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Watching information flow inside cells

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Each human cell has an information network like a subway system underpinning the function of one of the world’s major cities. Instead of human couriers, within our cells, messenger RNAs (mRNAs) carry information. Thousands of mRNAs emerge from the cell’s nucleus with instructions for cellular functions and disappear into the cytoplasm when their duties are fulfilled. Because of the development of single-cell sequencing techniques, we are now very good at counting these messengers, which are specific to each cell type in our body. Qiu et al. developed a new method to watch the movement of mRNAs. The technique can distinguish newly synthesized mRNAs from older ones and track each mRNA with a specific tag. This method provides a picture of the information flow inside cells and shows how they become disrupted by genetic perturbations that can cause cancer.

Nat. Methods 17, 991 (2020).

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Science

How neuron types encode behavioral states

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What is the contribution of molecularly defined cell types to neural coding of stimuli and states? Xu et al. aimed to evaluate neural representation of multiple behavioral states in the mouse paraventricular hypothalamus. To achieve this goal, they combined deep-brain two-photon imaging with post hoc validation of gene expression in the imaged cells. The behavioral states could be well predicted by the neural response of multiple neuronal clusters. Some clusters were broadly tuned and contributed strongly to the decoding of multiple behavioral states, whereas others were more specifically tuned to certain behaviors or specific time windows of a behavioral state.

Science, this issue p. eabb2494

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Fiber tension enables tissue scaling

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Tissue development, homeostasis, and repair require cells to sense mechanical forces. Although many molecular actors implicated in cell mechanosensitivity have been extensively studied, the basis by which cells adapt their mechanical responses to their geometry remains poorly defined. López-Gay et al. now identify how two fundamental epithelial structures—stress fibers and tricellular junctions—endow Drosophila cells with an internal ruler to scale their mechanical response with their area. This work explains how cells of different sizes within an epithelial tissue collectively adapt their mechanical response to control tissue shape and proliferation. Scaling of biological properties with size is a core property of other biological systems.

Science, this issue p. eabb2169

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Species richness maintains mutualisms

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Mutualistic communities of species that benefit each other are ubiquitous in ecosystems and are important for ecosystem functioning. However, the relationship between the persistence of mutualisms and species richness has remained unclear. Vidal et al. used a synthetic mutualism in brewer’s yeast to experimentally test whether species richness buffers mutualistic communities against exploitation by species that do not provide benefits in return. They showed that richer mutualist communities survive exploitation more often than pairwise mutualisms and that higher species richness and functional redundancy allow mutualist communities to persist in the presence of exploiters. These results provide experimental support for the hypothesis that species richness is necessary for the function and maintenance of mutualistic communities.

Science, this issue p. 346

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