Volume 491 Issue 7422



News Features

News & Views

Materials scienceSelf-assembly gets new direction p.42

By controlling the placement of 'sticky' patches on particles, assemblies can be made that mimic atomic bonding in molecules. This greatly expands the range of structures that can be assembled from small components. See Article p.51

doi: 10.1038/491042a

EcologyBumblebees and pesticides p.43

A study showing the effects of two pesticides on bumblebees highlights the need for risk assessments to consider multiple species and the complex chain of factors that determines insect exposure to chemicals. See Letter p.105

doi: 10.1038/nature11637

AsteroidsDark and stormy weather p.45

Can some of the ageing effects on asteroid surfaces be caused by an interplanetary rain of carbon-rich Solar System debris? Observations from the Dawn space mission suggest that the answer is yes. See Letters p.79 & p.83

doi: 10.1038/491045a

OpticsNanotube holograms p.47

Carbon nanotubes interact strongly with light — a property that makes them ideal components of holographic devices. The realization of such a device opens up fresh opportunities for holography.

doi: 10.1038/491047a

Origins of lifeThe cooperative gene p.48

The origin of life on Earth remains one of the great unsolved mysteries. A new study suggests that cooperation among molecules could have contributed to the transition from inanimate chemistry to biology. See Article p.72

doi: 10.1038/nature11635


Colloids with valence and specific directional bonding p.51

The ability to design and assemble three-dimensional structures from colloidal particles is limited by the absence of specific directional bonds. As a result, complex or low-coordination structures, common in atomic and molecular systems, are rare in the colloidal domain. Here we demonstrate a general method for creating the colloidal analogues of atoms with valence: colloidal particles with chemically distinct surface patches that imitate hybridized atomic orbitals, including sp, sp2, sp3, sp3d, sp3d2 and sp3d3. Functionalized with DNA with single-stranded sticky ends, patches on different particles can form highly directional bonds through programmable, specific and reversible DNA hybridization. These features allow the particles to self-assemble into ‘colloidal molecules’ with triangular, tetrahedral and other bonding symmetries, and should also give access to a rich variety of new microstructured colloidal materials.

doi: 10.1038/nature11564

An integrated map of genetic variation from 1,092 human genomes p.56

By characterizing the geographic and functional spectrum of human genetic variation, the 1000 Genomes Project aims to build a resource to help to understand the genetic contribution to disease. Here we describe the genomes of 1,092 individuals from 14 populations, constructed using a combination of low-coverage whole-genome and exome sequencing. By developing methods to integrate information across several algorithms and diverse data sources, we provide a validated haplotype map of 38 million single nucleotide polymorphisms, 1.4 million short insertions and deletions, and more than 14,000 larger deletions. We show that individuals from different populations carry different profiles of rare and common variants, and that low-frequency variants show substantial geographic differentiation, which is further increased by the action of purifying selection. We show that evolutionary conservation and coding consequence are key determinants of the strength of purifying selection, that rare-variant load varies substantially across biological pathways, and that each individual contains hundreds of rare non-coding variants at conserved sites, such as motif-disrupting changes in transcription-factor-binding sites. This resource, which captures up to 98% of accessible single nucleotide polymorphisms at a frequency of 1% in related populations, enables analysis of common and low-frequency variants in individuals from diverse, including admixed, populations.

doi: 10.1038/nature11632

Generation of functional thyroid from embryonic stem cells p.66

The primary function of the thyroid gland is to metabolize iodide by synthesizing thyroid hormones, which are critical regulators of growth, development and metabolism in almost all tissues. So far, research on thyroid morphogenesis has been missing an efficient stem-cell model system that allows for the in vitro recapitulation of the molecular and morphogenic events regulating thyroid follicular-cell differentiation and subsequent assembly into functional thyroid follicles. Here we report that a transient overexpression of the transcription factors NKX2-1 and PAX8 is sufficient to direct mouse embryonic stem-cell differentiation into thyroid follicular cells that organize into three-dimensional follicular structures when treated with thyrotropin. These in vitro-derived follicles showed appreciable iodide organification activity. Importantly, when grafted in vivo into athyroid mice, these follicles rescued thyroid hormone plasma levels and promoted subsequent symptomatic recovery. Thus, mouse embryonic stem cells can be induced to differentiate into thyroid follicular cells in vitro and generate functional thyroid tissue.

doi: 10.1038/nature11525

Spontaneous network formation among cooperative RNA replicators p.72

The origins of life on Earth required the establishment of self-replicating chemical systems capable of maintaining and evolving biological information. In an RNA world, single self-replicating RNAs would have faced the extreme challenge of possessing a mutation rate low enough both to sustain their own information and to compete successfully against molecular parasites with limited evolvability. Thus theoretical analyses suggest that networks of interacting molecules were more likely to develop and sustain life-like behaviour. Here we show that mixtures of RNA fragments that self-assemble into self-replicating ribozymes spontaneously form cooperative catalytic cycles and networks. We find that a specific three-membered network has highly cooperative growth dynamics. When such cooperative networks are competed directly against selfish autocatalytic cycles, the former grow faster, indicating an intrinsic ability of RNA populations to evolve greater complexity through cooperation. We can observe the evolvability of networks through in vitro selection. Our experiments highlight the advantages of cooperative behaviour even at the molecular stages of nascent life.

doi: 10.1038/nature11549