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Nature is the international weekly journal of science: a magazine style journal that publishes full-length research papers in all disciplines of science, as well as News and Views, reviews, news, features, commentaries, web focuses and more, covering all


Cardiovascular disease: A turbulent path to plaque formation


Plaque deposits often occur in curved arterial regions with turbulent blood flow. Endothelial cells have been found to respond to blood flow through a previously unidentified signalling pathway that affects plaque build-up.

Pharmacology: Inside-out receptor inhibition


Structures of two chemokine receptor proteins in complex with small molecules reveal a previously unknown binding pocket that could be a drug target for treating a range of diseases involving this receptor family.

Cancer: A gene-expression profile for leukaemia


Can simple genetic risk profiles be identified for complex diseases? The development of a gene-expression profile for acute myeloid leukaemia suggests that they can, and that they may improve prognosis prediction.

Hydrology: The dynamics of Earth's surface water


High-resolution satellite mapping of Earth's surface water during the past 32 years reveals changes in the planet's water systems, including the influence of natural cycles and human activities.

Electric-field-stimulated protein mechanics


A new method in which strong electric fields are applied to a protein crystal while collecting time-resolved X-ray diffraction patterns is able to follow the mechanical motions of all the constituent atoms, with implications for molecular biology and drug discovery.

Targeting metastasis-initiating cells through the fatty acid receptor CD36


Human oral carcinoma cells expressing high levels of the fatty acid receptor CD36 initiate metastasis in mouse models, and metastasis is increased by palmitic acid or a fatty diet and decreased by blockade of CD36.

A 17-gene stemness score for rapid determination of risk in acute leukaemia


Refractoriness to induction chemotherapy and relapse after achievement of remission are the main obstacles to cure in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). After standard induction chemotherapy, patients are assigned to different post-remission strategies on the basis of cytogenetic and molecular abnormalities that broadly define adverse, intermediate and favourable risk categories. However, some patients do not respond to induction therapy and another subset will eventually relapse despite the lack of adverse risk factors. There is an urgent need for better biomarkers to identify these high-risk patients before starting induction chemotherapy, to enable testing of alternative induction strategies in clinical trials. The high rate of relapse in AML has been attributed to the persistence of leukaemia stem cells (LSCs), which possess a number of stem cell properties, including quiescence, that are linked to therapy resistance. Here, to develop predictive and/or prognostic biomarkers related to stemness, we generated a list of genes that are differentially expressed between 138 LSC+ and 89 LSC− cell fractions from 78 AML patients validated by xenotransplantation. To extract the core transcriptional components of stemness relevant to clinical outcomes, we performed sparse regression analysis of LSC gene expression against survival in a large training cohort, generating a 17-gene LSC score (LSC17). The LSC17 score was highly prognostic in five independent cohorts comprising patients of diverse AML subtypes (n = 908) and contributed greatly to accurate prediction of initial therapy resistance. Patients with high LSC17 scores had poor outcomes with current treatments including allogeneic stem cell transplantation. The LSC17 score provides clinicians with a rapid and powerful tool to identify AML patients who do not benefit from standard therapy and who should be enrolled in trials evaluating novel upfront or post-remission strategies.

Intracellular allosteric antagonism of the CCR9 receptor


Chemokines and their G-protein-coupled receptors play a diverse role in immune defence by controlling the migration, activation and survival of immune cells. They are also involved in viral entry, tumour growth and metastasis and hence are important drug targets in a wide range of diseases. Despite very significant efforts by the pharmaceutical industry to develop drugs, with over 50 small-molecule drugs directed at the family entering clinical development, only two compounds have reached the market: maraviroc (CCR5) for HIV infection and plerixafor (CXCR4) for stem-cell mobilization. The high failure rate may in part be due to limited understanding of the mechanism of action of chemokine antagonists and an inability to optimize compounds in the absence of structural information. CC chemokine receptor type 9 (CCR9) activation by CCL25 plays a key role in leukocyte recruitment to the gut and represents a therapeutic target in inflammatory bowel disease. The selective CCR9 antagonist vercirnon progressed to phase 3 clinical trials in Crohn’s disease but efficacy was limited, with the need for very high doses to block receptor activation. Here we report the crystal structure of the CCR9 receptor in complex with vercirnon at 2.8 Å resolution. Remarkably, vercirnon binds to the intracellular side of the receptor, exerting allosteric antagonism and preventing G-protein coupling. This binding site explains the need for relatively lipophilic ligands and describes another example of an allosteric site on G-protein-coupled receptors that can be targeted for drug design, not only at CCR9, but potentially extending to other chemokine receptors.

High-resolution mapping of global surface water and its long-term changes


The location and persistence of surface water (inland and coastal) is both affected by climate and human activity and affects climate, biological diversity and human wellbeing. Global data sets documenting surface water location and seasonality have been produced from inventories and national descriptions, statistical extrapolation of regional data and satellite imagery, but measuring long-term changes at high resolution remains a challenge. Here, using three million Landsat satellite images, we quantify changes in global surface water over the past 32 years at 30-metre resolution. We record the months and years when water was present, where occurrence changed and what form changes took in terms of seasonality and persistence. Between 1984 and 2015 permanent surface water has disappeared from an area of almost 90,000 square kilometres, roughly equivalent to that of Lake Superior, though new permanent bodies of surface water covering 184,000 square kilometres have formed elsewhere. All continental regions show a net increase in permanent water, except Oceania, which has a fractional (one per cent) net loss. Much of the increase is from reservoir filling, although climate change is also implicated. Loss is more geographically concentrated than gain. Over 70 per cent of global net permanent water loss occurred in the Middle East and Central Asia, linked to drought and human actions including river diversion or damming and unregulated withdrawal. Losses in Australia and the USA linked to long-term droughts are also evident. This globally consistent, validated data set shows that impacts of climate change and climate oscillations on surface water occurrence can be measured and that evidence can be gathered to show how surface water is altered by human activities. We anticipate that this freely available data will improve the modelling of surface forcing, provide evidence of state and change in wetland ecotones (the transition areas between biomes), and inform water-management decision-making.

Receptor usage dictates HIV-1 restriction by human TRIM5α in dendritic cell subsets


The most prevalent route of HIV-1 infection is across mucosal tissues after sexual contact. Langerhans cells (LCs) belong to the subset of dendritic cells (DCs) that line the mucosal epithelia of vagina and foreskin and have the ability to sense and induce immunity to invading pathogens. Anatomical and functional characteristics make LCs one of the primary targets of HIV-1 infection. Notably, LCs form a protective barrier against HIV-1 infection and transmission. LCs restrict HIV-1 infection through the capture of HIV-1 by the C-type lectin receptor Langerin and subsequent internalization into Birbeck granules. However, the underlying molecular mechanism of HIV-1 restriction in LCs remains unknown. Here we show that human E3-ubiquitin ligase tri-partite-containing motif 5α (TRIM5α) potently restricts HIV-1 infection of LCs but not of subepithelial DC-SIGN+ DCs. HIV-1 restriction by TRIM5α was thus far considered to be reserved to non-human primate TRIM5α orthologues, but our data strongly suggest that human TRIM5α is a cell-specific restriction factor dependent on C-type lectin receptor function. Our findings highlight the importance of HIV-1 binding to Langerin for the routeing of HIV-1 into the human TRIM5α-mediated restriction pathway. TRIM5α mediates the assembly of an autophagy-activating scaffold to Langerin, which targets HIV-1 for autophagic degradation and prevents infection of LCs. By contrast, HIV-1 binding to DC-SIGN+ DCs leads to disassociation of TRIM5α from DC-SIGN, which abrogates TRIM5α restriction. Thus, our data strongly suggest that restriction by human TRIM5α is controlled by C-type-lectin-receptor-dependent uptake of HIV-1, dictating protection or infection of human DC subsets. Therapeutic interventions that incorporate C-type lectin receptors and autophagy-targeting strategies could thus provide cell-mediated resistance to HIV-1 in humans.

Integrin-YAP/TAZ-JNK cascade mediates atheroprotective effect of unidirectional shear flow


The Yorkie homologues YAP (Yes-associated protein) and TAZ (transcriptional coactivator with PDZ-binding motif, also known as WWTR1), effectors of the Hippo pathway, have been identified as mediators for mechanical stimuli. However, the role of YAP/TAZ in haemodynamics-induced mechanotransduction and pathogenesis of atherosclerosis remains unclear. Here we show that endothelial YAP/TAZ activity is regulated by different patterns of blood flow, and YAP/TAZ inhibition suppresses inflammation and retards atherogenesis. Atheroprone-disturbed flow increases whereas atheroprotective unidirectional shear stress inhibits YAP/TAZ activity. Unidirectional shear stress activates integrin and promotes integrin–Gα13 interaction, leading to RhoA inhibition and YAP phosphorylation and suppression. YAP/TAZ inhibition suppresses JNK signalling and downregulates pro-inflammatory genes expression, thereby reducing monocyte attachment and infiltration. In vivo endothelial-specific YAP overexpression exacerbates, while CRISPR/Cas9-mediated Yap knockdown in endothelium retards, plaque formation in ApoE−/− mice. We also show several existing anti-atherosclerotic agents such as statins inhibit YAP/TAZ transactivation. On the other hand, simvastatin fails to suppress constitutively active YAP/TAZ-induced pro-inflammatory gene expression in endothelial cells, indicating that YAP/TAZ inhibition could contribute to the anti-inflammatory effect of simvastatin. Furthermore, activation of integrin by oral administration of MnCl2 reduces plaque formation. Taken together, our results indicate that integrin–Gα13–RhoA–YAP pathway holds promise as a novel drug target against atherosclerosis.

Structure of CC chemokine receptor 2 with orthosteric and allosteric antagonists


CC chemokine receptor 2 (CCR2) is one of 19 members of the chemokine receptor subfamily of human class A G-protein-coupled receptors. CCR2 is expressed on monocytes, immature dendritic cells, and T-cell subpopulations, and mediates their migration towards endogenous CC chemokine ligands such as CCL2 (ref. 1). CCR2 and its ligands are implicated in numerous inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases including atherosclerosis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, neuropathic pain, and diabetic nephropathy, as well as cancer. These disease associations have motivated numerous preclinical studies and clinical trials (see in search of therapies that target the CCR2–chemokine axis. To aid drug discovery efforts, here we solve a structure of CCR2 in a ternary complex with an orthosteric (BMS-681 (ref. 6)) and allosteric (CCR2-RA-[R]) antagonist. BMS-681 inhibits chemokine binding by occupying the orthosteric pocket of the receptor in a previously unseen binding mode. CCR2-RA-[R] binds in a novel, highly druggable pocket that is the most intracellular allosteric site observed in class A G-protein-coupled receptors so far; this site spatially overlaps the G-protein-binding site in homologous receptors. CCR2-RA-[R] inhibits CCR2 non-competitively by blocking activation-associated conformational changes and formation of the G-protein-binding interface. The conformational signature of the conserved microswitch residues observed in double-antagonist-bound CCR2 resembles the most inactive G-protein-coupled receptor structures solved so far. Like other protein–protein interactions, receptor–chemokine complexes are considered challenging therapeutic targets for small molecules, and the present structure suggests diverse pocket epitopes that can be exploited to overcome obstacles in drug design.

Splicing factor 1 modulates dietary restriction and TORC1 pathway longevity in C. elegans


Ageing is driven by a loss of transcriptional and protein homeostasis and is the key risk factor for multiple chronic diseases. Interventions that attenuate or reverse systemic dysfunction associated with age therefore have the potential to reduce overall disease risk in the elderly. Precursor mRNA (pre-mRNA) splicing is a fundamental link between gene expression and the proteome, and deregulation of the splicing machinery is linked to several age-related chronic illnesses. However, the role of splicing homeostasis in healthy ageing remains unclear. Here we demonstrate that pre-mRNA splicing homeostasis is a biomarker and predictor of life expectancy in Caenorhabditis elegans. Using transcriptomics and in-depth splicing analysis in young and old animals fed ad libitum or subjected to dietary restriction, we find defects in global pre-mRNA splicing with age that are reduced by dietary restriction via splicing factor 1 (SFA-1; the C. elegans homologue of SF1, also known as branchpoint binding protein, BBP). We show that SFA-1 is specifically required for lifespan extension by dietary restriction and by modulation of the TORC1 pathway components AMPK, RAGA-1 and RSKS-1/S6 kinase. We also demonstrate that overexpression of SFA-1 is sufficient to extend lifespan. Together, these data demonstrate a role for RNA splicing homeostasis in dietary restriction longevity and suggest that modulation of specific spliceosome components may prolong healthy ageing.

Genome-wide changes in lncRNA, splicing, and regional gene expression patterns in autism


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) involves substantial genetic contributions. These contributions are profoundly heterogeneous but may converge on common pathways that are not yet well understood. Here, through post-mortem genome-wide transcriptome analysis of the largest cohort of samples analysed so far, to our knowledge, we interrogate the noncoding transcriptome, alternative splicing, and upstream molecular regulators to broaden our understanding of molecular convergence in ASD. Our analysis reveals ASD-associated dysregulation of primate-specific long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), downregulation of the alternative splicing of activity-dependent neuron-specific exons, and attenuation of normal differences in gene expression between the frontal and temporal lobes. Our data suggest that SOX5, a transcription factor involved in neuron fate specification, contributes to this reduction in regional differences. We further demonstrate that a genetically defined subtype of ASD, chromosome 15q11.2-13.1 duplication syndrome (dup15q), shares the core transcriptomic signature observed in idiopathic ASD. Co-expression network analysis reveals that individuals with ASD show age-related changes in the trajectory of microglial and synaptic function over the first two decades, and suggests that genetic risk for ASD may influence changes in regional cortical gene expression. Our findings illustrate how diverse genetic perturbations can lead to phenotypic convergence at multiple biological levels in a complex neuropsychiatric disorder.

Evidence for a spinon Fermi surface in a triangular-lattice quantum-spin-liquid candidate


A quantum spin liquid is an exotic quantum state of matter in which spins are highly entangled and remain disordered down to zero temperature. Such a state of matter is potentially relevant to high-temperature superconductivity and quantum-information applications, and experimental identification of a quantum spin liquid state is of fundamental importance for our understanding of quantum matter. Theoretical studies have proposed various quantum-spin-liquid ground states, most of which are characterized by exotic spin excitations with fractional quantum numbers (termed ‘spinons’). Here we report neutron scattering measurements of the triangular-lattice antiferromagnet YbMgGaO4 that reveal broad spin excitations covering a wide region of the Brillouin zone. The observed diffusive spin excitation persists at the lowest measured energy and shows a clear upper excitation edge, consistent with the particle–hole excitation of a spinon Fermi surface. Our results therefore point to the existence of a quantum spin liquid state with a spinon Fermi surface in YbMgGaO4, which has a perfect spin-1/2 triangular lattice as in the original proposal of quantum spin liquids.

Structure and regulation of the chromatin remodeller ISWI


ISWI is a member of the SWI2/SNF2 family of chromatin remodellers, which also includes Snf2, Chd1, and Ino80. ISWI is the catalytic subunit of several chromatin remodelling complexes, which mobilize nucleosomes along genomic DNA, promoting replication progression, transcription repression, heterochromatin formation, and many other nuclear processes. The ATPase motor of ISWI is an autonomous remodelling machine, whereas its carboxy (C)-terminal HAND–SAND–SLIDE (HSS) domain functions in binding extranucleosomal linker DNA. The activity of the catalytic core of ISWI is inhibited by the regulatory AutoN and NegC domains, which are in turn antagonized by the H4 tail and extranucleosomal DNA, respectively, to ensure the appropriate chromatin landscape in cells. How AutoN and NegC inhibit ISWI and regulate its nucleosome-centring activity remains elusive. Here we report the crystal structures of ISWI from the thermophilic yeast Myceliophthora thermophila and its complex with a histone H4 peptide. Our data show the amino (N)-terminal AutoN domain contains two inhibitory elements, which collectively bind the second RecA-like domain (core2), holding the enzyme in an inactive conformation. The H4 peptide binds to the core2 domain coincident with one of the AutoN-binding sites, explaining the ISWI activation by H4. The H4-binding surface is conserved in Snf2 and functions beyond AutoN regulation. The C-terminal NegC domain is involved in binding to the core2 domain and functions as an allosteric element for ISWI to respond to the extranucleosomal DNA length.

Biomedicine: An eye on retinal recovery


Retinal-cell transplants restore vision in mouse models of retinal degeneration. It emerges that the transplant leads to an exchange of material between donor and host cells — not to donor-cell integration into the retina, as had been presumed.

Stem cells: Cause and consequence in aged-muscle decline


Activation of aged muscle stem cells induces changes in DNA packaging that lead to expression of the gene Hoxa9. This reactivates embryonic signalling pathways, restricting the cells' ability to repair injured muscle.

Epigenetic stress responses induce muscle stem-cell ageing by Hoxa9 developmental signals


The functionality of stem cells declines during ageing, and this decline contributes to ageing-associated impairments in tissue regeneration and function. Alterations in developmental pathways have been associated with declines in stem-cell function during ageing, but the nature of this process remains poorly understood. Hox genes are key regulators of stem cells and tissue patterning during embryogenesis with an unknown role in ageing. Here we show that the epigenetic stress response in muscle stem cells (also known as satellite cells) differs between aged and young mice. The alteration includes aberrant global and site-specific induction of active chromatin marks in activated satellite cells from aged mice, resulting in the specific induction of Hoxa9 but not other Hox genes. Hoxa9 in turn activates several developmental pathways and represents a decisive factor that separates satellite cell gene expression in aged mice from that in young mice. The activated pathways include most of the currently known inhibitors of satellite cell function in ageing muscle, including Wnt, TGFβ, JAK/STAT and senescence signalling. Inhibition of aberrant chromatin activation or deletion of Hoxa9 improves satellite cell function and muscle regeneration in aged mice, whereas overexpression of Hoxa9 mimics ageing-associated defects in satellite cells from young mice, which can be rescued by the inhibition of Hoxa9-targeted developmental pathways. Together, these data delineate an altered epigenetic stress response in activated satellite cells from aged mice, which limits satellite cell function and muscle regeneration by Hoxa9-dependent activation of developmental pathways.

Extensive degeneracy, Coulomb phase and magnetic monopoles in artificial square ice


Artificial spin-ice systems are lithographically patterned arrangements of interacting magnetic nanostructures that were introduced as way of investigating the effects of geometric frustration in a controlled manner. This approach has enabled unconventional states of matter to be visualized directly in real space, and has triggered research at the frontier between nanomagnetism, statistical thermodynamics and condensed matter physics. Despite efforts to create an artificial realization of the square-ice model—a two-dimensional geometrically frustrated spin-ice system defined on a square lattice—no simple geometry based on arrays of nanomagnets has successfully captured the macroscopically degenerate ground-state manifold of the model. Instead, square lattices of nanomagnets are characterized by a magnetically ordered ground state that consists of local loop configurations with alternating chirality. Here we show that all of the characteristics of the square-ice model are observed in an artificial square-ice system that consists of two sublattices of nanomagnets that are vertically separated by a small distance. The spin configurations we image after demagnetizing our arrays reveal unambiguous signatures of a Coulomb phase and algebraic spin-spin correlations, which are characterized by the presence of ‘pinch’ points in the associated magnetic structure factor. Local excitations—the classical analogues of magnetic monopoles—are free to evolve in an extensively degenerate, divergence-free vacuum. We thus provide a protocol that could be used to investigate collective magnetic phenomena, including Coulomb phases and the physics of ice-like materials.

Redefining the invertebrate RNA virosphere


Profiling the total RNA of 220 invertebrate species leads to the discovery of almost 1,500 new species of RNA virus, revealing that the RNA virosphere is much more diverse than was previously thought.

Sub-ice-shelf sediments record history of twentieth-century retreat of Pine Island Glacier


The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is one of the largest potential sources of rising sea levels. Over the past 40 years, glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea sector of the ice sheet have thinned at an accelerating rate, and several numerical models suggest that unstable and irreversible retreat of the grounding line—which marks the boundary between grounded ice and floating ice shelf—is underway. Understanding this recent retreat requires a detailed knowledge of grounding-line history, but the locations of the grounding line before the advent of satellite monitoring in the 1990s are poorly dated. In particular, a history of grounding-line retreat is required to understand the relative roles of contemporaneous ocean-forced change and of ongoing glacier response to an earlier perturbation in driving ice-sheet loss. Here we show that the present thinning and retreat of Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica is part of a climatically forced trend that was triggered in the 1940s. Our conclusions arise from analysis of sediment cores recovered beneath the floating Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, and constrain the date at which the grounding line retreated from a prominent seafloor ridge. We find that incursion of marine water beyond the crest of this ridge, forming an ocean cavity beneath the ice shelf, occurred in 1945 (±12 years); final ungrounding of the ice shelf from the ridge occurred in 1970 (±4 years). The initial opening of this ocean cavity followed a period of strong warming of West Antarctica, associated with El Niño activity. Thus our results suggest that, even when climate forcing weakened, ice-sheet retreat continued.

Water balance creates a threshold in soil pH at the global scale


Soil pH regulates the capacity of soils to store and supply nutrients, and thus contributes substantially to controlling productivity in terrestrial ecosystems. However, soil pH is not an independent regulator of soil fertility—rather, it is ultimately controlled by environmental forcing. In particular, small changes in water balance cause a steep transition from alkaline to acid soils across natural climate gradients. Although the processes governing this threshold in soil pH are well understood, the threshold has not been quantified at the global scale, where the influence of climate may be confounded by the effects of topography and mineralogy. Here we evaluate the global relationship between water balance and soil pH by extracting a spatially random sample (n = 20,000) from an extensive compilation of 60,291 soil pH measurements. We show that there is an abrupt transition from alkaline to acid soil pH that occurs at the point where mean annual precipitation begins to exceed mean annual potential evapotranspiration. We evaluate deviations from this global pattern, showing that they may result from seasonality, climate history, erosion and mineralogy. These results demonstrate that climate creates a nonlinear pattern in soil solution chemistry at the global scale; they also reveal conditions under which soils maintain pH out of equilibrium with modern climate.

Structure of photosystem II and substrate binding at room temperature


Light-induced oxidation of water by photosystem II (PS II) in plants, algae and cyanobacteria has generated most of the dioxygen in the atmosphere. PS II, a membrane-bound multi-subunit pigment protein complex, couples the one-electron photochemistry at the reaction centre with the four-electron redox chemistry of water oxidation at the Mn4CaO5 cluster in the oxygen-evolving complex (OEC). Under illumination, the OEC cycles through five intermediate S-states (S0 to S4), in which S1 is the dark-stable state and S3 is the last semi-stable state before O–O bond formation and O2 evolution. A detailed understanding of the O–O bond formation mechanism remains a challenge, and will require elucidation of both the structures of the OEC in the different S-states and the binding of the two substrate waters to the catalytic site. Here we report the use of femtosecond pulses from an X-ray free electron laser (XFEL) to obtain damage-free, room temperature structures of dark-adapted (S1), two-flash illuminated (2F; S3-enriched), and ammonia-bound two-flash illuminated (2F-NH3; S3-enriched) PS II. Although the recent 1.95 Å resolution structure of PS II at cryogenic temperature using an XFEL provided a damage-free view of the S1 state, measurements at room temperature are required to study the structural landscape of proteins under functional conditions, and also for in situ advancement of the S-states. To investigate the water-binding site(s), ammonia, a water analogue, has been used as a marker, as it binds to the Mn4CaO5 cluster in the S2 and S3 states. Since the ammonia-bound OEC is active, the ammonia-binding Mn site is not a substrate water site. This approach, together with a comparison of the native dark and 2F states, is used to discriminate between proposed O–O bond formation mechanisms.

Structure of RNA polymerase I transcribing ribosomal DNA genes


RNA polymerase I (Pol I) is a highly processive enzyme that transcribes ribosomal DNA (rDNA) and regulates growth of eukaryotic cells. Crystal structures of free Pol I from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae have revealed dimers of the enzyme stabilized by a ‘connector’ element and an expanded cleft containing the active centre in an inactive conformation. The central bridge helix was unfolded and a Pol-I-specific ‘expander’ element occupied the DNA-template-binding site. The structure of Pol I in its active transcribing conformation has yet to be determined, whereas structures of Pol II and Pol III have been solved with bound DNA template and RNA transcript. Here we report structures of active transcribing Pol I from yeast solved by two different cryo-electron microscopy approaches. A single-particle structure at 3.8 Å resolution reveals a contracted active centre cleft with bound DNA and RNA, and a narrowed pore beneath the active site that no longer holds the RNA-cleavage-stimulating domain of subunit A12.2. A structure at 29 Å resolution that was determined from cryo-electron tomograms of Pol I enzymes transcribing cellular rDNA confirms contraction of the cleft and reveals that incoming and exiting rDNA enclose an angle of around 150°. The structures suggest a model for the regulation of transcription elongation in which contracted and expanded polymerase conformations are associated with active and inactive states, respectively.

Broadening not strengthening of the Agulhas Current since the early 1990s


Western boundary currents—such as the Agulhas Current in the Indian Ocean—carry heat poleward, moderating Earth’s climate and fuelling the mid-latitude storm tracks. They could exacerbate or mitigate warming and extreme weather events in the future, depending on their response to anthropogenic climate change. Climate models show an ongoing poleward expansion and intensification of the global wind systems, most robustly in the Southern Hemisphere, and linear dynamical theory suggests that western boundary currents will intensify and shift poleward as a result. Observational evidence of such changes comes from accelerated warming and air–sea heat flux rates within all western boundary currents, which are two or three times faster than global mean rates. Here we show that, despite these expectations, the Agulhas Current has not intensified since the early 1990s. Instead, we find that it has broadened as a result of more eddy activity. Recent analyses of other western boundary currents—the Kuroshio and East Australia currents—hint at similar trends. These results indicate that intensifying winds may be increasing the eddy kinetic energy of boundary currents, rather than their mean flow. This could act to decrease poleward heat transport and increase cross-frontal exchange of nutrients and pollutants between the coastal ocean and the deep ocean. Sustained in situ measurements are needed to properly understand the role of these current systems in a changing climate.

Particle physics: Search for neutrinoless double-β decay


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


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.

Cancer: Acidic shield puts a chink in p53's armour


Underactivity 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.

Evolutionary biology: To mimicry and back again


Deadly 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.