US scientists should not be placated by the ‘flat budget’ myth. Funds are decreasing, and the situation will get worse.
Universal theories are few and far between in ecology, but that is what makes it fascinating.
Research communities need to agree on standard etiquette for data-sharing.
Hopes dim for a science-funding increase in 2015.
Core science gets budget boost in a bid to change research culture and increase innovation.
Industry backlash expected over suggested cut in intake.
Two systems could plug the ocean-sized gap in earthquake detection.
Pioneering biofuel producers hope that US government largesse will ease their way into a tough market.
More than a billion people lack electricity, but now microgrids are powering up rural areas.
Predators are supposed to exert strong control over ecosystems, but nature doesn’t always play by the rules.
News & Views
Variation in an evolutionarily conserved sexual-differentiation gene, doublesex, has been found to explain how females of one species of butterfly mimic the colour patterns of several toxic species to avoid predation. See Letter p.229
The power of a cosmic lens to magnify and split the light from a distant, mass-accreting giant black hole into four components has allowed researchers to measure the black hole's spin. See Letter p.207
A tiny sample of a mineral included in a diamond confirms predictions from high-pressure laboratory experiments that a water reservoir comparable in size to all the oceans combined is hidden deep in Earth's mantle. See Letter p.221
Multiplication of repetitive DNA sequences is often the cause of neurodegenerative diseases. A four-stranded structure has been found to form in one such expansion in the gene C9orf72, altering gene function in four ways. See Article p.195
A systematic and painstaking analysis reveals that much of the complexity and variability of the courtship song of male fruit flies can be accounted for by simple rules that relate sensory experience to motor output. See Letter p.233
Hybridization can cause two species to fuse into a single population. New observations suggest that two species of Darwin's finches are hybridizing on a Galapagos island, and that a third one has disappeared through interbreeding.
Microfluidics, a technology characterized by the engineered manipulation of fluids at the submillimetre scale, has shown considerable promise for improving diagnostics and biology research. Certain properties of microfluidic technologies, such as rapid sample processing and the precise control of fluids in an assay, have made them attractive candidates to replace traditional experimental approaches. Here we analyse the progress made by lab-on-a-chip microtechnologies in recent years, and discuss the clinical and research areas in which they have made the greatest impact. We also suggest directions that biologists, engineers and clinicians can take to help this technology live up to its potential.
Lung alveoli are lined by two types of alveolar epithelial cells, squamous alveolar type (AT) 1 cells that mediate gas exchange and cuboidal AT2 cells that secrete surfactant to prevent alveolar collapse during breathing; here alveolar markers, genetic lineage tracing and clonal analysis are used in mice to identify alveolar progenitor and stem cells in vivo, and to map their locations and potential during lung development, maintenance and cancer.
Structurally polymorphic C9orf72 hexanucleotide repeats cause an impairment in transcriptional processivity and lead to accumulation of truncated repeat-containing transcripts that bind to specific ribonucleoproteins, such as nucleolin, in a conformation-dependent manner resulting in nucleolar stress and C9orf72-linked pathology in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia.
Computational protein design methods are used to generate new candidates for a human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine; artificial protein scaffolds that mimic the structure of a RSV epitope are shown to induce RSV-specific neutralizing antibodies in macaques.
The co-evolution of a supermassive black hole with its host galaxy through cosmic time is encoded in its spin. At z > 2, supermassive black holes are thought to grow mostly by merger-driven accretion leading to high spin. It is not known, however, whether below z ≈ 1 these black holes continue to grow by coherent accretion or in a chaotic manner, though clear differences are predicted in their spin evolution. An established method of measuring the spin of black holes is through the study of relativistic reflection features from the inner accretion disk. Owing to their greater distances from Earth, there has hitherto been no significant detection of relativistic reflection features in a moderate-redshift quasar. Here we report an analysis of archival X-ray data together with a deep observation of a gravitationally lensed quasar at z = 0.658. The emission originates within three or fewer gravitational radii from the black hole, implying a spin parameter (a measure of how fast the black hole is rotating) of a = at the 3σ confidence level and a > 0.66 at the 5σ level. The high spin found here is indicative of growth by coherent accretion for this black hole, and suggests that black-hole growth at 0.5 ≤ z ≤ 1 occurs principally by coherent rather than chaotic accretion episodes.
The delineation of molecular properties that underlie reactivity and selectivity is at the core of physical organic chemistry, and this knowledge can be used to inform the design of improved synthetic methods or identify new chemical transformations. For this reason, the mathematical representation of properties affecting reactivity and selectivity trends, that is, molecular parameters, is paramount. Correlations produced by equating these molecular parameters with experimental outcomes are often defined as free-energy relationships and can be used to evaluate the origin of selectivity and to generate new, experimentally testable hypotheses. The premise behind successful correlations of this type is that a systematically perturbed molecular property affects a transition-state interaction between the catalyst, substrate and any reaction components involved in the determination of selectivity. Classic physical organic molecular descriptors, such as Hammett, Taft or Charton parameters, seek to independently probe isolated electronic or steric effects. However, these parameters cannot address simultaneous, non-additive variations to more than one molecular property, which limits their utility. Here we report a parameter system based on the vibrational response of a molecule to infrared radiation that can be used to mathematically model and predict selectivity trends for reactions with interlinked steric and electronic effects at positions of interest. The disclosed parameter system is mechanistically derived and should find broad use in the study of chemical and biological systems.
Achieving site selectivity in carbon–hydrogen (C–H) functionalization reactions is a long-standing challenge in organic chemistry. The small differences in intrinsic reactivity of C–H bonds in any given organic molecule can lead to the activation of undesired C–H bonds by a non-selective catalyst. One solution to this problem is to distinguish C–H bonds on the basis of their location in the molecule relative to a specific functional group. In this context, the activation of C–H bonds five or six bonds away from a functional group by cyclometallation has been extensively studied. However, the directed activation of C–H bonds that are distal to (more than six bonds away) functional groups has remained challenging, especially when the target C–H bond is geometrically inaccessible to directed metallation owing to the ring strain encountered in cyclometallation. Here we report a recyclable template that directs the olefination and acetoxylation of distal meta-C–H bonds—as far as 11 bonds away—of anilines and benzylic amines. This template is able to direct the meta-selective C–H functionalization of bicyclic heterocycles via a highly strained, tricyclic-cyclophane-like palladated intermediate. X-ray and nuclear magnetic resonance studies reveal that the conformational biases induced by a single fluorine substitution in the template can be enhanced by using a ligand to switch from ortho- to meta-selectivity.
The ultimate origin of water in the Earth’s hydrosphere is in the deep Earth—the mantle. Theory and experiments have shown that although the water storage capacity of olivine-dominated shallow mantle is limited, the Earth’s transition zone, at depths between 410 and 660 kilometres, could be a major repository for water, owing to the ability of the higher-pressure polymorphs of olivine—wadsleyite and ringwoodite—to host enough water to comprise up to around 2.5 per cent of their weight. A hydrous transition zone may have a key role in terrestrial magmatism and plate tectonics, yet despite experimental demonstration of the water-bearing capacity of these phases, geophysical probes such as electrical conductivity have provided conflicting results, and the issue of whether the transition zone contains abundant water remains highly controversial. Here we report X-ray diffraction, Raman and infrared spectroscopic data that provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence for the terrestrial occurrence of any higher-pressure polymorph of olivine: we find ringwoodite included in a diamond from Juína, Brazil. The water-rich nature of this inclusion, indicated by infrared absorption, along with the preservation of the ringwoodite, is direct evidence that, at least locally, the transition zone is hydrous, to about 1 weight per cent. The finding also indicates that some kimberlites must have their primary sources in this deep mantle region.
Ancient genomic sequences have started to reveal the origin and the demographic impact of farmers from the Neolithic period spreading into Europe. The adoption of farming, stock breeding and sedentary societies during the Neolithic may have resulted in adaptive changes in genes associated with immunity and diet. However, the limited data available from earlier hunter-gatherers preclude an understanding of the selective processes associated with this crucial transition to agriculture in recent human evolution. Here we sequence an approximately 7,000-year-old Mesolithic skeleton discovered at the La Braña-Arintero site in León, Spain, to retrieve a complete pre-agricultural European human genome. Analysis of this genome in the context of other ancient samples suggests the existence of a common ancient genomic signature across western and central Eurasia from the Upper Paleolithic to the Mesolithic. The La Braña individual carries ancestral alleles in several skin pigmentation genes, suggesting that the light skin of modern Europeans was not yet ubiquitous in Mesolithic times. Moreover, we provide evidence that a significant number of derived, putatively adaptive variants associated with pathogen resistance in modern Europeans were already present in this hunter-gatherer.
One of the most striking examples of sexual dimorphism is sex-limited mimicry in butterflies, a phenomenon in which one sex—usually the female—mimics a toxic model species, whereas the other sex displays a different wing pattern. Sex-limited mimicry is phylogenetically widespread in the swallowtail butterfly genus Papilio, in which it is often associated with female mimetic polymorphism. In multiple polymorphic species, the entire wing pattern phenotype is controlled by a single Mendelian ‘supergene’. Although theoretical work has explored the evolutionary dynamics of supergene mimicry, there are almost no empirical data that address the critical issue of what a mimicry supergene actually is at a functional level. Using an integrative approach combining genetic and association mapping, transcriptome and genome sequencing, and gene expression analyses, we show that a single gene, doublesex, controls supergene mimicry in Papilio polytes. This is in contrast to the long-held view that supergenes are likely to be controlled by a tightly linked cluster of loci. Analysis of gene expression and DNA sequence variation indicates that isoform expression differences contribute to the functional differences between dsx mimicry alleles, and protein sequence evolution may also have a role. Our results combine elements from different hypotheses for the identity of supergenes, showing that a single gene can switch the entire wing pattern among mimicry phenotypes but may require multiple, tightly linked mutations to do so.
The generation of acoustic communication signals is widespread across the animal kingdom, and males of many species, including Drosophilidae, produce patterned courtship songs to increase their chance of success with a female. For some animals, song structure can vary considerably from one rendition to the next; neural noise within pattern generating circuits is widely assumed to be the primary source of such variability, and statistical models that incorporate neural noise are successful at reproducing the full variation present in natural songs. In direct contrast, here we demonstrate that much of the pattern variability in Drosophila courtship song can be explained by taking into account the dynamic sensory experience of the male. In particular, using a quantitative behavioural assay combined with computational modelling, we find that males use fast modulations in visual and self-motion signals to pattern their songs, a relationship that we show is evolutionarily conserved. Using neural circuit manipulations, we also identify the pathways involved in song patterning choices and show that females are sensitive to song features. Our data not only demonstrate that Drosophila song production is not a fixed action pattern, but establish Drosophila as a valuable new model for studies of rapid decision-making under both social and naturalistic conditions.
Hunger is a hard-wired motivational state essential for survival. Agouti-related peptide (AgRP)-expressing neurons in the arcuate nucleus (ARC) at the base of the hypothalamus are crucial to the control of hunger. They are activated by caloric deficiency and, when naturally or artificially stimulated, they potently induce intense hunger and subsequent food intake. Consistent with their obligatory role in regulating appetite, genetic ablation or chemogenetic inhibition of AgRP neurons decreases feeding. Excitatory input to AgRP neurons is important in caloric-deficiency-induced activation, and is notable for its remarkable degree of caloric-state-dependent synaptic plasticity. Despite the important role of excitatory input, its source(s) has been unknown. Here, through the use of Cre-recombinase-enabled, cell-specific neuron mapping techniques in mice, we have discovered strong excitatory drive that, unexpectedly, emanates from the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, specifically from subsets of neurons expressing thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) and pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP, also known as ADCYAP1). Chemogenetic stimulation of these afferent neurons in sated mice markedly activates AgRP neurons and induces intense feeding. Conversely, acute inhibition in mice with caloric-deficiency-induced hunger decreases feeding. Discovery of these afferent neurons capable of triggering hunger advances understanding of how this intense motivational state is regulated.
The transcription factors c-Myc and N-Myc—encoded by Myc and Mycn, respectively—regulate cellular growth and are required for embryonic development. A third paralogue, Mycl1, is dispensable for normal embryonic development but its biological function has remained unclear. To examine the in vivo function of Mycl1 in mice, we generated an inactivating Mycl1gfp allele that also reports Mycl1 expression. We find that Mycl1 is selectively expressed in dendritic cells (DCs) of the immune system and controlled by IRF8, and that during DC development, Mycl1 expression is initiated in the common DC progenitor concurrent with reduction in c-Myc expression. Mature DCs lack expression of c-Myc and N-Myc but maintain L-Myc expression even in the presence of inflammatory signals such as granulocyte–macrophage colony-stimulating factor. All DC subsets develop in Mycl1-deficient mice, but some subsets such as migratory CD103+ conventional DCs in the lung and liver are greatly reduced at steady state. Importantly, loss of L-Myc by DCs causes a significant decrease in in vivo T-cell priming during infection by Listeria monocytogenes and vesicular stomatitis virus. The replacement of c-Myc by L-Myc in immature DCs may provide for Myc transcriptional activity in the setting of inflammation that is required for optimal T-cell priming.
The life cycles of many parasites involve transitions between disparate host species, requiring these parasites to go through multiple developmental stages adapted to each of these specialized niches. Transmission of malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp.) from humans to the mosquito vector requires differentiation from asexual stages replicating within red blood cells into non-dividing male and female gametocytes. Although gametocytes were first described in 1880, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in commitment to gametocyte formation is extremely limited, and disrupting this critical developmental transition remains a long-standing goal. Here we show that expression levels of the DNA-binding protein PfAP2-G correlate strongly with levels of gametocyte formation. Using independent forward and reverse genetics approaches, we demonstrate that PfAP2-G function is essential for parasite sexual differentiation. By combining genome-wide PfAP2-G cognate motif occurrence with global transcriptional changes resulting from PfAP2-G ablation, we identify early gametocyte genes as probable targets of PfAP2-G and show that their regulation by PfAP2-G is critical for their wild-type level expression. In the asexual blood-stage parasites pfap2-g appears to be among a set of epigenetically silenced loci prone to spontaneous activation. Stochastic activation presents a simple mechanism for a low baseline of gametocyte production. Overall, these findings identify PfAP2-G as a master regulator of sexual-stage development in malaria parasites and mark the first discovery of a transcriptional switch controlling a differentiation decision in protozoan parasites.
Commitment to and completion of sexual development are essential for malaria parasites (protists of the genus Plasmodium) to be transmitted through mosquitoes. The molecular mechanism(s) responsible for commitment have been hitherto unknown. Here we show that PbAP2-G, a conserved member of the apicomplexan AP2 (ApiAP2) family of DNA-binding proteins, is essential for the commitment of asexually replicating forms to sexual development in Plasmodium berghei, a malaria parasite of rodents. PbAP2-G was identified from mutations in its encoding gene, PBANKA_143750, which account for the loss of sexual development frequently observed in parasites transmitted artificially by blood passage. Systematic gene deletion of conserved ApiAP2 genes in Plasmodium confirmed the role of PbAP2-G and revealed a second ApiAP2 member (PBANKA_103430, here termed PbAP2-G2) that significantly modulates but does not abolish gametocytogenesis, indicating that a cascade of ApiAP2 proteins are involved in commitment to the production and maturation of gametocytes. The data suggest a mechanism of commitment to gametocytogenesis in Plasmodium consistent with a positive feedback loop involving PbAP2-G that could be exploited to prevent the transmission of this pernicious parasite.
RNA interference is widely distributed in eukaryotes and has a variety of functions, including antiviral defence and gene regulation. All RNA interference pathways use small single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) molecules that guide proteins of the Argonaute (Ago) family to complementary ssRNA targets: RNA-guided RNA interference. The role of prokaryotic Ago variants has remained elusive, although bioinformatics analysis has suggested their involvement in host defence. Here we demonstrate that Ago of the bacterium Thermus thermophilus (TtAgo) acts as a barrier for the uptake and propagation of foreign DNA. In vivo, TtAgo is loaded with 5′-phosphorylated DNA guides, 13–25 nucleotides in length, that are mostly plasmid derived and have a strong bias for a 5′-end deoxycytidine. These small interfering DNAs guide TtAgo to cleave complementary DNA strands. Hence, despite structural homology to its eukaryotic counterparts, TtAgo functions in host defence by DNA-guided DNA interference.