2016-09-28The structure of the bacterial toxin BinAB, which is used to combat mosquito-borne diseases, reveals pH-sensitive switches and carbohydrate-binding modules that may contribute to the larvicidal function of the toxin.
2016-09-28Here, a genome-wide CRISPR–Cas9 screen is used to identify the Wnt receptors frizzled as physiologically relevant Clostridium difficile toxin B receptors, providing new therapeutic targets for treating C. difficile infections.
2016-09-28The psychological, sociological and evolutionary roots of conspecific violence in humans are still debated, despite attracting the attention of intellectuals for over two millennia. Here we propose a conceptual approach towards understanding these roots based on the assumption that aggression in mammals, including humans, has a significant phylogenetic component. By compiling sources of mortality from a comprehensive sample of mammals, we assessed the percentage of deaths due to conspecifics and, using phylogenetic comparative tools, predicted this value for humans. The proportion of human deaths phylogenetically predicted to be caused by interpersonal violence stood at 2%. This value was similar to the one phylogenetically inferred for the evolutionary ancestor of primates and apes, indicating that a certain level of lethal violence arises owing to our position within the phylogeny of mammals. It was also similar to the percentage seen in prehistoric bands and tribes, indicating that we were as lethally violent then as common mammalian evolutionary history would predict. However, the level of lethal violence has changed through human history and can be associated with changes in the socio-political organization of human populations. Our study provides a detailed phylogenetic and historical context against which to compare levels of lethal violence observed throughout our history.
2016-09-28Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its receptor TrkB are crucial for many forms of neuronal plasticity, including structural long-term potentiation (sLTP), which is a correlate of an animal’s learning. However, it is unknown whether BDNF release and TrkB activation occur during sLTP, and if so, when and where. Here, using a fluorescence resonance energy transfer-based sensor for TrkB and two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy, we monitor TrkB activity in single dendritic spines of CA1 pyramidal neurons in cultured murine hippocampal slices. In response to sLTP induction, we find fast (onset < 1 min) and sustained (>20 min) activation of TrkB in the stimulated spine that depends on NMDAR (N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor) and CaMKII signalling and on postsynaptically synthesized BDNF. We confirm the presence of postsynaptic BDNF using electron microscopy to localize endogenous BDNF to dendrites and spines of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. Consistent with these findings, we also show rapid, glutamate-uncaging-evoked, time-locked BDNF release from single dendritic spines using BDNF fused to superecliptic pHluorin. We demonstrate that this postsynaptic BDNF–TrkB signalling pathway is necessary for both structural and functional LTP. Together, these findings reveal a spine-autonomous, autocrine signalling mechanism involving NMDAR–CaMKII-dependent BDNF release from stimulated dendritic spines and subsequent TrkB activation on these same spines that is crucial for structural and functional plasticity.
2016-09-28The Rho GTPase proteins Rac1, RhoA and Cdc42 have a central role in regulating the actin cytoskeleton in dendritic spines, thereby exerting control over the structural and functional plasticity of spines and, ultimately, learning and memory. Although previous work has shown that precise spatiotemporal coordination of these GTPases is crucial for some forms of cell morphogenesis, the nature of such coordination during structural spine plasticity is unclear. Here we describe a three-molecule model of structural long-term potentiation (sLTP) of murine dendritic spines, implicating the localized, coincident activation of Rac1, RhoA and Cdc42 as a causal signal of sLTP. This model posits that complete tripartite signal overlap in spines confers sLTP, but that partial overlap primes spines for structural plasticity. By monitoring the spatiotemporal activation patterns of these GTPases during sLTP, we find that such spatiotemporal signal complementation simultaneously explains three integral features of plasticity: the facilitation of plasticity by brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the postsynaptic source of which activates Cdc42 and Rac1, but not RhoA; heterosynaptic facilitation of sLTP, which is conveyed by diffusive Rac1 and RhoA activity; and input specificity, which is afforded by spine-restricted Cdc42 activity. Thus, we present a form of biochemical computation in dendrites involving the controlled complementation of three molecules that simultaneously ensures signal specificity and primes the system for plasticity.
2016-09-28Birth weight (BW) has been shown to be influenced by both fetal and maternal factors and in observational studies is reproducibly associated with future risk of adult metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes (T2D) and cardiovascular disease. These life-course associations have often been attributed to the impact of an adverse early life environment. Here, we performed a multi-ancestry genome-wide association study (GWAS) meta-analysis of BW in 153,781 individuals, identifying 60 loci where fetal genotype was associated with BW (P < 5 × 10−8). Overall, approximately 15% of variance in BW was captured by assays of fetal genetic variation. Using genetic association alone, we found strong inverse genetic correlations between BW and systolic blood pressure (Rg = −0.22, P = 5.5 × 10−13), T2D (Rg = −0.27, P = 1.1 × 10−6) and coronary artery disease (Rg = −0.30, P = 6.5 × 10−9). In addition, using large -cohort datasets, we demonstrated that genetic factors were the major contributor to the negative covariance between BW and future cardiometabolic risk. Pathway analyses indicated that the protein products of genes within BW-associated regions were enriched for diverse processes including insulin signalling, glucose homeostasis, glycogen biosynthesis and chromatin remodelling. There was also enrichment of associations with BW in known imprinted regions (P = 1.9 × 10−4). We demonstrate that life-course associations between early growth phenotypes and adult cardiometabolic disease are in part the result of shared genetic effects and identify some of the pathways through which these causal genetic effects are mediated.
2016-09-28The common participation of oncogenic KRAS proteins in many of the most lethal human cancers, together with the ease of detecting somatic KRAS mutant alleles in patient samples, has spurred persistent and intensive efforts to develop drugs that inhibit KRAS activity. However, advances have been hindered by the pervasive inter- and intra-lineage diversity in the targetable mechanisms that underlie KRAS-driven cancers, limited pharmacological accessibility of many candidate synthetic-lethal interactions and the swift emergence of unanticipated resistance mechanisms to otherwise effective targeted therapies. Here we demonstrate the acute and specific cell-autonomous addiction of KRAS-mutant non-small-cell lung cancer cells to receptor-dependent nuclear export. A multi-genomic, data-driven approach, utilizing 106 human non-small-cell lung cancer cell lines, was used to interrogate 4,725 biological processes with 39,760 short interfering RNA pools for those selectively required for the survival of KRAS-mutant cells that harbour a broad spectrum of phenotypic variation. Nuclear transport machinery was the sole process-level discriminator of statistical significance. Chemical perturbation of the nuclear export receptor XPO1 (also known as CRM1), with a clinically available drug, revealed a robust synthetic-lethal interaction with native or engineered oncogenic KRAS both in vitro and in vivo. The primary mechanism underpinning XPO1 inhibitor sensitivity was intolerance to the accumulation of nuclear IκBα (also known as NFKBIA), with consequent inhibition of NFκB transcription factor activity. Intrinsic resistance associated with concurrent FSTL5 mutations was detected and determined to be a consequence of YAP1 activation via a previously unappreciated FSTL5–Hippo pathway regulatory axis. This occurs in approximately 17% of KRAS-mutant lung cancers, and can be overcome with the co-administration of a YAP1–TEAD inhibitor. These findings indicate that clinically available XPO1 inhibitors are a promising therapeutic strategy for a considerable cohort of patients with lung cancer when coupled to genomics-guided patient selection and observation.
2016-09-28Optical spectroscopy of a primordial isotope has traditionally formed the basis for understanding the atomic structure of an element. Such studies have been conducted for most elements and theoretical modelling can be performed to high precision, taking into account relativistic effects that scale approximately as the square of the atomic number. However, for the transfermium elements (those with atomic numbers greater than 100), the atomic structure is experimentally unknown. These radioactive elements are produced in nuclear fusion reactions at rates of only a few atoms per second at most and must be studied immediately following their production, which has so far precluded their optical spectroscopy. Here we report laser resonance ionization spectroscopy of nobelium (No; atomic number 102) in single-atom-at-a-time quantities, in which we identify the ground-state transition 1S01P1. By combining this result with data from an observed Rydberg series, we obtain an upper limit for the ionization potential of nobelium. These accurate results from direct laser excitations of outer-shell electrons cannot be achieved using state-of-the-art relativistic many-body calculations that include quantum electrodynamic effects, owing to large uncertainties in the modelled transition energies of the complex systems under consideration. Our work opens the door to high-precision measurements of various atomic and nuclear properties of elements heavier than nobelium, and motivates future theoretical work.
2016-09-28Cancer stem cells (CSCs) may be responsible for tumour dormancy, relapse and the eventual death of most cancer patients. In addition, these cells are usually resistant to cytotoxic conditions. However, very little is known about the biology behind this resistance to therapeutics. Here we investigated stem-cell death in the digestive system of adult Drosophila melanogaster. We found that knockdown of the coat protein complex I (COPI)–Arf79F (also known as Arf1) complex selectively killed normal and transformed stem cells through necrosis, by attenuating the lipolysis pathway, but spared differentiated cells. The dying stem cells were engulfed by neighbouring differentiated cells through a draper–myoblast city–Rac1–basket (also known as JNK)-dependent autophagy pathway. Furthermore, Arf1 inhibitors reduced CSCs in human cancer cell lines. Thus, normal or cancer stem cells may rely primarily on lipid reserves for energy, in such a way that blocking lipolysis starves them to death. This finding may lead to new therapies that could help to eliminate CSCs in human cancers.
2016-09-28Uncertainties in the response of vegetation to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations contribute to the large spread in projections of future climate change. Climate–carbon cycle models generally agree that elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations will enhance terrestrial gross primary productivity (GPP). However, the magnitude of this CO2 fertilization effect varies from a 20 per cent to a 60 per cent increase in GPP for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations in model studies. Here we demonstrate emergent constraints on large-scale CO2 fertilization using observed changes in the amplitude of the atmospheric CO2 seasonal cycle that are thought to be the result of increasing terrestrial GPP. Our comparison of atmospheric CO2 measurements from Point Barrow in Alaska and Cape Kumukahi in Hawaii with historical simulations of the latest climate–carbon cycle models demonstrates that the increase in the amplitude of the CO2 seasonal cycle at both measurement sites is consistent with increasing annual mean GPP, driven in part by climate warming, but with differences in CO2 fertilization controlling the spread among the model trends. As a result, the relationship between the amplitude of the CO2 seasonal cycle and the magnitude of CO2 fertilization of GPP is almost linear across the entire ensemble of models. When combined with the observed trends in the seasonal CO2 amplitude, these relationships lead to consistent emergent constraints on the CO2 fertilization of GPP. Overall, we estimate a GPP increase of 37 ± 9 per cent for high-latitude ecosystems and 32 ± 9 per cent for extratropical ecosystems under a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations on the basis of the Point Barrow and Cape Kumukahi records, respectively.
2016-09-26Bacterial adaptive immune systems use CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins for RNA-guided nucleic acid cleavage. Although most prokaryotic adaptive immune systems generally target DNA substrates, type III and VI CRISPR systems direct interference complexes against single-stranded RNA substrates. In type VI systems, the single-subunit C2c2 protein functions as an RNA-guided RNA endonuclease (RNase). How this enzyme acquires mature CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) that are essential for immune surveillance and how it carries out crRNA-mediated RNA cleavage remain unclear. Here we show that bacterial C2c2 possesses a unique RNase activity responsible for CRISPR RNA maturation that is distinct from its RNA-activated single-stranded RNA degradation activity. These dual RNase functions are chemically and mechanistically different from each other and from the crRNA-processing behaviour of the evolutionarily unrelated CRISPR enzyme Cpf1 (ref. 11). The two RNase activities of C2c2 enable multiplexed processing and loading of guide RNAs that in turn allow sensitive detection of cellular transcripts.
2016-09-26Modality-specific sensory inputs from individual sense organs are processed in parallel in distinct areas of the neocortex. For each sensory modality, input follows a cortico–thalamo–cortical loop in which a ‘first-order’ exteroceptive thalamic nucleus sends peripheral input to the primary sensory cortex, which projects back to a ‘higher order’ thalamic nucleus that targets a secondary sensory cortex. This conserved circuit motif raises the possibility that shared genetic programs exist across sensory modalities. Here we report that, despite their association with distinct sensory modalities, first-order nuclei in mice are genetically homologous across somatosensory, visual, and auditory pathways, as are higher order nuclei. We further reveal peripheral input-dependent control over the transcriptional identity and connectivity of first-order nuclei by showing that input ablation leads to induction of higher-order-type transcriptional programs and rewiring of higher-order-directed descending cortical input to deprived first-order nuclei. These findings uncover an input-dependent genetic logic for the design and plasticity of sensory pathways, in which conserved developmental programs lead to conserved circuit motifs across sensory modalities.
2016-09-26Flexoelectricity is a property of all dielectric materials whereby they polarize in response to deformation gradients such as those produced by bending. Although it is generally thought of as a property of dielectric insulators, insulation is not a formal requirement: in principle, semiconductors can also redistribute their free charge in response to strain gradients. Here we show that bending a semiconductor not only generates a flexoelectric-like response, but that this response can in fact be much larger than in insulators. By doping single crystals of wide-bandgap oxides to increase their conductivity, their effective flexoelectric coefficient was increased by orders of magnitude. This large response can be explained by a barrier-layer mechanism that remains important even at the macroscale, where conventional (insulator) flexoelectricity otherwise tends to be small. Our results open up the possibility of using semiconductors as active ingredients in electromechanical transducer applications.
2016-09-26Reconstructions of Earth’s past climate strongly influence our understanding of the dynamics and sensitivity of the climate system. Yet global temperature has been reconstructed for only a few isolated windows of time, and continuous reconstructions across glacial cycles remain elusive. Here I present a spatially weighted proxy reconstruction of global temperature over the past 2 million years estimated from a multi-proxy database of over 20,000 sea surface temperature point reconstructions. Global temperature gradually cooled until roughly 1.2 million years ago and cooling then stalled until the present. The cooling trend probably stalled before the beginning of the mid-Pleistocene transition, and pre-dated the increase in the maximum size of ice sheets around 0.9 million years ago. Thus, global cooling may have been a pre-condition for, but probably is not the sole causal mechanism of, the shift to quasi-100,000-year glacial cycles at the mid-Pleistocene transition. Over the past 800,000 years, polar amplification (the amplification of temperature change at the poles relative to global temperature change) has been stable over time, and global temperature and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have been closely coupled across glacial cycles. A comparison of the new temperature reconstruction with radiative forcing from greenhouse gases estimates an Earth system sensitivity of 9 degrees Celsius (range 7 to 13 degrees Celsius, 95 per cent credible interval) change in global average surface temperature per doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide over millennium timescales. This result suggests that stabilization at today’s greenhouse gas levels may already commit Earth to an eventual total warming of 5 degrees Celsius (range 3 to 7 degrees Celsius, 95 per cent credible interval) over the next few millennia as ice sheets, vegetation and atmospheric dust continue to respond to global warming.
2016-09-21Neutrinos 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.
2016-09-21Genetic studies of individuals from geographically diverse human populations provide insights into the dispersal of modern humans across the globe and how geography shaped genomic variation.
2016-09-21The 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.
2016-09-21Structural studies shed light on the function and stoichiometry of the Ton complex, which harnesses the proton motive force across the bacterial inner membrane to transduce energy to the outer membrane.
2016-09-21Whole-genome sequence data for 108 individuals representing 28 language groups across Australia and five language groups for Papua New Guinea suggests that Aboriginal Australians and Papuans diverged from Eurasian populations approximately 60–100 thousand years ago, following a single out-of-Africa dispersal and subsequent admixture with archaic populations.
2016-09-21Deep whole-genome sequencing of 300 individuals from 142 diverse populations provides insights into key population genetic parameters, shows that all modern human ancestry outside of Africa including in Australasians is consistent with descending from a single founding population, and suggests a higher rate of accumulation of mutations in non-Africans compared to Africans since divergence.
2016-09-21High-coverage whole-genome sequence studies have so far focused on a limited number of geographically restricted populations, or been targeted at specific diseases, such as cancer. Nevertheless, the availability of high-resolution genomic data has led to the development of new methodologies for inferring population history and refuelled the debate on the mutation rate in humans. Here we present the Estonian Biocentre Human Genome Diversity Panel (EGDP), a dataset of 483 high-coverage human genomes from 148 populations worldwide, including 379 new genomes from 125 populations, which we group into diversity and selection sets. We analyse this dataset to refine estimates of continent-wide patterns of heterozygosity, long- and short-distance gene flow, archaic admixture, and changes in effective population size through time as well as for signals of positive or balancing selection. We find a genetic signature in present-day Papuans that suggests that at least 2% of their genome originates from an early and largely extinct expansion of anatomically modern humans (AMHs) out of Africa. Together with evidence from the western Asian fossil record, and admixture between AMHs and Neanderthals predating the main Eurasian expansion, our results contribute to the mounting evidence for the presence of AMHs out of Africa earlier than 75,000 years ago.
2016-09-21On the basis of fossil and archaeological data it has been hypothesized that the exodus of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into Eurasia between ~50–120 thousand years ago occurred in several orbitally paced migration episodes. Crossing vegetated pluvial corridors from northeastern Africa into the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant and expanding further into Eurasia, Australia and the Americas, early H. sapiens experienced massive time-varying climate and sea level conditions on a variety of timescales. Hitherto it has remained difficult to quantify the effect of glacial- and millennial-scale climate variability on early human dispersal and evolution. Here we present results from a numerical human dispersal model, which is forced by spatiotemporal estimates of climate and sea level changes over the past 125 thousand years. The model simulates the overall dispersal of H. sapiens in close agreement with archaeological and fossil data and features prominent glacial migration waves across the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant region around 106–94, 89–73, 59–47 and 45–29 thousand years ago. The findings document that orbital-scale global climate swings played a key role in shaping Late Pleistocene global population distributions, whereas millennial-scale abrupt climate changes, associated with Dansgaard–Oeschger events, had a more limited regional effect.
2016-09-19Pluto has a variety of surface frosts and landforms as well as a complex atmosphere. There is ongoing geological activity related to the massive Sputnik Planum glacier, mostly made of nitrogen (N2) ice mixed with solid carbon monoxide and methane, covering the 4-kilometre-deep, 1,000-kilometre-wide basin of Sputnik Planumnear the anti-Charon point. The glacier has been suggested to arise from a source region connected to the deep interior, or from a sink collecting the volatiles released planetwide. Thin deposits of N2 frost, however, were also detected at mid-northern latitudes and methane ice was observed to cover most of Pluto except for the darker, frost-free equatorial regions. Here we report numerical simulations of the evolution of N2, methane and carbon monoxide on Pluto over thousands of years. The model predicts N2 ice accumulation in the deepest low-latitude basin and the threefold increase in atmospheric pressure that has been observed to occur since 1988. This points to atmospheric–topographic processes as the origin of Sputnik Planum’s N2 glacier. The same simulations also reproduce the observed quantities of volatiles in the atmosphere and show frosts of methane, and sometimes N2, that seasonally cover the mid- and high latitudes, explaining the bright northern polar cap reported in the 1990sand the observed ice distribution in 2015. The model also predicts that most of these seasonal frosts should disappear in the next decade.
2016-09-14Underactivity of the transcription factor p53 can lead to tumour development. The discovery that the SET protein binds to and inhibits p53 points to a way to unleash the tumour suppressor's activity.
2016-09-14Computational methods for the de novo design of conformationally restricted peptides produce exceptionally stable short peptides stabilized by backbone cyclization and/or internal disulfide bonds that are promising starting points for a new generation of peptide-based drugs.
2016-09-14Structures of the human P2X3 receptor in its open, closed, desensitized and antagonist-bound states show the receptor’s gating mechanism and the basis of antagonist binding.
2016-09-14A unique feature of Pluto’s large satellite Charon is its dark red northern polar cap. Similar colours on Pluto’s surface have been attributed to tholin-like organic macromolecules produced by energetic radiation processing of hydrocarbons. The polar location on Charon implicates the temperature extremes that result from Charon’s high obliquity and long seasons in the production of this material. The escape of Pluto’s atmosphere provides a potential feedstock for a complex chemistry. Gas from Pluto that is transiently cold-trapped and processed at Charon’s winter pole was proposed as an explanation for the dark coloration on the basis of an image of Charon’s northern hemisphere, but not modelled quantitatively. Here we report images of the southern hemisphere illuminated by Pluto-shine and also images taken during the approach phase that show the northern polar cap over a range of longitudes. We model the surface thermal environment on Charon and the supply and temporary cold-trapping of material escaping from Pluto, as well as the photolytic processing of this material into more complex and less volatile molecules while cold-trapped. The model results are consistent with the proposed mechanism for producing the observed colour pattern on Charon.
2016-09-14Complex I (NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductase) is the first enzyme of the mitochondrial respiratory chain and is composed of 45 subunits in humans, making it one of the largest known multi-subunit membrane protein complexes. Complex I exists in supercomplex forms with respiratory chain complexes III and IV, which are together required for the generation of a transmembrane proton gradient used for the synthesis of ATP. Complex I is also a major source of damaging reactive oxygen species and its dysfunction is associated with mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and ageing. Bacterial and human complex I share 14 core subunits that are essential for enzymatic function; however, the role and necessity of the remaining 31 human accessory subunits is unclear. The incorporation of accessory subunits into the complex increases the cellular energetic cost and has necessitated the involvement of numerous assembly factors for complex I biogenesis. Here we use gene editing to generate human knockout cell lines for each accessory subunit. We show that 25 subunits are strictly required for assembly of a functional complex and 1 subunit is essential for cell viability. Quantitative proteomic analysis of cell lines revealed that loss of each subunit affects the stability of other subunits residing in the same structural module. Analysis of proteomic changes after the loss of specific modules revealed that ATP5SL and DMAC1 are required for assembly of the distal portion of the complex I membrane arm. Our results demonstrate the broad importance of accessory subunits in the structure and function of human complex I. Coupling gene-editing technology with proteomics represents a powerful tool for dissecting large multi-subunit complexes and enables the study of complex dysfunction at a cellular level.
2016-09-14Although lysine acetylation is now recognized as a general protein modification for both histones and non-histone proteins, the mechanisms of acetylation-mediated actions are not completely understood. Acetylation of the C-terminal domain (CTD) of p53 (also known as TP53) was an early example of non-histone protein acetylation and its precise role remains unclear. Lysine acetylation often creates binding sites for bromodomain-containing ‘reader’ proteins. Here we use a proteomic screen to identify the oncoprotein SET as a major cellular factor whose binding with p53 is dependent on CTD acetylation status. SET profoundly inhibits p53 transcriptional activity in unstressed cells, but SET-mediated repression is abolished by stress-induced acetylation of p53 CTD. Moreover, loss of the interaction with SET activates p53, resulting in tumour regression in mouse xenograft models. Notably, the acidic domain of SET acts as a ‘reader’ for the unacetylated CTD of p53 and this mechanism of acetylation-dependent regulation is widespread in nature. For example, acetylation of p53 also modulates its interactions with similar acidic domains found in other p53 regulators including VPRBP (also known as DCAF1), DAXX and PELP1 (refs. 7, 8, 9), and computational analysis of the proteome has identified numerous proteins with the potential to serve as acidic domain readers and lysine-rich ligands. Unlike bromodomain readers, which preferentially bind the acetylated forms of their cognate ligands, the acidic domain readers specifically recognize the unacetylated forms of their ligands. Finally, the acetylation-dependent regulation of p53 was further validated in vivo by using a knock-in mouse model expressing an acetylation-mimicking form of p53. These results reveal that acidic-domain-containing factors act as a class of acetylation-dependent regulators by targeting p53 and, potentially, other proteins.
2016-09-12The Earth–Moon system has unique chemical and isotopic signatures compared with other planetary bodies; any successful model for the origin of this system therefore has to satisfy these chemical and isotopic constraints. The Moon is substantially depleted in volatile elements such as potassium compared with the Earth and the bulk solar composition, and it has long been thought to be the result of a catastrophic Moon-forming giant impact event. Volatile-element-depleted bodies such as the Moon were expected to be enriched in heavy potassium isotopes during the loss of volatiles; however such enrichment was never found. Here we report new high-precision potassium isotope data for the Earth, the Moon and chondritic meteorites. We found that the lunar rocks are significantly (>2σ) enriched in the heavy isotopes of potassium compared to the Earth and chondrites (by around 0.4 parts per thousand). The enrichment of the heavy isotope of potassium in lunar rocks compared with those of the Earth and chondrites can be best explained as the result of the incomplete condensation of a bulk silicate Earth vapour at an ambient pressure that is higher than 10 bar. We used these coupled constraints of the chemical loss and isotopic fractionation of K to compare two recent dynamic models that were used to explain the identical non-mass-dependent isotope composition of the Earth and the Moon. Our K isotope result is inconsistent with the low-energy disk equilibration model, but supports the high-energy, high-angular-momentum giant impact model for the origin of the Moon. High-precision potassium isotope data can also be used as a ‘palaeo-barometer’ to reveal the physical conditions during the Moon-forming event.
2016-09-07The presence of solid carbonaceous matter in cometary dust was established by the detection of elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen in particles from comet 1P/Halley. Such matter is generally thought to have originated in the interstellar medium, but it might have formed in the solar nebula—the cloud of gas and dust that was left over after the Sun formed. This solid carbonaceous material cannot be observed from Earth, so it has eluded unambiguous characterization. Many gaseous organic molecules, however, have been observed; they come mostly from the sublimation of ices at the surface or in the subsurface of cometary nuclei. These ices could have been formed from material inherited from the interstellar medium that suffered little processing in the solar nebula. Here we report the in situ detection of solid organic matter in the dust particles emitted by comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko; the carbon in this organic material is bound in very large macromolecular compounds, analogous to the insoluble organic matter found in the carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. The organic matter in meteorites might have formed in the interstellar medium and/or the solar nebula, but was almost certainly modified in the meteorites’ parent bodies. We conclude that the observed cometary carbonaceous solid matter could have the same origin as the meteoritic insoluble organic matter, but suffered less modification before and/or after being incorporated into the comet.
2016-09-07Nanometre-scale pores and capillaries have long been studied because of their importance in many natural phenomena and their use in numerous applications. A more recent development is the ability to fabricate artificial capillaries with nanometre dimensions, which has enabled new research on molecular transport and led to the emergence of nanofluidics. But surface roughness in particular makes it challenging to produce capillaries with precisely controlled dimensions at this spatial scale. Here we report the fabrication of narrow and smooth capillaries through van der Waals assembly, with atomically flat sheets at the top and bottom separated by spacers made of two-dimensional crystals with a precisely controlled number of layers. We use graphene and its multilayers as archetypal two-dimensional materials to demonstrate this technology, which produces structures that can be viewed as if individual atomic planes had been removed from a bulk crystal to leave behind flat voids of a height chosen with atomic-scale precision. Water transport through the channels, ranging in height from one to several dozen atomic planes, is characterized by unexpectedly fast flow (up to 1 metre per second) that we attribute to high capillary pressures (about 1,000 bar) and large slip lengths. For channels that accommodate only a few layers of water, the flow exhibits a marked enhancement that we associate with an increased structural order in nanoconfined water. Our work opens up an avenue to making capillaries and cavities with sizes tunable to ångström precision, and with permeation properties further controlled through a wide choice of atomically flat materials available for channel walls.
2016-08-24The band theory of solids is arguably the most successful theory of condensed-matter physics, providing a description of the electronic energy levels in various materials. Electronic wavefunctions obtained from the band theory enable a topological characterization of metals for which the electronic spectrum may host robust, topologically protected, fermionic quasiparticles. Many of these quasiparticles are analogues of the elementary particles of the Standard Model, but others do not have a counterpart in relativistic high-energy theories. A complete list of possible quasiparticles in solids is lacking, even in the non-interacting case. Here we describe the possible existence of a hitherto unrecognized type of fermionic excitation in metals. This excitation forms a nodal chain—a chain of connected loops in momentum space—along which conduction and valence bands touch. We prove that the nodal chain is topologically distinct from previously reported excitations. We discuss the symmetry requirements for the appearance of this excitation and predict that it is realized in an existing material, iridium tetrafluoride (IrF4), as well as in other compounds of this class of materials. Using IrF4 as an example, we provide a discussion of the topological surface states associated with the nodal chain. We argue that the presence of the nodal-chain fermions will result in anomalous magnetotransport properties, distinct from those of materials exhibiting previously known excitations.
2016-08-24Patterning of colloidal particles with chemically or topographically distinct surface domains (patches) has attracted intense research interest. Surface-patterned particles act as colloidal analogues of atoms and molecules, serve as model systems in studies of phase transitions in liquid systems, behave as ‘colloidal surfactants’ and function as templates for the synthesis of hybrid particles. The generation of micrometre- and submicrometre-sized patchy colloids is now efficient, but surface patterning of inorganic colloidal nanoparticles with dimensions of the order of tens of nanometres is uncommon. Such nanoparticles exhibit size- and shape-dependent optical, electronic and magnetic properties, and their assemblies show new collective properties. At present, nanoparticle patterning is limited to the generation of two-patch nanoparticles, and nanoparticles with surface ripples or a ‘raspberry’ surface morphology. Here we demonstrate nanoparticle surface patterning, which utilizes thermodynamically driven segregation of polymer ligands from a uniform polymer brush into surface-pinned micelles following a change in solvent quality. Patch formation is reversible but can be permanently preserved using a photocrosslinking step. The methodology offers the ability to control the dimensions of patches, their spatial distribution and the number of patches per nanoparticle, in agreement with a theoretical model. The versatility of the strategy is demonstrated by patterning nanoparticles with different dimensions, shapes and compositions, tethered with various types of polymers and subjected to different external stimuli. These patchy nanocolloids have potential applications in fundamental research, the self-assembly of nanomaterials, diagnostics, sensing and colloidal stabilization.
2016-05-25Deadly coral snakes warn predators through striking red-black banding. New data confirm that many harmless snakes have evolved to resemble coral snakes, and suggest that the evolution of this Batesian mimicry is not always a one-way street.