eaten. In this week’s issue, Lining Yao and her colleagues present a potential solution to this problem in the shape of self-drilling seed carriers. The researchers took inspiration from Erodium, a genus of flowering plants whose seeds have coiled tails that unwind to allow the seeds to self-bury in the ground. The team used wood veneer to create a biodegradable seed carrier with three coiled tails that unwind when moistened. With two triggering cycles, the artificial seed carriers had an 80% success rate for getting seeds into flat ground, whereas the success rate for Erodium guinum was almost zero on the same terrain. The researchers note that their carriers could also be used to deliver fertilizer, fungi, or even sensors.

Cover image: Lining Yao/Carnegie Mellon University Morphing Matter Lab

This Week

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News in Focus

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Books & Arts

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  • News & Views

    • A natural seed has inspired the design of a robot that can bury itself in soil when exposed to rainfall. The mechanism relies on the shape-changing properties of wood — a simple and elegant example of sustainable innovation.

      • Samuel E. Mason
      • Naomi Nakayama
      News & Views
    • Antibodies that activate stimulatory or inhibitory receptors are of great therapeutic interest for the treatment of cancer or autoimmune diseases. It emerges that such antibodies work better if they don’t bind to receptors too tightly.

      • Christoph Wülfing
      • Simon J. Dovedi
      News & Views
    • An analysis of rare genetic variants reveals that they influence human traits through similar biological pathways to common ones. The work deepens our understanding of how this type of variant affects complex traits.

      • Luke M. Evans
      • Pamela N. Romero Villela
      News & Views
    • Fixed moorings and underwater vehicles have uncovered varied patterns of melting and morphology under a West Antarctic glacier, offering insight into the potential for its collapse and highlighting key challenges for modelling.

      • Craig McConnochie
      News & Views
    • A 319-million-year-old fossil provides the oldest known evidence of preserved vertebrate brain tissue. This specimen offers insights into the brain evolution of ray-finned fishes, the most diverse group of living vertebrates.

      • Hugo Dutel
      • Matteo Fabbri
      News & Views
  • Reviews

    • Examination of available evidence on whether anthropogenic global warming was preceded by a long-term warming trend or by global cooling provides support for a relatively mild millennial-scale global thermal maximum during the mid-Holocene.

      • Darrell S. Kaufman
      • Ellie Broadman
      Review Article
  • Articles

    • Spectra taken after the kilonova associated with GW170817 show a high degree of spherical symmetry and a line shape is found that is consistent with a completely spherical expansion to within a few per cent.

      • Albert Sneppen
      • Darach Watson
      • Stuart Sim
    • A minimal artificial Kitaev chain can be realized by using two spin-polarized quantum dots in an InSb nanowire strongly coupled by both elastic co-tunnelling and crossed Andreev reflection.

      • Tom Dvir
      • Guanzhong Wang
      • Leo P. Kouwenhoven
    • Through microscopic manipulation of radiofrequency fields, a new class of compact terahertz devices is proposed, setting the stage for next-generation ultrafast semiconductor electronics.

      • Mohammad Samizadeh Nikoo
      • Elison Matioli
    • A universal interface connects soft, rigid and encapsulation modules together to form robust, stretchable devices in a plug-and-play manner by pressing without using pastes, which will simplify and accelerate development of on-skin and implantable devices.

      • Ying Jiang
      • Shaobo Ji
      • Xiaodong Chen
    • A study describes a wood-based, three-tailed, biodegradable seed carrier that self-drills into the ground in response to moisture fluctuations with a success rate higher than that of natural self-drilling seeds.

      • Danli Luo
      • Aditi Maheshwari
      • Lining Yao
    • Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf observations from a new underwater vehicle show that high melt rates occur where ice is sharply sloped at the ocean interface, with lower melt where the ice is comparatively flat.

      • B. E. Schmidt
      • P. Washam
      • K. Makinson
      Article Open Access
    • Despite observations from a hot-water-drilled access hole showing warm ocean waters beneath Thwaites Glacier Eastern Ice Shelf, the basal melt rate is strongly suppressed due to the low current speeds and strong density stratification.

      • Peter E. D. Davis
      • Keith W. Nicholls
      • Keith Makinson
      Article Open Access
    • Somitoids and segmentoids—culture systems that recapitulate the formation of somite-like structures—reveal that an initial salt-and-pepper expression pattern of MESP2 in a newly formed segment is transformed into compartments of anterior and posterior identity through an active cell-sorting mechanism.

      • Yuchuan Miao
      • Yannis Djeffal
      • Olivier Pourquié
    • A 3D model of human segmentation and somitogenesis derived from induced pluripotent stem cells captures the oscillatory dynamics of the segmentation clock as well as morphological and molecular features of the developing embryonic axis and tail.

      • Yoshihiro Yamanaka
      • Sofiane Hamidi
      • Cantas Alev
    • Using imaging mass cytometry, the tumour and immunological spatial landscapes of 416 lung adenocarcinomas are characterized, which, when combined with deep learning, can predict clinical outcomes with high accuracy.

      • Mark Sorin
      • Morteza Rezanejad
      • Logan A. Walsh
      Article Open Access
    • Imaging mass cytometry of human brain tumours provides spatial information that, combined with existing transcriptomic data, reveals the existence of a cellular neighbourhood containing a rare macrophage population associated with prolonged survival.

      • Elham Karimi
      • Miranda W. Yu
      • Logan A. Walsh
      Article Open Access
    • Frameshift mutations that create arginine-rich basic tails in transcription factors and other proteins can lead to altered phase separation in the nucleolus, which in turn leads to syndromes such as brachyphalangy, polydactyly and tibial aplasia.

      • Martin A. Mensah
      • Henri Niskanen
      • Denes Hnisz
      Article Open Access
    • Cryogenic-electron microscopy is used to determine the structure of TFEB as presented to mTORC1 for phosphorylation and an explanation is found for the strong dependence of TFEB phosphorylation on FLCN and the RagC GDP state.

      • Zhicheng Cui
      • Gennaro Napolitano
      • James H. Hurley
      Article Open Access
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