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Nature AOP



Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising concl



 



Ecology: A matter of time for tropical diversity

2017-09-20

There is a species-diversity gradient on Earth, with the greatest diversity found near the Equator. Analysis of forest data now reveals a mechanism aiding species coexistence in the tropics that might underlie this phenomenon.



Cancer: Drain the swamp to beat glioma

2017-09-20

Efforts to treat brain tumours by targeting cancer cells have had only modest clinical success. It emerges that targeting a protein secreted from neurons adjacent to the tumour might be a useful alternative approach.



Genome editing reveals a role for OCT4 in human embryogenesis

2017-09-20

Genome editing in human zygotes shows that OCT4 is required for normal development at an earlier stage in humans than in mice.



Strains, functions and dynamics in the expanded Human Microbiome Project

2017-09-20

Updates from the Human Microbiome Project analyse the largest known body-wide metagenomic profile of human microbiome personalization.



Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex

2017-09-20

Path-length-dependent axonal synapse sorting of local presynaptic axons of excitatory neurons in the rat medial entorhinal cortex results in sequential targeting of inhibitory and excitatory neurons, which are connected by a cellular feedforward inhibition circuit.



Regulation of DNA repair pathway choice in S and G2 phases by the NHEJ inhibitor CYREN

2017-09-20

Classical non-homologous end joining (cNHEJ) and homologous recombination compete for the repair of double-stranded DNA breaks during the cell cycle. Homologous recombination is inhibited during the G1 phase of the cell cycle, but both pathways are active in the S and G2 phases. However, it is unclear why cNHEJ does not always outcompete homologous recombination during the S and G2 phases. Here we show that CYREN (cell cycle regulator of NHEJ) is a cell-cycle-specific inhibitor of cNHEJ. Suppression of CYREN allows cNHEJ to occur at telomeres and intrachromosomal breaks during the S and G2 phases, and cells lacking CYREN accumulate chromosomal aberrations upon damage induction, specifically outside the G1 phase. CYREN acts by binding to the Ku70/80 heterodimer and preferentially inhibits cNHEJ at breaks with overhangs by protecting them. We therefore propose that CYREN is a direct cell-cycle-dependent inhibitor of cNHEJ that promotes error-free repair by homologous recombination during cell cycle phases when sister chromatids are present.



Parental influence on human germline de novo mutations in 1,548 trios from Iceland

2017-09-20

The characterization of mutational processes that generate sequence diversity in the human genome is of paramount importance both to medical genetics and to evolutionary studies. To understand how the age and sex of transmitting parents affect de novo mutations, here we sequence 1,548 Icelanders, their parents, and, for a subset of 225, at least one child, to 35× genome-wide coverage. We find 108,778 de novo mutations, both single nucleotide polymorphisms and indels, and determine the parent of origin of 42,961. The number of de novo mutations from mothers increases by 0.37 per year of age (95% CI 0.32–0.43), a quarter of the 1.51 per year from fathers (95% CI 1.45–1.57). The number of clustered mutations increases faster with the mother’s age than with the father’s, and the genomic span of maternal de novo mutation clusters is greater than that of paternal ones. The types of de novo mutation from mothers change substantially with age, with a 0.26% (95% CI 0.19–0.33%) decrease in cytosine–phosphate–guanine to thymine–phosphate–guanine (CpG>TpG) de novo mutations and a 0.33% (95% CI 0.28–0.38%) increase in C>G de novo mutations per year, respectively. Remarkably, these age-related changes are not distributed uniformly across the genome. A striking example is a 20 megabase region on chromosome 8p, with a maternal C>G mutation rate that is up to 50-fold greater than the rest of the genome. The age-related accumulation of maternal non-crossover gene conversions also mostly occurs within these regions. Increased sequence diversity and linkage disequilibrium of C>G variants within regions affected by excess maternal mutations indicate that the underlying mutational process has persisted in humans for thousands of years. Moreover, the regional excess of C>G variation in humans is largely shared by chimpanzees, less by gorillas, and is almost absent from orangutans. This demonstrates that sequence diversity in humans results from evolving interactions between age, sex, mutation type, and genomic location.



Layer-by-layer assembly of two-dimensional materials into wafer-scale heterostructures

2017-09-20

High-performance semiconductor films with vertical compositions that are designed to atomic-scale precision provide the foundation for modern integrated circuitry and novel materials discovery. One approach to realizing such films is sequential layer-by-layer assembly, whereby atomically thin two-dimensional building blocks are vertically stacked, and held together by van der Waals interactions. With this approach, graphene and transition-metal dichalcogenides—which represent one- and three-atom-thick two-dimensional building blocks, respectively—have been used to realize previously inaccessible heterostructures with interesting physical properties. However, no large-scale assembly method exists at present that maintains the intrinsic properties of these two-dimensional building blocks while producing pristine interlayer interfaces, thus limiting the layer-by-layer assembly method to small-scale proof-of-concept demonstrations. Here we report the generation of wafer-scale semiconductor films with a very high level of spatial uniformity and pristine interfaces. The vertical composition and properties of these films are designed at the atomic scale using layer-by-layer assembly of two-dimensional building blocks under vacuum. We fabricate several large-scale, high-quality heterostructure films and devices, including superlattice films with vertical compositions designed layer-by-layer, batch-fabricated tunnel device arrays with resistances that can be tuned over four orders of magnitude, band-engineered heterostructure tunnel diodes, and millimetre-scale ultrathin membranes and windows. The stacked films are detachable, suspendable and compatible with water or plastic surfaces, which will enable their integration with advanced optical and mechanical systems.



ApoE4 markedly exacerbates tau-mediated neurodegeneration in a mouse model of tauopathy

2017-09-20

APOE4 is the strongest genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer disease. ApoE4 increases brain amyloid-β pathology relative to other ApoE isoforms. However, whether APOE independently influences tau pathology, the other major proteinopathy of Alzheimer disease and other tauopathies, or tau-mediated neurodegeneration, is not clear. By generating P301S tau transgenic mice on either a human ApoE knock-in (KI) or ApoE knockout (KO) background, here we show that P301S/E4 mice have significantly higher tau levels in the brain and a greater extent of somatodendritic tau redistribution by three months of age compared with P301S/E2, P301S/E3, and P301S/EKO mice. By nine months of age, P301S mice with different ApoE genotypes display distinct phosphorylated tau protein (p-tau) staining patterns. P301S/E4 mice develop markedly more brain atrophy and neuroinflammation than P301S/E2 and P301S/E3 mice, whereas P301S/EKO mice are largely protected from these changes. In vitro, E4-expressing microglia exhibit higher innate immune reactivity after lipopolysaccharide treatment. Co-culturing P301S tau-expressing neurons with E4-expressing mixed glia results in a significantly higher level of tumour-necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) secretion and markedly reduced neuronal viability compared with neuron/E2 and neuron/E3 co-cultures. Neurons co-cultured with EKO glia showed the greatest viability with the lowest level of secreted TNF-α. Treatment of P301S neurons with recombinant ApoE (E2, E3, E4) also leads to some neuronal damage and death compared with the absence of ApoE, with ApoE4 exacerbating the effect. In individuals with a sporadic primary tauopathy, the presence of an ε4 allele is associated with more severe regional neurodegeneration. In individuals who are positive for amyloid-β pathology with symptomatic Alzheimer disease who usually have tau pathology, ε4-carriers demonstrate greater rates of disease progression. Our results demonstrate that ApoE affects tau pathogenesis, neuroinflammation, and tau-mediated neurodegeneration independently of amyloid-β pathology. ApoE4 exerts a ‘toxic’ gain of function whereas the absence of ApoE is protective.



Epigenetic restriction of extraembryonic lineages mirrors the somatic transition to cancer

2017-09-20

In mammals, the canonical somatic DNA methylation landscape is established upon specification of the embryo proper and subsequently disrupted within many cancer types. However, the underlying mechanisms that direct this genome-scale transformation remain elusive, with no clear model for its systematic acquisition or potential developmental utility. Here, we analysed global remethylation from the mouse preimplantation embryo into the early epiblast and extraembryonic ectoderm. We show that these two states acquire highly divergent genomic distributions with substantial disruption of bimodal, CpG density-dependent methylation in the placental progenitor. The extraembryonic epigenome includes specific de novo methylation at hundreds of embryonically protected CpG island promoters, particularly those that are associated with key developmental regulators and are orthologously methylated across most human cancer types. Our data suggest that the evolutionary innovation of extraembryonic tissues may have required co-option of DNA methylation-based suppression as an alternative to regulation by Polycomb-group proteins, which coordinate embryonic germ-layer formation in response to extraembryonic cues. Moreover, we establish that this decision is made deterministically, downstream of promiscuously used—and frequently oncogenic—signalling pathways, via a novel combination of epigenetic cofactors. Methylation of developmental gene promoters during tumorigenesis may therefore reflect the misappropriation of an innate trajectory and the spontaneous reacquisition of a latent, developmentally encoded epigenetic landscape.



Comparative glycoproteomics of stem cells identifies new players in ricin toxicity

2017-09-20

Glycosylation, the covalent attachment of carbohydrate structures onto proteins, is the most abundant post-translational modification. Over 50% of human proteins are glycosylated, which alters their activities in diverse fundamental biological processes. Despite the importance of glycosylation in biology, the identification and functional validation of complex glycoproteins has remained largely unexplored. Here we develop a novel quantitative approach to identify intact glycopeptides from comparative proteomic data sets, allowing us not only to infer complex glycan structures but also to directly map them to sites within the associated proteins at the proteome scale. We apply this method to human and mouse embryonic stem cells to illuminate the stem cell glycoproteome. This analysis nearly doubles the number of experimentally confirmed glycoproteins, identifies previously unknown glycosylation sites and multiple glycosylated stemness factors, and uncovers evolutionarily conserved as well as species-specific glycoproteins in embryonic stem cells. The specificity of our method is confirmed using sister stem cells carrying repairable mutations in enzymes required for fucosylation, Fut9 and Slc35c1. Ablation of fucosylation confers resistance to the bioweapon ricin, and we discover proteins that carry a fucosylation-dependent sugar code for ricin toxicity. Mutations disrupting a subset of these proteins render cells ricin resistant, revealing new players that orchestrate ricin toxicity. Our comparative glycoproteomics platform, SugarQb, enables genome-wide insights into protein glycosylation and glycan modifications in complex biological systems.



Temporal coexistence mechanisms contribute to the latitudinal gradient in forest diversity

2017-09-20

The tropical forests of Borneo and Amazonia may each contain more tree species diversity in half a square kilometre than do all the temperate forests of Europe, North America, and Asia combined. Biologists have long been fascinated by this disparity, using it to investigate potential drivers of biodiversity. Latitudinal variation in many of these drivers is expected to create geographic differences in ecological and evolutionary processes, and evidence increasingly shows that tropical ecosystems have higher rates of diversification, clade origination, and clade dispersal. However, there is currently no evidence to link gradients in ecological processes within communities at a local scale directly to the geographic gradient in biodiversity. Here, we show geographic variation in the storage effect, an ecological mechanism that reduces the potential for competitive exclusion more strongly in the tropics than it does in temperate and boreal zones, decreasing the ratio of interspecific-to-intraspecific competition by 0.25% for each degree of latitude that an ecosystem is located closer to the Equator. Additionally, we find evidence that latitudinal variation in climate underpins these differences; longer growing seasons in the tropics reduce constraints on the seasonal timing of reproduction, permitting lower recruitment synchrony between species and thereby enhancing niche partitioning through the storage effect. Our results demonstrate that the strength of the storage effect, and therefore its impact on diversity within communities, varies latitudinally in association with climate. This finding highlights the importance of biotic interactions in shaping geographic diversity patterns, and emphasizes the need to understand the mechanisms underpinning ecological processes in greater detail than has previously been appreciated.



Targeting neuronal activity-regulated neuroligin-3 dependency in high-grade glioma

2017-09-20

High-grade gliomas (HGG) are a devastating group of cancers, and represent the leading cause of brain tumour-related death in both children and adults. Therapies aimed at mechanisms intrinsic to glioma cells have translated to only limited success; effective therapeutic strategies will need also to target elements of the tumour microenvironment that promote glioma progression. Neuronal activity promotes the growth of a range of molecularly and clinically distinct HGG types, including adult and paediatric glioblastoma (GBM), anaplastic oligodendroglioma, and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). An important mechanism that mediates this neural regulation of brain cancer is activity-dependent cleavage and secretion of the synaptic adhesion molecule neuroligin-3 (NLGN3), which promotes glioma proliferation through the PI3K–mTOR pathway. However, the necessity of NLGN3 for glioma growth, the proteolytic mechanism of NLGN3 secretion, and the further molecular consequences of NLGN3 secretion in glioma cells remain unknown. Here we show that HGG growth depends on microenvironmental NLGN3, identify signalling cascades downstream of NLGN3 binding in glioma, and determine a therapeutically targetable mechanism of secretion. Patient-derived orthotopic xenografts of paediatric GBM, DIPG and adult GBM fail to grow in Nlgn3 knockout mice. NLGN3 stimulates several oncogenic pathways, such as early focal adhesion kinase activation upstream of PI3K–mTOR, and induces transcriptional changes that include upregulation of several synapse-related genes in glioma cells. NLGN3 is cleaved from both neurons and oligodendrocyte precursor cells via the ADAM10 sheddase. ADAM10 inhibitors prevent the release of NLGN3 into the tumour microenvironment and robustly block HGG xenograft growth. This work defines a promising strategy for targeting NLGN3 secretion, which could prove transformative for HGG therapy.












Patchy particles made by colloidal fusion

2017-09-18

Patches on the surfaces of colloidal particles provide directional information that enables the self-assembly of the particles into higher-order structures. Although computational tools can make quantitative predictions and can generate design rules that link the patch motif of a particle to its internal microstructure and to the emergent properties of the self-assembled materials, the experimental realization of model systems of particles with surface patches (or ‘patchy’ particles) remains a challenge. Synthetic patchy colloidal particles are often poor geometric approximations of the digital building blocks used in simulations and can only rarely be manufactured in sufficiently high yields to be routinely used as experimental model systems. Here we introduce a method, which we refer to as colloidal fusion, for fabricating functional patchy particles in a tunable and scalable manner. Using coordination dynamics and wetting forces, we engineer hybrid liquid–solid clusters that evolve into particles with a range of patchy surface morphologies on addition of a plasticizer. We are able to predict and control the evolutionary pathway by considering surface-energy minimization, leading to two main branches of product: first, spherical particles with liquid surface patches, capable of forming curable bonds with neighbouring particles to assemble robust supracolloidal structures; and second, particles with a faceted liquid compartment, which can be cured and purified to yield colloidal polyhedra. These findings outline a scalable strategy for the synthesis of patchy particles, first by designing their surface patterns by computer simulation, and then by recreating them in the laboratory with high fidelity.



Neuroscience: Mum's bacteria linked to baby's behaviour

2017-09-13

Infection during pregnancy increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, in offspring. Mouse studies now reveal a link between gut bacteria and atypical brain-circuit connections.



Reversing behavioural abnormalities in mice exposed to maternal inflammation

2017-09-13

The authors define a specific cortical subregion of the somatosensory cortex as a critical region of dysfunction that is causal to the emergence of abnormal social and repetitive behaviours in mice exposed to maternal inflammation.



Maternal gut bacteria promote neurodevelopmental abnormalities in mouse offspring

2017-09-13

Maternal immune activation (MIA) contributes to behavioural abnormalities associated with neurodevelopmental disorders in both primate and rodent offspring. In humans, epidemiological studies suggest that exposure of fetuses to maternal inflammation increases the likelihood of developing autism spectrum disorder. In pregnant mice, interleukin-17a (IL-17a) produced by T helper 17 (TH17) cells (CD4+ T helper effector cells involved in multiple inflammatory conditions) induces behavioural and cortical abnormalities in the offspring exposed to MIA. However, it is unclear whether other maternal factors are required to promote MIA-associated phenotypes. Moreover, the underlying mechanisms by which MIA leads to T cell activation with increased IL-17a in the maternal circulation are not well understood. Here we show that MIA phenotypes in offspring require maternal intestinal bacteria that promote TH17 cell differentiation. Pregnant mice that had been colonized with mouse commensal segmented filamentous bacteria or human commensal bacteria that induce intestinal TH17 cells were more likely to produce offspring with MIA-associated abnormalities. We also show that small intestine dendritic cells from pregnant, but not from non-pregnant, females secrete IL-1β, IL-23 and IL-6 and stimulate T cells to produce IL-17a upon exposure to MIA. Overall, our data suggest that defined gut commensal bacteria with a propensity to induce TH17 cells may increase the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in the offspring of pregnant mothers undergoing immune system activation owing to infections or autoinflammatory syndromes.



SAM-dependent enzyme-catalysed pericyclic reactions in natural product biosynthesis

2017-09-13

Pericyclic reactions—which proceed in a concerted fashion through a cyclic transition state—are among the most powerful synthetic transformations used to make multiple regioselective and stereoselective carbon–carbon bonds. They have been widely applied to the synthesis of biologically active complex natural products containing contiguous stereogenic carbon centres. Despite the prominence of pericyclic reactions in total synthesis, only three naturally existing enzymatic examples (the intramolecular Diels–Alder reaction, and the Cope and the Claisen rearrangements) have been characterized. Here we report a versatile S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM)-dependent enzyme, LepI, that can catalyse stereoselective dehydration followed by three pericyclic transformations: intramolecular Diels–Alder and hetero-Diels–Alder reactions via a single ambimodal transition state, and a retro-Claisen rearrangement. Together, these transformations lead to the formation of the dihydropyran core of the fungal natural product, leporin. Combined in vitro enzymatic characterization and computational studies provide insight into how LepI regulates these bifurcating biosynthetic reaction pathways by using SAM as the cofactor. These pathways converge to the desired biosynthetic end product via the (SAM-dependent) retro-Claisen rearrangement catalysed by LepI. We expect that more pericyclic biosynthetic enzymatic transformations remain to be discovered in naturally occurring enzyme ‘toolboxes’. The new role of the versatile cofactor SAM is likely to be found in other examples of enzyme catalysis.



A spin transition mechanism for cooperative adsorption in metal–organic frameworks

2017-09-11

Cooperative binding, whereby an initial binding event facilitates the uptake of additional substrate molecules, is common in biological systems such as haemoglobin. It was recently shown that porous solids that exhibit cooperative binding have substantial energetic benefits over traditional adsorbents, but few guidelines currently exist for the design of such materials. In principle, metal–organic frameworks that contain coordinatively unsaturated metal centres could act as both selective and cooperative adsorbents if guest binding at one site were to trigger an electronic transformation that subsequently altered the binding properties at neighbouring metal sites. Here we illustrate this concept through the selective adsorption of carbon monoxide (CO) in a series of metal–organic frameworks featuring coordinatively unsaturated iron(ii) sites. Functioning via a mechanism by which neighbouring iron(ii) sites undergo a spin-state transition above a threshold CO pressure, these materials exhibit large CO separation capacities with only small changes in temperature. The very low regeneration energies that result may enable more efficient Fischer–Tropsch conversions and extraction of CO from industrial waste feeds, which currently underutilize this versatile carbon synthon. The electronic basis for the cooperative adsorption demonstrated here could provide a general strategy for designing efficient and selective adsorbents suitable for various separations.



Leukaemia: Vitamin C regulates stem cells and cancer

2017-09-06

It emerges that high levels of vitamin C in blood-forming stem cells influence the number and function of the cells and affect the development of leukaemia, through binding to a tumour-suppressor protein, Tet2.



A solvent- and vacuum-free route to large-area perovskite films for efficient solar modules

2017-09-06

Recent advances in the use of organic–inorganic hybrid perovskites for optoelectronics have been rapid, with reported power conversion efficiencies of up to 22 per cent for perovskite solar cells. Improvements in stability have also enabled testing over a timescale of thousands of hours. However, large-scale deployment of such cells will also require the ability to produce large-area, uniformly high-quality perovskite films. A key challenge is to overcome the substantial reduction in power conversion efficiency when a small device is scaled up: a reduction from over 20 per cent to about 10 per cent is found when a common aperture area of about 0.1 square centimetres is increased to more than 25 square centimetres. Here we report a new deposition route for methyl ammonium lead halide perovskite films that does not rely on use of a common solvent or vacuum: rather, it relies on the rapid conversion of amine complex precursors to perovskite films, followed by a pressure application step. The deposited perovskite films were free of pin-holes and highly uniform. Importantly, the new deposition approach can be performed in air at low temperatures, facilitating fabrication of large-area perovskite devices. We reached a certified power conversion efficiency of 12.1 per cent with an aperture area of 36.1 square centimetres for a mesoporous TiO2-based perovskite solar module architecture.



Mimicking biological stress–strain behaviour with synthetic elastomers

2017-09-04

Despite the versatility of synthetic chemistry, certain combinations of mechanical softness, strength, and toughness can be difficult to achieve in a single material. These combinations are, however, commonplace in biological tissues, and are therefore needed for applications such as medical implants, tissue engineering, soft robotics, and wearable electronics. Present materials synthesis strategies are predominantly Edisonian, involving the empirical mixing of assorted monomers, crosslinking schemes, and occluded swelling agents, but this approach yields limited property control. Here we present a general strategy for mimicking the mechanical behaviour of biological materials by precisely encoding their stress–strain curves in solvent-free brush- and comb-like polymer networks (elastomers). The code consists of three independent architectural parameters—network strand length, side-chain length and grafting density. Using prototypical poly(dimethylsiloxane) elastomers, we illustrate how this parametric triplet enables the replication of the strain-stiffening characteristics of jellyfish, lung, and arterial tissues.



Proteins evolve on the edge of supramolecular self-assembly

2017-08-02

The self-association of proteins into symmetric complexes is ubiquitous in all kingdoms of life. Symmetric complexes possess unique geometric and functional properties, but their internal symmetry can pose a risk. In sickle-cell disease, the symmetry of haemoglobin exacerbates the effect of a mutation, triggering assembly into harmful fibrils. Here we examine the universality of this mechanism and its relation to protein structure geometry. We introduced point mutations solely designed to increase surface hydrophobicity among 12 distinct symmetric complexes from Escherichia coli. Notably, all responded by forming supramolecular assemblies in vitro, as well as in vivo upon heterologous expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Remarkably, in four cases, micrometre-long fibrils formed in vivo in response to a single point mutation. Biophysical measurements and electron microscopy revealed that mutants self-assembled in their folded states and so were not amyloid-like. Structural examination of 73 mutants identified supramolecular assembly hot spots predictable by geometry. A subsequent structural analysis of 7,471 symmetric complexes showed that geometric hot spots were buffered chemically by hydrophilic residues, suggesting a mechanism preventing mis-assembly of these regions. Thus, point mutations can frequently trigger folded proteins to self-assemble into higher-order structures. This potential is counterbalanced by negative selection and can be exploited to design nanomaterials in living cells.



Artificial light at night as a new threat to pollination

2017-08-02

Pollinators are declining worldwide and this has raised concerns for a parallel decline in the essential pollination service they provide to both crops and wild plants. Anthropogenic drivers linked to this decline include habitat changes, intensive agriculture, pesticides, invasive alien species, spread of pathogens and climate change. Recently, the rapid global increase in artificial light at night has been proposed to be a new threat to terrestrial ecosystems; the consequences of this increase for ecosystem function are mostly unknown. Here we show that artificial light at night disrupts nocturnal pollination networks and has negative consequences for plant reproductive success. In artificially illuminated plant–pollinator communities, nocturnal visits to plants were reduced by 62% compared to dark areas. Notably, this resulted in an overall 13% reduction in fruit set of a focal plant even though the plant also received numerous visits by diurnal pollinators. Furthermore, by merging diurnal and nocturnal pollination sub-networks, we show that the structure of these combined networks tends to facilitate the spread of the negative consequences of disrupted nocturnal pollination to daytime pollinator communities. Our findings demonstrate that artificial light at night is a threat to pollination and that the negative effects of artificial light at night on nocturnal pollination are predicted to propagate to the diurnal community, thereby aggravating the decline of the diurnal community. We provide perspectives on the functioning of plant–pollinator communities, showing that nocturnal pollinators are not redundant to diurnal communities and increasing our understanding of the human-induced decline in pollinators and their ecosystem service.



Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans

2017-08-02

The origins of the Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean cultures have puzzled archaeologists for more than a century. We have assembled genome-wide data from 19 ancient individuals, including Minoans from Crete, Mycenaeans from mainland Greece, and their eastern neighbours from southwestern Anatolia. Here we show that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar, having at least three-quarters of their ancestry from the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean, and most of the remainder from ancient populations related to those of the Caucasus and Iran. However, the Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter–gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia. Modern Greeks resemble the Mycenaeans, but with some additional dilution of the Early Neolithic ancestry. Our results support the idea of continuity but not isolation in the history of populations of the Aegean, before and after the time of its earliest civilizations.



A Braf kinase-inactive mutant induces lung adenocarcinoma

2017-08-02

The initiating oncogenic event in almost half of human lung adenocarcinomas is still unknown, a fact that complicates the development of selective targeted therapies. Yet these tumours harbour a number of alterations without obvious oncogenic function including BRAF-inactivating mutations. Inactivating BRAF mutants in lung predominate over the activating V600E mutant that is frequently observed in other tumour types. Here we demonstrate that the expression of an endogenous Braf(D631A) kinase-inactive isoform in mice (corresponding to the human BRAF(D594A) mutation) triggers lung adenocarcinoma in vivo, indicating that BRAF-inactivating mutations are initiating events in lung oncogenesis. Moreover, inactivating BRAF mutations have also been identified in a subset of KRAS-driven human lung tumours. Co-expression of Kras(G12V) and Braf(D631A) in mouse lung cells markedly enhances tumour initiation, a phenomenon mediated by Craf kinase activity, and effectively accelerates tumour progression when activated in advanced lung adenocarcinomas. We also report a key role for the wild-type Braf kinase in sustaining Kras(G12V)/Braf(D631A)-driven tumours. Ablation of the wild-type Braf allele prevents the development of lung adenocarcinoma by inducing a further increase in MAPK signalling that results in oncogenic toxicity; this effect can be abolished by pharmacological inhibition of Mek to restore tumour growth. However, the loss of wild-type Braf also induces transdifferentiation of club cells, which leads to the rapid development of lethal intrabronchiolar lesions. These observations indicate that the signal intensity of the MAPK pathway is a critical determinant not only in tumour development, but also in dictating the nature of the cancer-initiating cell and ultimately the resulting tumour phenotype.



Metabolic control of TH17 and induced Treg cell balance by an epigenetic mechanism

2017-08-02

Metabolism has been shown to integrate with epigenetics and transcription to modulate cell fate and function. Beyond meeting the bioenergetic and biosynthetic demands of T-cell differentiation, whether metabolism might control T-cell fate by an epigenetic mechanism is unclear. Here, through the discovery and mechanistic characterization of a small molecule, (aminooxy)acetic acid, that reprograms the differentiation of T helper 17 (TH17) cells towards induced regulatory T (iTreg) cells, we show that increased transamination, mainly catalysed by GOT1, leads to increased levels of 2-hydroxyglutarate in differentiating TH17 cells. The accumulation of 2-hydroxyglutarate resulted in hypermethylation of the Foxp3 gene locus and inhibited Foxp3 transcription, which is essential for fate determination towards TH17 cells. Inhibition of the conversion of glutamate to α-ketoglutaric acid prevented the production of 2-hydroxyglutarate, reduced methylation of the Foxp3 gene locus, and increased Foxp3 expression. This consequently blocked the differentiation of TH17 cells by antagonizing the function of transcription factor RORγt and promoted polarization into iTreg cells. Selective inhibition of GOT1 with (aminooxy)acetic acid ameliorated experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in a therapeutic mouse model by regulating the balance between TH17 and iTreg cells. Targeting a glutamate-dependent metabolic pathway thus represents a new strategy for developing therapeutic agents against TH17-mediated autoimmune diseases.



Tumours with class 3 BRAF mutants are sensitive to the inhibition of activated RAS

2017-08-02

Approximately 200 BRAF mutant alleles have been identified in human tumours. Activating BRAF mutants cause feedback inhibition of GTP-bound RAS, are RAS-independent and signal either as active monomers (class 1) or constitutively active dimers (class 2). Here we characterize a third class of BRAF mutants—those that have impaired kinase activity or are kinase-dead. These mutants are sensitive to ERK-mediated feedback and their activation of signalling is RAS-dependent. The mutants bind more tightly than wild-type BRAF to RAS–GTP, and their binding to and activation of wild-type CRAF is enhanced, leading to increased ERK signalling. The model suggests that dysregulation of signalling by these mutants in tumours requires coexistent mechanisms for maintaining RAS activation despite ERK-dependent feedback. Consistent with this hypothesis, melanomas with these class 3 BRAF mutations also harbour RAS mutations or NF1 deletions. By contrast, in lung and colorectal cancers with class 3 BRAF mutants, RAS is typically activated by receptor tyrosine kinase signalling. These tumours are sensitive to the inhibition of RAS activation by inhibitors of receptor tyrosine kinases. We have thus defined three distinct functional classes of BRAF mutants in human tumours. The mutants activate ERK signalling by different mechanisms that dictate their sensitivity to therapeutic inhibitors of the pathway.



High-temperature crystallization of nanocrystals into three-dimensional superlattices

2017-07-31

Crystallization of colloidal nanocrystals into superlattices represents a practical bottom-up process with which to create ordered metamaterials with emergent functionalities. With precise control over the size, shape and composition of individual nanocrystals, various single- and multi-component nanocrystal superlattices have been produced, the lattice structures and chemical compositions of which can be accurately engineered. Nanocrystal superlattices are typically prepared by carefully controlling the assembly process through solvent evaporation or destabilization or through DNA-guided crystallization. Slow solvent evaporation or cooling of nanocrystal solutions (over hours or days) is the key element for successful crystallization processes. Here we report the rapid growth (seconds) of micrometre-sized, face-centred-cubic, three-dimensional nanocrystal superlattices during colloidal synthesis at high temperatures (more than 230 degrees Celsius). Using in situ small-angle X-ray scattering, we observe continuous growth of individual nanocrystals within the lattices, which results in simultaneous lattice expansion and fine nanocrystal size control due to the superlattice templates. Thermodynamic models demonstrate that balanced attractive and repulsive interparticle interactions dictated by the ligand coverage on nanocrystal surfaces and nanocrystal core size are responsible for the crystallization process. The interparticle interactions can also be controlled to form different superlattice structures, such as hexagonal close-packed lattices. The rational assembly of various nanocrystal systems into novel materials is thus facilitated for both fundamental research and for practical applications in the fields of magnetics, electronics and catalysis.



Ecology: Contests between species aid biodiversity

2017-07-26

A modelling approach used to investigate competition between different species provides insight into how contests that have multiple players can help to maintain biodiversity.



Stem cells: The cost of perpetual youth

2017-07-26

The ability to become nearly any cell type is restricted to eggs, sperm and primitive stem cells in very early embryos. Two studies reveal that maintaining this pluripotent state in vitro comes at a cost.



Prolonged Mek1/2 suppression impairs the developmental potential of embryonic stem cells

2017-07-26

Concomitant activation of the Wnt pathway and suppression of Mapk signalling by two small molecule inhibitors (2i) in the presence of leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF) (hereafter termed 2i/L) induces a naive state in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells that resembles the inner cell mass (ICM) of the pre-implantation embryo. Since the ICM exists only transiently in vivo, it remains unclear how sustained propagation of naive ES cells in vitro affects their stability and functionality. Here we show that prolonged culture of male mouse ES cells in 2i/L results in irreversible epigenetic and genomic changes that impair their developmental potential. Furthermore, we find that female ES cells cultured in conventional serum plus LIF medium phenocopy male ES cells cultured in 2i/L. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that the inhibition of Mek1/2 is predominantly responsible for these effects, in part through the downregulation of DNA methyltransferases and their cofactors. Finally, we show that replacement of the Mek1/2 inhibitor with a Src inhibitor preserves the epigenetic and genomic integrity as well as the developmental potential of ES cells. Taken together, our data suggest that, although short-term suppression of Mek1/2 in ES cells helps to maintain an ICM-like epigenetic state, prolonged suppression results in irreversible changes that compromise their developmental potential.



Higher-order interactions stabilize dynamics in competitive network models

2017-07-26

Ecologists have long sought a way to explain how the remarkable biodiversity observed in nature is maintained. On the one hand, simple models of interacting competitors cannot produce the stable persistence of very large ecological communities. On the other hand, neutral models, in which species do not interact and diversity is maintained by immigration and speciation, yield unrealistically small fluctuations in population abundance, and a strong positive correlation between a species’ abundance and its age, contrary to empirical evidence. Models allowing for the robust persistence of large communities of interacting competitors are lacking. Here we show that very diverse communities could persist thanks to the stabilizing role of higher-order interactions, in which the presence of a species influences the interaction between other species. Although higher-order interactions have been studied for decades, their role in shaping ecological communities is still unclear. The inclusion of higher-order interactions in competitive network models stabilizes dynamics, making species coexistence robust to the perturbation of both population abundance and parameter values. We show that higher-order interactions have strong effects in models of closed ecological communities, as well as of open communities in which new species are constantly introduced. In our framework, higher-order interactions are completely defined by pairwise interactions, facilitating empirical parameterization and validation of our models.



Derivation of ground-state female ES cells maintaining gamete-derived DNA methylation

2017-07-26

Inhibitors of Mek1/2 and Gsk3β, known as 2i, enhance the derivation of embryonic stem (ES) cells and promote ground-state pluripotency in rodents. Here we show that the derivation of female mouse ES cells in the presence of 2i and leukaemia inhibitory factor (2i/L ES cells) results in a widespread loss of DNA methylation, including a massive erasure of genomic imprints. Despite this global loss of DNA methylation, early-passage 2i/L ES cells efficiently differentiate into somatic cells, and this process requires genome-wide de novo DNA methylation. However, the majority of imprinting control regions (ICRs) remain unmethylated in 2i/L-ES-cell-derived differentiated cells. Consistently, 2i/L ES cells exhibit impaired autonomous embryonic and placental development by tetraploid embryo complementation or nuclear transplantation. We identified the derivation conditions of female ES cells that display 2i/L-ES-cell-like transcriptional signatures while preserving gamete-derived DNA methylation and autonomous developmental potential. Upon prolonged culture, however, female ES cells exhibited ICR demethylation regardless of culture conditions. Our results provide insights into the derivation of female ES cells reminiscent of the inner cell mass of preimplantation embryos.



No large population of unbound or wide-orbit Jupiter-mass planets

2017-07-24

Planet formation theories predict that some planets may be ejected from their parent systems as result of dynamical interactions and other processes. Unbound planets can also be formed through gravitational collapse, in a way similar to that in which stars form. A handful of free-floating planetary-mass objects have been discovered by infrared surveys of young stellar clusters and star-forming regions as well as wide-field surveys, but these studies are incomplete for objects below five Jupiter masses. Gravitational microlensing is the only method capable of exploring the entire population of free-floating planets down to Mars-mass objects, because the microlensing signal does not depend on the brightness of the lensing object. A characteristic timescale of microlensing events depends on the mass of the lens: the less massive the lens, the shorter the microlensing event. A previous analysis of 474 microlensing events found an excess of ten very short events (1–2 days)—more than known stellar populations would suggest—indicating the existence of a large population of unbound or wide-orbit Jupiter-mass planets (reported to be almost twice as common as main-sequence stars). These results, however, do not match predictions of planet-formation theories and surveys of young clusters. Here we analyse a sample of microlensing events six times larger than that of ref. 11 discovered during the years 2010–15. Although our survey has very high sensitivity (detection efficiency) to short-timescale (1–2 days) microlensing events, we found no excess of events with timescales in this range, with a 95 per cent upper limit on the frequency of Jupiter-mass free-floating or wide-orbit planets of 0.25 planets per main-sequence star. We detected a few possible ultrashort-timescale events (with timescales of less than half a day), which may indicate the existence of Earth-mass and super-Earth-mass free-floating planets, as predicted by planet-formation theories.



Particle physics: Search for neutrinoless double-β decay

2016-09-21

Neutrinos are much lighter than the other constituents of matter. One explanation for this could be that neutrinos are their own antiparticles and belong to a new class of 'Majorana' particle. An experiment sets strong constraints on this scenario.



Human migration: Climate and the peopling of the world

2016-09-21

The human dispersal out of Africa that populated the world was probably paced by climate changes. This is the inference drawn from computer modelling of climate variability during the time of early human migration.



Addendum

2015-06-17